Thursday, February 22, 2018

Linor Goralik's Found Life

I have been impressed with many of the new titles in Columbia University's new series of Russian translations.  See, for instance, my posts on Platonov's Fourteen Little Huts and Other Plays as well as my posts on Iliazd's Rapture.  Thus is came as no surprise to me that Columbia University Press' book by Linor Goralik, entitled Found Life, would be almost equally good.  The book is a collection of the modern author's richly creative and varied productions, and includes poems, stories, and comics, as well as a play and an interview.  This post will dwell on Goralik's collection of extremely short sketches of modern Russian life.  Although her short prose is apparently fictional, they somehow closely resemble Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich's project of recognizing ordinary, everyday Russian speech as a form of literature.  Although Goralik's short prose is apparently highly polished or outright fictional representations of overheard speech, it somehow seems like an oral history of the present moment.

To be sure Goralik's short prose doesn't reach the emotional depth or historical significance of Alexievich's work on Chernobyl, Chechnya, the Soviet experience, or World War II.  Goralik's work is a form of oral history sans history, if such a thing is possible. To my mind, the project of recording the tragedy of quotidian life via banal speech patterns is extraordinarily captivating.  For good or evil, it reminds me of what television producers and audiences alike realized not so long ago:  one needs neither actors, nor scripts, to produce well-acted, and well-descriptive television.  But like reality television, one wonders if authors such as Goralik will reach the limits of this genre in the near future.  If Duchamp's toilet seat was art, everything else could be considered art too.  It's a revolutionary moment, but it doesn't last all that long.  Sooner or later, the experiment is over. With respect to reality television, the conventions of the new art form remain:  the camera shakes, the actors try to say unpredictable things, and the content appears to be as frivolous as ever.  But over time, the audiences become increasingly sophisticated, and demand well-crafted "spontaneous" moments and actors with enough training to really pass themselves off as "amateurs."  In any event, we must appreciate the artistic moment while it lasts, and celebrate authors such as Goralik who have produced such startlingly revealing--if almost overbearingly light--archives of the present.

Some snippets from Goralik's short prose pieces:

[Speaking of Jackie Kennedy].  "If I were as much as love as she was, I would have work those gloves for the rest of my life.  I mean, well, probably I'd go crazy first then I'd be a crazy old lad wearing gloves with President Kennedy's blood on them.  And I'd call them 'John."  Both of 'em.  Or maybe one John and the other one Robert."

"...the wife comes home and the cat smells like someone else's perfume."

" just imagine you're looking at a copy of 1950s Amateur Erotica and inside, on like page ten, there's your mom covering up her left breast with a hand mixer.  Sure, there's really nothing wrong with that. But some book to get as a present, right?"

"Anya, you know, her mom abandoned her too, but not like how you abandoned me..."

"I just don't want to be a girl, I just don't want to, I don't.  The good thing is at least I lost my virginity.  At least that's done, thank God."

"You know, he did ballet as a kid, then worked for the KGB, so, like basically a real inspired dude."

"And his mama bitch slaps him, screaming:  'What did I tell you--never admit to anything!!!"

"...when he loved me I was never jealous, but when he didn't love me--I got jealous."

"So he bought like five pounds of meat and went around his neighborhood that night and switched out all the Jesuses with, like hams...It was super conceptual, really great.  Not like just sitting at home with the family, smiling like dumbasses."

"Because real life just doesn't produce tragedies of that magnitude."  

"...he ate one hot dog and left. I mean, tell me, Lena, do I need this?"

"...she's got strawberry yogurt inside instead of blood... And then in a year she'll give birth to a kid with Pyle's syndrome.  And that, Pasha, is what you call God's plan."

"... I don't like people like that.  She makes three thousand bucks in a month, but her cat craps in that seventy-ruble Soviet litter."

"...she is a weak, cowardly, clingy, totally incompetent, very difficult, very unhappy woman.  And we should feel sorry for her and not talk shit."

"What difference does it make how it all ended?  The important thing is how it started, you know?"

"...They were saying the worst shit about you behind your back!  That you're pregnant, married, and you have a three-year-old!  Can you believe it?  The bastards!"

"... I'll tell you a story that is totally St. Petersburg.  I don't know why Petersburg, I mean it happened in Prague, but it's really just so Petersburg."  

"...we have a family tradition--doing idiotic deeds for absolutely no personal benefit."

"...I don't go to class reunions so as not to fall into pride...Like, the majority of them are living these lives, like, even Google isn't looking for them."  

"I showed  my knife right away, it was that kind of conversation."

"You'll be thirty-two next year.  If a man still has questions at thirty-two, he's an idiot, a waste of space, he doesn't deserve to live, no one can live like that."  

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