Monday, October 3, 2011

Stray Dogs Attacked Me

"Autocracy is a socioeconomic system that exists only to the degree that we are convinced of its inevitability"

"The highest government officials make the very existence of innovation possible only as a result of serendipity."

Alexei Plutser-Sarno's brilliantly original, Notes from Russia, is an semiotic analysis of the collapse of Russian communism. Plutser-Sarno, a lexicographer and folklorist, tells the story of this brutal transition by dissecting the myriad hand-written or printed notes, posters, fliers, and graffiti that covered the walls of Russia's public places in the early 1990s. Although a few of these cris de coeur could be found anywhere in the world, taken in the aggregate, these idiosyncratic messages reveal a troubled, crisis-ridden citizenry trapped half-way between the worst aspects of capitalism and communism. What kind of place was Russia in the early 1990s? Which aspects of Soviet culture survived the political downfall of the Soviet political system, which aspects of capitalism emerged immediately after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., and how did the two elements coexist with one another? Plutser-Sarno's handwritten notes and petty bulletins tell us that everyday life in this period frequently entailed a brutal struggle for survival. The authors of Plutser-Sarno's vast collection of street messages are all conditioned by an assumption that life in Russia was impoverished, unequal, venal, cynical, conspiratorial, bureaucratic, and chaotic. Russia in 1991 was a veritable landscape of despair, replete with runaway inflation, financial scandal, alcoholism, unemployment, ill health, police corruption, prostitution, violence, fraud, and every other form of social malady known to modern society.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the post-Soviet moral economy is that although Russians were actively participating in the marketplace, they seemed to deeply resent capitalism. Consumers resented producers and sellers, but the reverse was also true: store owners had all sorts of nasty things to say to their would-be customers. Post-Soviet Russians were not yet willing to accept the notion that they were obliged to be courteous to others in exchange for currency.

The flip side of the brutality of Russian life in the early 1990s was that many formerly Soviet citizens were desperately naive. I am reminded of the strange sensation I get every time I see a sloppy, hand-written cardboard sign that advertises easy work or a quick real estate sale. I often wonder about the dual naivete of such egregiously unprofessional attempts to make money at someone else's expense. Who exactly deserves my sympathy when I see the uneven lettering on these hastily constructed signs? Is is the potential customer who is apparently so downtrodden that he or she might actually be lured in by such crude overtures? Or is it the would-be flim-flam man who actually pins his own hopes to such transparently unsophisticated ploys?

On hard times:

Peepl! [sic] I hav [sic] a request for you. I just did my term. I was on my way home. Stray dogs attacked me. I'm hungry. Pleez help me out if you can.

I have been informed that the hot water will be cut off for 30 days starting May 6th. Floor Chief.

Attention! The lifts are old and might get stuck. Don't get in with more than four people, because if you get stuck you'll suffocate.

Working breaks from 9:30am to 10:30am, 10:40am to 11:40am, 2:30pm to 3:30pm, and 3:40pm to 4:40pm.

Attention Superintendents of Condominium -- 337! Please write down the apartment numbers where the radiators are not working (no heating): Apt 1, 2, 3, 20, 16, 28, 71, 80, 121, 18, 93, 146, 108... [etc.--the list goes on and on and on].

Looking for a girl with a tent. Will provide canned meat and massage. You should bring hope; sex is not obligatory. Meet me by this message board at 10pm. I look a lot better than I write!

On the marketplace and marketplace values:

In this apartment we don't sell moonshine, buy fish, or know the whereabouts of granny Ann! Now clear off!

Liquidation sale! I am going back to Vietnam for good.

For sale. Ural motorcycle. RUNS. No Wheels.

No vodka sold from 11pm to 8am. And stop cursing and shouting! Don't even ask! We're all in this together.

Announcement. Dear public, so you don't complain, we would like to warn you beforehand that the meatballs are from the day before yesterday. Kitchen Manager.

No entry; Not receiving today; I don't answer questions.

This register only rings up eggs.

Payphone accepts only metro tokens.

If you're still closed tomorrow, you're fucked! I'm not alone. There are many of us. Why fuck do you put up a schedule, if no one's ever there? You should notify people beforehand, like it says in the contract--the one you don't give a shit about. With services like this, we're going to stop giving a shit about you. We can easily put an end to your monopoly. You've been forewarned.

We enforce selective admission. The Management.

To patrons: people wearing tracksuits are not allowed in the bar.

High paying job for slender girls with no problems.

On the Russian culture of bureaucracy, hierarchy, and regulation:

From 10:00pm to 6:00am the life jacket is kept in the chief of lifeguard's office. The key is with the janitor in apt. 43.

If you drown, you're not swimming here again. Ever!

...The minimum temperature of the water for swimming must be 64 degrees Fahrenheit....You must enter the water only on the command of your superior officer and only to the designated must swim in the direction and manner determined by your commanding officer.

On the general lack of civility in civil society:

Information for imbeciles, morons, and other Moscovites: The Rubbish dump is across the street, 500 meters.

Slam this door and you'll need a disability pension.

No toothpaste protects your teeth better than paying for your ride.

Warning! Don't park your cars near the entrance, or you'll pay with a broken windscreen. The Management.

Stop! Warning! Posting notices on these walls of pavilions is forbidden. A fine of 1000 roubles will be enforced and physical force will be used against those who post ads here! The Management.

Please return the ATM bank terminal for a reward. The Management.

Dogs! Don't allow YOUR OWNERS TO EMPTY THEIR BOWELS in the courtyard.

Gentlemen junkies, please do not throw used syringes and other paraphernalia through the letter boxes!

A note to whoever is stealing the light bulb: I'll kick your your teeth out one by one, arsehole!

Warning! It is a sign to kiss holy icons while intoxicated! If you do so, it will incur the wrath of God!

On Russian politics:

I vow to smash the system of bureaucratic and criminal outrages.

On Russian hopes:

Do you want to talk to God? Call 916-70-09.

Jesus is waiting for you.

Magic and sorcery. Cheap.

We offer an easy ride to other worlds....Materializer of Spirits and Distributor of White Elephants, who kills bedbugs with his gaze and collects empty bottles by willpower alone....

From bathroom messages:

Don't flatter yourself--come closer.

Fellow Pharaohs! Please push your pyramids after you!!!

Attention office staff! Please flush the toilet regardless of goals set and results achieved. The Management. If the result have exceeded all expectations, please use the toilet brush. The Janitor.

Guys visit us all the time, so please wipe off your monthly traces of the Red Army.

This place is cursed. Soiling it will cause impotence and incurable diseases of the prostate gland.

Dear customers. If you are not satisfied with the condition of our toilet, push down the handle to summon assistance. The Management.

It is not just immortal to stand on the toilet bowl with your feet (you could use some toilet paper); it is very dangerous! There have been numerous occasions when feet have slippe--and broken, dirty tiles can cut your arse like butter. A gruesome death from lock-jaw is not worth the price of your ignorance.

1 comment:

  1. You should compile these into a kind of Bartlett's Quotations of the Soviet Union.