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Lozny L. Рец.: Клейн Л.С. Трудно быть Клейном: Автобиография в монологах и диалогах. — СПб.: Нестор-История, 2010. // Current Anthropology 51 (6): 890 – 891, 2010
Трудно быть Клейном: Автобиография в монологах и диалогах. ISBN 978-5-98187-368-3

Over 40 years ago Bruce Trigger (1978) wrote the article /ash#dblquoteNo longer from another planet” in response to the publication of Lev Klejn’s (1977) A Panorama of Theoretical Archaeology1. Panorama had fractured the intellectual Iron Curtain (the political one collapsed 13 years later), and Trigger rightly noted that it marked the global entrée of Russian (Soviet) archaeology.

Klejn’s first autobiography, Перевернутый мир (1991) (The World Upside Down), published in German as Verkehrte Welt, as well as in Slovenian, describes his years in Gulag. This second and comprehensive autobiography covers the last 70 years from the Stalinist era to perestroika, a turbulent period of modern Russian history

The book (in seven parts, with five appendices, a bibliography, and two indices) is a compilation of published texts and private correspondence presenting a chronological description of events and the development of ideas. This historical account consists of eight interviews given by Klejn to foreign archaeological journals, four interviews published in Russian and foreign newspapers, an interview for the Moscow gay magazine KVIR, and 37 letters to or from colleagues and friends from around the world. Anecdotal information supplements the factual data and together they provide an excellent insight into the Soviet intelligentsia from the late 1940s to the present. There are numerous photographs documenting Klejn’s life and academic career.

Lev Samuelovich Klejn was born Leon Stanislavovich Klejn in 1927 in Witebsk, presently Belarus, to an affluent Jewish family.  His two first names were Polish, Leon after father’s brother and his otchestvo Stanislavovich.  Both were changed due to political circumstances.   A Soviet clerk transcribed Leon as Lev, and Klejn himself changed his otchestvo to Samuelovich, provocatively protesting growing anti-Semitism. He grew up in a household where Russian, Belorussian and occasionally Polish (by his grandparents) were spoken.

During WWII Lev Klejn was a teenager in central Russia, where he first attracted the attention of the KGB (a constant presence in his life until the late 1980s). This was also his first encounter with Marxism in its Stalinist version – his initial fascination was short-lived.  In 1944, at age 16, he managed join the army.

Klejn’s academic education began at the Pedagogical Institute in Grodno, where he studied linguistics. In 1947, following another encounter with the KGB, he left for Leningrad and was admitted to the Department of Linguistics at Leningrad University, where he met a formalist folklorist Vladimir Propp.  Because of the anti-Semitic environment in the Department of Linguistics, Propp suggested Klejn transfer to the Department of History. Here he studied archaeology under the supervision of Michail I. Artamonov, specializing in the Catacomb Culture of the Early Bronze Age steppe. He graduated in 1951, and subsequently made four unsuccessful attempts to enroll to a PhD program. Unable to pursue his education, Klejn first taught in a village school (1952-1953), briefly worked in the Library of the Academy of Sciences in Leningrad, and then taught history in a high school for boys in Leningrad. In 1954 returned to Grodno to teach history in a local high school. There he wrote his (never defended) dissertation on the pedagogy of teaching history. He spent three years teaching in Grodno before he was accepted to a graduate program in archaeology in Leningrad.  In 1960 he was finally awarded the title of Candidate of Sciences (equivalent to PhD).  He became a Lecturer at Leningrad University in 1961 and launched his academic carrier. He carried out fieldwork in the Ukrainian steppe researching Bronze Age nomads, but also excavated Neolithic sites and medieval Slavic forts. Among his many visitors in the field were Thor Heyerdahl and some of his Ra crew, who participated in his excavation of kurgans in Ukraine.  

Klejn was accused of homosexuality2 and arrested in February 1981, about four years after his Panorama appeared in the American journal Current Anthropology. Possibly his growing fame and international contacts had attracted the attention of the authorities. Klejn himself suggests that his unorthodox opinions could have been the reason. Soviet involvement in Afghanistan also led to increased restrictions on academic research3. Klejn was sentenced to three years but another court overruled this sentence. After spending a year and half in a prison and a labor camp near Leningrad, he was released in August 1982. Stripped of his academic titles he was not allowed to teach.  He had problems finding employment and considered emigration. However, he managed to make a living as translator at the Hermitage, and eventually retired at age 60 in 1987.

By the late 1980s the political situation in the Soviet Union had changed radically and Klejn’s situation improved. He was able to teach in West Berlin and Vienna in 1990 and Copenhagen in 1991. He also received invitations from the Sorbonne, the universities of Durham, Cambridge and Oxford in England, and universities in Scandinavia, Slovenia and the United States. In 1993 defended his habilitation (Doctor of Sciences)4 at the Leningrad Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences on the basis of his book Archaeological Typology (Klejn 1982). In August 1994 he was appointed Professor of Philosophical Anthropology at the Institute of Philosophy of St. Petersburg University, and was recognized as among the leading European archaeologists by his peers. Colin Renfrew remarked that Klejn is one of a few European scholars who engage with the intellectual challenges from American archaeologists.

Klejn’ key interests are in theory and methodology; he was among the early users of quantitative methods in pottery studies and has authored major works on archaeological theory (1993, 1995, 2001, and 2008). He never was a true Marxists but used Marxism as analytical tool. In response to an American colleague, he explained that in the Soviet Union Marxism-Leninism was not theory but a dogma. This explains why there was so little theoretical discussion in the whole Soviet Bloc5: archaeologists were expected to produce evidence (artifacts) to corroborate the dogma. Discussing Marxism, Klejn makes a significant observation that archaeologists do not realize how much they are influenced by ideology and politics. Two approaches collide in Klejn’s theoretical thinking: one rooted in material culture to reconstruct the past, and the other in interpretation to understand it. He considers “Metarchaeology” (Klejn 2001) his most significant theoretical contribution.

Klejn use of memoir, interviews, and correspondence to tell his story on the one hand leads to repetitions, but on the other allows him to present different sources and perspectives on specific subjects. Of particular interest to archaeologists, he also devotes space to what we all are keen to talk about – socializing during fieldwork. 

Klejn is skilled storyteller and meticulous and precise archivist. He presents himself as an archaeologist, anthropologist, and philosopher, author of 11 monographs (some have appeared in translation), and approximately 350 academic papers. He was an early critic of Nicolay Y. Marr (apparently Stalin liked Klejn’s paper sent to Pravda), the curator of Lew Gumilev’s papers, and counted Russian actors, philosophers, and writers among his friends. He describes his interest in music, poetry and theater (he led the choir at the Leningrad high school for boys, and was also involved in artistic activities at Leningrad University).  He also popularized archaeology in the Soviet Union, especially during the 1960-1970s.  He sums up his outlook on the grim Soviet reality as follows: Вообще искусственного веселья мне не требовалось – и без того так много было источников для юмора и иронии. Несмотря на то, что окружающая жизнь часто была страшненькой. (Generally I did not need any artificial mood changers – there were plenty causes for humor and irony. Despite the fact that ambient life was often horrifying).

His autobiography’s title is borrowed from the novel Hard to be a God (1975) by the Strugacky brothers.  The novel/ash's core idea is that human progress is often cruel and bloody, and that religion (ideology) encouraging blind faith can be an effective tool of oppression, working against emerging scientific discipline and enlightenment. The protagonist’s role is as an observer on the planet (he has far more advanced knowledge than the people around him), but he is forbidden to actively interfere with the natural progress of history. Klejn relishes the irony.   He quotes Pushkin: «…черт догадал меня родиться в России с душою и с талантом» (…devilish set up to be born in Russia with soul and talent). Such was the fate of Lev S. Klejn.

At 83 he is still academically active; four books are presently either submitted for publication or in production (for details see Klejn’s webpage at klejn.archaeology.ru). If archaeology is a craft, Lev Klejn is its master, if it is philosophy, he is its guru, and if it is science, he is the leading scientist, creative and innovative.

Lev S. Klejn has cancer and this is his latest struggle.  

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