Scoping Sergei Eisenstein's Bookshelves

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
March 29 2013 2:30 PM

Scoping Sergei Eisenstein's Bookshelves

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

The great Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948) considered cinema “the highest of the arts,” but he was passionate about books. In his memoirs, he rhapsodized about bookstores and the books he found in them: “They fly to me, run to me, cling to me,” he wrote, “so long have I loved them...” People who visited Eisenstein often said they found him sitting among huge piles of books.

When he died, his friends packed up his books and moved them to another apartment, where they remain to this day. The collection, which is not currently open to the public, is overseen by Naum Kleiman, the world’s leading Eisenstein scholar and Director of Russia’s Cinema Museum.  

Advertisement

These photographs show a small percentage of the books Eisenstein owned. You can see some of his many histories of literature, theater, and art. He had close to 200 books on psychology, sex, and religion, and many more on American, European, Mexican, Asian, and African-American history and culture (he considered making a film about the Haitian Revolution with his friend Paul Robeson in the lead).

The pictures and figurines he collected are as interesting as the books: Central Asian ceramic toys, African-American religious figures, and Russian folk prints that illustrated his theories on montage. Beneath the photograph of Eisenstein himself is a Mickey Mouse panel that Walt Disney made for him when he was in Hollywood in 1930. The severe-looking portrait is Eisenstein’s teacher, the great theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold. Just outside the frame are signed portraits of Charlie Chaplin (another Hollywood friend), Harpo Marx, James Joyce, Stefan Zweig, Jose Orozco, Mei-Lang Fan, Robeson, and Albert Einstein.

We think of the Soviet Union under Stalin as a closed world, and in many ways it was, but the determined (and privileged) Eisenstein remained connected to the larger world through objects and books.

EisensteinBooks1

Courtesy of Joan Neuberger.

CollageCorrected

Portraits, L-R: José Orozco, [unidentified], Paul Robeson, Charlie Chaplin, Harpo Marx. Courtesy of Joan Neuberger.

EisensteinCollage2

Courtesy of Joan Neuberger.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 23 2014 6:00 AM Naked and Afraid Prudie offers advice on whether a young boy should sleep in the same room with his nude grandfather.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.