ON THE INTELLIGENTSIA
In Russia literature as an art has held a very particular status ever since Belinsky- being newer in this country than in most others, the novel suddenly became something almost sacred, so that even Gogol attempted to prescribe certain religious missions in his last, unfinished work. Dostoevsky was also not far from displaying himself in his works with a prophetic nature. In the same way (and at about the same time) the "class" from and for which these new writers arose- the "intelligentsia"- began to be cultivated. Perhaps this exclusively Russian concept can be held responsible for giving Russian literature its status- endowing it (and itself, not to mention any artistic or intellectual achievement) with a necessary social and ideological mission. Seventy years of communism, rather than stifling this attitude, provoked it by continuing to repress free expression, which at a certain point began acquiring a continuous status of martyrdom, represented by such figures as Alexander Solzhenitsin (for some it seemed enough to be Russian and in exile to gain the Nobel Prize). It has long been said that in Russia the writer is a little bigger than a writer; recently the poet Evgenii Evtushenko (seen once at his reading in Tulsa, Oklahoma wearing cowboy boots and a hat) claimed that the Russian writer is bigger than Russia. Once I woke up in Michael's house and found that he wasn't home, so I took to reading an article he was doing for some computer magazine, one he hadn't been able to finish for days, and he wrote of a strange race- the New New Russians- the white-collar intellegentsia that is a hybrid between a hacker (note the new slave-route opened between Moscow and Silicon Valley- dealing in Russian physicists who are talented programmers) and god only knows what else, for who knows what nine years of chaos can do to a society. Forget the New Russian- this August the concept became obsolete as the middle class once again took a fatal economic blow, and I know this because already on the Arbat there is a store specializing in Russian folk crafts depicting stylized gangsters and businessmen. The old intelligentsia is a handful of weary ethereal faces glinting among the golden-rectangle windows of the old courtyards in central Moscow. We observed a scene once on a trolley-bus which words can't describe- two men in glasses, blasted from the past into this strange hell, met and shook hands quietly, their faces ironically melancholy as though their surroundings didn't exist, their greetings thoughtful and dubious, their phrases so polite that I wanted to fall on my face and weep.
An accumulation of details grows as contradictory as the whole which they embody with time and in the intricacies within one city (though I can't recall the poem by Filimonov which I read in the subway this afternoon on my way to the university for a semiotics lecture; travesty- Alexander Barulin- and since I met my two translator friends, Petya and Katya, right out of the publishing agency where they didn't get paid again, who asked me by the escalator if Barulin was not the same one who wrote the work The Philosophy of something I knew we were dealing with a self-satisfied and quite realized academic- sometimes I revert to direct translations. That was why I wondered before, during and after the lecture how he could teach semiotics when he, being not only a follower of Chomsky who abandoned structuralism in the Fifties, but also a very assertive theorist propagating hierarchical morphology that takes account of all levels of language ("The morphological theory takes everything into account- the morpheme as a unit, and the lexics derived from it..."), and most of all I wondered when Barulin said, "Melchuk believed that he was the only one that understood his theory [on the derivation of text and levels of structure], and so anyone who didn't understand what was written should ask him." Meanwhile I had stopped taking notes and stared out of the window at the strange crow who was jumping up each wring of the fire-escape ladder of the adjoining eight-story wing, until she got up to the slanting roof, and smartly did her business, whatever that was, like all Russian crows. And the poem by Filimonov called Moscow not only varied and rich, but also striped.)
How do you collect all the details of one life and world so that you can hold it in your hand and then be able to smash it against the wall? Those details accumulate over a grain of sand before they make a pearl, to use Milorad Pavic's beautiful metaphor for the damaging but sometimes sweet work of novels, and manifest into little more than a horribly penetrating nostalgia which takes hold of your entire being as an artist. A couple of words and thoughts ago in Prague I said that the intellectuals of every country are alike because they all came from Russia, and unfortunately most educated persons turn neurotic:
It is a strange and biased pathology, loath for description lest it finally become a lifeless literary cliche for pseudo-Dostoevskian graphomaniacs, a mono-language term itself, kak eto ne stranno, but I have my own words and scrupulated lexicons, because I am a correspondent and wanderer in novels. My experiences in Boolean Frost have made me inflamed in Moscow with the soul of the Russian, whose identity is as bottomless as some cheap cups of coffee and in Texas and California. It is a sick, sick man- I have looked around this time upon coming by and staying, jumping from one acidic club to internet parties where purposefully bad computer-generated music is the reason for port-wine and vodka, where you see that when they, clever dilettantes, gather to read poems and songs, strung out with a glass of vodka in one hand, momentarily their collective and quantified despairs make them fling out beyond the brink of literary convention and strike up a flame in the very heart of the diseased language and its deadly social toxins that make the most hip poetry readings in the coffee-houses of Austin and Seattle decompose by comparison with their repetitiveness, shallow thought and obvious dilettantism that makes me nauseous every time I hear a word repeated more than three times (a reading in Prague, made up mostly of the same American crowd of slackers and pseudo-intellectuals, sounded the same as in the West- why??!!). Sorry, Russian is a diseased language and ten times more effective for the purposes. It is adolescent and already beginning to rot (they took out two letters of the alphabet only in 1918 and the vocabulary is still Pushkinish and therefore less than two hundred years old), it has wider capabilities of genius in the pen of an equally diseased Russian mind. The real poets here drink cheap coffee and wink as plaintively and helplessly as Leo Rubenstein, renown avant-garde Card Man, or Timur Kibirov (I strana u nas stranna) who looked bemused when forced to read among marble and gold to little old ladies who'd never heard of him. They are the real stars here, but walk to the subway by foot, and no one seems to care except me, who stares when Michael points them out as they walk with determination and a backpack. Recently, when I saw Herman Vinogradov, the Buddhist musician who uses tea kettles and marijuana in the ambient concerts he sets up every Sunday in his cluttered Stalinist apartment on Kirovskaya (now I think for thirty rubles), he was in the subway staring at me with a mysterious smile of recognition (I met him long ago at his colleague's birthday party) while he stood at the end of the car running something over a Tibetan metal bowl for no particular reason, while no one listened. No wonder, because they aired a show about him on channel 3- how he and his entourage ran around Moscow half-naked banging on strange instruments. At any rate, by that smile I was lifted and borne transcendentally upon the wings of woe as I stepped onto the platform and glanced back to make sure.
Do I or she know of a single person in this city not marked by an obvious neurosis that spills a two-hour monologue at the first tete-a-tete beer or shot of vodka? Lazy, talkative, and masochistic, these people believe that the are each special and sick with the Kafka disease of literary martyrdom, and the only difference between them (in Russia) and some gen-x cases in the West who believe the same thing is that here they are actually sick and will be genuinely ill all their lives, until their collective artistic disease melts away into a premature marazm or moronism at the age of fifty, inherent to all sovoks, or people who grew up v sovke, or in the Soviet Union, deprived and suppressed. This means that no one knows where he stands, but the essence of this neurosis is deeper and more ominous than I dare to discuss with someone completely sober, secure, arrogantly powerful, but also suffering from it as much as anyone else, except that we might or might not share a common language, and that makes all the difference.