poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

January 25, 2011

Odds and Ends: Throwing links overboard from the ship of bookmarks Edition.

Contents: Mercurial Surkov; Lenin’s gravediggers; “Top Thinkers,” revisited; The American Spite-Bloc; leaked photos and much, much more!

It’s like a document dump, except I practice safe sex.

I. Featured.

Dugin’s deconstruction of Surkov (and Surkov’s decomposition of Lenin.)

Александр Дугин: “Деконструкция Владислава Суркова.”

I was so taken with this article that I added Aleksandr Dugin as a facebook friend (he’s just just added Pig Latin to his languages.) Inspired by two essays Surkov has recently published in art magazines, Dugin… That’s right – Slava’s new hobbie is art criticism! What’s next? Such a Renaissance man! Anyway, Dugin is less interested in Slava’s artworld bona fides than his stubborn unwillingness to take a final position on anything. Dugin suggests the “mercurial” Surkov is the epitome of Russian society itself:

Парадоксы высокопоставленного археомодерниста

В значительной степени, Сурков и есть проявление того, что можно назвать археомодерном. В нем есть стремление уйти от архаики, но не порвать с ней окончательно. Встать на сторону модерна, но не признавать тех внутренних директив и определенности тех катастрофических разрушений бессознательного, на которых основан модерн. Он не хочет рвать связи до конца, но и укреплять их не собирается. В личности Суркова, как в магическом кристалле, отражается специфика всего нашего социально-политического развития. Органические протеизм, гибкость, амбивалентность, вечная двусмысленность, перетекание одного в другое с блокированием и одного, и другого, вероятно, и являются секретом влияния Суркова и устойчивости его позиции. Но одновременно это и диагноз, который мы, в общем-то, можем легко поставить нашему обществу в целом.

Пока мы будем пребывать в протеическом археомодерне, где не доминирует ни одна из сил, – ни модерн, ни традиционализм масс, ни невротическая паранойя элит, ни психотическая шизофрения народа, – одно не сможет одолеть другое. Элиты и массы смотрят друг на друга из своих боксерских углов и не способны выиграть ни матч, ни, тем более, кубок. Сурков – это рефери в битве элит и масс, государства и народа, «либерало-чубайсов» и архаических силовиков-рейдеров. Государство у нас, как говорил Пушкин, «единственный европеец». Сурков – европеец, но европеец, который, тем не менее, не то что не может, но и не хочет до конца избавляться от своих неевропейских, евразийских, русско-чеченских корней. Однако не стремится и укреплять их.

Отложенный выбор: с Богом или с чертом?

В этих двух текстах содержится ключ к пониманию не только самого Суркова, но и всей нашей политической системы. В них о «суверенной демократии» сказано гораздо больше, чем во всей болтовне обслуживающих власть экспертов, которые готовы подгонять под высшую установку все, что угодно, и поэтому нерелевантны.

В современной России все время возникает дуализм, четко очерченный Сурковым, между «юрким дьяволом» и «неподвижным Богом».

Лозунги «прогресса», «модернизации», «либерализма», «Запада», «демократии», «эффективности», «процветания» – все это, безусловно, от дьявола. Сурков это прекрасно понимает – в одной и той же фразе он сначала говорит, что не в этом дело, но потом добавляет, спохватываясь, что без этого нельзя (то есть именно в этом дело). Угрюмо изображение статического божества; оно спокойно, никуда не торопится, а на «модернизацию» и «демократию» посматривает со своих высот гневным оком. Сувереном в России является только Бог, Ветхий Деньми. И его рабы – смиренные простые русские люди – ведут отчаянную, почти безнадежную битву с «сынами века сего». Русские аполоннийцы.

Я думаю, что Сурков сам не определил, с кем он, с Богом или с чертом. Более того, меркуриальная природа категорически не способна выдержать такой жесткой проблематики.

С Богом или с чертом? Для меркурия, для трикстера, для культурного героя, как в североамериканских индейских мифах, не стоит такого выбора. И с Богом, и с чертом, и против Бога, и против черта. Это и есть то, что называется археомодерном, когда блокируется любая решимость, приводящая к определенности, резкому действию, а значит, к ассиметрии, конфликтам, угрозам, жестким и насильственным выводам. Археомодерн любыми способами и любой ценой, до истомы, до истошности, до истерики стремится эту решимость обойти. Я думаю, что пока Сурков является тем, кем он является, то есть, важнейшей фигурой в российском государстве, археомодерн будет доминировать и дальше. А наше общество не сможет сделать ни одного серьезного шага, ни в сторону модерна, ни в сторону архаики, ни в сторону Бога, ни в сторону черта, ни в сторону либерализма, ни в сторону консерватизма. Дело, конечно, не в Суркове, дело в состоянии народа, в состоянии русской истории, русской государственности, русского общества.

[English Translation c/o Google Here.]

I find it interesting that he brings up the “God or the Devil” matter. For some reason, Surkov has always reminded me of the passage in Demons in which Stavrogin asks Tikhon if it is possible to fear the Devil but not believe in God. It seems that if Surkov had any guiding political philosophy whatsoever, aside from keeping himself close to the man in charge, it might be described that way. Here are our Slava’s musings on Miro and Polissky:

Владислав Сурков: “Война и мир Хоана Миро.”
Владислав Сурков: “Полисский въезжает”.

And no, Natan Dubovitsky has not given up on the wikinovel Машинка и Велик, so there is still time to contribute. You know, at first I thought, all experimentalism aside, perhaps he’d just mixed up the basic concepts of authorship and democracy. Some kind of conceptual dyslexia. But now I see he’s intent on throwing them overboard from the ship of modernization.

Along with mushroomified corpse of Vladimir Ilyich:

GoodbyeLenin.ru

So the kids at United Russia want Lenin in the ground. Someone has suggested that Slava was behind this, given the mischievous URL. My initial reaction was, “What do they have to gain by pissing off the Commies?” Then, “Frankly I’m surprised they don’t just charge an exorbitant entrance fee to tourists. They could make a buck and revel in delicious irony at the same time – without destroying one of the great, not to mention weirdest, wonders of the world.” Then, Goodbye Lenin! was a great movie…” Then, I was reminded that the only form of progress Russia seems to know involves taking bulldozers to their personal past. I hate that. Anyway, if correct, this puts a dent in Dugie’s “archeomodern” theory. Or at least the archeo part of it…

I voted NO. I also think there should be a law against letting anyone under 25 weigh in on the destruction of historical treasures.

II. Required Reading.

We’re a sick world… We are a spiteful world. I believe our prefrontal cortex is diseased.

Financial Times: “Where have all the thinkers gone?”

(HT: Russia Monitor)

Progress! We have moved beyond asking why Russia has no great minds to asking why the world has no great minds! FT compares Foreign Policy’s annual list of Top Thinkers (see above link for in depth discussion) to one that may have been drawn up 150 years ago:

The 1861 rankings could have started with Charles Darwin and John Stuart Mill – On the Origin of Species and On Liberty were both published in 1859. Then you could include Karl Marx and Charles Dickens. And that was just the people living in and around London. In Russia, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were both at work, although neither had yet published their greatest novels.

Even if, like Foreign Policy, you have a preference for politicians, the contrast between the giants of yesteryear and the relative pygmies of today is alarming. In 1861 the list would have included Lincoln, Gladstone, Bismarck and Garibaldi. Their modern equivalents would be Mr Obama, Nick Clegg, Angela Merkel and Silvio Berlusconi.

Still, perhaps 1861 was a freak? So let us repeat the exercise, and go back to the year when the second world war broke out. A list of significant intellectuals alive in 1939 would have included Einstein, Keynes, TS Eliot, Picasso, Freud, Gandhi, Orwell, Churchill, Hayek, Sartre.

So why does the current crop of thinkers seem so unimpressive? Here are a few possible explanations.

A phantom copyright notice is spooking me when I try to paste more, so I suggest reading the rest at FT, unless you lack the means to penetrate the registration firewall. Their explanations for no Dostoyevsky caliber brainiacs these days range from lack of historical perspective on our own peers to the democratization and/or hyperspecialization of knowledge, from globalization (the great thinkers are in India – we just haven’t heard of them yet … except why assume there were not great thinkers in India centuries ago?) to …drumroll… we’re just not that smart anymore.

I would add that there are 6 times as many people than there were in 1861, and a much higher percentage of them are literate. The bar is set higher for getting noticed for your big brains. Also, TV has been invented. And watched. And, dare we say it, Late Capitalism has spread like a cancer throughout the world, devouring our little grey cells until the only functions we have left are those that make us money and get us laid. Not that 19th Century Europe was a glowing meritocracy, but intellectual pursuit for knowledge/art’s sake still had some panache.

Mark Ames: “Dead Souls: How Russians React to Terror.”

In this Vanity Fair article, Mark, relying largely on the rants of one Eddie Limonov, argues that Russian badassery in the face of terrrrists should set an example for the rest of the world. (I think the qualifier about in the face of terrorism is unnecessary…)

As appalling as it might seem, let’s remember what America’s far more sentimental reaction to 9/11 got us: two disastrous wars, tens of thousands of deaths, and the sorts of police-state measures once thought unimaginable. The difference may be more in our sentimentality than in our brutality.

This is a bit disingenuous. Though I envy Russian pragmatism, I do recall a few skirmishes in Chechnya, and the argument could be made that the war there is not yet over. And while the police-state measures here have indeed been unimaginable, the fact points to a lack of American imagination, not to a Russian civil utopia. The argument is based on the false premise that Russians are brutal and Americans are sentimental. From my observations, both cultures possess almost supernatural capacities for both brutality and sentimentality, we just disagree on the scenarios in which they are appropriate. We’re like each other’s Bizzarro Worlds.

Mark Ames: “We, The Spiteful.”

A much better, if far more controversial piece from Ames. I suppose now is as good a time as any to confess I’ve had the same epiphany from time to time. The only difference is that I hoped I was wrong and didn’t dare discuss it.

In the summer of 2004, I published an article in the New York Press that answered Thomas Frank’s question “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” The Bush-Kerry campaign was heating up, and it was clear to me that the American left was going to make the same mistake it’s been making for 30 years, and will continue making until it faces some unpleasant truths about the rank, farcical psychology that drives American voting habits. Why don’t they vote in their own economic interests? Why don’t voters vote rationally, the way we were taught in grade school civics classes? In a rational world, with rational voters voting in their rational economic interests, Bush—who dragged America into two lost wars before destroying the entire financial system—would’ve been forced to resign before the first primary and exiled to Saudi Arabia; rationally, rational voters would have elected anyone or anything, John Kerry or a coconut crab, over that fuck-up of fuck-ups, George W. Bush.

The answer came to me just I was just finishing my book Going Postal. Researching and writing that book was a real mind-fuck: spending all those isolated months sloshing through Middle American malice. I realized something obvious when I pulled back from all that research and looked at the Kerry-Bush race: malice and spite are as American as baseball and apple pie. But it’s never admitted into our romantic, naïve, sentimental understanding of who Americans really are, and what their lives are really like.

If the left wants to understand American voters, it needs to once and for all stop sentimentalizing them as inherently decent, well-meaning people being duped by a tiny cabal of evil oligarchs—because the awful truth is that they’re mean, spiteful jerks being duped by a tiny cabal of evil oligarchs. The left’s naïve, sentimental, middle-class view of “the people” blinds them to all of the malice and spite that is a major premise of Middle American life. It’s the same middle-class sentimentality that allowed the left to be duped into projecting candidate Obama into the great progressive messiah, despite the fact that Obama’s record offered little evidence besides skin pigment to support that hope. (For the record, I called out the left’s gullible Obamaphilia during the primary campaigns in early 2008—here in Alternet, and here in The eXile.)

[...]

Like the Grumpy Old Man character, Americans are miserable and we like it! We love it! Hallelujah!

Just as in 2004, today, in 2011, the left can’t make sense of it all. So the only way they can frame this contemporary American insanity is either by blaming it all on the oligarchs who exploit this latent spite, as if taking the oligarch funding out of the equation would solve it all…or, when getting too close to facing the awful possibility that maybe a lot of Americans are just contemptible jerks in dead-ender lives, the left retreats into the safe, comforting irony of Jon Stewart, where it’s stored away as just another zinger that requires no serious thought, no painful analysis.

Here is my article that tries to get the left to finally face the truth about American voters as they really are—to consider the possibility that maybe a huge bloc of American voters are worse than merely “irrational.” What if there’s not much to like about them at all? Or more importantly, why the hell do we need to like them; why is “likable” even a factor?

So go read the rest. Dark side of democracy indeed…

III. Links.

For you slackers. You know who you are.

“Kremlin Clans: The Sequel. Return of the Grey Cardinal.” In 3D. Wait, why is this not in 3D, Tolya? I thought all sequels were these days. Anyway, Sublime Oblivion has Surkov in Putin’s clan, and I can’t see Vova putting Lenin in a grave. So perhaps there is hope yet.

Awesome photos from someone allowed to hang out alone in Slava’s Kremlin office with a camera. If you needed any proof the Cold War were over. But it’s still rather thrilling, isn’t it? Mucking about in Kremlin inner sanctums… Where you’ll find fotos of Tupac, Obama, Che and a library that looks rather like the Slavic backlog in my department. Also, is that a Miro on his desk?

Less Awesome photos from someone probably not allowed to hang out in Putin’s palace with a camera but who did anyway. Nice upgrade, Vova. Lemme know if you need someone to test out that bathtub out for you.

LA Times: “Who is Ignatiy Vishnevetsky?” A Russian-Chicagoan handpicked by Roger Ebert to carry on his film critic legacy, is who.

Well, that should keep you occupied for a while.

As always, thanks for reading, and have a lovely week!

January 7, 2011

… To this great stage of fools.

That was a difficult year… I was prepared to acknowledge that it left me with little to crow about, yes, but it wasn’t until I broke into tears as “Happy New Year!” left my lips at the stroke of midnight that I felt the full weight of it. Like I’d been holding my breath since June. Horrible. A bit terrifying actually… This is my MO. I didn’t cry at my mother’s funeral. People kept informing me, “It’s not normal, T–” “You should be sad, T–” Eventually I did cry, when everyone else had gotten on with their lives and stopped wondering what to do with me. My emotional timing is always off. I managed to hold myself together as I suffered some freak neurological nightmare all year. Now I am crying all the time for no discernible reason. I cried at my step-parents’ house. Well, the holidays are stressful and emotional when you are orphaned-like. But I cried, inconsolably sobbed, when my step-mother kept asking where her box of chocolates was. Like I knew. Like the whole house were not filled to the brim with sweets. Like if she kept asking eventually I would confess to lifting them. I sat on the couch and wailed hysterically. Obviously not about the chocolates. Just like I did not cry about the arrival of the new year. I have no idea why I am suddenly such a drama queen lately. Certainly not pregnant, and don’t seem depressed or blue otherwise… I expect a decade from now another random blood test will reveal an imbalance of some magical chemical recently discovered to control one’s emotional sensitivity. … Eventually we’ll all be robots.

Well, like I said, I am not actually depressed. Just profoundly relieved 2010 is over. And one week into 2011 I’ve little Russia watching to boast of. I got nothin’, I tell ya. If you want serious political analyses, go visit AGT or that… Ioffe, I think, is her name. Yes. They have the dish on the liberal infighting and Putin’s corruption and our man in Chita and all that jazz. Nothing new under the Russian sun, as far as I can see. But then, just when you think that, there will be a coup or collapse or Vova will issue a “Putin sings Motown” LP or something else no one could have predicted. But that’s not happened since I last posted, so in the meantime I busy myself with the following:

Cinema

Black Swan. It’s not technically Russian, I suppose. On the other hand, it is directed by a guy named Aronofsky, takes place at the ballet, in a very dark and ill-defined reality, is set to Tchaikovsky’s music, and has a lesbian sex scene between two rather emaciated but beautiful women. And it isn’t French. So…

Inverse to my peers in the audience, I came for the ballet and stayed for the lesbian sex scene. But the draw, it turned out was neither. The psychodrama and Pyotr Ilyich’s score are responsible the film’s genuine intensity. Each on its own would be enough to make your heart pound, but the combination of two work like that of an illicit drug and alcohol. You arrive a bit jaded and cynical but braced for some adventure, get cinematic rush, leave the theater with your head spinning, and feel the full ugly weight of it the next day. It’s kind of like a terrifying nightmare you awake from the next day and, in the harsh light or reason and reflection you think, “Fuck. That didn’t even make SENSE.” Or maybe like a one night stand: insane in the moment, but now you’re in no mood to repeat it, wonder if you haven’t been made a fool of, suddenly remember that one annoying matter you blocked out of your mind in the heat of the moment but which now seems a bit cheezy and revolting (<-Winona Ryder zombie. Really?) But it just might haunt you for the rest of your life. Or not.

Well, did you want a proper review? Something about Kubrick and maybe some interpretation (metaphor for the creative process? stress-induced nightmare? complete mental breakdown? REALITY?) Oh, the Internet is full of that. Go google it. I liked it. I also like every aspect of this movie in its own respect (ballet, the score of Swan Lake, horror stories, psychotic break stories, artistic process stories, lesbian sex scenes, Flashdance-era fashions…) If you don't like any of these things, I can't imagine why on earth you would possibly want to see this film.

Er… I am a bit hesitant to post this here; I fear either no one will believe me, or my college peers will come crawling from the woodwork. But I simply must share! I beat Darren Aronofsky to the punch! In a performance art class taken in my undergraduate years, I -why? who even knows? it was performance art!- did one performance set to the score of Swan Lake which involved, among other things, a sharp blade and a stupid amount of my own blood. I went to a university that churns out actors and directors and other industry professionals. Who in that class is now hanging with Darren Aronofsky? Until I find out, I will be gracious and just mutter something about great minds…

Literature

Sister Pelagia and the Black Monk. Someone (Spires?) was advising me to read Akunin. My New Year’s resolution is to read Borges, but this was at the library, and seemed more … doable. I am slowly realizing the reason I have never read Borges is not laziness, but a sincere desire not to. Akunin. It’s ok. Pretty routine mystery stuff. I love mysteries, but that’s the problem. After so many of them it becomes a struggle to not see the formula. In fact the first few pages were intolerable, very talky and haughty (I want to blame Andrew Bromfield,) but it suddenly became interesting just a I was ready to chuck it. And it has remained interesting. I would not conflate “interesting” with “genius,” but it is certainly not … low brow. Pretentious? A little, which has the effect of making something respectable seem a bit cheap. But it is nevertheless enjoyable in an “I’ve been reading Latin all day and I don’t even know Latin, so brainpower is now on standby” way and great for the train. To quote an Amazon.com review, “I enjoyed the Dostoevsky references.”

On the topic of Russian literature, let us pause to appreciate this stunning article from the Guardian:

Why western authors are in love with Mother Russia.

I am “western,” in love with Mother Russia and … uhm, I have a blog. Maybe he’d gotten to the root of my madness? I was quite intrigued. Until I was reminded that the reason this western girl has a blog about Mother Russia is to combat the utter crap being written about her elsewhere.

Choice:

Russia has recently inspired an abundance of novels. I mean, specifically, novels set there by English-speaking authors, from thrillers such as Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko mysteries, to Helen Dunmore’s Leningrad books. (By contrast, surprisingly few home-grown, contemporary Russian writers have found wide foreign readerships. The Putin era has not in general been conducive to great literature.)

Dear Mr. Miller, YOU SUCK. I don’t write this stuff for my health, you know. (Well, actually… but that’s neither here nor there.) Yes, if London bookshops are not crammed with Russian novels, it simply MUST be Putin’s fault. But, let’s not get started about the crimes Mr. Putin would be accused of if London bookshops were crammed with Russian novels.

Martin Cruz Smith is “great literature?” I am going to go shoot myself. You can continue reading…

There are multiple ways to think about Russia’s extremes. The obvious one is physical. Much of the vast country is lethally cold for half the year or more. Virtually any outdoor activity – starting a car; walking down the obstacle-course, snowbound streets – can be its own microdrama. This harsh environment helps to explain why Dostoevsky and others always seem to be stretching up their hands to heaven. The fundamental questions – Why are we here? Is anyone in charge? – somehow seem sharper at -20C, or on a three-day train ride.

Well, considering London just absolutely ceased to function period after a few inches of snow, I can see how the author would attribute Russia’s penchant for drama to … cold weather. Still, it doesn’t explain the dearth of Canadian lit on London bookshelves. Personally, I blame Stephen Harper. Not conducive…

Classic:

Russia is not, or not only, a sort of moral zoo, which writer and reader can visit with a safe sense of superiority. It is also a place to test their moral pride and presumptions.

Russia has for centuries been a distorting, fairground mirror for the west. It is both like and unlike the tamer nations. Throughout the cold war, it was alien, unknowable, the other, enemy world, and an easy setting for thrillers. Something of that menace persists, partly in the guise of the Russian mob, one of the elements in John le Carré’s latest book Our Kind of Traitor. At the same time Russia is European, notionally Christian and industrialised. It has a familiar high culture and recognisable architecture. Go to Moscow for a day or two, and you might consider it a normal northern European city, with extra neon and worse roads. You have to stay a little longer to uncover the wildness. As the Marquis de Custine put it after visiting in 1839, it is “only too easy to be deceived by the appearances of civilisation”.

Don’t be deceived – they’re animals, not like us! It’s a “zoo.” Brits go there to get their moral superiority on. Someone should tell them they really do that just fine at home and save them the plane trip. And 3 hour train trip. In the cold.

One question posed by some novels set in Russia is whether this place that sometimes looks the same actually is the same: whether everything that happens there could happen here too, could happen to us, if we shed our inhibitions and our own “appearances of civilisation”. … Would we cling to our integrity today, if almost everyone about us was selling theirs?

Uhm, other than to read his own articles, has the author picked up a newspaper lately? Who the fuck is clinging to their integrity?! Please, I want to start a commune with this person. Tell me who we’re talking about. We should breed, and save civilization! Well, I never did find out why we westerners are in love with Mother Russia, but I did learn that Brits are apparently so boring they must travel to inclement and morally depraved places to find interesting people to write about. That’s depressing.

Lastly on the topic of Russian literature, from Muse Daily.

Brodsky’s mentor, the great Silver Age poet Anna Akhmatova, laughed at the K.G.B.’s shortsightedness. “What a biography they’re fashioning for our red-haired friend!” she said. “It’s as if he’d hired them to do it on purpose.”

Plus ca change…

I need to run off and return to real life.

But I was going to add something about there being a world food prices crisis which the UN reports may lead to uprisings. (Do hungry people have the energy to fight?) And on the same day I read about an article in our local paper highlighting a recipe using obscure, gourmet ingredients in some kind of contest among local chefs to make the most unique and over-the-top cuisine no one would ever want to eat evar. One step in the recipe involved covering a lemon in salt and letting it set “for 4-6 months.” Meanwhile, Americans are shopping at the Dollar Store and starving Indians are on the verge of revolt. Karlin just posted something about people living in sewers under Las Vegas.

It is just not right.

No wonder I cry…

But I must run! Ok, thanks for reading. Ciao!

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