As conventional understanding would have it, the sometimes brutal business of governing can only be carried out at the price of distance from art, while poetic beauty best fl ourishes at a distance from actions executed at the pole of power. Dramatically contradicting this idea is the fact that violent rulers are often the greatest friends of art, and indeed draw attention to themselves as artists.
Why do tyrants of all people often have a particularly poetic vein? Where do terror and fi ction meet? The cultural history of totalitarian regimes is unwrapped in ten case studies, in a comparative perspective. The book focuses on the phenomenon that many of the great despots in history were themselves writers. By studying the artistic ambitions of Nero, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Kim Il-sung, Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Saparmurat Nyyazow and Radovan Karadzic, the studies explore the complicated relationship between poetry and political violence, and open our eyes for the aesthetic dimensions of total power.
The essays make an important contribution to a number of fi elds: the study of totalitarian regimes, cultural studies, biographies of 20th century leaders. They underscore the frequent correlation between tyrannical governance and an excessive passion for language, and prove that the merging of artistic and political charisma tends to justify the claim to absolute power.
“There’s a belief that cruel tyrants are rather sentimental. But the opposite is also true: like thin-skinned porcupines (with no offence intended to that wonderful creature) they often hide their inner insecurities under their macho armoury. This book of brilliant authors—from Gotter to Žižek—explores the everlasting relationship between politics and poetry through the life of these modern day ‘shamans’ of the world, including Hitler, Stalin, Mao and other infamous dictators.”
Hamid Ismailov, Uzbek journalist and writer living in exile, author of The Railway, The Dead Lake, and T he Devils’ Dance
“Modern tyrants like Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Kim Il-sung, Saddam Hussein and others thought of themselves as talented intellectuals who had lessons to teach the world through their literary and artistic achievements. What effect did this have on their policies? How much was the terror they rained on their people part of their sense of performance? This perceptive, fascinating work explores the writings of these and other tyrants ranging from Roman Emperor Nero to the murderous leader of the Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadžić. It is a sobering and enlightening book that needs to be read to better understand these monsters.”
Daniel Chirot, University of Washington, author of Modern Tyrants. The Power and Prevalence of Evil in Our Age
“A fascinating collection of illuminating contributions on the aesthetic passions of political sociopaths. Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, et al., appear as they really were: a gallery of monsters engaged in romantic self-aggrandizement. Underneath the metaphors we discover the swamp of egocentric obsessions with unlimited power. Highly recommended to all those who want to grasp the secrets of the dictatorial mind, this book reveals much of the inner life of the soulless tyrants."
Vladimir Tismaneanu, University of Maryland, author of The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century