poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

October 11, 2010

Odds & Ends: Like in a dream Edition

A bit of catching up.

Vova’s Girlz.

~ Kevin O’Flynn: “Wanted: Putin’s Girl.”

So, this is annoying:

A girl was needed, but no ordinary one. She had to be not too tall and not too short, not too young and not too old — which if you’re wondering, is apparently between 22 and 27 — and she had to have a Moscow propiska, or registration.

It sounds like many a Moscow or even St. Petersburg man’s dream. Her skin had to be pure — no mention of her heart — her brows not too heavy, her chins not too many. Slavic features, please, they asked. Good manners, a way with lifts, not too big on the hips.

A beautiful smile and kind, intelligence plus the ability to take a bullet to the chest if somebody takes a pot shot at the guy who looks almost tall — to you, possibly — by your side.

If asked to find an escort for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, it is unlikely that I would have stuck an ad up on a web site.

But that is what went buzzing around the Internet a week or so ago. The escort was needed for last Friday when Putin was set to visit the Arctic forum at the new Moscow State University building.

Her job was to escort him to the lift: Nails have to be short enough to be able to press the button; make some meaningless chitchat — “So when will Novaya Zemlya get its first Coffee House?” — and then fade away like a late morning dream.

She was not the only one, as the company in question was actually looking for three hostesses in total. Probably because there are always a lot of lifts at Arctic forums.

Your dress, the ad said, must be business-style: suit, skirt/trousers, blouse, high heels, “not vulgar but beautiful.”

The girls, who have already had their moment, were to be chosen in a “casting” close to the Universitet metro station.

Most specific was the height requirement: “Height, STRICTLY 160-165 (plus 2 to 3 centimeters is possible),” the ad said. “VVP has a height of 169 cm, not higher than him, that’s for sure.”

I didn’t even bother trying our for that one … you know, er, propiskaless and all. Maybe Kevin finds this kind of headhunting vulgar, but at least it is honest. In America, we invite all the highly qualified applicants, hire the pretty ones as intended all along, and send the rest consolation letters, if they are lucky.

Why isn’t Lyudmila helping with the elevators? If you want to send a pro-family, traditional-values demography-inspiring message to your people, why not have the wife at your side? Alas, perhaps she has joined a convent? There are not even elevators in convents, I don’t think. Not in the ones I’ve stayed at. Oh yes I did. Catholic school, baby. Anyway, here is the difference between me and Lyudia Putina: I can still entertain the idea that it’s just that he hasn’t met me.

~ … I don’t have much to add to the Great Calendar Debate, except to wonder if people even need wall calendars anymore. I buy them. Mine have themes like “365 Days in France” and “Warhol’s Shoes,” but only because Putin hasn’t out out his own beefcake calendar yet. However, between Outlook, Blackberry, Google and every other cyber organizing tool out there, why buy a wall calendar? Because it gives you something nice to look at when you realize your bills are due. Which, politics aside, is why depressing calendars don’t sell.

~ From Becky Cloonan, via Natalia Antonova:

Read This.

Elif Batuman is a name I’ve come across from time to time, thought I should remember, and always forgot. She is the author of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. Which -based on nothing more than the title- has been immediately added to my reading list. But it’s her blog that has me reeling….

Kafka porn contest

Patient readers! I promised a Kafka contest, and here it is. In the course of researching my recent Kafka article, I was interested to learn about a 2008 Kafka pornography scandal, provoked by the publication of James Hawes’s Excavating Kafka (the US title of which, Why You Should Read Kafka before You Waste Your Life, makes me proud to be an American). As the Guardian put it:

At the focus of Hawes’ investigation are pictures he stumbled across in the British Library in London and the Bodleian in Oxford of the pornography to which Kafka subscribed while in his twenties. They include images of a hedgehog-style creature performing fellatio, golem-like male creatures grasping women’s breasts with their claw-like hands and a picture of a baby emerging from a sliced-open leg.

Myriad questions came to my mind. Whom or what was that hedgehog-style creature fellating? Was the Guardian being anti-Semitic when they called that breast-grasping creature a Golem? And who wants to see a baby coming out of someone’s leg? I consulted Google for answers and came across a terrifically helpful blog post which identifies and reproduces Aubrey Beardsley’s representation of a very angry-looking baby being removed from some guy’s leg (below), as per the description, in Lucian’s second-century proto-sci-fi hit True History, of how children are birthed on the Moon:\

Gratifying as this was, I was still really curious about that hedgehog and its unknown partner, which continued to elude my Googling skills for some time. One respected Kafka expert, to whom I broached the subject, basically counseled me to give up: “I think we can assume that the hedgehog was [performing these acts upon] another hedgehog, no? Isn’t that porn reportage protocol? You assume they’re of the same species, unless otherwise noted.” Well, Sir, that certainly isn’t my reportage protocol. And I’m glad it isn’t. Because, OK, don’t click on the link if you’re under 18 (believe me kiddo, it can wait), but I eventually found the picture, and, although I can’t tell you exactly what the soi-disant “hedgehog” is pleasuring, I can state with confidence that it is definitely not another soi-disant “hedgehog.”

As is often the case with Kafka, the more I learned, the more questions remained unanswered. What was that thing? Why was it behaving that way? Are such images “porn, pure and simple,” or are they, as Reiner Stach has suggested, mere “playful representations”?

Hoping to penetrate some of these mysteries, I addressed myself to valued reader and colleague Dimiter Kenarov, author of the Bulgarian bestselling poetry volume Апокрифни животни (Apocryphal Animals), the proceeds of which are diverted to the Sofia Zoo, where they have already financed a new swing for the monkeys. Kenarov suggested that the illustration represented some form of “apocryphal evolution,” but that, more significantly, one had perhaps stumbled upon “a whole new porn genre: Kafka Sex. There is money in here. For example, undressing a person only to find new and new layers of clothing underneath.”

I hereby decree this the first official entry in the My Life and Thoughts Kafka porn contest. Please send in your best ideas for this lucrative new genre, which may or may not eventually benefit in some way the monkeys in the Sofia Zoo.

Contest is over, and you’ve missed your chance to get some of her furniture. But a “first official entry” suggests there will be a second, official or otherwise. Anyway, this all somehow reminded me of that Edition 69 and the “The Devětsil ” literary movement. A bit after his time. But surrealist porn seems to be a theme with the Czechs…

~ Sheyngart recently showed up in the neighborhood. He did a great Q. and A., like he really wanted to be there, unlike Sasha Hemon. He’s quite funny. But not terribly serious. Which is too bad, because when he gets serious, great things come out. He was talking about how writers should take acting classes. I’d never thought about it, but it makes great sense. I’ve taken enough acting classes that I should now be prepared to write a novel. The crowd was a mix urban hipsters, Russian immigrants (a burly man rudely pushed past me to demand of the staff, “Vhat Time you Close?!”) and elderly Jews. Gary said he thought the Tea Party was better than Putin’s Russia. (Gary lives in NYC and doesn’t exactly have to worry about the Tea Party. I’ve not had any ancestors pogromed to death by Russians. We disagree.) He said he liked Pavel Pepperstein and Sorokin. He told a story about these old babushky who erected a giant toilet in central Moscow and were flushing Sorokin’s lurid books down it. You thought the story would end in grievance: so that’s the kind of thanks an artist gets in Putin’s oppressive Russia. He took a u-turn and remarked, “Russia’s the only country in the world that continues to care enough about novels to hold public protests against them.”

~ Adding to my blogroll: Lizok’s books.

~ I’ve about finished Rasskazy, and off the top of my head, the stories I liked most:

“THEY TALK” by Linor Goralik
“RUSSIAN HALLOWEEN” by Aleksander Bezzubtsev-Kondakov
“THE SEVENTH TOAST TO SNAILS” by Ekaterina Taratuta
“D.O.B.” by Aleksander Snegirev

Probably pure coincidence, but in this selection I’ve made, the women are writing experimental prose, and the men more traditional narratives. There is a lot of stuff in the book that, while very artistic and academic, does not seem to work very well. These did. I also wanted read twithout any political bias. One might argue that these are “Western” in their style, and condemnations of Russia in their content. They’re well written. And I am not sure I buy the idea that anything less than saccharine is an indictment, or the only good writers are Slavophiles.

And BG and Slava came to me in a dream…

~ c/o Oleg Kashin (who is spending WAY too much time on Twitter):

BG & Surkov! You know how in cheap beer commercials, there is always a set of hot twins the average Joe spies at a bar? (As if an average Joe drunk on Budweiser were more attractive to Scandanavian twins than the sober version of himself?) Anyway, If Budweiser were marketing to me, this would be the commercial. The third fellow is Andrei Makarevich. Meh. What was going on here? Political event at which musicians are kissing up? Or musical event at which poor Slava is kissing up? Anyway. So there is now some debate as to whether or not Boris has gone over to the dark side. Some people are like, hey, he’s just having a polite chat – who cares? They aren’t being helped by this, from Ekho Moskvy:

~ Борис Гребенщиков и Владимир Путин плавали по коммунальным квартирам России.

Известный музыкант Борис Гребенщиков в день рождения премьер-министра России Владимира Путина встретился с ним во сне. Об этом сам музыкант рассказал сегодня в эфире “Эха Петербурга”:

“Он мне снился сегодня. Мы с ним совершали вояж по России. По-моему, мы с ним плыли на катере сквозь квартиры коммунальные. Причём было дико красиво. Вероятно, вели разговоры. Я такого сна не помню просто в жизни своей! Я так ему благодарен! Какие силы работают на нашего президента… премьер-министра, что даже я вижу сны про него! Фантастика. Вот оккультизм настоящий”.

Alrighty then… Let’s keep in mind he smokes a lot of pot. But, is he being sarcastic, or sincere? Is it veiled criticism or harmless entertainment? It’s one thing to dream you’re sailing with Vova through communal apartments, another to issue a press release about it to your hippied-out followers. Hm. Fascinating indeed.

Bonus.

~ Finally, we have some pictures of the Soyuz capsule landing. For a while, I was not impressed. Looked like a piece of junk on a parachute. Then a piece of junk crashing to the dirt. Then an old piece of junk out in a field.

Then spacemen crawled out of it!!!! Wowee!

Soyuz TMA-18 Space Capsule Landing.

It’s really a metaphor for Russia, is it not? To the casual observer: junk. To the close observer: oudated junk. To the surveyor: junk surrounded by miles of nothing. But inside the junk are fascinating, adventurous, curious, educated and slightly insane people, doing astonishing things. And even the junk has stories to tell…

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April 22, 2010

Odds & Ends: Sick and Wrong Edition

Contents: Who’s the snotty nose now, Vlad? Soapy Peter v. the Nazis. The bastard Czech offspring of Houellebecq and Lautreamont. Rahm Emanuel’s eyes are bigger than his b … oh don’t make me be crass. Let’s just say his appetite is disproportionate to his performance.

HEALTH:

I was originally going to entitle this “A comparative study in Russian and Swiss propaganda,” but found out that Euronews is not Swiss, or not just Swiss, but comes out of Lyon (meh, same diff…) and is “European.” Whatever the hell that means. In America it means white. As in, “Where are your grandparents from?” “Europe.” “I can see that. What country in Europe?” “Switzerland.” “Ah. Well, that explains a lot…” Maybe it was this subconscious “whitenews” that made me believe it was Swiss. I don’t know.

Maybe I just needed someone to blame for news of Vovochka’s illness.

So I was watching Putin’s Duma address on RT, thinking, “Gah. He’s boring them to death. He’s even boring himself to death. Look at him. What a crap job. Hasn’t he already done enough for his country? Can’t he get some lackey to give his boring speeches while he’s off riding his pony around his empire, stealing from the rich to give to the State?”

Then I saw it the very same story on Euronews

“The recession in Russia is over according to Vladimir Putin, who has delivered his annual report to the lower house of parliament.
The prime minister likes to project a healthy image. But he was visibly ill, addressing members of the Duma with a trembling voice and regular coughing.

He admitted the economic situation was far from ideal.

“I would like to reiterate how important it is for everyone, not only the government but for everyone in this room today, to maintain a responsible economic policy and avoid holding our hand out to anyone,” he said in the speech.”

… and thought, “Ah. Well, that explains a lot… Like, why he has enough water on the podium to take a bath in. I just thought he was really, really thirsty. And bored delirious. He must have a fever. Why isn’t he in bed? Hasn’t he already done enough for his country? Can’t he get some lackey to give his boring speeches while he’s tucked in bed, sipping honey tea and having fairytales read to him?”

Seriously, I admire his work ethic and all, but how effective can you be when you are trying to convince the world your country is robust and healthy as you’re about to pass out from weakness? Especially if you are the action hero leader of said country? Haven’t you ever shown up at a doctor appointment to find your physician has a cold, and thought, “What a terrible doctor!” Even though you intellectually know they can get colds too? It’s like if your dentist were missing teeth. So I don’t see how a clean economic bill of health benefits by delivery from someone pale and shivering with illness.

Or maybe he’s not sick. Maybe Surkov bit him and turned him into a vampire and that’s why he is pale and lightheaded. And all those water bottles and tea cups are meant to distract from the cask of blood he’s sipping from behind the podium.

In any case, I hope you feel better soon, Vova!!!

SOCIETY:

One of the legacies of the repressive Communist era is the ability of Russians to always find inventive ways to entertain themselves. Another is homophobia. Another is police brutality. You see where this is going…

Moscow Times: Bubble-Blowing Teens Attacked in Gay Mix-Up.

“ST. PETERSBURG — Young people who gathered to celebrate spring by blowing bubbles at an annual flash mob in central St. Petersburg were attacked by a group of suspected neo-Nazis who mistook the gathering for a gay pride event, flash mob organizers said.
Some 500 people stood blowing bubbles on the steps of Gorkovskaya metro station and in the surrounding Alexandrovsky Park at about 4 p.m. Sunday — the agreed time for the start of the flash mob — when about 30 men ran up and started beating them and firing rubber bullets.

Several people fell to the ground before the attackers fled at the sight of approaching OMON riot police officers. A reporter saw officers detain at least one attacker. Police also detained about 30 bubble-blowers for five hours on suspicion of walking on the grass, a charge that they denied, organizers said.[…]

The annual bubble-blowing flash mob, known alternatively as “Dream Flash” and “Soapy Peter,” presents itself as nonpolitical and mostly attracts teenagers.

“It has nothing to do with the gay community or with any political, ideological or any other organization,” Yulia, the flash mob’s organizer, said by phone Monday.

She spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal for staging the event, which is not sanctioned by city authorities.

“It’s simply a celebration of spring with the idea that a group of people come together and walk around the city center blowing bubbles and enjoy spring,” she said.[…]

Several minutes after the attackers struck, OMON police declared the flash mob an illegal gathering and started to drive the participants, many of whom continued to blow bubbles, away from the metro and then out of the park with the aid of two police vehicles.

“Put away your bubbles,” one police officer barked through a megaphone.”

Enter: a group of neo-Nazis attacking a flashmob. Enter: a group of teens upset that their “Soapy Peter” bubble blowing event was confused for a gay pride spectacle. Enter: scary OMON forces ordering people to put away their bubbles. There is a curious innocence to the whole scene, as if it were a prank skit made by university students as a metaphor for the senseless, random cruelty of society. Except that it it isn’t. Well, I hope we’ve all learned the lesson from this tragic story:

Don’t name your town “Peter.”

(In unrelated news, Evo Morales says eating chicken makes you gay.)

LITERATURE:

I ran out of books to read last night. I’d been to the library looking for Ice by Sorokin on the recommendation of Scowspi, but it’s been checked out. Rummaging through my own stacks, I found a little tome I acquired free on the last day of a booksale and had proceeded to never read. It’s Czech. It’s surrealist. It’s compact. Why haven’t I read it? It’s pornographic. Which is no reason not to read a book, but the thing is I didn’t acquire it to read it. I acquired it to give the prudes at the library booksale something to giggle about. Anyway, I took it off the shelf, convinced myself hell is for silly people and dug into it last night. The title is Edition 69, and it is by Vítězslav Nezval and Jindřich Štyrský. You would not expect a book full of obscene -and I do mean obscene; I’m not being quaint now- pictures to have much quality to offer in the way of prose. Ah, but do the Czechs ever disappoint?! It’s brilliant, in simple way. I was thinking it reminded me of Les chants de Maldoror in its surrealist autobiographical style, with some of the more unredeeming aspects of Houellebecq thrown in for bad taste.

I’d never heard of the authors so today I googled them:

“Vítězslav Nezval was a member of the avant-garde group of artists Devětsil (literally “nine forces”, the Czech name of the Butterbur plant but to a Czech-speaker an obvius reference to the nine founding members of the group). Devětsil members were the most prolific Czech artists of their generation. In 1922, the Devetsil group included, but was not limited to, Vítězslav Nezval, Jindřich Štyrský, Jaroslav Seifert, Karel Teige, and Toyen (Marie Cerminova). Also associated with the group was the later founder of the Prague Linguistic School, Roman Jakobson. Like the proletarian group before it, Devětsil looked to France for inspiration for their avant-garde literature and their Marxist political ideology originating from Russia. Though the Czechoslovakian state was newly formed after World War I, the younger generation felt there was still room for improvement and that a radical solution was necessary to gain true liberation. Most of these intellectuals had a zest for revolution and professed their allegiance to Lenin. Though their philosopher-president, Thomas Masaryk gave them the first real socially-minded democracy, Nezval and others in his group did not accept this regime as representative of their beliefs and goals. In their writings they expressed their preference for the Marxist-internationalist consciousness of class solidarity.[…]

Nezval was also a founding figure of the Poetism movement. His output consists of a number of poetry collections, experimental plays and novels, memoirs, essays, and translations. Along with Karel Teige, Jindřich Štyrský, and Toyen, Nezval frequently traveled to Paris where he rubbed shoulders with the French surrealists. His close friendship with André Breton and Paul Éluard was instrumental in founding The Surrealist Group of Czechoslovakia in 1934. It was the first group of this kind outside France and Nezval served as the editor of its journal Surrealismus.”

The Devětsil:

“The Devětsil (Czech pronunciation: [ˈdɛvjɛtsɪl]) was an association of Czech avant-garde artists, founded in 1920 in Prague. From 1923 on there was also an active group in Brno. The movement discontinued its activities in 1930 (1927 in Brno).

Founded as U. S. Devětsil (Umělecký Svaz Devětsil – Devětsil Artistic Federation), its name was changed several times. From 1925, it was called the Svaz moderní kultury Devětsil (the Devětsil Union of Modern Culture).

The artistic output of its members was varied, but typically focused on magic realism, proletkult, and, beginning in 1923, Poetism, an artistic program formulated by Vítězslav Nezval and Karel Teige.

The group was very active in organizing the Czech art scene of the period. Members published several art magazines – ReD (Revue Devětsilu), Disk and Pásmo, as well as occasional anthologies (most importantly Devětsil and Život) and organized several exhibitions.

For the most part, Devětsil artists produced poetry and illustration, but they also made contributions to many other art forms, including sculpture, film and even calligraphy.

For about two years Devětsil functioned without any particular theoretical grounding, but as the members changed and those that remained developed and modified their style, it was decided, particularly by Karel Teige, that they begin formulating theories behind their activity. Most of these theories were to be spread through manifestos published by the group. Like any good theorist, Teige was always ready to change his ideas and sometimes moved from one aesthetic to an opposite one. The group formulated a movement that they called Poetism. The long echoed cry, “make it new,” was vital to the Poetists way of thinking. The Devětsil members were surrounded by the new in science, architecture and industry. Even their country was new. In order for art to survive, or at least in order to be worthwhile, it had to constantly be ahead of other changes in life. The Poetists advocated the law of antagonism. This law explains historical progress as reliant on discontinuity. New types and styles of art are continuously necessary for development and vital to these changes are conditions of contradiction. The first manifesto of Devětsil urged new artists to look deeper into ordinary objects for poetic quality. Skyscrapers, airplanes, mimes, and poster lettering were the new arts. Inspired by the Berlin Dadaists, Seifert claimed “art is dead.” Following him, Teige remarked, “the most beautiful paintings in existence today are the ones which were not painted by anyone.” [1]”

Incredible! Why have I never heard of these people? A Czech Marxist-Leninist-Poetist-Surrealist-Gothic Avant Garde? It’s like one of those crazy genres Netflix invents to cater to your own personal tastes (those “based on your interest in Critically-acclaimed Cerebral Dark Foreign Erotic Films” recommendations freak me out!) Anyway, I’m quite enjoying Nezval and his ilk. Since beginning this post. I’ve torn through Edition 69 (which contained, among other things, a manifesto about p0rnophilia and the class system) and several slender collections of poetry. Exquisite, sublime poetry. Don’t even get me started on “The Lilac By The Museum On St. Wenceslas Square” which burst into bloom while he slept… It’s all too much.

POLITICS:

Apparently Rahm Emanuel has nothing better to do than sit up at night scheming up new ways to piss me off. And to his credit, it seems to be the one thing he’s quite successful at. There was that time he ran someone against my friend in a primary, won the primary and lost the general. Actually, that’s the most tolerable part of that story… And then there was the time he showed up at Glen’s Diner, sat next to me, was waited on hand and foot while I waited an hour for my salad only to be informed they’d run out of salad dressing. Then there was the week I woke up to helicopters each morning because my neighbor had decided to take the position of Chief of Staff. And then there was the time he could barely even get his own party to support a watered down piece of crap masquerading as a healthcare reform bill.

But I’m less vocal about his D.C. failures. Because I want him to stay there. Democrats all over Chicago cheered when he took the White House gig. Because they love him and were happy for him? Oh hell no. Because it meant he was leaving! The poor citizens of my fair district were finally given the opportunity to have a decent Congressman when he left. Our whole neighborhood could not get an audience with Emanuel during the run up to the invasion of Iraq. My new Rep. came to my holiday party and brought a whole cheesecake. Just sayin’.

So I am thinking it’s ok if he’s wrecking national policy so long as he’s not here and I can eat a fucking salald in peace. And I get cheesecake.

It’s unfortunate I’ve already used the phrase, “Oh hell no.” It would have been a perfect response to this:

Obama aide Emanuel: I’d like to be mayor of Chicago.

Damn it! You are the chief advisor to the leader of the free world, but that’s not enough? Why won’t you just LEAVE ME ALONE! PLEASE… Insatiable freak.

Below are the reasons Emanuel would be a crap mayor of Chicago:

~ Chicago likes two kinds of mayors: dictators who rule with an iron fist, and progressive reformers. Emanuel is neither of these, as the recent healthcare debate illustrated. He could not even get his whole party on board, let alone one member of the opposition. Apparently they are not afraid of him. This would have been excusable were he presenting some radical socialist legislation that was ahead of the curve. But he never even entertained the possibility of a public option, let alone single payer healthcare. Fail. Fail. If you can’t even get a few Democrats to support a rather reasonable request, how are you going to get 3 million people to cream “How high?” when you shout, “Jump!” Not gonna happen.

~ Emanuel likes to wear finely tailored suits. That’s cool, if you are running for mayor of New York. I just can’t see our little rascal in a beige trench and fedora, the Mayor of Chicago uniform.

~ Chicago is not Ravenswood. Chicago is not all the cool little trendy neighborhoods and posh suites in mile high skyscrapers. It’s the inner city. There are poor people there. This man believed it beneath his station to communicate with and represent a rather well-off area while he was Congressman. What is he going to do if he has to communicate with and represent rather uneducated and smelly people? Who have no money to give him!!! But who need the snow removed like ASAP.

~ Uhm, we don’t want him to be Mayor. I’m not one of those trite progressives who won’t be happy until Ralph Nader is running the city. I like Mayor Daley. I admire him. Sure he’s corrupt, but you can tell he loves the city. Sure he’s divisive, but the man gets things done. Emanuel tells people to fuck off by calling them names and giving them the finger. Daley tells people to fuck off by bulldozing the airport he wants to turn into a park in the middle of the night. It’s the difference between a schoolyard bully and a leader.

~ Salad.

~ Cheesecake.

Ok that’s all for now. Thanks for reading and Happy Lenin’s birthday and Earth day!

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