Some depressingly funny bits from it:
Some passages from "Russian Writers, Censors and Readers" in Vladimir Nabokov's Lectures on Russian Literature:
"For an artist one consolation is that in a free country he is not actually forced to produce guidebooks. Now, from this limited point of view, nineteenth-century Russia was oddly enough a free country: books and writers might be banned and banished, censors might be rogues and fools, be-whiskered Tsars might stamp and storm; but that wonderful discovery of Soviet times, the method of making the entire literary corporation write what the state deems fit — this method was unknown in old Russia, although no doubt many a reactionary statesman hoped to find such a tool. A staunch determinist might argue that between a magazine in a democratic country applying financial pressure to its contributors to make them exude what is required by the so-called reading public—between this and the more direct pressure which a police state brings to bear in order to make the author round out his novel with a suitable political message, it may be argued that between the two pressures there is only a difference of degree; but this is not so for the simple reason that there are many different periodicals and philosophies in a free country but only one government in a dictatorship. It is a difference in quality. If I, an American writer, decide to write an unconventional novel about, say, a happy atheist, an independent Bostonian, who marries a beautiful Negro girl, also an atheist, has lots of children, cute little agnostics, and lives a happy, good, and gentle life to the age of 106, when he blissfully dies in his sleep — it is quite possible that despite your brilliant talent, Mr. Nabokov, we feel [in such cases we don't think, we feel] that no American publisher could risk bringing out such a book simply because no bookseller would want to handle it. This is a publisher's opinion, and everybody has the right to have an opinion. Nobody would exile me to the wilds of Alaska for having my happy atheist published after all by some shady experimental firm; and on the other hand, authors in America are never ordered by the government to produce magnificent novels about the joys of free enterprise and of morning prayers. In Russia before the Soviet rule there did exist restrictions, but no orders were given to artists. They were—those nineteenth-century writers, composers, and painters— quite certain that they lived in a country of oppression and slavery, but they had something that one can appreciate only now, namely, the immense advantage over their grandsons in modern Russia of not being compelled to say that there was no oppression and no slavery."
"... Then the marvelous nineteenth century came to a close. Chekhov died in 1904, Tolstoy in 1910. There arose a new generation of writers, a final sunburst, a hectic flurry of talent. In these two decades just before the Revolution, modernism in prose, poetry, and painting flourished brilliantly. Andrey Bely, a precursor of James Joyce, Aleksandr Blok, the symbolist, and several other avant-garde poets appeared on the lighted stage. When, less than a year after the Liberal Revolution, the Bolshevik leaders overturned the Democratic regime of Kerenski and inaugurated their reign of terror, most Russian writers went abroad; some, as for example the futurist poet Mayakovski, remained. Foreign observers confused advanced literature with advanced politics, and this confusion was eagerly pounced upon, and promoted, and kept alive by Soviet propaganda abroad. Actually Lenin was in art a philistine, a bourgeois, and from the very start the Soviet government was laying the grounds for a primitive, regional, political, police-controlled, utterly conservative and conventional literature. The Soviet government, with admirable frankness very different from the sheepish, half-hearted, muddled attempts of the old administration, proclaimed that literature was a tool of the state; and for the last forty years this happy agreement between the poet and the policeman has been carried on most intelligently. Its result is the so-called Soviet literature, a literature conventionally bourgeois in its style and hopelessly monotonous in its meek interpretation of this or that governmental idea."
"I have now described with less sorrow I hope than contempt, the forces that fought for the artist's soul in the nineteenth century and the final oppression which art underwent in the Soviet police state. In the nineteenth century genius not only survived, but flourished, because public opinion was stronger than any Tsar and because, on the other hand, the good reader refused to be controlled by the utilitarian ideas of progressive critics. In the present era when public opinion in Russia is completely crushed by the government, the good reader may perhaps still exist there, somewhere in Tomsk or Atomsk, but his voice is not heard, his diet is supervised, his mind divorced from the minds of his brothers abroad..."