ON THE LEXICON
Once a forefather of the language this was supposed to be written in but never was, took a trip to Europe and wrote about it. His name was Nicholas Karamzin and he wrote about drinking wine in other countries, notably Western Europe where he spent 16 months, incidentally at the same time as the French Revolution was sweeping it like a broom. During the next French Revolution some forty years later, a French guy who took the example of de Toqueville but went to Russia instead where it was more screwed up and more interesting, wrote about the impact of Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov, inaccurately at that. His name was de Custine, and he obviously, like Bruno whom we'll talk about later, nurtured a primary purpose of having a good time, infatuated by what he saw and intending to describe it with some aesthetic pretense to his peers which is practically impossible. Another fifty years later a welcome cynic (not welcome then, but certainly would be welcome to Arutunyan Land, the alter ego of Moscow) called Georges Brandes was more thorough and objective when he analyzed the culture and society of a twisted land that helped cause World War I and many, many other things. He wrote about the recent evolution of a new literature and its integration with society; he wrote about Tolstoy and Dostoevski, he wrote about the Romantics and the Liberals, and I'm sure about many other matters of grave consequence.
We can deduce, therefore, that travel notes are very popular, and are very well respected in literary circles. Travel notes are nice to write in the cabin of a nice train speeding through the Belorussian countryside, where you can look down on the landscape and feel elevated knowing that you are neither bound by the land nor its people, simply because you are moving through it in a train, and have thus mastered it. You write with the self-righteousness of a newly-independent teenager, except that you inevitably patronize the place you are writing about, unable to ignore your neat wash basin, the curtains of the window of the cabin that you paid for yourself, and the people (all the same) first coming in to stamp your passport and then bringing you a steaming glass of ruby tea. Perhaps I am wrong, but all travel notes bear the imprint of the context of the train cabin- I know- part of this was written in one.
Is there a better travelogue, a best one, a more objective one? Apparently since I tried to write one I must have thought there was. But digging deep within a lexicon like that, one comes upon a startling image: do we compare the versions of de Custine's and Brandes' Russia to get a more objective view? Eventually, everything will lead up to a small bit of bullshit that might have more mathematical significance than anyone can as yet imagine. Something is wrong with this and every lexicon, just as there is something wrong with each of Zeno's paradoxes. But whatever mistake has been made is not really a mistake, for logically all comes together perfectly with it, and crumbles without it. Yet the flaw undermines everything and makes it lighter than air and practically worthless.
Aging, experienced travelers, as well as the ancient immigrants from Odessa who never learned English and sit on Brighton Beach chattering in Yiddish (the only place where that dying language is still spoken), having come from a country that no longer exists and perhaps never existed save in theirs and our imaginations. But all those ghosts will be able to grasp this without formulating it. For laymen, however, it will sound as pretentious as it is incomprehensible. At each instant Russia as an object is one object only, and it cannot change with time. At another instant there is merely another object, like the frames of a cartoon, which are not changed, but meticulously drawn over and over again. That is why the Russia that Marquis de Custine saw and wrote about was not the Russia that Georges Brandes wrote of, and the Russia I write about now is certainly nothing like the Russia that spread out like a virtual prison camp for all those immigrants that still regard it as such. There are billions upon billions of stacks of Russia, there are as many Russias as there are instances in Time, and though one version may not differ as much from its predecessor as it does from the one a hundred layers down, it is still another object, an object which can only occupy one space in a single instance.