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the Complete Review
the complete review - non/fiction


A Hunt for Optimism

Viktor Shklovsky

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To purchase A Hunt for Optimism

Title: A Hunt for Optimism
Author: Viktor Shklovsky
Genre: Non/fiction
Written: 1931 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 179 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: A Hunt for Optimism - US
A Hunt for Optimism - UK
A Hunt for Optimism - Canada
A Hunt for Optimism - India
  • Russian title: Поиски оптимизма
  • Translated and with a Preface by Shushan Avagyan

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Our Assessment:

B : often powerful mix, but also scattershot

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Nation . 25/2/2013 Ben Ehrenreich

  From the Reviews:
  • "The book proceeds in exemplary Shklovskian style: sudden breaks; short, one-sentence paragraphs; flashes of authorial self-consciousness. (...) The language is so precise that itís almost skeletal. The similes startle (.....) None of it adds up. But thatís OK, thatís the whole point, thatís what weíre doing here, even if it hurts. Especially when it hurts." - Ben Ehrenreich, The Nation

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Hunt for Optimism, first published in 1931, comes from the still heady early Soviet days, and much of it still has the vigor of the still-possible:

     Youth ! Futurism !
     LEF !
     That's the call of the flying geese.
       Even so, often Shklovsky also already voices concern about resignation and defeatism, as things perhaps aren't turning out to be as rosy as hoped for or imagined:
     We can't get tired now. We must hold on to our optimism and responsibility to the time.
       Shklovsky has a 'Preface to the Middle of the Book' somewhere near its middle, and warns here what has already become obvious long before that point: "Reader, the book is written in different styles."
       Beyond that:
As for unity of the book -- it is often an illusion, just as the unity of a landscape.
       Shklovsky admits:
     I don't have the strength to write a new novel that would be equal to me in strength.
     So I am montaging stories with prefaces.
       So that's what A Hunt for Optimism amounts to. He offers a variety of stories, reminiscences, and history. The devastation and lingering aftereffects of war and wartime experience which still prove defining are, for example, well-conveyed -- and summed up:
     The war made us old, it was our defeat. It was our fault that we didn't resist the war.
       There is a lengthy tribute and consideration of Mayakovsky -- a suicide in 1930 -- and Shklovsky conveys the poetic fervor of the times well, admitting:
     It's impossible to recount everything. You can't remember all the details. The guitars kept playing. They overplayed Selvinsky. Poetry persisted.
       There are detours to Siam and Georgia, in more elaborately spun-out accounts and inventions. And, amusingly from a modern perspective, there's also a backing away from what proved to be the modern trend in two of the conclusions he elaborates on.
       First, he wrongly suggests that:
     America is stopping the construction of skyscrapers. After living in forty-story buildings people started dreaming of eleven-story houses.

     They miss rural life, as it were.
       In fact, American skyscrapers continued to be built and had just reached new heights, so to speak (1930 saw two skyscrapers break the record for tallest that had stood since 1913, while the next record-breaker, the Empire State Building, was finished in 1931), and any temporary slow-down in new projects at the time could surely be ascribed to the difficulties in financing them as the Great Depression took hold. But Shklovsky saw things differently, arguing:
     The skyscrapers are refuting themselves. They are in such a state that they shouldn't be built anymore. Not because the construction doesn't hold up, but because they create such a density of traffic around themselves that the city suffers from progressive paralysis.
       Not exactly how things have worked out since then .....
       Similarly, his vision of modern warfare, with his belief in the "self-sufficient soldier" -- an odd embrace of and faith in the individual in a collectivist society -- seems only laughable now. He argues the military is wrong when:
     They think that it's possible to fight with artillery and pure technology.
     And military commanders will be able to see their troops by means of television in the same way that a commander saw his army many years ago.
       In fact, of course, this is exactly what has happened: increasingly -- and soon, no doubt, entirely -- war is fought by drones (of both the machine- and human varieties) which Shklovsky clearly believed could never replace those 'self-sufficient soldiers' .....
       "My keys don't open all the doors of my era", Shklovsky writes early on, but in fact they open many: A Hunt for Optimism gives a good sense of the Russian/Soviet condition as experienced by those of his generation -- at a point when there is still optimism, but when a weariness has also clearly taken hold.
       The book closes beautifully, conveying exactly that odd Soviet state of those pre-Stalinist (or at least pre-worst-of-Stalinism) times:
     We have to be calm, like being at war or inside an incubator.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 October 2012

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A Hunt for Optimism: Reviews: Viktor Shklovsky: Other books by Viktor Shklovsky under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Viktor Shklovsky (Виктор Борисович Шкловский, Victor Chklovski, Viktor Sklovskij) (1893-1984) was a leading Russian Formalist.

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© 2012-2017 the complete review

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