Thursday, 6 January 2011

From undergrad to Chair, Part 2

It may seem strange that you can have an academic career outside academia, but this is by far not the most bizarre feature of Soviet reality. There were hundreds of research institutes all over the country, and some did research, while most were part of the propaganda machine. If you think that Orwell's Ministry of Truth is dark science fiction – I worked there once. Film Studies Institute was a research centre for the powerful Ministry of Film. Film was in the Soviet Union, like in Nazi Germany, an important part of ideological propaganda, so it was worthwhile having a centre with a hundred researchers in Moscow alone. My department, specifically, worked with foreign press in secret departments of state libraries, searching keenly for any utterance about Soviet (or anti-Soviet) film. If a director or actor or critic said anything slightly unfavourable, they became a non-person.

I am not ashamed of having been part of this monstrous structure because that was the way it was. We all had to survive, and the only thing you could do was keep your integrity and be honest toward yourself. What choice did I have? It wouldn't have been much different in any other place.

There were sixteen research assistants in my department, and I could have easily managed all of their work (of course, today you would have simply googled. But it was Stone Age when I was young). We only had to be in the office once a week, and we had no desks or any workspace in the office anyway. It was also part of the job to watch movies. Sometimes four movies a day. Since I did what was expected of me quickly, I had plenty of time for other things: interpreting, translating, reviewing. My dream was to become a freelance translator.

Like everything else, the production of PhDs was strictly planned, so I was chosen to write a PhD on Norwegian film. Swedish film was taken by someone else. The only method allowed in research on anything, from film to nuclear physics, was Marxist. Unfortunately, Marx didn't say anything helpful about Norwegian film. I had done all coursework and submitted three chapters when my professional life took an unexpected turn.

To be continued.

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