About Me

My name is Ross Wolfe.  I’m currently a graduate student at the University of Chicago.  The main focus of my work is in Russian history, but I’m also interested in Central European history, Jewish studies, philosophy, and Marxism.  I write primarily about the history of avant-garde architecture, contemporary political issues (activism, current events), and topics such as the environment, technology, utopianism, and the history of the Left.

The philosophers I’m most familiar with are Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, the minor German Idealists (Fichte, Schelling, Schopenhauer), Hegel, and Nietzsche.  I’ve read quite a bit of Heidegger as well, but have come to the conclusion that while he’s no doubt brilliant as a thinker, his fundamental ontology is fascist through and through.  In addition to these figures from philosophy, I’m also deeply influenced by Marxist social theory.  The authors I’ve principally worked with from this tradition are Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotskii, Lukács, Benjamin, Adorno (and the rest of the Frankfurt School), and Žižek.

43 thoughts on “About Me

  1. hi
    i found your comment on kosmograd site, concerning nikolaev’s communal house.

    (you wrote: I have the original article Nikolaev wrote with the blueprints and floor-plans of this building, if you’d be interested.
    Commented Mar 22, 2011 on Communal House of the Textile Institute at Kosmograd)

    could you share this material, or send it to me? i’m architecture student, and interested in this project. would be very grateful.. thanks.

  2. love the blog post on the Charnel house! how amazing, i had no idea anyone would ever imagine anything so utterly modern looking in the 1780s.

    I was reading Schaer’s edited volume on Utopias & found the image, googled it, and god you. i shared you on FB – hope you don’t mind! Do you know my friend Jen Vanore, also a Ph.D. student in history at UC?

    - Emily Berquist, research fellow at the Huntington Library in San Marino (writing a book on 18th C. Spanish Empire that deals utopian reform agendas in Peru…)
    https://profiles.google.com/102182439630192600727/about

    • Thank you, Emily, for sharing! I’m quite flattered. No, I don’t believe I know Jen. Right now I’m finishing up my Master’s thesis and have been in New York (my coursework for my Master’s is complete). I’m glad that you found my blog interesting. I actually have a long theoretical post on the historical evolution of utopianism.

      I am quite interested in the architectural utopias of the 18th century, but my own research is more on international modernist architecture, with a special emphasis on the Soviet avant-garde. Probably my most detailed posts dealing with this can be found here “On the Past that Wasn’t” and an unfinished post on the architectural solution to the problem of humanity’s relationship to nature.

      All the best in your research, Emily.

  3. hello!
    I am working on a film on Russian avant-garde architecture.
    Would be fun to exchange!
    Your site looks cool & interesting.

  4. Hi, Ross
    I foud your site just fascinating.
    Presently, I am researching material for the article about Jewish architects’ contribution to the modern architecture (XIX – XX centuries). One of my goals is to shed some light on the role of the Soviet Jewish architects, many of whom as a former Soviet architect myself I was fortunate to know personally (Barshch, Sinyavsky, Barkhins). If you are interested, I could share with you my recollections on meeting with them, and my thoughts about Soviet history and Jews (I included some in my memoir “Watching Communism fail”, published by McFarland a couple of years ago). I reside in the Chicago area, and if you want to we could meet.
    Gary Berkovich

  5. Hi,

    I also found your comment on a website saying that you had the original article plus blueprints of hist Student housing (Textile institute) which seem impossible to find. Is this material on your website? Otherwise it would be great if you could e-mail it…..Thanks!

  6. A formidable list of philosophers, to which I hope that William James will one day be added. Agree with you about Heidegger, but refuse to call Schopenhauer “minor.” Zizek, I hope you will agree, is uneven. I continue to read him because of his agile, well-stocked mind. As a French major who once audited a class given by Derrida, I find Zizek refreshingly down-to-earth. Foucault, it seems to me, still retains his relevance. Looking forward to following your intellectual journey.

  7. I was looking for something on Platonov’s “Foundation Pit” and came across your site. Very thoughtful and nice graphics, too. Like you, I find that Marx remains relevant for social critique but, nevertheless, I constantly wonder why young people (I came of age in the “Sixties,” but did not share its ideology) continue to be so enthralled with utopian visions. It is true that you seem able to “stand back” and observe, e.g., the Wall Street protests, dispassionately, but ultimately you too seem drawn to “transformation” of existing conditions. I quoted on my own blog not long ago that this desire for transformation has roots in the 18th century and (discussing Franco Venturi) that such “mental forms” are resistant to real-world experience. Anyway, good going.

  8. If you dislike Heidegger because of his “fascist ontology,” why do you have a picture by Saint Elia on your header? The Futurists weren’t exactly humanist-socialist-democrats, or are you being ironic here??

  9. Hi-

    Would you happen to know of an English (or French) translation of Nechaev’s “Fundamentals of a Future Social Order?” All I can find of his online or in print is the Catechism of a Revolutionary.

    Thanks!

  10. I chanced upon your site while looking for documentation about Russian/Soviet architecture in the first third of the 20th century for a personal project of mine. Now I’d like to ask you, and I can only hope you won’t find the question silly: in a counterfactual scenario in which Siberia east of the Yenisei River becomes an independent country in 1922 as a result of a Chinese-backed White movement successfully holding off the Bolsheviks, and which seeks to develop a “national” architectural style blending Russian elements and native aesthetics (Buryat, Sakha and possibly even Paleosiberian), what might the result be like? And what architects might implement it? (I am toying with the idea of having both Fyodor Gornostaev and Marian Peretyatkovich live longer and find refuge in that hypothetical “Greater Yakutia”, but also wonder what use Irkutsk native Vladimir Rassushin might be put to.)

  11. Your blog is fascinating. I really enjoy it. I have a question, though: are you a fan of Le Corbusier? Wasn’t he a fascist, or at least decidedly non-leftist?

    • Thank you. I am unabashedly a fan of Le Corbusier’s writings, and certain of his building proposals. There truly was no one like him, in terms of poetry, spontaneity, and (let’s be honest) madness.

      In the final analysis, I would characterize Le Corbusier as apolitical. He was, however, extremely opportunistic. Early on, he enthusiastically supported the West and submitted a daring proposal for the League of Nations building in Geneva. When this was rejected in favor of a neoclassical design, he was enraged.

      This was combined with a general disillusionment with capitalism following the global crisis of 1929, after which his interests turned decidedly toward the USSR and the project of socialism. Le Corbusier remained active in Buenos Aires and other places, as well, but his most ambitious designs were reserved for Moscow — the Tsentrosoiuz building, his proposal for the Palace of the Soviets, etc. This is reflected primarily in his two books, Precisions (1930) and The Radiant City (1933). But the ultimate outcome of the Palace of the Soviets competition, with the Stalinist monstrosity that was chosen, deeply offended Le Corbusier. You can find an original translation of the angry letter he wrote Anatolii Lunacharskii, the famed Commissar of Enlightenment, at the following post: “The Past that Wasn’t: Le Corbusier and the Palace of the Soviets.”

      The way that I put it in the introduction to my thesis, the fallout from the failure of the Soviet experiment in modernism in the early 1930s largely shaped the degeneration of the international architectural avant-garde in general. I write:

      The Soviet Union alone had presented the modernists with the conditions necessary to realize their original vision. Only it possessed the centralized state-planning organs that could implement building on such a vast scale. Only it promised to overcome the clash of personal interests entailed by the “sacred cow” of private property. And only it had the sheer expanse of land necessary to approximate the spatial infinity required by the modernists’ international imagination. The defeat of architectural modernism in Russia left the country a virtual graveyard of the utopian visions of unbuilt worlds that had once been built upon it. It is only after one grasps the magnitude of the avant-garde’s sense of loss in this theater of world history that all the subsequent developments of modernist architecture in the twentieth century become intelligible. For here it becomes clear how an architect like Mies van der Rohe, who early in his career designed the Monument to the communist heroes Karl Liebneckt and Rosa Luxemburg in 1926, would later be the man responsible for one of the swankiest monuments to high-Fordist capitalism, the Seagram’s Building of 1958. And here one can see how Le Corbusier, embittered by the Soviet experience, would go on to co-design the United Nations Building in New York, after briefly flirting with Vichy fascism during the war.

    • Thanks! I respect and admire Boym’s work, especially on The Future of Nostalgia, though I have some reservations about the postmodernism drift of her thought (though she calls it “off-modern”). I appreciate your comment.

  12. Hi Ross,
    thank you for very interesting materials, I found your blog just pure awesome.
    I’m undergraduate student at SPbSU (Russia), Department of Sociology. At present I am writing my bachelor thesis about the subway system of Saint-P. and Soviet urban modernity. The topic is mostly concerned with STS and Actor-Network theory, but the Soviet cultural & social history Urbanism are related fields as well. Also I am interested in Jewish studies (especially in Jewish Labour Bund and its history&ideology) and Marxist philosophy and social theory (including so called ‘New Marx Readings’). So I think it would be nice to exchange.
    Best regards,
    Mitya

  13. Hello Ross, I live in a small community founded more than 100 years ago by Finns with a socialist utopian vision. Our museum plans to co-sponsor a small conference in the fall of 2013 (September) on a utopian theme, and we are currently contacting potential speakers. You are at the top of my list. Are you available and/or interested in such an opportunity? We are located on the west coast of Canada. I do hope you will consider it. It would be a great pleasure for us to have you speak.

    Heather G.

  14. When you call Schopenhauer a minor German Idealist, you give the impression that you have never read Schopenhauer’s works and that you are basing your opinion on second-hand accounts of his philosophy.

    • Really? Well, I know he’s not generally grouped among the German Idealists, who are usually seen as just Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, with occasionally Schleiermacher or Hartmann thrown into the mix.

      To be sure, I’m not a Schopenhauer scholar. But I’ve read his Fourfold Root essay, selections from The World as Will and Representation, and his unjustly neglected Parerga and Paralipomena. He’s no systematist, though I think his philosophy of music is brilliant. In my opinion, Nietzsche surpassed Schopenhauer on nearly every account, through his rejection of his former idol.

  15. It looks as though I was wrong. It is evident that you know that he was not a “German Idealist.” You have certainly read some of the important works, assuming that the selections of his main work did not omit any of his significant thoughts regarding perception, conception, reason, “will,” art, and asceticism.

    • Don’t tell that to Günther Zöller: according to him, Schopenhauer was the true successor to Fichte and Schelling, not Hegel. Schopenhauer apparently was extremely familiar with Schelling’s late (1809) treatise on freedom, and made a quite similar argument in his own work on the subject, though he nowhere explicitly acknowledges this. Of course, “German Idealism” was largely a retrospective category, something that emerged more around the 1860s and 1870s.

  16. Hi Ross -
    I am an architect living and working in Tel Aviv. I teach at the Tel Aviv University and am currently doing a PhD focusing on the social housing in Israel during the first two decades of Israel.Your blog is wonderful. I love your writing and the rich texture of the information. Is so far as many of the practisioners in Israel were born and educated in Europe and the Soviet block, this eriod layed the foundations for what was built here. While you eloquently discribe how the Utopian dreams were not materialised in the Soviet Union, here in Israel they were. As it turns out, utopias are not alway as successful as their protagonists planned! I look forward to reading your articles. If you have material which deals specifically with public housing, I would very much appreciate it if you could send me the links.

  17. I think you would find this book interesting:

    Laporte, Dominique-Gilbert. 2002. History of Shit. Translated by Nadia Benabid and Rodolphe el-Khoury. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

  18. Hello Ross, I’m an undergraduate history student currently researching the Russian avant-garde, particularly Moisei Ginzburg and Alexandr Vesnin, for a research project of mine. Your blog and its translated works (particularly in regards to Ginzburg) have been immeasurably useful for it, thank you for posting them! I was wondering, though, if it would be possible for me to reference the translations you’ve uploaded onto your ‘Modernist Architecture’ archive for my project, or whether you knew of other sources of the translated work I could access? I’ve been scouring online archives, but my lack of knowledge of Russian has made the search difficult. The research itself will not be published, only summarised in a single A3 poster that will be shown briefly at my university – with all material used within it properly referenced. I was just a little unsure of the protocol in regards to this sort of thing, and wanted to send a quick query.

    All the best, Katherine.

  19. Greetings from Frankfurt / M,
    please be so kind and correct the subtitle of the AFE tower. You wrote the building is from Ferdinand Kramer. You are absolutely mistaken, this architecture has nothing to do wizth Kramer. The building is definitely NOT designed by Kramer.

    Thank you!

  20. Greetings from Frankfurt also!

    I’m curious as to why you list Schelling and Fichte as “minor” German Idealists – does that mean that Kant and Hegel are the only “major” ones? I realize that Hegel and Kant have been much more influential and are more widely-read, but within the tradition of GI itself, the influence of both Fichte and Schelling was, in my opinion, profound enough to secure them “major” status. The clever title of Eckart Förster’s new book – The Twenty-Five Years of Philosophy – is a reference to a period demarcated by two comments: (1) Kant’s claim in 1781 that his critical project had inaugurated true philosophy and (2) Hegel’s claim in 1806 that philosophy was over. And the big four during those twenty-five years were, of course, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, whose projects Förster takes up in his book.

  21. An Alternative to Capitalism (since we cannot legislate morality)

    Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: “There is no alternative”. She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

    I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to my essay titled: “Home of the Brave?” which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

    http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/steinsvold.htm

    John Steinsvold

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”
    ~ Albert Einstein

  22. This is a such a fantastic page. I am currently doing my MA in Architectural History and Theory at a university in England, and I am planning to write my dissertation on Hannes Meyer’s work with the Bauhaus Brigade in the Soviet Union. I stumbled onto your site because of the incredible images of plans you have of his. I was wondering if it would at all be possible for you to tell me where you found those? If you decide to help me, I will most certainly acknowledge you in my dissertation and any future publication I would write on Hannes Meyer. Thank you for your time and consideration.

  23. Ross, I just came across your blog. Congratulations on developing this meticulous repository of information. I wish you all the best with your academic and creative endeavors. Looking forward to visiting your site again and again. Peace to you. Michele

  24. Hi Ross! Nice illustrations. Tell you what. Study marxizm and trotskizm and even maoizm, but, please, not get too much influenced. I lived in marxist state and I assure you there is nothing fasinating in real marxizm, as you would undoubtedly know if you study russian history less perfunctorily. Good luck.

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