“Tyranny of taste” – The Babel Award, Odessa

January 26, 2016

It is with no small amount of personal pleasure that this entry is written, for the favourite Russian language author of this blog is without doubt Issac Babel.

“There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered; he may be considered a as storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter.  A major writer combines these three – storyteller, teacher, enchanter – but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer” – Vladimir Nabokov.

Babel is nothing short of enchanting – albeit somewhat brutally honest in his observations.

Babel monument

It therefore goes without saying that when among the many monuments of Odessa, 4th September 2011 saw a larger than life Issac Babel appear in the heart of the city on the corner of Rishelyevskaya and Zhukovskogo, there were no complaints from this quarter.

A grateful thanks to the World Club of Odessa for making it happen and giving Babel his rightful place in Odessa.  Would it not be a cultural sin for the author of such literary classics as the Odessa Tales not to have a monument in the city?

The 25th of January saw an announcement by Governor Saakashvili of a newly created annual Babel Award for Russian language literature – “The award aims to identify and support the best examples of modern art in the genre of narrative literature (novels), written in Russian, in Ukraine and Russia and in other countries. The main criterion for selection of entries for the award, in the words of Isaac Babel, should be a “tyranny of taste.”

This annual award is sponsored by the Odessa Regional Authority, The World Club of Odessa, the literary journal “Rainbow” produced in Kyiv, the Odessa Literary Museum, the Odessa National Academic Library and the daughter of Issac Babel, Lydia.

Issac Babel

Issac Babel

The first award ceremony will occur on 13th July – Babel’s birthday.

Bravo to all those sponsoring the annual award and continuing to push Babel to the fore.

Purely by coincidence, March 2016 will see the launch of a new printed, and on-line, heavily culture orientated (though not exclusively so) monthly journal called “The Odessa Review” – the first issue featuring English translations of some of Babel’s work.  For those that struggle with Russian, be sure to either get a copy or find “The Odessa Review” on-line (once it goes live) and give the Babel translation a read – it will be worth it.

(Full disclosure, this blog will be contributing to the contents of “The Odessa Review” too – as culturally retarded and prose challenged as this blog undoubtedly is.)

Before closing, a note to those within the Oblast Administration that read the blog – Whilst it cannot always accept the invitations to local events or the “no notice one to one chats” it receives, be certain that any received invitation for the 13th July inaugural Babel “Tyranny of Taste” Prize will be both graciously and keenly accepted.

(As an aside, if the Oblast Administration can find any way, by fair means or foul, to tie Gustav Klimt to Odessa even fleetingly, be sure the blog would attend any exhibition too.  Would-be donors to the blog, send not your money, though Benjamin Franklin has his charm – a simple Klimt sketch or small work similar to that below will find a suitable and respectable space on the wall and be gratefully received!)


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