poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

June 19, 2014

The Russian Bug, or, An exercise in gratuitously mixed metaphors.

Plus: Odds & Ends, and US-Russia relations as Gogol-esque pathos.

Once upon a time, zhili-byli, this was a proper Russia blog. Back when a pack of cigarettes cost six bucks and the only people who read Russia blogs were those battling PTSD (Post-Transition Sentimentality Disorder.) Now my bad habit puts me back double, every casual nightly news viewer is an armchair Kremlinologist and political blogs have been replaced by celebrity Instragrams. Returning to one’s defunct blog is the internet version of returning to one’s grandmother’s home in middle age. Smaller, emptier and humbler than memory serves. Could use a fresh coat of paint. And it smells weird … like pickles? But its continued existence provides an anchor to the past, and practical reasons for giving up this place – so much work, and no one ever visits anymore – are no match for the insufferable romantic disposition of the writer.

There is no grandmother here to make me soup, but let’s be honest, it’s the indulgence that makes one feel better. And what is more indulgent than one’s own blog? Here I’ve convalesced through feverish delirium brought on by The Russian Bug. “How was Russia?” “It was a living nightmare, poverty, desperation, nihilism, I knew a guy who was killed…” “I’m sorry you had to experience that.” “No, it was soul-achingly beautiful, and the people, the people… and there was just a more sane idea about personal priorities in general, you know? Best thing that ever happened to me probably.” “Oh God. You caught it.” “Caught what?” “The Russian Bug.” Thusly I was diagnosed by the head of a Slavic Department.

People have been known to recover from it, or at least go for long symptomless periods. But there is no cure, only dormancy. Triggers are infinite: melancholia, despair, too many shots of the clear stuff, winter Olympics, Cossacks fighting Nazis in goddamned 2014 and anything that reinforces a belief that nothing makes sense and everything is poetry. Like any addiction, by the time you realize you need help you are already in deep, up at 3am unearthing pre-perestroika Soviet rock from the bowels of the interwebs, re-watching Zvyagintsev’s films for the nth time, reading yet another dry analysis of the collapse of the USSR and practicing personal hygiene worthy of an Intro to Russian Lit protagonist. And as the alcoholic turns to drink to shake the delirium of his torment, the Russophile turns to writing about Russia. Just enough to clear the head and straighten the spine, not so much that one does something they’ll later regret, like start a novel. I can stop writing a Russia blog whenever I want. Lo, look at the sad history of this place – it’s absolutely true. But if I am honest with myself, sometimes all it takes is one bad day, and I’m back to obsessing about souls and international relations and hot Russian men. The first thing addiction steals from a person is shame.

So can I talk about the war?

Is it not a war? A president was forcibly ousted, land was annexed and people are killing each other without even truly being able to explain why. Seems like a war to me. It really pisses me off, war. So I have this thing I am overly earnest about. Everyone has something – usually their children or their art, usually vomit-inducing. For me, it is the load of axes the United States of America and Russia carry around, forever in need of a proper grinding (so they will be ready when the time arrives, and the grinding itself signals to the other that this time has arrived, and it is like the two Ivans, but if they had tanks and nukes.) Especially when those axes are carelessly dropped all over grandmothers and the houses their grandchildren won’t be able to visit again now, and all over the grandchildren too. Ukraine is no innocent victim, but the people who have and will suffer from the policies, military or economic, in play there, or worse, absent there, disproportionately are. These policies have been shaped in no small way by the military and economic axe-grinding of the United States and Russia. No, this is not simply or even primarily a proxy war between Russia and the US or the “West.” The people of Ukraine have their own dysfunctions, grievances, historical luggage, responsibilities, needs, desires, etc. But once you start funneling money, inciting nationalist hatred and outright annexing territory, you are implicated in the instability that follows and must abdicate your “innocent bystander” status. At best, neither the US nor Russia are doing anything to scale back their perceived and/or real involvement in escalating the tensions and violence now witnessed throughout Ukraine and its separatist territories. And the rhetoric from both sides makes me wretch, however legitimate or sincere concerns of the West and Russia may be – and they are. You want to support the development of democracy, be my guest: stop supporting coups, stoking the fires of extremism, ignoring discrimination and giving corrupt oligarchs a pass. You want the world to respect you and treat you as an equal, so do I: start by not engaging in behavior and propaganda that confirms the very worst stereotypes of your nation, that you are lawless barbarians who cannot be trusted.

I’m a peacenik. But I’m not a hippie. My opposition to going around killing our neighbors is a very practical one. When the war is over, after all the death, destruction and trauma, people still have to figure out how the hell to live with each other, and if national borders ensured that, my fair city of Chicago, USA would have neither its notorious murder rate, nor its remarkably peaceful coexistence of Jews, Russians, Poles, Indians, Pakistanis etc. If you need a fence to behave like a decent human being, realize the lack of a fence is not the underlying problem, and that fences can easily be torn down and rebuilt elsewhere. Humans don’t kill other humans because the fences are in the wrong places. They do it because they are angry, afraid and because there is a boatload of money in the military industrial sphere. No arms dealer ever got rich off of our better angels, regardless how often our better angles are invoked in the name of war.

And if I had a dime for every iteration of the “Great Game” explanation I’d be able to pay my rent next month. Sure, there is a great game. But it can’t be played without pawns, and that’s where people like you and I come in. World leaders, oligarchs and their shady intermediaries don’t fuck everything up in a vacuum; they fuck everything up in the petri dish of our anxieties, anger, cynicism and deficit of critical thinking abilities. They need us to be too tired and overworked to care, too impassioned to reason or too helpless to bother either way. Ignorance, apathy and anger are free artillery, charitable donations to the war effort. War is people telling you so sorry but they cannot possibly solve their personal disputes without accidentally killing someone’s mother.
If you think I’m a pedantic idealist when writing on the topic of war, it would blow your mind to hear what I have to say on the topic of US-Russian cooperation.

We are already as ignorant as we need to be, about ourselves and each other. Why go out of our way to cultivate ignorance? Why not … try to understand each other, try to live with each other, accept our differences and celebrate our shared humanity? I recently learned that the name of the original large landmass on Earth, before it broke apart into continents, is “Rodinia.” Alas, the planet is our Motherland, and when we kneel to the ground and kiss the earth in Dostoyesvskian humility, we belong to the same nation. Oh sure a few people would not profit from such an intrinsically spiritual yet astonishingly practical venture – but neither you nor I are among them. (Shout out to the NSA, thanks for reading, I mean you are among them, but you know what I mean.) Invoking the Great Game narrative only gives us a false sense of not being implicated in it. We are.

Look, I am not a beads-wearing, incense-lighting, Kumbaya-chanting happily oblivious stoned wacko. (Though if a pack of cigarettes goes up another dollar, I may begin looking for a dealer.) I don’t generally adore humanity. I’m depressed or angry 90% of the time. I have traumas that freak the fuck out of my acquaintances. I am an American. I am involved in American politics. The fact that you are no saint – this is my point – really is no excuse. The fact that you are a realist is no excuse. The fact that you are angry is no excuse. The problem is not that happy saintly idealists will not make an effort to hear each other out. It’s the bitter, broken, proud, jaded people of the world who need to figure out how to fucking coexist.

They also write the best poetry, you know…

Ok enough about my bilateral frustrations.

I’m only inconsolable because I love you all so much.

When I become inconsolable I behave badly. Sometimes I just lie in bed until noon contemplating the particular shade of blue sky on the other side of the window and wallowing in the lamentations of provincial gulls (Oh, Chekhov…,) sometimes I resolve to end it all and don’t, sometimes I drink cheap wine and watch Scandinavian murder mysteries all night. At this point I am just typically depressed. A dull depression, a stasis, a kind of interminable waiting room of the soul. Nothing is too terribly real. Nothing is too terribly beautiful. It’s canned soup existence, tasting of nothing, better than hunger. Sometimes, however, like an autoimmune disorder activated by a weakened immune system, the Russian Bug bites again. I’m not entirely comfortable classifying it as an illness. For all I know, it is the cure. Certainly it is the cure to canned soup existence. “The mania phase of classic bi-polar disorder,” you suggest, clinically-minded. Mozhet byt‘. No doctor has diagnosed me as such, but it seems as plausible as “the Russian soul, it’s like a vampire and once you are bitten you are doomed to live like a crazy person for all eternity” explanation. Are not both the Gothic monster novel and modern psychiatric classification but crude metaphors for our anxieties and desires?

Hark! Arisen from the crypt of the Poemless blog, cursed, undead, roaming the internet like feral animal and come in through the window to steal your precious innocence:

Odds & Ends: “You’ve read this far – I’ll make it quick” Editon.

Ukraine, Putin, and the West: Putin walks into a bar . . .
By the editors of n+1, a must-read, as in, if you only read one thing, but you are here reading this so if you only read two things about Ukraine, read this. You will be less ignorant for it and people will respect you more. And I’m not even charging you for that advice.

My Mind-Melting Week on the Battlefields of Ukraine Death and disappearance in the foggiest of wars.
By Julia Ioffe. I’m not her biggest fan, but this is a very good, unbiased, on-the-ground attempt to make sense of why people are killing one another in Eastern Ukraine. Spoiler alert: no one is completely sure, but they all have good reason to be afraid.

Who is the bully?
By Jack F. Matlock Jr. Well, you won’t get out of here without being subjected to my usual propaganda about how the US treats Russia like a gaslit mistress and is it any wonder then she acts so unhinged? But this time, it’s written by the former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union. Don’t take my commie word for it. I’m now reading his “Autopsy on and Empire: The American Ambassador’s Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union.” 900 pages of sheer glorious foreign policy talk. I told you I was sick.

Why Washington must try harder to understand the Kremlin: The chill in US-Russia relations is not just down to conflicting interests on Ukraine – it stems from a deeper lack of expertise of the Kremlin’s logic and actions.
By Alexander Gabuyev. It’s all well and fine to spend ten years of your life online bemoaning the awful state of US Russia policy. Far better to understand why it is just so incredibly awful. This doesn’t explain everything (like why anyone with an average IQ understands Kremlin psychology better than White House advisors) – but it is an exquisite examination of the global cause and effect of Americans not studying Russian like they used to. Oh it is a dreary world, gentlemen! Send your kids to get Russian degrees for the love of all that is holy. The fate of the world is in their hands. Probably not a great idea to place the fate of the world in the hands of those who would rather read very long murder novels than get a decent paying job. I don’t make the rules.

FYI, I stumbled upon this piece via The Guardian’s New East Network: “inside the post-soviet world”, if you’re into kitsch. It’s all Lenin statues and cabbage over there. Go get yer Ostalgie on.

As I said earlier, I was up all night with nostalgia-induced insomnia and probably watched every Akvarium video on YouTube. Admitting you have a problem is the first step. A bit later this binge dove-tailed with an exchange I had with an acquaintance in Moscow about trains and the soul of the Rodina and whatnot, and I recalled a recent situation in which Boris Grebenshchikov (leader of Akvarium, kind of a genius) got rather pissed off that his song “Etot Poezd v Ogne (This train is on fire)” had been used for pro-war propaganda purposes. Unlike me, he really is a pot-smoking, beads-wearing anti-war hippie, and I’m far more surprised that the people who chose to co-opt the song were unfamiliar with his almost cringe-worthy peacnikery than that they were using this song to bang the drums of war. I am yet more surprised that The New York Times ran an article about it. An article which, quite beside the point, describes the existence as a Soviet artist as such:

“It was a shadow society,” Mr. Grebenshikov said. “But in Russia it had a peculiar form, in that you could live for months without really encountering that other world. The only places you needed to go were the wine shop and the book shop.”

Wait. THE ONLY PLACES YOU NEEDED TO GO WERE THE WINE SHOP AND THE BOOK SHOP? Well they sure as hell kept that bit of info from us American Cold War kids. Look, I am not calling for a full return to Soviet society, cough, but forgive me for not taking more pity on your persecuted soul, BG. Anyway, here’s the song: Аквариум – Поезд в огне.

“You said something about hot Russian men, poemless.”

There were some at the Social Security Administration office on Lawrence the other day, and I would like to personally thank them for making that trip worthwhile (and who even knew you still need the actual card?) But for the rest of you, how about a beautiful Russian song? Ok, and a sexy beast of peacenik!

The magical thing about visiting a grandmother is that she will feed you delicious candies while she lectures you, trying to pass on her hard-earned insights while you are distracted with gluttony. I’m no one’s grandmother, but I am so happy you stopped by.

As always, thank you for reading. Namaste, druzya.

June 9, 2013

It’s Pretty Fucking Good, Actually.

Behold! In which write a post appealling to my lefty activist, bibliophile and Russophile readers all at once! I don’t even know who the rest of you are or what you want from me.

A while back, before May came trampling through my life like Renfield on meth, Keith Gessen of n+1 (“Uh. Is this Masha’s brother?” I asked friends) contacted me to promote a book he had recently published. Or edited. Or translated. Or something. He wanted to send me a copy of Kirill Medvedev’s It’s No Good. I said OK. For future reference, you don’t need to ask. Just put your brilliant books in the mail addressed to me, ok people? (I’m talking to you Dalkey Archive.) Shit folks do without even asking first, and you want to politely inquire if I would mind a free copy of your Russian activist’s poetry book? What the hell is wrong with people…?

I read it, devoured it, as if it were the sweat off a lover’s neck in the throes of passion. I did not actually eat it. Although I am hungry… (Please contribute to my fundraising page! Before I am forced to eat my own books!) But at some point I realized I’d underlined, starred or scribbled, “Yes!!!” on each of the last five pages. So, mutilated forever if not devoured.

I suppose you’ll want me to tell you something about it, even though I know you can use Google. Author: Russian, male, about my age, about my political sensibilities, intelligent, poet, activist, I think he’s in a rock band. I’d date him. Book: Poems, manifestos, essays of the current state of the Russian intelligentsia and reflections upon ethical and aesthetic responsibility in this crazy world. I’d recommend it.

As a race, but specifically as Americans, and especially as Gen-Xers who went to poetry readings in coffee shops in our Midwestern college towns, we have collectively been exposed to criminal amounts of BAD POETRY. We need support groups. Fortunately, the Russian literary tradition has higher standards for the art form than Cafe Ennui. Comparing the two is like comparing the Mariinsky’s Swan Lake with your niece’s dance recital. The latter is supporting the arts, the former having your life changed by art. Kirill’s poems aren’t the kind you’ll read out of obligation to convince yourselves you are still capable of doing that kind of thing. You won’t think, “Oh my god, TMI. I am not your therapist,” or, “You like the mountains, we get it.” Nothing about these poems will make you think they were written in a workshop in upstate anywhere. I promise. Example:

“BIG RUBBER COCK”

I saw it every day on the way to school.
I know that’s not the best way
to start a poem,
but there’s nothing I can do about my memories,
I can’t take the rubber cock out of my mind and replace it
with, say, a New Year’s tree.
I saw big rubber cocks every day on the way to school—
you could do anything back then—
it was 1991—
and sometimes best friends
buddy-buddy, as the Americans say,
even gave them to each other
as presents
simultaneously
by coincidence,
and it wasn’t even a joke
it was natural
a downpayment on eternity
a symbol of one’s success and prowess
eternal prowess,
the authorities
couldn’t get a grip
on the situation,
they didn’t know what to do
about the rubber cocks,
the fairly large rubber cocks,
they hadn’t learned to concentrate them in one place,
these cocks were everywhere,
they weren’t even manufactured here,
they were imported from America,
which didn’t know their true value,
no one knew their value,
in fact no one knew the value of anything,
we all lived like poets—and a poetic fate smelling of resin
(the Russian resina means rubber, that is, synthetic resin,
but there is also in English rOsin, hard resin, kanifol in Russian,
but in English like a rose
it’s a coincidence—rubber rose amber resin rosin)
so this smelly sticky mixture
connected us through the centuries
everything spoken seen and lived
and you can hear the buzz of every murdered nerve ending
every glass of wine from eight years ago
could end up making you vomit
for a very long time—
the imagination is active,
as if a play is on the stage,
and the wine is poured,
your mind is working,
your cigarettes are burning,
your mind is relaxing,
your eyes are narrowing,
the tension is rising
the authorities are rats
but how many more times
will we say about our homeland
our innocent and gentle
if sometimes cruel but in the end beloved homeland:

THIS FUCKING COUNTRY.

I’m not a fan of shock value poems, which mostly seem admissions of having run out of interesting ideas or being only 14 years old. But this works because it’s the author and his whole country, not the reader, on the receiving end. Most of you kids are smart enough to get the 1991 double-entendre here, no? If not, go read Naomi Klein. After you finish this.

Another poem I quite liked for no important reason is about why children don’t fear death:

they think
they’re going to die
as absolutely different people;
I think they think
that by the time they’re old enough
to die
everything about them will have changed,
and so it’s as it this won’t be
them dying

And this, which sounds whiny until the last line that punches a small breath out of you:

here’s what I wanted to say:
sometimes the lack of human interaction can make a person
physically ill
but sometimes human interaction is even worse than that
and since all is not lost yet
since some people still believe in us
and because some still consider us the voice of our generation
(and because we are, in the end, still standing)
I would like once more to emphasize that:
we are lonely
very few people believe in us
we are reluctant to show our poems
to our parents, to our close friends, to our acquaintances
no one believes in us
after a good day at work
no one will go have a beer with us
no one will teach us loneliness

My one quibble with his poems is that many remind one more than a little bit of Ginsberg and Whitman, with his “voice of our generation” and “pleasant evening cities,” and his

COME COME TO ME
BEFORE AN UNSPEAKABLE FORCE
TEARS US FROM OUR WORLDS
AND REFUSES TO PUT US BACK AGAIN
BEFORE WE’VE BEEN PUSHED INTO THE GUTTERS
OF PATHS NO ONE USES

with his combination of brash, raw intensity, playful pornography and angelic posture. But Kirill Medvedev is an astute observer of his fellow humans and a skilled writer, so I won’t protest if he’s claiming his place in this tradition. After all, Ginsberg wrote in homage to Whitman, and no one’s complaining. Still, one wonders if there is anything new under the sun. I don’t know enough about poetry to say K.M. is not innovative, but I have read enough to say it feels familiar. Familiar, yes, but very engaging. There is streak of madness to his method. These are not lyrical verse intended to provoke quiet individual reflection, but often calls to arms, implicit or explicit, to put aside our books and reverie for a minute and go live out there in the messy, insane, unnecessarily horrible world which you and I and he are a part of whether we like it or not. He can protest in front of theaters all he wants (he did that, writes about it… and yes, all writing about activism is ultimately embarrassing) but there are “actions” in his poems, in their will to live.

Which is aesthetically and ideologically consistent with the second part of It’s No Good, a collection of essays on contemporary intellectual life and political responsibility and activism, permeated with palpable frustration, warning against complacency and intellectual traditions that have outlived their usefulness. We’ve all been there, amirite?

His essays read like journal entries, are terribly accessible and the book contains a glossary of names which was helpful even to me. Some of the essays get a bit niche, though should be of interest to those of us who think the inner-workings of the Russian intelligentsia make those of the FSB seem as transparent as cellophane, or who are still obsessed with Eddie Limonov. I will always be obsessed with Limonov. I suspect Eddie Limonov gave me a psychological STD or something. And that you will get it from reading this blog, and that is how insanity perpetuates its existence.

What was I saying? Oh. Psychological STDs aside, Kirill Medvedev’s writings on the contemporary political environment in Russia come complete with a diagnosis of what is killing the liberal reformers, progressives, lefties, etc., how they got sick, and what needs to be done to cure them and restore health to Russia’s avant-garde. And he does so in a really History 101 way that I think even those with little or no familiarity with Russian intellectual history will find comprehensible. Largely because the Cliff’s Notes version of his politics is, “Communism? Socialism? Dissidents? Liberasl? Look, it’s the 21st Century and things have changed and we have to live our own lives in a way that mean something and make sense RIGHT NOW.” There is even a risk that much of it may not be profound news to anyone who has been paying attention to Russia for the past 20+ years. But it will certainly be savoured with great hedonistic gratification by anyone who is bloody fucking sick of writing blog posts on those infuriating, incompetent Russian liberals.

On which he muses:

Please don’t talk to me about your “historical experience” of Soviet oppression: it’s not your experience, it’s the experience of Mayakovsky (a Bolshevik), of Shalamov (a Trotskyist), of Mandelstam (a Socialist Revolutionary), of others.

Aka, not you mewing contemporary neoliberals trying to co-opt the plights of dead leftists. He also argues that the success of far-right intellectuals such as Dugin come from the fact that their ideas feel radical and “alive”,

“… in sharp visceral contrast to the liberal paradigm, where anything dangerous or incomprehensible or even interesting either could not exist at all or could exist only formally, not as itself but rather as an example of the liberalism and tolerance of the liberals.”

Can I get an Amen? It’s No Good is a breath of fresh air for those of us who have been blogging about Russian politics and culture in response to the too oft neoconish newsmedia in America and Britain whose Cold War framing of events prompt us to wonder if they would not in fact be happier if gulags were brought back, as their world does not seem to make sense without them. WaPo or BBC experts routinely take generic, meaningless topics like “clash of civilizations” or “liberal opposition” and speak of them as if only through their specialized analysis may we ever hope to glean what It All Means, turning vague ideas into a niche specialization for which they may be handsomely rewarded. Kirill Medvedev dumps all that nonsense on its head, does the opposite, taking niche interests, the Russian intellectual infighting or something, and with a bit of common fucking sense (this, from a poet!), shows them to be symptomatic of the global system affecting us all.

Are we not all living under neoliberal economic systems? Are we not all struggling to square our own ethics and need for meaning with the system we rely on for food and shelter and basic security? Are we not all looking at our elections thinking, this is no longer working, at our commercials thinking, what on earth is this shit?

Why aren’t more people writing like this?

And I think this is precisely why I think my American leftist friends can appreciate this book as much (perhaps more than, I suspect) as those kids out in Bolotnaya Square. There is, in I suppose the true left tradition, a universal/international perspective to his writing, focusing on individuals and systems rather than nationalities.

“… it seems to me that no matter how the world looked in 1989 or 1991 – and I know it looked different from how it looks today – we can all now admit that the notion of post-industrial capitalism as the best of all possible worlds is hardly the most progressive notion available.

… Should we stop writing poems? Go crazy from guilt? No. No. We just need to transform our picture of the world a little, and we can begin by ceasing to talk nonsense about the clash of civilizations.

Because otherwise you become an appendage of a system that allows you to take up whatever you want, develop whatever styles, discourses, and poetics you want, on the condition that you do not interfere with politics, with real life. And your “grown-up” credo (and, clearly, a reasonable and obedient member of the contemporary neoliberal system is first and foremost a GROWN-UP, as opposed to all those idealists, pseudo-rebels, and dreamers, who aren’t) will go like this: I am a humble man, my business is putting together words. As for everyone else, I think they should do what they want. And my ability to think this way is based in part on a gigantic military, and low electricity prices, and plenty of oil.

And this does not strike me as an idea befitting the glory of liberalism, which was once a progressive and salvational force in human history; and it does not strike me as an argument for individuation. This is society as an armed camp, as colonizer, as exploiter. It is an indication that liberal concepts have entered a period of exhaustion, when their proponents often find themselves trampling their own norms in the most cynical and vicious ways possible.

Because there are no private people, and there are no two (or three, or four) clashing civilizations. There is a united space in which people exist. And between those people, as between poetics, are the most varied connections, be they hidden or obvious.”

Or,

“You cannot criticize the Putin regime without assessing your own place in it, whether as critic or artist. You cannot criticize an authoritarian Russian democracy without also assessing the role of the United States and its allies, without mentioning the worldwide division of labor, without recognizing the extent to which the situation here is a continuation of a worldwide process. It’s necessary to understand the extent to which your own consciousness determines your social existence, forces you to accept as obvious one or another set of perspectives. “There is no freedom from politics”: this is the banal truth that one must now grasp anew. Political passivity also participates in history; it too is responsible.”

It seems rare that we should have the opportunity to read such words from a Russian, in English, outside collections of pre-Stalin communist manifestos. How refreshing. I don’t even see enough Americans writing like this, let alone people in horrible Putinist Russia where there is no freedom of speech, ahem. Our choices, regardless what shitty regime we’re managing to survive under, are too often limited to mind-numbing apathy or hysterical fear-mongering. For all K.M.’S antics, his views are impressively thoughtful and constructive.

So, well, that’s the book.

I’m not done. Remember this? Lost in Translation. I have devoted no small amount of my already negligible energy to bitching about the lack of contemporary Russian literature in translation published in America. And in the meantime Writings From an Unbound Europe has shut its doors. So a round of applause for n+1 and Ugly Duckling Press for even making books like this available to the public. Now it is on us to show that an audience exists for such endeavors. And if there isn’t one, I’m mad enough to believe that it’s on me to create one. Nobody ever got any stupider for reading Russian poetry. Let me re-post this:


“Because there are no private people, and there are no two (or three, or four) clashing civilizations. There is a united space in which people exist. And between those people, as between poetics, are the most varied connections, be they hidden or obvious.”

There are 7 billion people on this planet having valuable experiences and insights, and many are writing about them, and many of those people are not writing in English, and you don’t know *all* the languages. It is not simply geography, religion, socio-economic position that inform our experience, and create barriers between us, but language. Translation may be less than ideal solution to crossing that barrier and opening communication; it’s a precarious bridge, but a bridge nonetheless. Rarely do we cross such a bridge when our lives don’t become richer with nuance and possibility.

Do you not want a life richer with nuance and possibility? Are you already dead? Ok, then. Support you local publisher of books in translation!

Kirill Medvedev: It’s No Good: poems / essays / actions
Translator: Keith Gessen
Translator: Mark Krotov
Translator: Cory Merrill
Translator: Bela Shayevich
Co-published with Ugly Duckling Presse
Eastern European Poets Series #30
ISBN 978-1-933254-94-4

February 28, 2013

February Notes: Turnout.

Filed under: Culture: Russia,Too Much Information — poemless @ 3:41 PM
Tags: ,

Before I almost perished from consumption (ok, perhaps not really, well, I mean, I did have the symptoms, I may have had it, we don’t know…) I enrolled in ballet class. Despite being in my 30′s both chronologically and according to the scale, and having never had a lick of dance instruction, I thought it would provide the poise, discipline and gluteal muscle tone I lacked. Also, I am an avid connoisseur of Russian masochism. What was the worst that could happen? I could die? Dancing to Tchaikovsky? This is discouraging? … Several male family members and Vladimir Putin (appearing in one of my pre-class jitters nightmares) found it acceptable to give me a vaudeville act once-over up and down and an imaginary audience a look like, Is this woman *insane*? Hahaha! A whale, in a tutu, did you ever!

I had a small, well, somewhat not small nervous breakdown after my first class. It was days before several people informed me that a crisis of personal faith following one’s first ballet class is rather de rigeur. Prior to that, all I could do was sit in a hot bath wailing, praying for someone to come saw off my legs, trying to remember how long people can go without food.

Following a enough self-affirmations to arm me against the male gaze and his sadistic friend, the dance studio mirror gaze, I returned to the next class. That’s a lie. I went out of spite and pride. And I became obsessed. I craved the vicious high of pushing myself physically and seeing improvement week by week. Muscle memory stopped being an obscene PTSD burden but a choreography skill. A dark neurosis lurked, I’d taken up a sport requiring me to reject and distort my natural body, but it was motivational and disciplining in ways pills and therapy could never be. And I was happy.

I went the first week I was sick. I haven’t been back since. I’m not happy.

August 15, 2011

The Soviet Arts Experience in Chicago.

Filed under: Chicago,Culture: Russia — poemless @ 1:30 PM

If you have the misfortune to be following me on neither Twitter (because you know a time-suck when you see one) nor Facebook (because I’ve unfriended you), you will have missed my recent proclamation:

I am not Russian.

I’ll give you a moment to digest the news and gather yourselves.

Ready? OK.

As some of you may know, our fine city of Chicago is currently playing host to a 16-month long festival of Soviet arts. I was born in neither Russia nor Chicago, but harbor a deep appreciation for both places and devote much of this blog to their various charms and neuroses, some charms and neuroses which have over time become my own. So I would be remiss if I were not to acknowledge a Soviet arts festival being held in Chicago. Being held at my place of employment even. I had planned to actually, you know, see some of the current or upcoming exhibits before writing about them, because anyone can google and you’re all here seeking my infinite wisdom. Unfortunately my wisdom is rather finite in the realm of time-management; I am a chronic procrastinator and may very well not even make it to an Art Institute show until its last day. Or at all. Not much help writing a review of anything after the fact is there? Well, one can’t exactly have an informed opinion about something one’s not even seen (and that goes for having an informed opinion about Midnight in Paris if you walked out after the first few minutes, ahem…) So no wisdom, no reviews. Just some good ol’ пиар.

THE SOVIET ARTS EXPERIENCE

“An unprecedented collaboration showcasing works by artists of the Soviet Union
In one of the largest collaborative artistic efforts across Chicago, twenty-six of the city’s prominent arts institutions will join together in 2010, 2011 and 2012 to present The Soviet Arts Experience, a 16-month-long showcase of works by artists who created under (and in response to) the Politburo of the Soviet Union.

From the poignant string quartets and symphonies of Dmitri Shostakovich to stunning, hand-painted WWII propaganda posters, and from the grand orchestral and ballet music of Sergei Prokofiev to the political satire of Evgeny Shvarts, The Soviet Arts Experience will take patrons behind the Iron Curtain to explore its essence through the creative work of its visual artists, choreographers, composers, and dramatists.

The Soviet Arts Experience is spearheaded by the University of Chicago Presents (UCP), the University’s professional presenting organization. The Soviet Arts Experience sponsors include The University of Chicago, The University of Chicago Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts, Illinois Arts Council, and The Women’s Board of the University of Chicago.”

Yes, druz’ia, the institution that gave the world Milton Friedman is now celebrating Soviet propaganda. In case you were on the look out for that fourth horseman. Anyway, here’s a short list of some of the current goings on:

I. UofC SCRC: “Adventures in the Soviet Imaginary: Children’s books and graphic art.”


Image from Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

“Two of the most striking manifestations of Soviet image culture were the children’s book and the poster. Both of these media testify to the alliance between experimental aesthetics and radical socialist ideology that held tenuously from the 1917 revolutions to the mid-1930s and defined the look of Soviet civilization. The children’s books and posters featured in “Adventures in the Soviet Imaginary” allow us to relate this new image culture to the formation of new social and cultural identities under the watchful eye of a powerful and oppressive state. They cover a crucial period, from the beginning of Stalin’s Great Breakthrough in 1928 to the re-construction and re-grouping that followed the Great Patriotic War, as the Soviets called World War II. As these works show vividly, there was no ideologically neutral space in the rich and vibrant world of the Soviet imagination. By the same token, though, there was no zone of Soviet life free of the image.

“Adventures in the Soviet Imaginary” is drawn entirely from the collections of the University of Chicago Library. The Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at the University of Chicago houses a large collection of over 400 Soviet children’s books published between 1927 and 1948, with the majority dated 1930-1935. This collection, the provenance of which is not known, is supplemented by a small but fascinating group of Soviet children’s books from 1930-1931 acquired by the Library as part of the R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company Training Department Library, where they were used in the company’s distinguished apprentice program for printers.”

That’s right. Bit of a matter that, not knowing the provenance… Never mind, it is a collection which, if not exactly rare in subject, is certainly so in volume and context. Do take a bit of time to click through the web exhibit. It’s terribly informative and downright overwhelming in its sheer number of visual materials scanned for your perusal. Some have asked, and no, I did not have a direct role in organizing this exhibit. Most of the pieces were acquired well before my arrival. And to be honest, it is not a particularly engaging topic for me. I did not even enjoy American children’s books as an American child. Not to mention that repetition is an asset when it comes to brainwashing little children, but not so much when it comes to what you have to look at for 8 hours a day. I do get a kick of the outright propagandist and defiantly optimistic style of early Soviet aesthetics, as well as the historical creepiness factor. But as a Russian professor of mine once noted, when it comes to theory based art, the theory is usually more interesting than the art. Last night as I sat looking through a friend’s collection of old Melodiia children’s records from the 1970′s I was, though enamoured both of their artifactual value and of this person’s existence in my life, not moved to listen to them or anything. … But I did learn of Russian Pinnochio, Buratino.

If you are in the area, you can check out the exhibit of Soviet Children’s books in our super snazzy new exhibition space! from August 22 – December 30, 2011 at the Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

If you are on campus to check out the Soviet children’s books exhibit, the Smart Museum of Art will also be presenting several exhibits as part of the Soviet Arts Experience showcase:

II. Smart Museum: “Process and Artistry in the Soviet Vanguard.”

“This intimate exhibition offers a rare glimpse at the experimental creative processes that generated iconic Soviet propaganda in the 1920s and 1930s. Featuring works by Gustav Klucis and Valentina Kulagina, it traces classic compositions from preparatory drawings and collage studies to approved designs to posters and other mass-produced print material.”

III. Smart Mueum: “Vision and Communism.”


Viktor Koretsky. Ne Boltai Collection. Image from Smart Museum of Art.

“In captivating images of survival and suffering, the postwar artist and designer Viktor Koretsky (1909–1998) articulated a Communist vision of the world utterly unlike that of conventional propaganda.

Designed to create an emotional connection between Soviet citizens and others around the globe, Koretsky’s posters heralded the multiculturalism of Benetton and MTV, while offering a dynamic alternative to the West’s sleek consumerism. Vision and Communism offers a striking new interpretation of visual communication in the U.S.S.R. and beyond.”

You know me, I am all about offering a dynamic alternative to the West’s sleek consumerism… I do recommend these shows simply because they are at a small, free, intimate, unpretentious little museum that doubles as a nice place for coffee or lunch while on campus. I believe “accessible” is the word.

The shows run respectively from August 30, 2011 – January 22, 2012 and September 29, 2011 – January 22, 2012 at the Smart Museum of Art.

Smart Museum of Art.

Perhaps the most anticipated exhibition of the Soviet Arts Experience is now taking place at the Art Institute of Chicago. On the one hand, you’ll not have to hike all the way down to Hyde freaking Park to see it. On the other hand, you will have to pay to do so (with a few exceptions but I’m so not going into the convoluted admissions policies and passes of the Art Institute here.) On the other, it’s probably worth it. And you should have that third hand looked at…

IV. Art Institute: “Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941–1945.”


A. Rachevskii. Ne boltai! Collection. Image from Art Institute of Chicago.

“Seventy years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, a group of artists and writers in Moscow joined forces under the auspices of the TASS News Agency to help reassure and rouse the Soviet citizenry by producing large-scale posters—TASS Windows. Despite the brutal regime of Joseph Stalin, creativity flourished among these diverse artists and writers as they attempted to find purpose while working in and for a totalitarian state. Producing a poster design for nearly every day of the war with a labor-intensive technical virtuosity previously unheard of in poster production, these artists committed themselves to the defense of the motherland. In collaboration with the Ne boltai! Collection of 20th-century propaganda, Windows on the War marks the first time these enormous handmade posters have been displayed in the United States since World War II, bringing to the fore many Soviet artists little known in this country.”

Oh, it gets better:

“In 1997, 26 tightly wrapped brown paper parcels were discovered deep in a storage area for the Department of Prints and Drawings. Their presence was a mystery, their contents a puzzle. [Whew - SCRC wasn't alone...] As conservators and curators carefully worked to open the envelopes, they were surprised and intrigued to find that they contained 50-year-old monumental posters created by TASS, the Soviet Union’s news agency. The idea for a major exhibition began to take shape.

Impressively large—between five and ten feet tall—and striking in the vibrancy and texture of the stencil medium—some demanded 60 to 70 different stencils and color divisions—these posters were originally sent abroad, including to the Art Institute, to serve as international cultural “ambassadors” and to rally allied and neutral nations to the endeavors of the Soviet Union, a partner of the United States and Great Britain in the fight against Nazi Germany. In Windows on the War, the posters will be presented both as unique historical objects and as works of art that demonstrate how the preeminent artists of the day used unconventional technical and aesthetic means to contribute to the fight against the Nazis, marking a major chapter in the history of design and propaganda.

For most of the 20th century, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union hovered between uneasy alliance and outright hostility. The period addressed by this exhibition—the years 1941–45—represents a fleeting moment when the nations were joined in a purposeful bond, a coalition attested to repeatedly in the posters of the TASS studio. This spirit of cooperation was short-lived, however; as early as 1945, an “iron curtain” began to descend between East and West, the seeds of which had been stealthily germinating throughout the war years. By the end of 1946, it was clear that the wartime alliance against Fascism would be supplanted by old allegiances and enemies in a budding “cold” war. Likewise, images of camaraderie from the World War II era were quickly buried, and iconographies of fear and suspicion, with their roots in the prewar decades, reemerged.

While the focus of Windows on the War is primarily on the 157 posters on display, viewers will also find their rich historical and cultural context revealed through photographs and documentary material illuminating the visual culture of US–USSR relations before and during the war.”

Some examples:


Artist Unknown. Private collection. Image from Art Institute of Chicago.


Vladimir Ivanovich Ladiagin, Osip Iakovlevich Kolychev. Gift of the USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. Image from Art Institute of Chicago.


After the Kukryniksy. Ne boltai! Collection. Image from Art Institute of Chicago.

In fact, of the many themes featured in this exhibit, the most immediately compelling for me, who is not so very into war paraphernalia, are the illustrated reminders, as simplistic and hyperbolic as Cold War or current propaganda, of the common goal of the US and Russia during World War II. Never one threatened by romanticism or naivete, the cynical, complicated and pragmatic relationship between our countries for that brief period was at least an admission of interdependence. Our two “evil empires” have indeed shown the ability to support one another despite our mutual tendencies to be arrogant, stubborn and prisoners of our own ideology. I know my crusade to make these two nations understand and appreciate one another makes some people positively nauseous. That it takes something like Nazis to force us to try makes me positively nauseous…

Windows on the War: Themes.
Windows on the War: Artists.
Windows on the War: Writers.

The exhibition of Soviet TASS Posters runs from July 31–October 23, 2011 at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Art Institute of Chicago.

If you are in or near Chicago and enjoy reading this blog, I do recommend checking out at least one of these events. And do not not go out of spite because you felt you were deliberately mislead into believing I am Russian and therefore you bought me drinks or said something nice to me but it turns out I am just Irish and French and Cherokee and god knows what else (just between us, I think there may be some Chukchi in there) so fuck you, poemless. Don’t be like that. Go see some bad art and great propaganda and get a history lesson and support our local cultural institutions and give a shit about something before you die.

If you are in Russia, you must think I am just thoroughly incomprehensible and obsessive. Can’t imagine why anyone would mistake me for, you know…

Peace out, friends.

Let’s not wait for Nazis next time, ok?


Artist Unknown. Cellini Collection. Image from Art Institute of Chicago.

March 24, 2011

In which I am interviewed by InoForum!

Filed under: Culture: Russia,Culture: U.S.,Interviews,Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 2:26 PM
Tags: ,

Posted below is the English version of my Q & A with the folks at InoForum, “Интервью автора блога Poemless с читателями Инофорума.” (more…)

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!

December 17, 2010

Slava Surkov: The Year in Quotes, or, “The hippies started it!”

In which the Kremlin’s “chief ideologist” weighs in on geniuses, rednecks and the current state of the novel. And much more. Hell, what does he not have an opinion on?

But first, we will begin with a random rant apropos of nothing!

I missed the annual VVP Q&A. I woke up and, rather than turning on the local horrorshow-weather report, I flipped over to RT. Because they’d be carrying the great Russian national chit chat. Right? Right?! RT used to serve a purpose, however quirky. Straight up Russian propaganda (and by this I don’t necessarily mean “lies”, just “the world as seen through the official eyes of the Kremlin…”), provincial oddities, and a snippet of American subculture. VVP yelling at some businessmen, people in Tomsk tattooing cats, Communist candidate for mayor in North Carolina. FABULOUS. Get yer freakshow on! Now, every time I turn it on, it’s some weirdly bitter, hostile and tongue-tied young girl in Washington D.C. talking about America’s impending doom. Like, an alien could turn on Russia Today, and not even know Russia existed. If RT does not exist to blast Putin’s TV chat extravaganza into the homes of Americans, WTF does it exist for? Anyway, I ended up watching some false outrage about the tax cuts. Americans don’t need Russian propaganda to hear about tax cuts. RT should be filling a void, not adding to the canned indignation and ill-informed people yelling over each other that has come to define the failure of American discourse. Newsflash: you can’t effectively present the argument that the US is a deplorable cesspool while joining us in the race to the bottom. FAIL. Who is in charge over there?

I just needed to get that off my chest. Now for something completely different!

That is, if you are not of the suspicion that as head propagandist Vladislav Surkov is partially to blame for the bizarre lack of quality Russian propaganda in America.

I. “Geniuses are always in the minority.”

This article, or rather, soundbites from it, has been making the rounds by people shocked and appalled that the evil genius Surkov has blamed the recent violence in Moscow on … give ya 3 guesses. Neo-Nazis? Soccer freaks? Nemtsov?


Lenta.ru: Сурков нашел “либеральные” корни в беспорядках на Манежной.

Before we get to that, though, let’s address the most important aspect of this article: He looks very tired, no? Out rioting all night, Slava? Oof! Get some sleep! Take a vacation to a spa and rid yourself of whatever toxins are threatening that beautiful mug. What, are you smoking 3 packs a day or something?

Ok, here’s the damning text of the article, c/o A Good Treaty. (Subject: “your hero in action”…)

“По его словам, либералы “упорно вводят в моду несанкционированные акции, а нацисты и жлобы этой моде следуют”.

“11-е происходит от 31-го”, – заявил Сурков, имея, по всей видимости, в виду акции оппозиции по последним числам месяцев с полным количеством дней на Триумфальной площади, проведение которых, как правило, не санкционируется властями Москвы. Также он напомнил, что перед погромом на Манежной площади был погром здания администрации города Химки. “Другие люди, а жлобство то же”, – сказал Сурков.”

[Google Translation Here.]

I suspect there may be something ethically questionable about conflating these groups. People holding illegal demonstrations in support of free speech, or democracy, or the free market, or Khodorkovsky, or forests full of woodland creatures or their right to get on tv, or whatever, is one thing. Racist soccer hooligans wailing on anything that moves, putting people in the hospital and bringing the public order to a halt is rather different. I mean, one is “good,” the other is “bad,” even if they were both jonesing for a fight and breaking the law. Don’t you think? Don’t you? Even more questionable is the suggestion that that the hippies started it. Ok “The hippies started it!” is a pretty awesome comeback in my book, for its sheer obnoxiousness alone. Frankly, I’m going to start using this phrase all the time, doing my best Fred Willard imitation. But what it carries in cache, it lacks in logic. Like rioters got the big idea from the liberal opposition? Psycho aimless Nazi youth sit at home watching Kasparov and aspire to be like him? Any insinuation that liberal groups actively encouraged or organized the riots seems the type of conspiracy theory more commonly found among the liberals themselves. But I don’t think that’s what Surkov is arguing. I think he’s saying the desire to stage demonstrations without permits is … viral. Which may in fact be true, but even so, it speaks to the poorly functioning immune system of the larger organism (the country itself) if a simple protest can bring it to its knees. But what is truly upsetting about Surkov’s little theory is the nonchalance with which it permits the nationalist extremist rioters to evade responsibility for committing violence against ethnic minorities. Which is the real atrocity here, not demonstrating without a fucking permit.

Anyway, here is the original article from which those soundbites were clipped:


Izvestia: Владислав Сурков: Гении всегда в меньшинстве.

Also, this picture has him looking much less ill, while still maintaining his signature ghostly pallor:

The quote about the liberal demonstrations was in response to a question about modernization and stagnation:

И: Мы часто и много говорили о модернизации политической системы. Но вот накануне послания Федеральному собранию президент в своем видеоблоге сказал о застое в политике. Откуда взялся этот застой? В чем его причины?

Сурков: Я уже сказал выше, что политсистема должна быть чуткой к меньшинству, поскольку меньшинство имеет часто и свои политические воззрения, и свое представление об общественном устройстве. Мне кажется, что политическая система должна быть такой, какой ее хочет видеть инженер. Она должна помогать и быть комфортной для творческой части общества, для его движущей части, к которой общество обязано относиться с уважением. И если мы не воспитаем в себе самих уважения к людям продвинутым, мы обречены.

Что касается развития политсистемы, часто спрашивают: что впереди – реформа политсистемы или экономики? Или давайте авторитарную модернизацию. Или анархию, а с модернизацией само как-нибудь сложится. Вот президент совсем недавно в интервью сказал, что нельзя противопоставлять эти вещи, что и политическую систему надо двигать вперед, и экономику надо двигать вперед. Другое дело – в какую сторону должна двигаться политическая система и какими темпами это надо делать.

Что касается пресловутого застоя, о котором так много говорилось, я бы хотел напомнить о комментарии пресс-службы к этому блогу: президент подвел в нем промежуточные итоги всех предпринятых шагов по изменению политической системы. Подвел итоги. Я бы хотел подчеркнуть это. Эта фраза, что появились симптомы застоя, относилась к определенному моменту прошлого и объясняла, почему президент счел необходимым провести те реформы, два этапа которых были реализованы на законодательном уровне за эти два года. Это же был блог, посвященный итогам двухлетнего развития политической системы, а не планам на будущее. Естественно, тут произошла ошибка в интерпретациях, и все стали изображать, что вот у нас, видите ли, сейчас застой в политике. Ясно, что часть людей это говорит сознательно, чтобы тем самым передергивать смысл и кричать о том, что необходимы радикальные, всесокрушающие какие-то меры, какая-то либеральная чрезвычайка. Это не так.

Конечно, президент не считает нашу политическую систему совершенной, не идеализирует ее. Он не раз говорил, что демократия наша только начинает развиваться. И, наверное, в отдельных ее звеньях до сих пор сохраняются симптомы застоя.

Но все-таки я просил бы здесь точно понимать смысл сказанных президентом слов. Президент исчерпывающе обрисовал свои нововведения. Они, я уверен, реально оживили политическую жизнь, и мы это видим сегодня и в риторике, и в том, что гораздо больше стало оппозиции на экранах. Геннадия Андреевича и Владимира Вольфовича мы видим куда чаще, чем в благословенные 90-е. Мы видим это в том числе и по результатам выборов, и на местах, и по тому, что стало меньше критики в плане каких-то нарушений. Это факт.

Я считаю, что мы движемся вперед. И в этом смысле никакого застоя нет. А что, опять нужна какая-то революция? Опять какой-то развал всего и вся? Чтобы у нас всегда и везде было 11 декабря на Манежной? Это ведь как бы “либеральная” публика упорно вводит в моду несанкционированные акции, а нацисты и жлобы этой моде следуют. 11-е происходит от 31-го. От, казалось бы, мелочи – совсем не мелочь. А еще до погрома на Манежной был погром в Химках, если кто забыл. Другие люди, а жлобство то же. Нет, ребята, так не пойдет.

На самом деле у президента есть очень четкий и понятный посыл в его статье “Россия, вперёд!”. Он сказал, что преобразования будут постепенными, но неуклонными. Вот это ключ к пониманию его стиля и философии. И к экономическим, и к политическим институтам надо относиться предельно аккуратно. Здесь идем полностью в духе европейской философии постепенных преобразований. А судьба революционеров и боевиков подробно описана в Уголовном кодексе. И об этом тоже говорил президент – о полицейской функции демократии. Так что митингуйте – но по закону.

Then:

И: Что вы можете сказать о событиях на Манежной?

Сурков: Беспорядки, ставящие под угрозу жизнь москвичей, и нападения на милицию нельзя оправдать. Ничем. Точно так же нельзя оправдать ничем убийство Егора. Те, кто его убил, должны сидеть в тюрьме. Так долго, чтобы мы в нашем городе их больше никогда не видели.

Этой осенью я встречался с представителями кавказской молодежи. Мы говорили откровенно, что во многих регионах России им бывает непросто жить. Но также и о том, что ведь и русским на Кавказе не всегда и не везде спокойно живется. Прибывающие с юга сюда должны понимать, что отношение к ним формируется в том числе и ими самими. Те, кто приезжает сюда работать, учиться, должны быть защищены, и государство несет здесь полную ответственность.

А те, кто пополняет ряды этнических преступных группировок и по нашим мальчишкам стреляет, – будут искореняться.

Мы наш город разным там новоявленным “дедам хасанам” и их последователям не отдадим. Москве и России нужен гражданский мир. Наша страна – общий дом для всех наших народов.

[Google Translation Here.]

Well, gosh, context is sometimes helpful. Maybe the dig at the liberals for trying to be revoliutionaries was political bone-throwing, but I fail to see how he’s winning the “Europe for Europeans!” support with this call for inclusion and calling them zhloby. And at this point I even question the assumption that the rioters are part of some crucial political base for the Kremlin. I mean, if they were loyal minions, they’d hardly be anointing Putin’s World Cup coup with actions that ensure every swarthy soccer fan on the planet will now be terrified to attend the event. Oh, and did we mention that the redneck neo-Nazis maybe don’t want bones thrown to them from a Chechen?

The rest of the article is a pretty decent read. Skolkovo, trying to justify courting foreign workers and paying them high wages (sure that just thrills the fascist youths to whom Surkov is ostensibly giving cover), BG is a genius. etc., etc. Check it out.

II. “In fact, I consider myself an unrecognized genius…”

While we’re on the topic of Slava and geniuses, let us recall one of the more entertaining Wikileaks cables. Yes, we learned that he has portraits of Tupak and Lennon in his office. (What do this gangbanger and this peacenik possibly have in common? That’s right. Drugs.) He listens to rap (which is sexy), reads American poetry (Whitman? Beats? Cool. Anything else? Doesn’t bode well for his writing career…) But perhaps the most enlightening bit of hearsay is captured in the gossip mongering of Kryshtanovskaya (who, impressively, has managed to turn gossip mongering into an akademic field!)

From Russian Reporter’s relay of the cable, «У него много масок»:

…Ольга Крыштановская, знающая Суркова с начала 90-х годов, в частном порядке 12 января рассказала нам, что уже тогда Сурков считал себя непризнанным гением. Возможно, таким самомнением объясняется подбор фотографий, украшающих его кабинет, – рэпер Тупак Шакур, Джон Леннон, Нильс Бор и Вернер Гейзенберг. В прошлом году он добавил к ним портрет президента Обамы, объяснив это тем, что Обама – «хороший американец», т.е. уважает Россию.

[Google Translation Here.]

Well, now we know why he thinks geniuses deserve special treatment.

III. “I did the dragon’s will untill you came.”

Wait! Did someone mention Surkov’s “writing career?” Behold! I present to you, Nathan Dubovitsky’s new novel! It’s pretty embarrasing, given the fine, fine reviews it recieved {{cough cough}}, but I haven’t even read Next to Zero yet. I cannot even say if he is a fine writer, I mean, if he writes … finely. Frankly I am just impressed that he writes at all. Such a renaissance man, our Surkov! Er, I mean, our Natan Dubovitsky! Well, perhaps we can’t be sure (honestly, we can’t even be sure what he’s up to when he takes full ownership of his words…) But I’m going to say it is him, because life is more interesting that way, and that’s why people believe things they have no proof of.


Russian Pioneer: МАШИНКА И ВЕЛИК, ИЛИ УПРОЩЕНИЕ ДУБЛИНА [gaga saga]

I will not repost the whole begining of the novel here, because, as a great man once said, “the problem with theory based art is that the theory is always better then the art.” And here we have a fabulous theory! From the Russky Pioneer editor, aka, Andrei Kolesnikov, aka The Real Andrei Kolesnikov:

Писатель Натан Дубовицкий, автор прошумевшего романа «Околоноля», пишет новый роман. Мы предлагаем вам его начало, позволяющее в полной мере оценить величие замысла культового писателя современности.

Я был поражен, когда автор, еще некоторое время тому назад просившийся на заслуженный отдых после первого романа, сначала по электронной почте подробнейшим образом описал содержание второго, а потом и написал первые его главы. По утверждению автора, процесс письма занял у него в общей сложности часов десять. Не верю! Писал, может, и десять. А выписывал потом еще сколько?! Понять, о чем я говорю, вы легко сможете, ознакомившись с этими главами, ибо чтение их займет у вас не десять часов, а равно в десять раз меньше.

И только тогда вы убедитесь, что г-н Дубовицкий очевидно растеткак писатель: рука мастера крепнет, метафора истекает поэтическим соком, мысль становится еще более витиеватой, и иногда с волнением думаешь о том, сможет ли автор поспеть за ней и вывести нас с вами из адского, или вернее райского лабиринта. Сможет!

Но самое главное: автор придумывает для читателя игру, можно сказать, возится с ним как с ребенком. И в результате мы с вами пишем в ближайших номерах «РП» первый в истории wiki-роман. Поздравляю.

Андрей Колесников, главный редактор журнала «Русский пионер»

And from Natan Dubovitsky, aka, Vladislav Surkov, aka Aslambek Dudayev:

Обращение к писателям

Писатели мои! что за скука читать романы! И что за наказание, что за напасть писать их! Вот бы не писать! Но как? если, как говорили Беня Крик и Алекс. Пушкин, рука сама тянется к перу. Тянется, впрочем, или не тянется, а времени на писанину все одно нет, а главное — лень. А самое главное — мысль обгоняет слово: весь уже сложен роман в голове, все удовольствие от его сложения автором уже получено, так что физическое написание превращается в несвежий пересказ, нетворческую рутинную канитель.

И, наконец, что еще и поглавнее самого главного — незадачливый подвижник, героически одолевший дремучие заросли лени, вырастающей в нашем климате выше крапивы и цен на нефть, дописавший таки свою книжищу, обнаруживает, что читать его буквы решительно некому. А ведь еще в прошлом веке Борхес предупреждал: читателей больше нет, есть одни только писатели. Потому что — все образованные стали, гордые, себе на уме. Никто не хочет знать свое место и смиренно внимать поэтам и прозаикам. Никто не хочет, чтобы какие-то незнакомые неопрятные люди жгли ему глаголом сердце или какую другую часть тела.

Если в прошлом человек с идеей был диковиной, вроде бабы с бородой, которую всей ярмаркой сбегались посмотреть и послушать, то в наши дни небольшие, удобные и дешевые, как зубные щетки, идеи есть у каждого брокера, блогера и корпоративного евангелиста. Обожествленная было в XIX — XX в.в. литература стала ныне делом простонародным, общедоступным наподобие поедания сибасов или вождения авто. Все умеют, все писатели.

Читают же писатели, как известно, только то, что пишут. Несвои же тексты, если заметят, просматривают по-писательски, то есть — с презрением, невнимательно и не до конца. Для того лишь, чтобы написать (или произнести) рецензию, краткую, невнимательную, презрительную. Чтобы потом читать (или повторять) уже только эту свою рецензию с наслаждением и уважением. И перечитывать (пересказывать) неоднократно с уважением неубывающим. И хвалить себя, обзываясь нежно айдапушкиным, айдасукинсыном.

Не вспомню, сам ли Борхес обнаружил перерождение массового читателя в массового же писателя или по обыкновению своему процитировал кого-то, но он, кажется, был первым гениальным литератором, даже не пытавшимся писать романы, а так прямо и сделавшим литературной классикой рецензирование книг, в том числе и несуществующих. То есть он научился судить о текстах, которые никогда не читал (по той причине, что и написаны они никогда не были). Отзыв, отклик, коммент, твит по поводу какого-либо произведения стали, таким образом, понемногу важнее самого произведения, а затем возможны сами по себе, без произведения, и теперь превратились в самодостаточный жанр новейшей литературы.

Итак, на смену обитавшему в ХХ веке читателю, человеку-с-книгой-в-метро, человеку-с-книгой-в-бухгалтерии, человеку-с-книгой-на-иконе, человеку-с-книгой-на-костре, человеку-с-книгой — в ХХI веке явился особенный, ни на что не похожий писатель нового типа, человек-без-книги, но готовый, кажется, в любую минуту всех изумить, написать какую угодно книгу по какому угодно случаю. Писатель этот высококультурен, а стало быть, ленив. Ненищ и оттого заносчив. Он чувствует в себе силу необъятную и написал бы сам не хуже любого (отчего и не читает ничего), но все недосуг.

Современный писатель водится, как и старинный читатель, и в бухгалтерии, и в метро, и, хвала демократии, в майбахе. Но на иконах и кострах не замечен. Тем и отличается.

Будучи одним из таких писателей, я обращаюсь ко всем таким писателям со следующим предложением.

(Взываю к вам через РПионер, первый зашагавший в ногу со временем журнал, у которого читателей почти столько же, сколько писателей.) Слушайте меня, писатели. Давайте вместе сделаем хороший роман.

Каждый из нас: 1) может писать книгу, но пишет твит и sms; 2) хочет прославиться, но не может выкроить в своем распорядке необходимые для этого пятнадцать минут; 3) страстный поклонник всего своего и желчный критик всего другого.

А ведь нас, таких, тьма. Если каждый пришлет хотя бы по sms на заданную тему и уделит общему делу по пять минут, то ведь это будет вещь потолще фауста гете и минимум полувек великой славы. И если каждый из нас, писателей, купит потом эту нашу вещь, то ведь это будут неслыханные тиражи. А если еще и прочитает, хотя бы не все, хотя бы свой фрагмент, то к нам не зарастет народная тропа.

Воодушевленный не то успехом, не то провалом, чем-то неопределенным, но очевидно бурным своего «Околоноля [gangsta fiction]», вознамерился я наговорить новое сочинение. На этот раз в жанре «gaga saga» под названием «Машинка и Велик». Или «Упрощение Дублина».

«Околоноля» был назван одним известным критиком «книгой о подонках и для подонков». Хотя, как мне казалось, я пытался рассказать про обычных людей. И даже про хороших. Видимо, не получилось. Будем считать «Упрощение…» второй попыткой сделать книгу о хороших (их еще иногда называют простыми и бедными) людях для хороших людей.

Приступив к осуществлению своего дерзкого замысла, я быстро обнаружил, что «не в силах рассуждать», что выдохся еще там, «около ноля», а здесь, на «машинке и велике», продвигаюсь очень медленно и едва ли справлюсь. По причинам, указанным в первом абзаце моего обращения.

Вспомнив, что многие очень вроде бы неглупые и даже известные люди выражали уверенность, что я не один человек, а сразу несколько, что «gangsta fiction» писался целой бригадой литературных таджиков, я подумал себе: почему бы нет! Почему бы в этот раз и вправду не попробовать? Сразу скажу, таджики взялись было, но отступились — мудрено!

Тогда я вспомнил о более прогрессивном методе — crowd sourcing, или, как раньше говорили, народная стройка. Обращаетесь через интернет или прессу к кому попало: помогите сделать убыточную ртутную шахту рентабельной, разработать новую вакцину от гриппа, изготовить soft для управления свинофермой, сетью звероферм, подготовить новый градостроительный кодекс… Тут же сбегается тридцать пять тысяч добровольцев — и готово дело!

Так, по крайней мере, утверждают пророки wikiвека. Давайте попробуем, правда ли. Напишем роман всей толпой, методом crowd writing.

Вот я выкладываю в РПионере начало романа, все, что смог пока сделать. Пусть этот текст будет открытой платформой, на которой каждый желающий волен построить любой сюжет. Вы можете отказаться от заданной в начале тональности, перетащить действие в иные сколь угодно отдаленные места, погрузить выведенных на сцену персонажей в автобус и столкнуть его чавкающим оползнем с дороги в пропасть.

Каждый может внести посильный вклад, сколько не жалко — реплику, диалог, описание природы, замечание, целый роман, целых два, три, четыре романа, сноску, стишок, твит, просто идею, подсказку… Все пойдет в дело.

Каждый соавтор будет назван при публикации. А то, что не вклеится в коллективный коллаж, будет издано приложением к будущей книге и явится неотъемлемой ее частию. Гонорар будет поделен по-братски между всеми писателями. Убытки же, если таковые обнаружатся, не волнуйтесь, возьму на себя я. Или Андрей Иваныч Колесников, что было бы даже и лучше.

Писатели! Толпы писателей! Делайте первый в России wikiроман, присоединяйтесь к хорошему делу.

Пишите роман по адресу: ruspioner@ruspioner.ru (с пометкой wikiроман).

Принимаются тексты любого объема, присланные до 1 октября 2010 г. и позже.

Ваш Натан Дубовицкий

P.S. Роман будет посвящен русской милиции и издан в ее поддержку. Кто не согласный, просьба не беспокоить.

I did the dragon’s will untill you came.

[Google Translation Here.]

No, you are still kind of doing it, but that’s ok. Kudos for the Yeats reference, though. Even if it somehow sounds more lurid when coming from you…

I hesitated to post this long introduction, as I’d seen another blog forced to take the copyrighted Russian Pioneer material down. So I posted it not only because I think it is interesting, but in the hopes Andrei Kolesnikov will contact me and ask me to take it down! Then I can be all like, “Andrei, first off, you have to get rid of that other journalist writing for Forbes under your name, and then fix the wikipedia page, ok? It’s driving me nuts. I am not taking this down until you get that mess sorted out. Sue me. I don’t have any money, but I’m absolutely willing to be your indentured servant. xoxoxo poemless.”

Anyway, here’s your chance to write part of Surkov’s? novel! Submit, heathens, Submit! Then let us ponder: Is he doing this out of laziness, or some sincere democratic sentiment? The surrealists used to play this kind of game, didn’t they? “Exquisite corpse.” So, he’s not exactly invented the “wikinovel.” … But what the fuck is a “gaga saga?”

And there you have it! Your year-end Slava Surkov Round-up!

Merry Christmas!

December 13, 2010

My Christmas prayers have been answered:

Filed under: Culture: Russia — poemless @ 12:10 PM
Tags:

Swoon…

November 17, 2010

Return of VovaMania!

Filed under: Culture: Russia,Politics: Russia — poemless @ 7:01 PM
Tags:

It’s been a while since I’ve done a gratuitous Putin love fest post. Isn’t that strange? Nowadays people refer to my “nuanced and insightful” writing, but mostly I just started blogging so to post pictures of hot Russian men, Putin being King God Supreme Leader of that camp. What happened? Has our fair leader ceased to be the apple of poemless’s eye, fallen to the earth to slowly decay and be nibbled on by ravenous squirrels? Has our fickle blogger’s infatuation dimmed like a cold November afternoon? Er… no. No of course not. That would be madness. Maybe I’ve just matured – ever think about that? No, you’re right, that can’t be it. Maybe, what with the Reset and Obama and blah blah blah, wooing so-called dictators just doesn’t have the same subversive appeal. I always fantasized about totally scaring the hell out of John Ashcroft on the other end of whatever NSA feed was trolling my posts. I am both a neo-stalinist and a female with a libido … I am the AntiChrist, John! Eat it! Hahahaha. But now I am just one more person with a blog making cute comments about Vova’s latest wackadoodle photo-op. Sean says he’s jumped the shark. Now, I am not willing to rule out that VVP could, even will one day jump the shark. But when that day comes, it will involve an actual shark and the leader of Russia on water skis. A stunt that, had the Fonz not done so already, Putin probably would have invented. “Jumped the shark” my ass. He’s as popular as ever. Everyone and their mother has posted a picture of that puppy hug. Oh, except me! Here:

You know you just squealed with delight. I say, if Vova ever meets the man who could look at that and not get a little woozy with oxytocin, he will have met his match.

You wanna help name the dog? Knock yourself out. I think it was on NPR that I saw this referred to a “rare gesture toward democracy” or some nonsense… After last nights’ Dancing With The Stars, I am off democracy. What should we name this giant furball? How about “Maksim,” in honor of that hottie Palin’s Tea Party sabotaged. Or not. I’m inclined to follow the reasoning that if Putin’s pet were named after me, I could vicariously curl up in his lap for a kiss and tickle. Alas, he already has a dog named after me! He doesn’t seem too thrilled about it either, does he?

Ok, since we’re on the topic of Dr. Doolittle, someone’s gone and stolen the photos I have hanging my living room and posted them online:

The 24 Cutest Pictures Of Vladimir Putin With Animal.

Freaky. In more ways than one… I have always been partial to the horse kissy and the tiger present photos. But here’s one I had not seen before, a treat! (I know I said these were hanging in my apartment – it was for dramatic effect. I mean, you couldn’t possibly think… Oh.)

A small goat!

In some ways, he reminds me of my grandmother. She was nuts over animals. He had this gorgeous house, with a nice living and dining room, but she always sat in the kitchen, to watch the animals in the yard (whole entire extra tree-lined lot) outside. She bought us Ranger Rick subscriptions and would even cut out and mail us those little gratuitous animal pictures from the local paper (you know, that space reserved for no copy but a photo of a rabbit with the caption, “Spring arrives on Lincoln Avenue.”) Crazy. Especially since our family got the same newspaper. From whence this animalphilia? She was part Cherokee. She was also getting Alzheimer’s. Anyway, somehow I inherited this trait. God, I hope it is not a symptom of dementia. I have more faith and trust in people who are so comfortable with and able to navigate the animal kingdom. Those who have great “people skills” but are like idiots around anything not human scare the hell out of me. People who prefer the company of those species that have evolved differently from us, I really get. You can’t lie to animals. It doesn’t actually work. Oh, and can we address this notion of “people skills,” please? VVP gets a lot of heat for not having them so much, but if skills are what you use to get things done, then I think he has mad skillz. What’s up with this preference for fake nice that gives more points for not hurting anyone’s feelings than for reality checks? I’m not a fan.

Which brings me to the last point in today’s Putin love fest. Oh, sure, anyone can love a dog. I am pretty sure that is he baseline criteria for determining one’s classification as Homo sapiens. But, uhm, no one can love Vladimir Putin, right? What the hell is wrong with you, Poemless?! Moe Tkacik nails it in a divine piece:

Why The Media Hearts Oligarchs—So Much The Post Won’t Even Call Them “Oligarchs.”

Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl wonders in an op-ed today why Barack Obama isn’t rallying more enthusiastically behind Mikhail Khodorkovsky, otherwise known as Russia’s “latest moral champion.” Is it “because he is an entrepreneur and not a poet” and everyone knows how Obama loathes commerce? Or is it, he wonders, simply because Obama is scared of Vladimir Putin and his big scary black lab?[...]

But guys like Khodorkovsky were not dubbed “oligarchs” because of their “entrepreneurship”; they earned that designation because they reaped the preponderance of their billions in a three-year window of in ways that were flagrantly and epically criminal but since all the billionaires were doing it (and billionaires tend to make their own laws anyway) most of them got off with a sort of uneasy amnesty. Khodorkovsky was an exception for a variety of reasons, this is a pretty good summary, but at the end of the day Putin seems to draw his authority directly from his ability to make them pay taxes and, as last week’s wide-eyed Times magazine piece on New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov observed, keep them on their toes:

The oligarchs of Russia aren’t exactly paper tigers, but those who aren’t in jail or exile understand the precariousness of their position, the importance of keeping the favor of the Kremlin. Last February, Prokhorov was publicly criticized by Putin for neglecting to fulfill promised investments in an electricity-generating project in southern Russia. Prokhorov initially had the temerity to say the prime minister was misinformed, but then, on further review, conceded that yes, the prime minister, whom he first met in 1994 at a bank opening in St. Petersburg, where Putin was the deputy mayor, was correct. When Prokhorov was angling for the Nets, he got the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev to mention his plans to President Barack Obama, as if U.S. politicians perforce had some say in how billionaires deployed their capital.

LOL folks, imagine that: a leader with some modicum of authority over the way billionaires spend their money…when for going on thirteen years now no elected official in America has managed to figure out a way to control the way they spend ours?!

But what if Obama did something about that last part, against all the sloppy conventional wisdom its serially-discredited promulgators keep chucking into the Post op-ed section? It’s hard to think it would make it any harder to advance the cause of democracy before the likes of foes from Vladimir Putin to John Boehner all the way to all the tireless David Broder disciples across town at the Washington Post.
[Emph. mine.]

Oh, I know, Russia’s cup runneth over with Serious Problems, and I should not be so smug about Real People Suffering. I am not. I am just saying, assuming you are living in a giant megalomaniacal country with lots of nukes and a history of social experimentation, would you rather your leader adore animals and kick skeezy millionaire ass … or not? That’s all. If America really is all that much better, I invite all Russia’s journalists to move here to the land of the free, where we will let them live and they can enjoy whatever the hell is left of a society that has had its anima and animus systematically removed. The invitation remains open.

And thus ends the most recent installment of poemless’s VovaMania. For those of you who stubbornly refuse to come to your senses and join my cult, I present what has to be the finest piece of literature produced in the 21st century: Revelation 13: Is the Antichrist Russian President Putin? BRILLIANT! Seriously, I promise you will never have more fun reading anything. Ever.

Except for this blog, of course.

Next Page »

The Rubric Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.