Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tertz and Arzhak on Trial

“Now Daniel—he fought in the war, he was wounded, but you had a very easy war.”

“For Tertz, the Soviet Union is a madhouse.”

State:  “Sinyavsky!  Now tell the court, when did it become clear to you that your works were being exploited by bourgeois propaganda?” Sinyavsky:  “I’m still not completely clear about this.”

“You say, for instance:  “Stalin made Lenin’s metaphors come true.”

“And who was the greatest authority on linguistics and economics and music?  Wasn’t it Stalin?”

“Here is an edition of the essay and the story, The Trial Begins.  Two-thirds of the book jacket is black and only one-third is red.  Is this meant to show that the dark aspects predominate in the Soviet Union?”

“Soon they will be comparing you to Shakespeare.”

“It seemed at times as if for the sake of a complete victory of Communism all we had to do was to give up the idea of Communism.”  How are we to understand this?

“That’s not the only passage in which you besmirch the bright name of Lenin.”

“You talk as if they used to think in the West that we were a sober people…”

“What I value most of all in my fellow Russians is their inner spiritual freedom and what one might call their fantastic nature..”

“My work reflects my feelings about the world, not politics.”

“The literature of the Stalin period was religious and mystical in character.”

“I regard Communism as the only goal that can be put forward by the modern mind;  the West has been unable to put forward anything like it.”

“…I cannot think that a couple of books by us, or even a score, could inflict substantial damage on a country like this.”

“Who is it that you hate so?  Who do you want to destroy?”
“To whom are you talking?  To me or to my hero, or to someone else?”  Daniel

For several weeks or perhaps even months I have neglected this blog.  Even the lifelong Russophile reaches the point at which his concentration begins to flag or fail.  After all, I’ve been doing this for several years.  Recently, I’ve allowed my suburban idyll of a life to crowd out my writing time and sap my creative energies.  Some combination of office work, laundry, dishes, recalcitrant weeds, child soccer games, and French grammar study, has apparently gotten the better of me.  I’ve dabbled in a few Russian books recently, but haven’t really felt inspired to write much about any of them. 

That said, I’ve resolved to get back to Soviet Roulette today, if only to get back into practice.  What have I been up to lately?  Well, for one thing I’ve thought a little about this blog, and realized that I lack a thesis statement for what I’m intending to do.  Lately I’ve decided that this blog is, more than anything, the literary equivalent of a tribute band:  although I don’t pretend to do original scholarly work, I do claim to be a serious fan or even groupie of such scholarship.  That is to say, when somebody logs on to this site, he or she will enjoy the experience more if, at the onset, I admit that I’ve opened up the garage door rather than given anybody seats to the All-state Arena.

Although I’ve not done all that much reading lately, I’ve recently finished Max Hayward’s On Trial:  The Soviet State versus “Abram Tertz” and “Nikolai Arzhak.”  I’ve written several times about Abram Tertz, a.ka. Andrei Sinyavsky.  Reading Hayward’s translation of the Soviet Union’s criminal case against one of its leading authors and intellectuals is a surreal experience.   Even now, one really can’t believe that one of the world’s two superpowers would have stooped to prosecute a writer for mocking a fictional regime.  Yet this is what happened.   And in some ways the trial became one of the author’s finest creative acts.  

To be sure, there’s an irony here.  For “Tertz” and “Arzhak” both defended themselves on the somewhat facetious grounds that fiction has almost nothing to do with the real world.  But even so, On Trial, the journalistic record of a decidedly political phenomenon of persecution, is almost naturally transmogrified into the poetic or even mythological expression of the Russian individual’s resistance to tyranny.  In the age-old conflict between the Russian state and its citizens, the state almost always wins the battle.  But does it always win the war?  For the Kremlin’s every exertion produces a long-lasting myth of freedom or poetic counter-narrative.  Witness the current Russian regime’s awe-inspiring expression of homophobia:  while the innocent are currently being overawed by Putin’s mighty authoritarianism, the absurdity of the Russian leader’s unrivaled insecurity will certainly be remembered for generations.