Everyone knows that the Lit. Institute trains writers,
but everyone also knows that the only ones who become writers
are those who got thrown out
of the Lit. Institute.
Or, at the very least, were outsiders there.
But there is
one particular writer there,
a kind of anti-hero,
a small man of middling talent
but insatiable will to power.
He is dictatorial when he needs to be,
and groveling when that is more appropriate.
He is, when necessary, a patriot
(and how many little insects are dining out
on their newfound patriotism!).
I left the Lit. Institute a long time ago
but I keep up with the gossip.
This particular person never did me any harm,
one time during an oral exam he said
something to the effect of:
“How is it that you write for the magazine
but say such ridiculous things during this exam?“
And he was right!!
Not long ago it became clear
that this man was about to become the president
of the Lit. Institute, and finally the faculty and students
got together and made sure
this didn’t happen.
The publishing house of the Lit. Institute put out his book of stories,
but that wasn’t the thing —
the thing isn’t what he tells about himself
but what he is.
Sergei Petrovich Tolkachev,
a short man, forty years old,
a fully formed, if, of course, second-rate literary type,
sitting at a college, preparing second-rate writers,
I sometimes recall the Lit. Institutes, this separate world,
it’s no worse and no better than other worlds,
and those who run the place,
and those unhappy ones who leave it only when they’re dead,
and those honest and brilliant ones, who get kicked out,
and those honest and weak ones,
who stay —
I see them all together in one place
as if on a separate creased page
of my life.
I’m standing here turning the pages
of a book by a young Petersburg poet,
with a funny kind of aggravation,
with some slight irony.
I watch the things
this city makes,
no ones is as close to the source of poetry,
to the world’s ice,
attached to it through some special,
if seriously polluted,
I didn’t think I could still take pleasure
in the cold harmony
of the world,
from the only possible right combination of words —
standing here, turning over these sweet conservative verses,
which you need to read
over tea, with milk,
in a bathrobe (!) (?),
and imagine yourself
in a hungry city,
a cold city during the war,
with the books of your favorite poets,
wondering which of them to throw
in the stove for heat,
and which to exchange
for some bad herring and a loaf of bread.
and then to find yourself in a hungry
city, in a cold building,
and imagine yourself sitting
with tea, and milk,
in a bathrobe,
turning the pages of your favorite book,
and taking pleasure
from the cold hopeless harmony,
form the gentle melodious word-picture,
from the only possible right combination of words.
in short, everything’s all right with this book,
and “Denis Sheremetyev,“
is, of course, the only possible right name
for its author.
so everything’s all right, but —
no, no, no, everything’s all right.
but still, maybe,
no, nothing’s missing.
maybe the problem is that
I’m turning the pages of this book
in a store that got blown up a few days ago
and still smells like dried fish,
and everywhere, on the tables, on the shelves,
you can see the edges of burned books?
no, that’s not it.
art, as we know, is higher
than all that.
actually, I don’t believe that,
but for now, so that this poem
I believe it.
and this book’s a little burnt too, actually,
but it’s okay, see, it survived.
so everything’s all right.
although, maybe the fact that
everything’s all right is the problem?
no, that’s not a problem.
or maybe it’s that when everything’s all right,
that just doesn’t sit well with me?
no, it sits well.
(then what the hell?)
I’ve seen crumbling ridges,
and sea ports, and terrible towns.
but an asshole like you
that’s someting new.
a man who hires a prostitute
gives her more than he pays,
and she gives him more
than he pays her.
then where does the surplus go,
why are they both cheated?
it doesn’t go anywhere, actually, it just disappears,
it melts into their mutual kindness,
in their feast of kindness and self-sacrifice,
and that’s why in the morning there’s frustration —
hysterics, anger —
she wants someone who won’t
and he wants someone who would
only take —
and each of them needs some pressure —
egoism or cruelty,
their own or someone else’s, it doesn’t matter,
but so that one of them would get it,
so that one of them would be satisfied.
this is called: “I need love“
the kind that causes pain,
that causes music
and the one who’s going to sell her tomorrow,
that is, in essence, the pimp, the seller,
he knows her better than anyone, and loves her selflessly.
a pretty girl hands out cigarettes near the metro,
but smiles at me for free —
and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
and only me, I’m the only one who thinks
everything’s bought and paid for,
I’m the only sad asshole who thinks that,
even if not everthing’s bought and paid for yet,
not everything’s stamped out,
even if you can still win some kind of prize,
it’s still going to turn out
to be a boot full of someone else’s bad wine.
oh, I know why I have so many bones to pick with you
you’re naive, and so pure,
and I wanted to take your sins upon my head
(if only you’d had some).
LIBYA IS SERBIA
It’s just I didn’t have very much doing
it’s just they weren’t paying my salary
it’s just I really wanted adventure
it’s just the homeland was in danger.
I left behind my wife and my daughter:
this I remember clearly.
We walked through hills and forests.
It was like the summer camp I attended yearly.
Sometimes we shot at our own men.
(You sometimes shot your own men.)
Sometimes we called for peace.
We had a gray-brown-and-white ribbon.
In the black-white-and-brown silence
in the dark-brown-and-brownish silence
I put a swastika on my lapel.
People in black destroyed my body
they ripped the swastika off me
there’s a hole in the spot where my heart was
a piece of shrapnel tore through me.
It must have been the Chechens who did it to me.
Libya is Serbia
Down with false peacemaking
say the backseat political analysts
“yes yes,” says a man who’s lost his hearing from the shelling
look, it’s your daughter, she’s in Syria now
she’s sick. But it’ll be ok.
And we’ll seek vengeance.
Because Libya is Serbia.
And you yourself are sick
and you’re not going to get better, my friend,
because progress is inexorable
that is, no matter how much you try to exorcise it
it won’t reach you anyway.
Because you’re pining for the past, my friend,
pining for the past
you’re pining for the past
which is free only in a mouse trap
You should look around instead
at the sea, the wind, the wheat
look at the stars,
the girls, all the beauty,
Look at me, your television host,
and understand once and for all that peace is impossible.
It’s only on Facebook that everything is great for me
good photos from beautiful places
interesting thoughts, journeys, respect from my many friends,
any American college would take me
but in real life everything’s different:
just an unstructured waste
the same coffee shops
my parents always bugging me
I couldn’t afford my own place
my intellectual labor isn’t protected
intellectual property isn’t protected
the men I know are boys, ugly but aggressive
I know some nice ones, but I’m still almost always unsatisfied
and somehow I feel like it’s my fault
and to hell with it, but here as with everything
you feel you have to confront the endless resistance of shit
the endless resistance of shit.
That’s how it is offline. But you wouldn’t know it from my Facebook.
I’ve always been able to talk about things like this without shame
but it’s bad to be whining all the time.
Russia, Russia, my homeland is sick.
I want to sign up for the heavenly host. ¹
¹ A reference in part to the “heavenly hundred,” the men and women who died on Maidan during the anti-government protests in Kyiv early in 2014.
In winter of 2014, a mass protest movement in Ukraine overthrew its president, Viktor Yanukovych. Medvedev and his friends in Moscow hab been watching events carefully, with excitement and also wariness. On the one hand they were witnessing a revolution against a nasty regime; on the other hand the revolution was taking place under the banner of neoliberal politics and right-wing nationalist symbology. Whatever you thought of the result, its significance could not be denied. „For the second time in ten years,“ Medvedev wrote at OpenLeft.ru, a new leftist website, „Ukraine has revolutionized the minds of the Russian intelligentsia.“ Over the course of the next year, as Russia first annexed Crimea and then sent military equipment and personnel into eastern Ukraine, Medvedev repeatedly spoke out against the Russian invasion, even as he continued to be skeptical of the new regime in Kyiv and its many oligarchic and right-wing friends. The poems in this section are from summer of 2014.
—Translated from the Russian by Keith Gessen
Pavlensky sentenced for “Freedom”
On May 19, 2016 Petr Pavlensky, a Russian artist, was sentenced to a year and four months of imprisonment for his happening titled “Freedom”. However, Pavlensky won’t serve the sentence as the case was deemed to be outdated. This happened even though from the very beginning, Pavlensky disagreed with such a classification, because – as he claimed – “one has to take responsibility for one’s acts”. In the justification of the sentence, the judge emphasized that Pavlensky “cynically abused moral norms” and that the damage caused by him amounts to twenty seven thousand rubles (over 360 Euros).
Solidarity with Maidan
Pavlensky’s case has been dragging on for two years now. The Freedom happening took place on February 23, 2014. Three days after the riots involving bloodshed on Maidan in Kiev, resulting in seventy-five fatalities, Pavlensky and a group of several people staged a happening in which they struck metal sheets with sticks, surrounded by Ukrainian flags, and burnt tires on the spot where an assassination attempt on Tsar Alexander II occurred in 1881. In this way, he imitated the protesters from Maidan, who had, on the day preceding Pavlensky’s happening, pressurized President Victor Yanukovych to step down. Yanukovych fled to Russia, where he remains until today.
Beating in police convoy
Before the sentence was announced by the court a few days ago, Pavlensky got beaten up during his detention in custody in a building adjacent to the Moscow Magistrate. “Every breath causes pain” – he wrote to his partner, Oksana Shalygina. He added that he suffered a knee injury as well as a fractured rib and internal bleeding. Pavlensky maintains that this is a standard practice in custody. Similarly to use of tasers, and beatings both with hands and truncheons. “Petr experienced that as well” – said Shalygina, while speaking to Radio Svoboda.
The information about the beatings was passed on to Shalygina together with acceptance Pavlensky’s speech to be presented at the ceremony of the Havel Prize for Creative Dissent, which will be presented to Shalygina on his behalf.
The prison doctor who examined Pavlensky obviously did not report any injuries.
“Let him go to Ukraine”
The trial abounded in unusual events. At the end of April, during a session regarding Freedom, several prostitutes turned up as defense witnesses. Pavlensky revealed to have paid them to appear before the court. Although they were defense witnesses, they criticized his happening and called him a vandal. As the portal Media Zona reported:
– Do you consider Petr Pavlensky an artist? Dmitrij Dinze, the artist’s lawyer, asks the witness Jelena Posadski.
– In a sense, I do, it’s self-expression, but it should be performed in a closed space.
– Do you believe this happening to be street art?
Later the witness, answering a question from the prosecutor, commented: If he wants to commemorate those killed on Maidan, let him go to Ukraine.
In a letter to Shalygina published by Radio Svoboda, Pavlensky explains why he paid prostitutes to turn up in court. “Whether you like it or not, there is no difference between prostitutes, judges, prosecutors, teachers, managing directors and clerks. They are all the same. The political reality defined all of them and put them all in their place”.
From the very beginning, the authorities, who do not realize their own involvement in Pavlensky’s art projects, have played a crucial role. “The authorities always remain the key actor of Petr’s happenings”, said Shalygina to Dziennik Opinii, commenting the trial that was initiated after the happening Danger, in which Pavlensky set fire to the door of the seat of the Federal Security Service, the ill-reputed Lubyanka. “Now Petr has managed to penetrate the system of surveillance mechanisms even further. I believe that thanks to this trial, we will obtain ample material including surprising information”.
It is because of the latter case that Pavlensky will remain in custody.
This article appeared on POLITICAL CRITIQUE (May 20, 2016)
Images © Pyotr (Petr) Pavlensky