Worlds of dissent : Charter 77, the Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech culture under communism /
Jonathan Bolton.
imprint
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2012.
description
349 p. ; 25 cm.
ISBN
0674064380 (hbk. : alk. paper), 9780674064386 (hbk. : alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2012.
isbn
0674064380 (hbk. : alk. paper)
9780674064386 (hbk. : alk. paper)
contents note
The Impasse of Dissent -- The Stages of Demobilization -- The Shadow World -- Legends of the Underground -- Everything Changed with the Charter -- The Public of the Powerless -- Dreams of a Dissident.
catalogue key
8539333
 
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2012-09-01:
This is an impressive attempt at reconceptualizing the received view of Czech underground culture between 1968 and 1989 from a new, imaginative perspective. Among the merits of this study is the wealth of material accumulated in it. If for no other reason, this makes the book an indispensable source of information about modern Czech society and culture. This extensive "database" of material serves Bolton (Slavic languages and literatures, Harvard) as a stepping-stone for his presentation of several "stories"; the yarns with which he weaves the rich tapestry of Czech dissent--the aftermath of "normalization" that radically altered the role that the writers and intellectuals performed in Czech society; the emergence of Charter 77 (a civic initiative demanding human rights) from the trial of the music underground (in particular The Plastic People band); and finally, the early years of Charter 77 with its heated polemics about the mission of this diffuse association and the competing views of its future agenda. What arises from this kaleidoscopic display is recognition that the dissent is infinitely more than a sum of the texts it generated: it is a special modus of social existence that in its fluid heterogeneity resists any neat streamlining or totalizing. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. P. Steiner University of Pennsylvania
Reviews
Review Quotes
Jonathan Bolton's inquiry into the formative years of Czech dissent responds by taking dissidents off the Cold War pedestal they never wanted, and telling the stories they told to and about themselves. Though such stories are often the stuff of legend rather than hard fact, Bolton appreciates their importance in creating group identity. Taking the stories seriously allows him to replace haloes with something much more human--a sense of the thrill, the happenstance and the grind that marked dissidents' lives. The result is a new and very welcome type of narrative about dissent, one that respects but does not exaggerate its place in the history of Communism. Through diaries, memoirs, letters, oral history and samizdat debates, Bolton brings to life the key moments of the 1970s when men and women struggled to make sense of what had befallen their country and of themselves as non-conformists. An act such as signing Charter 77, a petition calling on the government to honor its human rights obligations, emerges as a thoroughly social, contingent experience, something to be negotiated with recruiters, gatekeepers, companions and spouses, rather than just an impulse of conscience.
Western scholars of the Cold War have only recently begun to try to reconstruct what life was actually like in Eastern European societies during the Soviet era. And until the publication of this book, the phenomenon most central to the Western narrative of communism's collapse-dissident opposition-had escaped this treatment. In an intelligent, fluent study of Czechoslovak dissent in the 1970s and 1980s, Bolton pushes aside the mythologized image of Czechoslovak dissidents and examines the diverse and sometimes conflicted ways they went about their lives. He is not so much deflating the political influence or courage of dissidents such as Václav Havel and Adam Michnik as he is 'explaining the texture and psychology of dissident life,' breaking down the compartmentalized notions of dissidence and ordinary life and allowing them to flow together. In doing so, he affords a much broader understanding of what constituted a defection from regime orthodoxy, including the role of the underground music scene and the free thinkers and artists whose work predated the existence of a 'dissident' label.
A remarkable book by an erudite and thoughtful scholar who revisits, redefines, and reinvents the study of Czech dissent. Bolton's history wisely rejects the mythologies that have plagued most accounts of the dissident movement. Instead of telling the history of dissent solely through the pronouncements of its leaders, he enlists the stories of a variety of protagonists and, through their eyes, provides the reader with the great diversity of the meanings of "dissent." The originality of Bolton's approach lies precisely in his blurring of the borderlines between disciplines, which allows him to author a much-needed fresh perspective on dissent in Central Europe under communism.
The Arab Spring saw more than 300,000 protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square bring down Hosni Mubarak. But did these protesters represent the average Egyptians who stayed home? Writing about another equinox--the 1968 Prague Spring that introduced liberal reforms to communist Czechoslovakia and provoked a Soviet crackdown--Jonathan Bolton examines in Worlds of Dissent how revolutionaries speak for a nation...The author's nuanced view of Czech activism is helpful in understanding the Middle East's blithely named "Facebook revolutions" as they enter their second year.
This is an impressive attempt at reconceptualizing the received view of Czech underground culture between 1968 and 1989 from a new, imaginative perspective. Among the merits of this study is the wealth of material accumulated in it. If for no other reason, this makes the book an indispensable source of information about modem Czech society and culture... What arises from this kaleidoscopic display is recognition that the dissent is infinitely more than a sum of the texts it generated: it is a special modus of social existence that in its fluid heterogeneity resists any neat streamlining or totalizing.
Jonathan Bolton's fascinating and sensitively argued study of the period, Worlds of Dissent , shows how little consensus there was about dissent itself. The Czech resistance, like all others before and since, was riven by controversies--dividing reform-minded or former Communists from those who had never joined the Party--and by different ideas about how to respond to the 'crisis of the Charter' prompted by the state's vicious crackdown.
Jonathan Bolton's fascinating and sensitively argued study of the period, Worlds of Dissent, shows how little consensus there was about dissent itself. The Czech resistance, like all others before and since, was riven by controversies--dividing reform-minded or former Communists from those who had never joined the Party--and by different ideas about how to respond to the "crisis of the Charter" prompted by the state's vicious crackdown.
One of the first truly post-communist, post-commemorative histories of communist Central Europe. Worlds of Dissent is neither embroiled in battles over the past, nor beholden to rigid interpretations of the end of communism. Bolton succeeds in approaching communist Czechoslovakia as it was; he opens the door widely, admitting the reader to the messy world of the past without prejudice. This is a major contribution to our knowledge of dissent and of the communist experience.
Western scholars of the Cold War have only recently begun to try to reconstruct what life was actually like in Eastern European societies during the Soviet era. And until the publication of this book, the phenomenon most central to the Western narrative of communism's collapse'dissident opposition'had escaped this treatment. In an intelligent, fluent study of Czechoslovak dissent in the 1970s and 1980s, Bolton pushes aside the mythologized image of Czechoslovak dissidents and examines the diverse and sometimes conflicted ways they went about their lives. He is not so much deflating the political influence or courage of dissidents such as Václav Havel and Adam Michnik as he is 'explaining the texture and psychology of dissident life,' breaking down the compartmentalized notions of dissidence and ordinary life and allowing them to flow together. In doing so, he affords a much broader understanding of what constituted a defection from regime orthodoxy, including the role of the underground music scene and the free thinkers and artists whose work predated the existence of a 'dissident' label.
Intelligent, judicious, and deeply researched, Worlds of Dissent takes us beyond both romantic simplifications and cynical dismissals to recover the ambiguities, complexities, and contradictions of the Cold War phenomenon to which the West once gave the name "dissidence." Perhaps Bolton's greatest achievement is his ability to put communist Czechoslovakia's worlds of dissent into the contexts of their times and places without losing sight of their continuing relevance for our understanding of power, resistance, and subjectivity in the modern world. This is a major addition to the scholarly literature--as well as a damn good read.
In this riveting and thought-provoking book, Bolton masterfully captures oppositional intellectual life under communist rule in all its vibrant and often contradictory complexity. He demonstrates that 'dissent' and dissidents were neither what outsiders thought they were at the time nor what later historians have imagined them to be. And he does so in a gripping style that brings to life the dissidents and their ideas. Anyone who seeks to understand everyday existence and oppositional thought in the later decades of communist one-party rule must start with this book.
This is an impressive attempt at reconceptualizing the received view of Czech underground culture between 1968 and 1989 from a new, imaginative perspective. Among the merits of this study is the wealth of material accumulated in it. If for no other reason, this makes the book an indispensable source of information about modern Czech society and culture... What arises from this kaleidoscopic display is recognition that the dissent is infinitely more than a sum of the texts it generated: it is a special modus of social existence that in its fluid heterogeneity resists any neat streamlining or totalizing.
This item was reviewed in:
Wall Street Journal, June 2012
Choice, September 2012
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Summaries
Bowker Data Service Summary
'World of Dissent' analyzes the myths of Central European resistance popularized by Western journalists and historians, and replaces them with a picture of the struggle against state repression as the dissidents themselves understood, debated, and lived it.
Main Description
"Worlds of Dissent" analyzes the myths of Central European resistance popularized by Western journalists and historians, and replaces them with a picture of the struggle against state repression as the dissidents themselves understood, debated, and lived it. In the late 1970s, when Czech intellectuals, writers, and artists drafted Charter 77 and called on their government to respect human rights, they hesitated to name themselves "dissidents." Their personal and political experiences-diverse, uncertain, nameless-have been obscured by victory narratives that portray them as larger-than-life heroes who defeated Communism in Czechoslovakia. Jonathan Bolton draws on diaries, letters, personal essays, and other first-person texts to analyze Czech dissent less as a political philosophy than as an everyday experience. Bolton considers not only Vaclav Havel but also a range of men and women writers who have received less attention in the West-including Ludvik Vaculik, whose 1980 diary "The Czech Dream Book" is a compelling portrait of dissident life. Bolton recovers the stories that dissidents told about themselves, and brings their dilemmas and decisions to life for contemporary readers. Dissidents often debated, and even doubted, their own influence as they confronted incommensurable choices and the messiness of real life. Portraying dissent as a human, imperfect phenomenon, Bolton frees the dissidents from the suffocating confines of moral absolutes. "Worlds of Dissent" offers a rare opportunity to understand the texture of dissent in a closed society.
Main Description
Worlds of Dissent analyzes the myths of Central European resistance popularized by Western journalists and historians, and replaces them with a picture of the struggle against state repression as the dissidents themselves understood, debated, and lived it. In the late 1970s, when Czech intellectuals, writers, and artists drafted Charter 77 and called on their government to respect human rights, they hesitated to name themselves 'dissidents.' Their personal and political experiences'diverse, uncertain, nameless'have been obscured by victory narratives that portray them as larger-than-life heroes who defeated Communism in Czechoslovakia. Jonathan Bolton draws on diaries, letters, personal essays, and other first-person texts to analyze Czech dissent less as a political philosophy than as an everyday experience. Bolton considers not only Václav Havel but also a range of men and women writers who have received less attention in the West'including Ludvík Vaculík, whose 1980 diary The Czech Dream Book is a compelling portrait of dissident life. Bolton recovers the stories that dissidents told about themselves, and brings their dilemmas and decisions to life for contemporary readers. Dissidents often debated, and even doubted, their own influence as they confronted incommensurable choices and the messiness of real life. Portraying dissent as a human, imperfect phenomenon, Bolton frees the dissidents from the suffocating confines of moral absolutes. Worlds of Dissent offers a rare opportunity to understand the texture of dissent in a closed society.
Main Description
Worlds of Dissent analyzes the myths of Central European resistance popularized by Western journalists and historians, and replaces them with a picture of the struggle against state repression as the dissidents themselves understood, debated, and lived it. In the late 1970s, when Czech intellectuals, writers, and artists drafted Charter 77 and called on their government to respect human rights, they hesitated to name themselves "dissidents." Their personal and political experiences-diverse, uncertain, nameless-have been obscured by victory narratives that portray them as larger-than-life heroes who defeated Communism in Czechoslovakia. Jonathan Bolton draws on diaries, letters, personal essays, and other first-person texts to analyze Czech dissent less as a political philosophy than as an everyday experience. Bolton considers not only Václav Havel but also a range of men and women writers who have received less attention in the West-including Ludvík Vaculík, whose 1980 diary The Czech Dream Book is a compelling portrait of dissident life. Bolton recovers the stories that dissidents told about themselves, and brings their dilemmas and decisions to life for contemporary readers. Dissidents often debated, and even doubted, their own influence as they confronted incommensurable choices and the messiness of real life. Portraying dissent as a human, imperfect phenomenon, Bolton frees the dissidents from the suffocating confines of moral absolutes. Worlds of Dissent offers a rare opportunity to understand the texture of dissent in a closed society.
Main Description
Worlds of Dissent analyzes the myths of Central European resistance popularized by Western journalists and historians, and replaces them with a picture of the struggle against state repression as the dissidents themselves understood, debated, and lived it. In the late 1970s, when Czech intellectuals, writers, and artists drafted Charter 77 and called on their government to respect human rights, they hesitated to name themselves dissidents. Their personal and political experiences-diverse, uncertain, nameless-have been obscured by victory narratives that portray them as larger-than-life heroes who defeated Communism in Czechoslovakia. Jonathan Bolton draws on diaries, letters, personal essays, and other first-person texts to analyze Czech dissent less as a political philosophy than as an everyday experience. Bolton considers not only Václav Havel but also a range of men and women writers who have received less attention in the West-including Ludvík Vaculík, whose 1980 diary The Czech Dream Book is a compelling portrait of dissident life. Bolton recovers the stories that dissidents told about themselves, and brings their dilemmas and decisions to life for contemporary readers. Dissidents often debated, and even doubted, their own influence as they confronted incommensurable choices and the messiness of real life. Portraying dissent as a human, imperfect phenomenon, Bolton frees the dissidents from the suffocating confines of moral absolutes. Worlds of Dissent offers a rare opportunity to understand the texture of dissent in a closed society.
Table of Contents
Introductionp. 1
The Impasse of Dissentp. 19
The Stages of Demobilizationp. 47
The Shadow Worldp. 72
Legends of the Undergroundp. 115
Everything Changed with the Charterp. 152
The Public of the Powerlessp. 201
Dreams of a Dissidentp. 239
Conclusionp. 266
Notesp. 285
Acknowledgmentsp. 329
Indexp. 331
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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