Alexander Kan. An invisible island

Alexandr Kan. Foto Viktor An

ALEXANDER  KAN

AN  INVISIBLE  ISLAND

The Korean Diaspora of the CIS of 21-th century:

An essay on the artistic mastering of a marginal consciousness

(Translated by Steven Lee, Stanford University, USA)

A great rejection

              As one still remembers: a plastic being of the Soviet man was always in the fact that he clasped in his own hands something very narrow, limited in dimensions, insignificant to the point of absurdity – obviously, not needing to itself such muscular attention. It is not important what was that: the next dissident work or a pass to the same next party sanatorium; nobody, except special state organs, had any business, for over these all crooked and doubled up small figures of the Soviet citizens hovered a huge mythical Sovietomane with its widely spread hands and legs, being speaking with his entire appearance to the world about how much place he could occupy on that Globe. When that colossus suddenly collapsed, a meteorological revolution has occurred: almost the biggest cloud during the whole history of mankind had vanished into thin air and – the sun started to grill mercilessly, so bright that some time was needed in order to learn to open one’s eyes without narrowing them. And when the eyes has opened, the hands stretched in breadth – to embrace unbounded spaces and at the same time to stretch one’s body that became numb in the space of several decades of an ideological captivity, but nothing of the sort: next to you there was already your civil neighbor showing with his pose and fire in his eyes the very same process, that later they started to call the revival of a national self-consciousness.

              The hand came up against someone else’s hand, the leg – against someone else’s leg, it began to become crowded, as at a sports ground with wrongly placed figures of sportsmen, or there turned up a stuffy Ingmar-Bergman tambour where every one who had got there breathed venomously someone into face or back of the head, complaining about one’s social loneliness. The process developed nonstop, neighbors, at an entry given to them at last, became more and more and immediately a question arose: where they were all this time? It seems, that one became a drunkard, other one has moved into a comfortable flat-city-country, but no, all of them resided at their places and each crept out from his own kennel by himself. But as time passed the hands missing boundless spaces sank involuntarily and gave up their place to others more insolent hands precious cubic centimeters of space, as a result, found again an initial position, comprising something very narrow, limited in space and time.

               And there again a question rises: what had changed during these reckless years having hold in themselves one, still uncompleted and – and with someone, perhaps, completed, but how? – volitional exercise, if every one of the “worming up”, proceeding from the most strict demands, came to the number one position?

              At first sight, it is almost a rhetorical question. Indeed, and what about freedom, democracy or a declaration of that, a personal independence, sovereignty – other ideas that had filled densely with their obvious ozone sense up to now stuffy social air? And, it seems, all that had been, but, looking at today’s realities we in no way can get rid of a stable sensation: a plastic expression of the CIS’ citizen reminds us to the point of absurdity of the sadly known images.

              Here we shall recall the colossus, the mythical giant, which had disappeared from the horizon, shall remember the meteorological processes. Yes, it seems, there became much more sun and it is impossible already to get that away from us. I dare to assume that it is in the sun, and more exactly, in its bright light that the essence of everything that happened to us lays. For the bended in the past small figures were imprisoned for a long time in stuffy and dark basements in which a furtively-quiet neighbor who was next to you could engage in anything – all the same, it was pitch dark. And now a light, the light downed upon everybody – rather cold, rather electric, in which it became penetratingly visible what everybody engages in, and if before it was possible to hold a fig in one’s pocket to spite to the whole world and exactly in that way to justify oneself and one’s own, than now such number will not come off because of its complete fatuity. And on the other hand, you are already pressed, pressed – so, is there too little light for all? – and if you do not express by your existence something weighty and significant, you’ll be simply carried away to the side of history as an obsolete road sign.

            A paradoxical situation has arisen: it is obviously that nobody of those who displayed earlier an ideological deadlock or a volitional absence of roads is unable – during some decade! – to regenerate oneself into a symbol of wind, speed, an inexhaustible striving. We are not speaking here about those who in their time boldly hold figs in their pockets, they encountered with quite other, but same insurmountable difficulties: the fig, having torn up the trouser-leg, suddenly broke loose, and the subject crawled up into his pocket, like an snail into its test. Nietzsche had an ear in one of his reflection “ear about the size of a man”, and, in our instance, a figure of three fingers, and behind the both “moved something else, to a pity small, beggarly and weak”.

              Alas! but such swift human metamorphosis will just remain in the category of the fantastic, for the situations are too incomparable, in which was today and before, as a matter of fact, the same Soviet man. We have no choice but to state that the decease of a total pretence and, what is especially important, self-rejection, moral mimicry reached its extreme degree. Obviously, the origin of that decease is in an internal emptiness residing in a human shell. Moreover, I am sure that the shells understand it perfectly and because of that need urgently to declare their moral-ethical-spiritual profits before passing an examination at Customs on the way to the world history.

                And here we come out to a finishing, and  more precisely, starting straight of our reflection. Undoubtedly, the hands of the suffering must contain something weighty, eternal as far as possible in order that nobody – for some one else’s opinion is so important! – could say to you that you are just do not exist. When the children of cellars, basements and caves had got away to the light, the welded on or frozen on to their lips already boiled in their mouths: “Here is my village, here is my native home!” And thank God, there was something to take round by one’s hand; it is impossible to destroy anything for several decades! And let it be even weak, nearly illusory outlines of the national past which people, yarning for sense and symmetry, were ready to embrace.

               The solution of the former paradox or, more exactly, its complete rejection draws near: everybody started to improve his homeland, republic, region, town, district, flat, if there is no flat, cubic meters on which he stood, and whatever they might say, who is genuine, and who is not sincere patriot of that living space, an external space of Man became absolutely of no importance, for a new idea of an external improvement, swiftly replaced that memorable colossus on clay legs. A new idea – its islandisation, where everybody starts his new life from surrounding his territory with a fence come to take the place of incessant “sation” of the Soviet country. We shall not dwell in detail on this question: here it smells with politics, other’s mistakes, lie and historic insults; here it smells with blood, the former and future, – God forbid! Let us only put in into the space of our reflection that new old term, which we shall use more than once, and for the beginning like that: put fingers of yours one hand to fingers of the other one and it will turn to be an  i s l a n d … It is not bad that it is empty, that it is symbolic, but then it is primal, which nobody will take it from you, if your hands will not be divided. But is it in a mood for that, say, now for other’s hands that, undoubtedly, are busy with something more important, and now we know, it seems, with what – is it worthwhile to them to spare their attention to the owners of such nothingness? But we shall peer, no, stare at that hole of our fingers that nobody will ever take away from us, for in future a rather magic pursuit is waiting for us.

False personalities

              If the overwhelming majority of population of the former Soviet Union, having surrounded themselves with fences – wooden, metallic, concrete, political, ethnic, culturological, social – already successfully pass customhouse examination of history with their brand-new passports, or – that is the same – with a comforting one’s hearing and sounding as a password on their lips: “here is my village, here is my native home…”, then in that endless row of newly brought to light patriots-refugees there come one’s way very suspicious persons whose – the customs official watch! – documents are not fully in order. They are called always differently: from fare dodgers-disfranchised persons to more neutral – representatives of national minorities. In the given work we shall speak about Soviet or post Soviet Koreans, whose numbers by the present moment is about 480 thousand on the entire territory of the CIS.

             Koreans as a cut of different ethnic, but the point will be about something more – of diasporas of different outlooks, are very expressive in their style and way of existence, in their mentality, – finally, in their eternal silence, that is explained superficially by detached observers as a notorious eastern restraint, and in that their hereditary silence their individual and at the same time national essence is clearly revealed.

             Have you ever been at strangers’ holidays? Of course you have been, there is nothing special in that: you come to some one’s home, eat, drink, smile, eat much, drink much, and smile much, get drunk, have a bite, get more drunk, suddenly enjoy yourself, get drunk completely, toward the end start a raw and – ceremoniously fell under the table. The scheme of a stranger’s holiday is expressive and simple: those who drink immediately becomes one’s people, that, who does not drink, remains eternally strange and bears on his shoulders a heavy cross of a general drunk disdain.

            I dare assume that Koreans in the category of our reflection drink quite little, moreover: in a drunk-hangover atmosphere of our time – they are unbearably sober. (Here, of course, only creative, building up material and spiritual products of society layer of Diaspora is meant, for that is only it that can represent our main interest.) Obviously, to get sooner into the history, it is necessary to nock back a glass immediately and – for God’s sake! – call yourself Russian, Tatar, Moldavian, Tajik, Ukrainian, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Armenian, citizen of South Africa, Canada, the US, united Germany – it is possible to be a citizen of the Republic of Soha… – the world is waiting for you, the world is very big! – then sing a song about your home and village, and at the customhouse of history they will certainly let you pass. Those who is unable to drink this cheering drink, alas, will just remain on the other side of the barrier…

             I was at one time in both states, and if it is all clear with the first one, then, being in the second I felt an unbearable emptiness, spreading from within over my shell unnecessary to anybody, understanding perfectly well that this holiday – is always not yours – and with others, who enjoyed themselves at their own-stranger’s holiday, perhaps, the same process was going on, except that the concentration of stupefying gases was different, what, in essence, determined their stably consistent sovereignty. However, Thomas Stearns Eliot, who anatomically broke down the essence of false persons, said it about that incomparably more capaciously and figuratively as far back as in the beginning of the last century.

         We are the hollow men                         

         We are the stuffed men

         Leaning together

         Headpiece lilled with straw. Alas!

        Our dried voices, when

        We whisper together

        Are quiet and meaningless

        As wind in dry grass

        

        Or in Russian:

 

        Мы полые люди,

        Мы чучела, а не люди

        Склоняемся вместе-

        Труха в голове,

        Бормочем вместе

        Тихо и сухо,

        Вез чувства и сути.

        Как ветер в сухой траве

 

           Let us leave our emotions and move further! But where is that light which illuminates our way for us? Those who had gone, already gone, even if with false documents, even if with remolded shells, – change the color of your hair, change the shape of your eyes, learn to speak as others, learn to love what others love, forget about what you came and grew from, forget about everything, and, finally, do not say anybody about that “As the wind in a dry grass”.

           Alas, we have to stay at our place, for whoever however moves, all the same it is dark around, it is dusk around, wondering shadows – everything is closed, stacked, and there is in the sky really a Baudelaier’s cover, but only not from a boiling infernal cauldron, but from – let us come nearer to today’s realia – a metaphysical freezing compartment. After all you will have to confess that You – is what you are and he also, and that one and the other – hey! acting compatriots, wait, don’t go, remain those what you were! – and if there is something you need to fence, then, as a matter of fact, only that very hole of your fingers as your most stable acquisition.

             During two years of work at the newspaper of Kazakhstan Koreans “Kore”, and a very little time has passed since then, I happened to meet many representatives of so called creative and scientific intelligentsia. In my talks with them I invariably faced with the same thing – with the fact that there is no traditions tying with antiquity, school, continuity neither in art – fine art, literature, music, dances, – nor in the science on Soviet Koreans, which, none the less, was called persistently at those times the Soviet Koreevedenie. It was sad, thought I, returning home after such talks, – so we are really do not exist, we have not our projection on the screen of human history, and, in essence, we have not our shadows. You just imagine to yourself: a man is walking on the earth and does not cast any shadow, but I just see mine, I tried to calm myself both in literal and metaphorical sense but remembered again about the heard, about people calling themselves intellectuals, but if there is nothing then which intelligentsia at all one can speak about? – thought I, here is a sort of a fraud, and suddenly I treaded on my earthly shadow, which should not be, and understood that the sun also deceived me.

Faces of Mnemosina

              Of all culturological manifestations of a national consciousness I stop my glance exactly on literature for it is literature that expresses with itself a mnemonic nature of human existence! – not hiding behind a formal logicality of figures and computations, “protective” scientific terms, representing in majority of them a bare scientific-ugliness-ism, behind which there is a complete absence of any conception, view, and, well then, eternal philosophical fright, – what in the aggregate just represented an official science on Soviet Koreans. You can always state that the given man does not exist in nature, but if he manages to tell you about the fact that he existed and – which is the main thing, how he existed till your verdict, you already will never be able without ceremony to brush him aside, for sometimes it’s impossible even to imagine what he had told you about… Let us turn to the literature of modern Korean authors. Thus, if, for all that, one admits, that we do not exist, then, perhaps, an ethnic memory will tell the reader about what was there once. And was it?

            Obviously there is no sense to discuss artistic merits and shortages of these works* for they are not known to the mass reader. We have another task: to reveal, to clear up for ourselves the question: what are fronts – not faces! – of a foreign memory?

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* – The regarded works were published in the “Kore” newspaper for 1991-92 and collections “Pages of Lunar Calendar” (M. Sov. Pis., 1990) and “Gorst okeana” (A-Ata, Song-cinema, 1992).

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            A mnemonic nature of literary works by Korean authors is obvious and thickly mixed on artistic material and therefore its presence is revealed already after reading the very titles of tales and stories: from a literal “I Remember It” by Genadiy Ni-Li, “How Do They Call That Place…” by Khan Din, “Let’s Remember Summer and Not Once” by Lavrenty Son, “Will the Heart Forget?” by Vladimir Poo to the associative at different levels: “A Fish Place” (brain reverse) by Andrey Khan, “A Handful of Ocean” by Vladimir Lim, “A Century of the Family” by the author of this reflection.

            Having had studied the above mentioned and not mentioned works I came to conclusion that the content of a foreign memory on the example of Korean Diaspora can be correlated with the following points:

  1. Memory – is a lyrical experience. It is because of its lyrical turning towards outside an author can allow himself to depict his character directly from an artistic space of the past into a theoretical, often in no way defined future, and that – reverse side of a medal – dissolves its, the memory’s, flesh in the air of “impressionistic” emotions. As a result the picture acquires a plane existence.
  2. Memory – is a dream, a wild and awful one leaving in the reader’s consciousness a burn, and the author’s consciousness itself, after passing of that dream, represents a consciousness of a splinter balancing absolutely irreally on the edges of once happened break.
  3. Memory – is simply! – the native (Korean) language, and all connected with it – traditions, national culture, atmosphere, attitude, language, practically dead, even now, – let’s leave for a moment literature! – when crowds of people continue to learn it by the commands of cultural centers that had turned into belches of a national perestroika because of hypocritical proclaiming of their programs often hiding bureaucratic selfish interests.
  4. Memory – is an eternal pain from which it is possible to escape in an artistic system of coordinates or non-artistic declaring of “a better” life (the most unworthy way out for the author) or with an attempt to cease feel the pain at all. The second way out is a synonymous one: the author’s consciousness comes to a point, sort of hypothetical apex of a cone – the cone of a sinking national consciousness. (I spoke about that much and in detail in my articles “Returning Home”, “To Open One’s Eyes and Not to Be Frightened” in “Druzhba Narodov” magazine, № 7, 1991; № 1, 1994). Let’s call this way out as a poetry of self-sinking, slow and agonizing – an aesthetic hara-kiri rising certain claims to the artistic form of a work.

            What are these claims and what are prospects of development of artistic form subordinated to the given aesthetic task, – these are questions for a separate detailed work.

  1. Memory – is an emptiness, absolute icy emptiness and at the same time an unearthly penetrating yearning of the author for this emptiness – for its coldness. We should consider this point as rather a theoretical, not embodied but only marked by the authors in the work reviewed by me. Let’s leave it for the time being without any comment for we shall return to it as to the only possible one yet many times more.

            Practically in the all points listed by me an author’s fascination with his own memory is observed, or with the object that caused it, sort of a mnemonic paralysis, – impossibility of taking off one’s retrospective glance from that the other world’s place from which this author grows. As a matter of fact, let’s use the title of a story by Khan Din – the question is a pressing one: How Do They Call That Place? The circumstance of the action for us here is very important and of principle: “how”, for a revolutionary difference of literature from other artistic forms of expression of foreigners is in the fact that it is it that took courage on itself to tell the world not about that we – authors and readers – did not existed, but about that how we did not exist, with that receiving manly the philosophical non-existence as reality.

The origin of the phantom

            In the light of the above said a story by Genadiy Ni-Lee “I Remember It” is very symptomatic and important. Let’s dwell on it minutely and, not distorting a general artistic landscape, reveal in it those moments that answer our concept.

              The character of the “I Remember It” recalled that what he cannot remember about in principle, namely: that same ill-fated the 37 year, character’s mother, still carrying him in her womb, looks for the body of her husband, who, as it happened to know to her, just had been buried with other prisoners in one common grave. Let’s omit her feelings, her steadfast struggle against various obstacles – bans, excruciating talks with escorts, with the watchmen of the cemetery where the father of her unborn son was buried. When the woman reaches that place, terrifying and so magnetic to her, she starts – herself! – to dig out nameless human bodies from the earth, with horror and a sinking heart trying to guess in each of them traits of her loved one.

             It is difficult to imagine with one’s own eyes what was doing that small fragile woman, but due to the author, everything that was going on is apprehended without falseness, with observing of an aesthetic taste, without an excessive anti-artistic chernukha, as if the author’s memory, its origin from the other world, frees an artistic thought from any earthly-naturalistic, logical coordinates, converting the narrator himself in one, in a Nabokov’s aimless, naked sight.

            The husband’s body happens to be at the very bottom of the grave dug out by her; the woman takes him out and buries already according to the Christian custom. A lot of years will pass and one day – so the character concludes his story – in the evening I’ll open the door and an old woman will come in towards me and call me by the name of my father. Me, his son.” Here it is worthwhile to take note of the fact that the character for the first time comes into the artistic space of the story from an outside, from outer- worldly existence and only having received his name, materializes in the earthly world. And this onomastic sign becomes the center of an unearthly emanation of the author’s memory.

              In my opinion, it is in the given work for the first time in such a short period of existence of literature of Russian-speaking Korean Diaspora that the i r r e a l i t y of the nature of a foreign memory has been shown and proved. Genady Nikolaevich Lee’s character remember those events in which he never took part, moreover, he remembers not from words of his mother or eye-witnesses, but on his own, it would seem, to the point of absurdity indisputably. He remembers how his mother went to the cemetery, how she was coming to the agreement with soldiers, pouring to them from her palm her last money, how she was digging out the body of his father, as if his own, the author’s and son’s, – he remembers so piercingly. The author’s consciousness in the story is mobile, rhythmical, extensive, the character r e m e m b e r s, as if from all points of sight, – from the grave’s pit, from above, from the ground, looking into a dark cold grave full of dead bodies, still higher – from his mother’s height, stayed put over an earthly-non earthly abyss, finally, from the height of a night starlit sky, from where, as will become clear later, he just descended to the ground. “April nights are dark and impenetrable. They swallow man and, having squeezed him with their jaws, spit him out. And he goes, crumpled and sticky along a black road. He goes and stumbles upon branches scattered here and there, it squelches under his feet, and above shrink rare stars resembling yellow from tobacco teeth…”

            So then, we can ascertain the given above statement. The Literature of Korean authors, that is to say, those who actually do not exist, and who, as representatives of the ethnos, do not have even their culturological shadow, told us not about how we were, but about how we for all that did not exist.

               Thus, if we do not exist, if we are all        phantoms of the eternal past, then the literature of philosophical foreigners tried and tries to determine the origin of that phantom. Of all the fronts of memory, listed by us, – Pain, Suffering, Dream, Burn, Korean language, Emptiness – no one of them convinces us in the fact that we have arose from something real and tangible, and to speak about so precious today ground and earth is not the question at all. From the other side, there can be nothing anomalous and even, speaking at an emotional level, disgraceful in it: for the phantom must descend from a phantom, the latter in his turn, from the same, incorporeal but all-all-seeing, here it is, an eternal curse over him! – and it is turned to be a chain of put one into another phantoms like matreshkas. Once again, those phantoms are with different faces and symbolic: it can be a grave pit, half-shadows of life and death, and night sky with stars reminding teeth of devil, it is also an eternal fright of consciousness, as in a story by Lavrentiy Son “Let’s Remember Summer and Not Once”, when after a sudden reveille a crowd of Korean settlers in their still lasting dream already run, did not knowing where to, but firmly knowing that they always must run away somewhere and from some one. These, in essence, are abstract categories, if to speak about our origin: all is at the level of touches, semi-hints, psychological dotted lines, brevier, it is a complete accordance to our short, always ready to disappear one-, two-, three-digit names, as if not accidentally accidental: one small letter will be lost and – there will be somewhat “o”, “e”, “a”, “u”, – only sighs and exhalations, sobs and moans, whispers and cries… Can such name, please, say, exist in nature, and so, also people appropriate to them, – not people, but signs which always easily were erased from all kinds of Soviet lists – army, work, education – due to an insurmountable obstacle of a ominous five column in the passport? And it should never be forgotten that all that at one time with a non-lift able heaviness had fallen on the shoulders of people of the elder generation.

A man-capsule

              Speaking about a total sovereignization or islandisation of society, we in no way, can pass by the major and essential phenomenon of our existence – an islandisation of personality. And the matter here is not in ethnic borders at all, but, as we said already earlier, in outlook (the idea of an outlook diaspora is capacious, symbolic and at the same time specific, pressing exactly today), when we see every day how along the streets walk, wander, go by cars men-states with their individual constitution, code of laws, court of honor, army of hands and legs, diplomacy of lips, eyes and brows, hidden from all morals, inner dissidents, – pangs of consciousness, outbursts of lonely consciousness. What does it matter to them the generally accepted sta-te’s values? It is something very general, pronounced and described through a hyphen, – had not realized till the end by anybody, and is not doomed, if to speak till the end, for realizing, and that is why everything public passes by the subject, – everything down wind, into draught, into dust, into daily and eternal non-existence. What can be done here but remember the great Dylan Thomas who had formulated in the 20th century the idea of a marginal consciousness: За берегами костей и мелководьем плоти – земля без конца!”

              If there exist everywhere men-states waging war with each other in endless queues for bread and happiness – on tribunes of public criers, in corridors of power and communal flats in no way wishing to hear each other, then there exist yet deeper foreigners who strikingly differ from the first with their degree of self-rejection and exclusiveness, incurably fascinated by themselves. It is impossible to call them even states with characteristic of them diplomacy, foreign policy, contacts with other sovereign bodies, for these are men-capsules, launched, as once said Iosif Brodsky, no one knows where to. Let’s bring in a certain correction – in the context of our reflection – into the poet’s utterance; these are capsules launched one knows where to, – into a crowded neighborhood of the same tightly welded capsules which need only one thing: steadfast eternal rest. And again let’s remember Dylan Thomas:

            Ловит со шпиля слух,

            Дубасят руки в дверь,

           Видит с башни глаз,

           Пальцы к замку спешат,

          Им отпереть или так

          И жить, пока не умру,

          В белых стенах незрим

         Чуждым глазам?

          Is not that the same fatal question permanently tormenting a philosophical foreigner or a man-capsule who only had his eternal fright, wondering with an eternal echo in the labyrinths of his hermetically soldered shell, his sick memory which only can be ashamed of itself – the memory about emptiness, about that how he did not exist and does no exist? Is it possible here to speak about some future for this Spirit imprisoned itself if the global question has not been solved: to open for them or just to live so till I shall die?

Dying down of the Spirit

               While continuing our reflection, let us divide the whole literary population of the former Union into two unequal groups. The first is represented by a literary man from an island or some quite tangible territory capaciously covering with itself all the – fobs, -fills, Westernists, members of “back-to-the-soil” movement, pro- and anti-, conformists, avant-gardists – all, who sharply senses the soil under their feet, or – that is the same in principle! – the ceiling above their head. This literary man is of different ethnos and always that who has something to lean on and look around. And there is, as a matter of fact, something to look around at! Behind each of them stands the shadow of their great predecessor, for example, the great shadow of Feydor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky dressed in the one-size Gogol’s shinel (greatcoat). This story-teller looks back time and again at this formidable shadow, upwards, and kneads his spirit, secretly tormenting from his own disparity, hides it, squeezing it, sensing with his spine a horizontal, no, diagonal telepathic tension, and to the spirit it is stuffy and cramped within the borders of bones and flesh, within the borders of human shell. From the other side, a constant vertical tension, – soil, that same native soil, literally presses at his feet, the feet are shaking, bending in the knees, the body is rocking, is just falling. In essence, what a pitiful sight!

               This literary man from the first group literary gets into the fifth angle which is arranged to him by his great and not very great relatives-predecessors, and he, poor one, perennially remembers them and can not sleep quietly; if he suddenly falls asleep and cries in his sleep, quivers, thumps his chest with his fist, crying out something like this: who is guilty and what shall I do?! His spirit is disturbed by pathos, pathetic element, soil, however blasphemously it sounds, patriotism, Motherland, and eternal, almost mystical Threat, the image of enemy, – cultural, national, confessional, any! – who can take away from him this very soil. He is always not himself, he is not free from himself – he is fatally extraverted, in whatever literary camps he is, he always turns outward, – to his Motherland or literature of the 19th century – he leaves nothing for himself. Hence his excruciating reflection; he is ashamed of himself, during hours of gloomy loneliness he does not want to know himself and always wakes for himself, and then wakes for the wake and like this till infinity, a bad – let’s remember another Petersburg’s classic – infinity, he, in essence, as a literary man, has no future, he, finally, is not a literary man at all, he is a tribune, citizen, deputy, representative of a literary settlement’s Soviet. If a question will be rise before him, on which we concentrated our attention above: to open for them or to live on like this till I shall die? – then here everything is for a long time and at the same time there is nothing – nor dignity of Spirit, nor his courage, nor Sisyphus’s choice, nor especially Kerkegaardr’s “or – or”, here is only one thing: to open, of course, to open! And what is to be said? Everything had been opened already long ago, moreover, opened wide, turned towards wind, to any – western, eastern, southern, northern, worm, cold, dusty and biting, – here, strictly speaking, it is not known to whom to open! And what is the difference? At home – there is only one mad draught…

             The second category. A literary man of emptiness. The initial conditions are the same. Imagine yourself, a soldered capsule on the surface of existence. Just lies and does not touch anybody, behind it also stands the great shadow of world literature. In contradistinction to the first the literary man of emptiness does not torment his spirit and does not quiver nights, he does not dream about visits of great predecessors, whom by mistake, read, in his sleep, he mixes up with himself, in the mornings proclaiming himself the next prophet, genius, he simply is in a state of an unshakable rest for he knows and had known always that everything, staying behind him – the world culture, Motherland, pathos of national revival, etc., – all this is turned not towards him.

              With all this sad reality something is deposited in his consciousness – some shadows, the shadows of shadows, through cracks and pores of seemed to be hermetically soldered shell world emanations penetrate into him disturbing his rest. But it is only an incidental percentage; an imperfectness of history unscrupulously soldered the surface of his consciousness. His Spirit, as before, is primal and self-sufficient, fore it is directed towards nowhere, towards this same endless emptiness, which, alas, or, luckily, never ends. Do you remember? A child’s top, a spiral on a disc, its perpetual rolling up into a point in which this geometric curve can disappear in no way. You look at it and it is impossible to tear your eyes away from this fascinating sight. And this is exactly the movement of a foreign consciousness, its bewitched ness on emptiness, or on a point, and that is its endless extent.

              And here is another example, already approximate to human realia. Korean peasants of the Middle Ages in their permanent submissiveness before heavenly forces, natural adversities, prayed to the sky for their harvests and for that reason made straw dolls in votive poses, and after that thrown them over the ground. These dolls were called choen*. The model of the given situation is important and symbolic. I am deeply convinced that the greatest work of art, which people ever created for the whole history of their existence, in our case, Korean peasants, could be namely this doll choen, – with other peoples it would called differently, – the doll lying under a vast and indifferent sky, if these primitive artists would not beg with the aid of it favors from heaven. It was their endless expectation, a humiliating dependency on a boundless and incomprehensible, that existed and still exists in history and culture of all the people of the world, in essence, that landed very nearly accomplished act of art turning everything into a doleful process of begging, demanding, declaring, angry public addressing – all that in which exists now the post Soviet society. As a result, the art was disappearing as suddenly as it appeared. And a depressed landscape appeared before one’s eyes: a stooping peasant, some piles of straw on the ground. Rain, snow, sun, clouds – so was in charge Heaven. And after: sighs of humbleness, a stingy peasant reflection, a plough, a hoe, soil… The very same soil that turned choen into a ridiculous straw ugliness!

_________

*  Choenin Korean mythology a character (son of the Dragon of the Eastern sea) whose image was interpreted for the exorcism of evil spirits.

 

Revival of the Spirit

             Speaking about philosophical revival of the loved people, we always forget about a genuine future of human Spirit, about lines of its continuation, about its airways. What in this case can be said about people who become hostages of their Motherland, their island, their eternally deep, eternally Plato’s cave, whose ghostly shadows they yearned for so many years? Instead of carrying in themselves their yearning for fantastic world these captives somehow having got out to the exit from their philosophical non-existence suddenly shut it up, shielded with the next stone island, again plunging themselves into an impenetrable gloom. Perhaps, nobody of them is able at present to exist differently, for if the islandisation of consciousness leads to some really existing phenomenon, public event, historical fact, then – how should be powerful the human Spirit in order to take such consciousness back into emptiness!

              But if to speak about artistic, or – more widely – about creative consciousness of man as the only possible one in the context of the entire earthly existence, – magnetically attracted to a point, emptiness, to that what is not and was not there, then will not the Spirit revive, in such case, confessing itself finally that there was nothing, there is not and never will be? What simple and it seemed, senseless words, but from them for some reason it becomes incommensurably easier and lighter, for in that suddenly freed from any prisons – territorial, ethnic, philosophical – cosmos of Spirit disappears the influence of any forces of gravity. The sight grows dim, regenerating in a new sight, hands without hands are clean, and the soul of the phantom swiftly grows up in its sizes, and Memory becomes equally extensive both to this and to another side. Which that? Which another? Memory ceases to be memory, becoming past, present and future. Or a genuine content of human Spirit. And it is in this moment stops in consciousness the movement of that crazy spiral, of that magic top, attracting in its rotation each of us towards the center of emptiness, non-existence, to dead end as the only possible way out. And it is in this moment that stretch out finally all the curves, closed, and even points of a foreign consciousness into one endless line, and there is left one great and eternal movement of Spirit, which will c r e a t e in its equal extent like itself, – some choens, some models of non-existent, but all the same – all the same! – a future world.

              When a medieval Korean peasant made his straw dolls, he only had to make a few – as I see it, his remote descendant, who lost his own shadow and the soil under his feet, which he – the peasant, in his time, cultivated so assiduously – had only to take his eyes off a cloudy sky, off his always false deity in which he believed so madly, off an indifferent and so often deceptive world, and to cease begging once and for all and to move further – past that which in actual fact did not exist, does not exist and will not exist, for in this consists the right and the choice of the truly strong.

Moscow–Alma-Ata–Stanford,

April 1992,

August 1998,

October 2003

***

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