New Street University: A Poem of Solidarity and Alienation

Pavel Arseniev: A Poem of Solidarity and Alienation

We remember, we preserve our faithfulness to the event.
Forty years like forty days.

Return to your classrooms:
They are fireproof.
No, a spark will not set them ablaze.
All measures have been taken,
More or less in earnest.

Just in case (of fire) we ought
To install alarms in the body, too.
For a fire in one head
Can always spread to another,
And then the whole town will go up in flames.
And this is why we need:
The qualitative isolation of individuals;
A fire alarm system;
A simple three-digit telephone number,
Which probably is also meant to remind us of our loneliness
And the impossibility of solidarity.

Return to your classrooms.
They are noise-proof and humidity-free.
They are simply made
For fruitful investigations
Of noise and humidity.
Where else but the classroom
Can we draw up isotherms and decibel scales?
Where else but the classroom
Can we draw competent conclusions about these phenomena?

Return to your classrooms.
The splendid art deco façade
Makes them proof against the confusion of the street.
They are proof against all that stupidity and vexation—
The daily murders of ethnic minorities;
Fluctuations in the price of oil;
The grumbling of the homeless;
The billy clubs of the regime—
All that “centralized postmodernism.”

Only in the classroom can the researcher’s righteous indignation
Be focused without brain drain, without leaks,
On a thick description of all violations and abuses of rights.
To send the system a silent reproach.
It is not my reproach, it is nobody’s, for none of us,
In essence, is all that indignant,
As we raise our voices merely to the muteness of reproach,
Keeping our hands busy with the expert fuck-you in our pockets.

Return to your classrooms.
They are also proof against these sorts of provocations.
In the classroom you’ll always find a wise moderator,
A responsible party
Whose broad liberal soul
(You got to understand him, too) will never go so far as
To question its own legitimacy.
You don’t want to join the fighting under the carpet,
But you leave the carpet itself intact
And the possibility that you’ll be called on it.
When you’re called, there’ll be nothing to complain about.
Return to your classrooms:
It really isn’t the month of May.

23 March 2008

The poem was first read in public at the (New) Street University (Saint Petersburg, Russia) on 23 March 2008. The Street University was originally conceived by graduate students at the European University in Saint Petersburg as a means to protest the mysterious closure of the university by fire inspectors. The Street University session on March 23 was the third such event, and like the previous two sessions, it featured speakers and audience members from the greater Petersburg academic and general communities. As it turned out, the university was unexpectedly reopened on March 21.  Nevertheless, the Street University is still in (permanent?) session.

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