Tag Archives: Kirill Medvedev

Occupy Parnassus! Kirill Medvedev’s “It’s No Good”

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Occupy Parnassus!: Kirill Medvedev’s ‘It’s No Good’
By Garth Risk Hallberg
February 19, 2013

1.
In the fall of 2011, as the first protesters began assembling in Zuccotti Park, a different sort of occupation was underway in my apartment. My son had just turned one, and another kid was due in the spring. My life now consisted largely of early-morning adjunct gigs, late-night sessions banging my head against the writing desk, and afternoons measured out in the tiny spoons used to scrape the last bits of Gerber from the jar. Also: NPR. Lots of NPR.

By late September, the top of each hour brought new details about the methods and motives of “Occupy Wall Street.” Here, it seemed, was the cause I’d spent my twenties longing to throw my body behind. But now that it had materialized, there was a catch: mine was no longer the only body I was responsible for. I could take my son with me to the demonstrations, but did I really trust the NYPD to lay off the pepper spray, should he rattle the bars of our protest pen?

Plus who would take care of him if I got carted off to jail? Not his mother, whose nine-to-five job was our primary means of keeping the fridge stocked and the rent paid, and whose sick days would convert to precious maternity leave come the spring. There was always daycare, of course…but, then, as a would-be placard-carrying member of the 99%, I couldn’t even afford the hours of daycare I was already paying for. And here I ran up against the first great fallacy of the mainstream media’s OWS coverage. Of course the occupation as such was heavy on students, the unemployed, and men who looked like a cross between Santa Claus and Wavy Gravy. Stroller-pushing contingent-workers like me were constrained from spending all day and night at Zuccotti by the very conditions that made them want to do so. Thus does insecurity—financial, physical, psychological—become the stick that keeps us on the rutted path of late capitalism. (Consumer electronics being the carrot.)

Then again, another of the things too often glossed over in accounts of Occupy Wall Street is that it wasn’t a top-down program, whose output was a certain number of sleeping bags on the pavement. Rather, it was a piece of tactical hardware designed to execute any app deemed useful by its users—techno-utopian cant made collectivist flesh. This should have been apparent to anyone who spent more than half an hour down at Zuccotti. At first, you’d see the modest size of the occupation, relative to the number of cameras trained on it, and you’d think, Wait: Is this it? Then, out of nowhere, thousands of union electricians would appear, or affordable-housing advocates, or undergraduates, or, more likely, all of the above, and another drive or meeting or march would whir into motion. (As Michael Greenberg has noted in The New York Review of Books, those circuits would be reactivated after Hurricane Sandy to channel vital aid to the Rockaways.)

By October, my son and I had found our own way to take part. With his mother’s blessing, we pursued a sunshine policy, steering clear of martial-sounding or geographically marginal events in favor of those well-publicized enough to ensure my small comrade wouldn’t become another casualty on YouTube. We marched on Citigroup. We marched on JPMorgan Chase. We repaired to Zuccotti for pizza and purée, and then we marched some more. Well, I marched; he rode.

One memorable afternoon, in the company of a whole holy host of freaks and straights, aging lefties and juvie anarchists, friends from other events and perfect strangers—plus, this being a Saturday, my wife—we even took over Times Square. It was the same rainbow coalition I’d observed a decade earlier, marching against the Iraq War. In 2002, though, in the streets of D.C., everyone seemed to recognize that the switches on the war-making machinery had already been thrown. You could sense the inertia in the way the message decayed into calls for the abolition of the WTO and the World Bank, the liberation of Palestine and Mumia. Those chants that managed to break through the discord rang hollow off executive buildings emptied for the weekend.

By contrast, the message of Occupy Wall Street was so clear and so obvious as to subsume any ancillary concerns. Obviousness, in fact, may be why Occupy Wall Street proved such an effective counterweight to the Tea Party movement, with only a fraction of the money and organization and time. It takes great resources of all three to persuade Americans that Keynesian deficit spending is the source of our ills, because it’s total horseshit, whereas it takes very little to remind people of what they’ve already discovered in the most grinding, empirical way to be true: As an allocator of resources, our economic system is needlessly unjust, and getting more so by the day. And when the hoary old cry went up from Times Square—”We are unstoppable; another world is possible”—this, too, felt self-evident, assertion and evocation in a single stroke. For here was a halter-topped woman with frizzy hair leading thousands of people in social democratic chants from atop someone’s shoulders, and here was the commercial center of the world coming disobediently to a halt. Here were tourists taking buttons from engagé tweens and affixing them to jackets that would soon travel back to every corner of America. And here it all was again, up on the giant news screens overhead, the peak of a “high and beautiful wave” (to crib from Hunter S. Thompson). Under all those lights, we seemed to be waking, however briefly, from a long bad dream.

2.
Notwithstanding the Monday-morning harrumphs of the commentariat, that autumn of idealism has left behind consequences of the most solid, realpolitik kind. The ongoing debate over whether creditors—i.e., capital—or borrowers—i.e., you and me—will bear the losses of the Great Recession has been permanently rebalanced, to the great annoyance of the business class. (Last December’s $43-million PR push was not so much about how to “Fix the Debt” as about whom to affix it to.) On its own terms, though, the Occupy project remains incomplete. When we argue over whether to set top marginal tax rates at 35% or 39.6%, or what to do about the sequester, or the class politics of Girls, we have turned from debates about an unjust system to debates within it. And though the possibility of “another world” has been preserved from total eclipse, it now seems hazy again, as if glimpsed from the far side of sleep. We need some outside force to jolt us back awake.

All of which is a very roundabout way of trying to explain why It’s No Good, the first major English-language publication of the writing of Kirill Medvedev, is so necessary, and so timely. Medvedev is a Moscow-based poet in his late 30s, and the book, the latest entry in Ugly Duckling Presse’s redoubtable Eastern European Poets Series (and the first to be published jointly with N+1), assembles English translations of his most important “poems/essays/actions” from over the last fifteen years. This was a period of radicalization for Medvedev, and the work amounts to a guerilla attack on the stagnation of Russian cultural life in the new millennium. By itself, this would make It’s No Good an invaluable document. But for readers beyond the old Iron Curtain, there’s a further twist of the knife: as with the best science fiction, the outrageous world Medvedev brings so vividly to life starts to sound awfully like our own.

An introduction by editor Keith Gessen sets the scene for Medvedev’s evolution. In “the years of mature Putinism, between about 2003 and 2008,” he explains, the atmosphere in Russia was one of “boredom, suffocation, and surrender…”

Nothing happened. No one wanted anything to happen. “Stability” was the word of the day and in service of this stability people were willing to give up a great deal. The liberal opposition that still made appearances in the New York Times not only had no real presence…[but was] also permanently discredited.


In the texts that follow, Medvedev will link this surrender to two mutually reinforcing phenomena, one political, one aesthetic. On one side was a problem of ignorance: Members of his generation, the first to come of age after the fall of Communism, “spent the 1990s not really knowing what politics was,” he writes. “We lived outside it; we never believed it could affect our private lives.” On the other side was a problem of sophistication: literature, which might have enlarged those private lives, had become content merely to reproduce them.

An exemplar here was the poet and impresario Dmitri Kuzmin, who published Medvedev’s early poems in his magazine, Vavilon…and who hovers over It’s No Good as a sort of Oedipal-Hegelian father figure, to be rebelled against and absorbed. A long, valedictory “essay-memoir” two-thirds of the way through the book may put some readers in mind of McSweeney’s circa 2003:

The central literary tendency of Vavilon was the so-called “new sincerity”: the appeal to personal experience (childhood; romantic and sexual encounters; family life) to the exclusion of social and political experience, justifying this by appealing to its authenticity (personal, emotional, etc.)


Of course, Russia’s liberalizing culture industry had no more difficulty assimilating Vavilon’s “authenticity” than the Politburo did assimilating social realism. As Medvedev sees it, this was art as gesture, as narcotic, as commodity, “a series of irresponsible infantile games and so-called independent intellectual proclamations – covering the terrain specifically assigned to such proclamations.”

The poems that make up the bulk of It’s No Good burst out of that terrain like bombshells. Superficially, their debt to Kuzmin is obvious. Medvedev’s voice, as translated by Gessen and others, is resolutely direct, colloquial, and personal. At times, it sounds like a Muscovite Frank O’Hara. “I don’t know why / I decided to work / at the nightclub Sexton / when I was eighteen,” begins one poem. Says another: “I really like when / a series of arches in moscow run /one after the other /creating their own kind of tunnel / out of arches.” As with O’Hara, the specificity of reference almost overwhelms argument; viewed from a certain angle, Medvedev’s poems might seem merely a catalogue of people, buildings, and foodstuffs signifying life for a young cosmopolite. Yet read him at any length (the poems are rarely under three pages, and sometimes swell to dozens), and it becomes impossible to confuse his urbanism with urbanity, or, as he puts it, “dignified aloofness” to the wider world. Medvedev complains, of one Vavilon-affiliated contemporary: “a person in his poems is always / returning from work / moving around the glaring twilit / cityscape / given shape by information streams.” His own Moscow resists such streamlined shapes. It is “glaring” in a different sense, made discontinuous by eruptions of frustration, pessimism, and rage. One moment, it’s true, we may be among the office towers, cruising through a catalogue

of everyone who turned out to be a computer genius
of everyone who became an assistant
to editors-in-chief
or a designer
for major fashion magazines….


But then suddenly, we are hearing

of all the half-drunk and stunted intellectuals
who (unlike me)
matured too early,
then burned out,
of everyone who found work in the morgue
of everyone who did time in jail
then died of an overdose
of everyone who worked at
the politician kirienko’s campaign headquarters
and then joined his permanent team.


The closing descent from threnody back to sarcasm bespeaks the scale of Medvedev’s loss of faith in that distinctly Russian class formation, the “intelligentsia.” These were the people who were supposed to lead his country out of its slumber and instead discovered a taste for Ambien. But the dramatic expansion of the point-of-view, the deepening of emotion, and the Beatnik anaphora holding it all together produce a countervailing movement: One feels the quickening of an almost spiritual belief. Medvedev wants his poetry not only to “appeal to personal experience,” but to transfigure it, to break it open, to disclose what is underneath. And what is underneath, he insists, is always already political. The meticulously name-checked fruits of bourgeois existence—parties, nightclubs, careers, and even much of contemporary art—are underwritten by exploitation, militarism, and a more nebulous brand of postmodern unfreedom. Reader, you are hereby called to consciousness. Or at least deprived of an alibi.

Alongside Medvedev’s messianic streak runs a notable impatience with the formal strictures of Russian lyric poetry—the elegant prosody of Anna Akhmatova or his beloved Joseph Brodsky. Gessen’s introduction presents these tendencies as merely coincident. But really, I think, one compels the other. Trained at Moscow’s famed Gorky Literary Institute, Medvedev has a considerable, if well-disguised, capacity for artifice—for finding Pushkin in the punkish. Still, his conception of poetry is one of vision, rather than of craft. This helps explain the porousness (some might say sameness) of these largely untitled poems, which tend to flow together into a single Poem. It also helps explain their peculiar rhythms, and their general aversion to beauty. They gather force not by rhetorical turns, but by incantation, as Medvedev strains “to see without distortion by one’s social position, without limitations by one’s artistic milieu.” The results are frequently startling:

we dance around others’ misfortunes like mischievous wolves like some sort of
lascivious bats in a frenzy
we make our way toward them by the light of bonfires on the outskirts of town
through desolate fields of garbage
we fall on them swoop down throw ourselves at them with all of our might oozing
the syrupy poison of empathy.

Which isn’t to say that the artist-monk can’t be funny, because Medvedev’s puckish streak runs deep. It surfaces sometimes at the expense of others (“as a janitor / I was always beyond suspicion”), but more often at the expense of his own ambitions. One of my favorite poems in the collection concludes on a note of perfectly serious ridiculousness, or ridiculous seriousness:

misha is going to do everything right
in this life,
whereas I’m going to continue sitting here
deep in shit
with my principles.


3.
In 2004, Medvedev’s principles led him to make an unusual move: he renounced copyright to his own oeuvre. Henceforth, he declared in his “Manifesto on Copyright,” his poems would cease to be grist for the culture industry. They would appear on his website, and on facebook and LiveJournal, but reprinting them “in any anthologies, collections, or other kinds of publications” would be “consider[ed]…a disgusting manipulative action by one or another cultural force.” They were to be published

ONLY AS A SEPARATE BOOK, collected and edited according to the desires of the publisher, released in a PIRATE EDITION, that is to say, WITHOUT THE PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR, WITHOUT ANY CONTRACTS OR AGREEMENTS.


The “Manifesto on Copyright” marks a hinge moment in the book, and in Medvedev’s career. Immediately before comes the longest, finest poem in the book (“Europe”) and an incendiary essay called “My Fascism.” The poems that follow the manifesto are thinner—at times they feel like Medvedev doing Medvedev—but the critical essays, by way of compensation, grow richer and more prophetic.

In the piece on Kuzmin and especially in “Literature Will Be Tested,” from 2007, Medvedev begins to articulate a dialectical vision of a new global humanism. Its acolytes, he argues, must preserve “postmodernism’s irrepressible critical outlook.” At the same time, Medvedev departs from the main body of post-’68 critical thought by insisting on the value of “grand narratives and global concepts.” To forego them, he says, is to accede to “an idealized consensus between the goals of ‘diversity’ and the interests of the global marketplace.”

And as he pursues the links between the stagnation he’s been confronting in Moscow and the larger, global situation, parallels that have heretofore been sub rosa become explicit. For Russia isn’t the only place where the notion of a life beyond politics gained traction after the collapse of Communism. “The end of history,” we called this period in the U.S. And what were the results? Open-ended war, accelerated environmental destruction, and the further consolidation of class power. History, history, and more history. Meanwhile, “the idea of ‘contemporary art’” grew ever more attenuated, as every imaginable gesture of “authenticity,” literary or otherwise, became a fungible commodity—one whose sale or purchase gets broadcast to your social network. “You can’t change the world that way,” Medvedev reminds us. “You can’t rise to the next level of existence that way.”

After the bracing cynicism of some of the poems, this formulation might sound preachy. But as a craftsman and as a human being, Medvedev knows he must make the political personal, even as the arrow also runs the other way. Taken as a whole, then, It’s No Good is less a sermon on change than a narrative enactment of it. In aesthetic terms, the distinctions among poems and essays and actions come to seem as provisional as those subtitular backslashes suggest; there’s criticism in the poetry, poetry in the criticism, and action in all of it. And in political terms, we get a portrait of the poet’s awakening to futility where he’d thought there was power, and vice versa. The thing might as well be a Bolaño novel…albeit one with a happier ending.

In another of his more unguarded moments, Medvedev confesses

I think it was genuine contact–
when two completely different people
begin to understand one another
in my opinion this
is a real event
in art and
in life.


It’s No Good is just such an event. It awakens us to the contingency of contemporary reality’s ceaseless argument for itself, and to what might still be possible outside it. Archimedes famously said something like, Give me a place to stand, and a long enough lever, and I’ll move the world. Kirill Medvedev and his translators have given American readers another place to stand, a kind of Zuccotti of the mind. Now if only we can keep our grip on the lever.

Bonus Link: Four poems from It’s No Good

Image source: dominic bartolini

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Poets at #OccupyAbai (Mayakovsky Readings, May 13, 2012)

Roman Osminkin, Pavel Arseniev and Kirill Medvedev read their poems at the latest edition of the Mayakovsky Readings, which took place on May 13 in the protest camp on Chistye Prudy (#OccupyAbai) next to the monument to the Kazakh poet and philosopher Abai Qunanbaiuli.

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Moscow Police: Prose Is Allowed (But Not Blank Verse?)

Welcome to Moscow, where it is illegal to sing a couple songs outside a courthouse in defense of people (in this case, the three arrested alleged members of Pussy Riot, whose pretrial detention was extended for another two months yesterday by the Tagansky court) you think have been unjustly accused and imprisoned.

Slon.Ru’s reporter on the scene relates this interesting exchange with one of the arresting police officers:

When I asked the officer supervising the arrests on what grounds the musicians [Nikolay Oleynikov and Kirill Medvedev, two members of the revolutionary folk ensemble Arkady Kots] were being detained, he explained that any organized actions are interpreted as [unsanctioned protests], and that outside a court house they are prohibited by law.

So you’d detain [people for reciting] poems?”
“For [reciting] poems as well — for any unsanctioned actions.”
Is it permitted to converse in prose?”
“Prose is allowed.”
 “What about unrhymed blank verse?”

The officer thought hard but gave no reply. But some activists standing nearby suggested that, given the political situation, blank verse was doubly forbidden.

_____

P.S. Arkady Kots continued their performance as they were being transported to a police station along with other lovers of blank verse:

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Living Politically: A 48-Hour Communal Life Seminar (Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht)

Living Politically: A 48-Hour Communal Life Seminar
Friday 2 July, 10:00 – Sunday 4 July, 10:00
Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht, the Netherlands

The Jan van Eyck Academie is hosting Living Politically: A 48-Hour Communal Life Seminar. The Communal Life Seminar is an initiative of the Chto Delat collective and the Vpered Socialist Movement (Russia) as a response to the acute need to establish alternate forms of collectivity. The fundamental principle of this seminar is that its participants constitute a temporary community for the duration of the event. By combining research, creative work and daily living, they are transformed into a commune.

Living Politically will focus on the problem of how to combine theory and art with the militant political life. The Russian philosophers, artists and scholars organising this initiative have invited people from various branches of creative knowledge production, such as design, art, poetry and philosophy, to participate in the seminar.

During the seminar, participants will attempt to answer three questions: How are the practices of various disciplines and their professional production methods conditioned by the political stances and activist practices of artists and researchers? How do the collective appropriation and generalisation of specific scholarly, artistic and activist work shape new models of politicisation? Seminar participants will focus on what ‘living politically’ means for them. Which political categories do they invoke to make sense not only of their own work in research and art institutions, but also of their daily lives? Thus, one theme of the seminar will be the commonalities and differences between contemporary European and Russian types of political subjectivation. The programme includes lectures, performances, discussions and screenings.

Friday 2 July

Nikolay Oleynikov (Moscow)
Why obshezhitie?
— lecture introducing the context of “political/creative living” in Russia over the past decade

Pietro Bianchi (JVE)
The dark side of the communal
— presentation + discussion

Factory of Found Clothes (Gluklya & Tsaplya)
Witness cabinet

franck leibovici (paris)
some musical techniques of political composition
— theoretical performance, collective performance: one would draw a strong link between processes of production of knowledge, systems of (musical, choreographic, scientific) notation and the nature of collectives which perform them. following john cage’s line, one would say that a score should be like the ideal representation of a society in which one would like to live. we will exercise during 48h.

Kirill Medvedev (Moscow)
Poetry as politics
— examples of political, civic and feminist poetry to show how radical work in poetry shapes the revolutionary political challenge

Elena Sorokina (Brussels)
Communism’s afterlife in contemporary art

Filipa Ramos & Andrea Lissoni (Milan/London)
Political action does not produce objects – Parades and the (re)contextualization of the individual subject
— how to insert in the question of Living-Politically a reflection on parades and their possibility to act, inter-act and trigger some new practices between single and collectivity; while trying at the same time to analyse the operations of recontextualization associated with the use of this practice in the context of visual art.

Dmitry Vilensky (St. Petersburg)
Making film politically
— the possibilities for collective work during the shooting and editing of films as well as familiarising participants with the historical background of this approach and the ways it is practically realised today

Alexei Penzin (Moscow)
Sleeping politically
— a nighttime lecture on sleep and the sleeping body as a limit of the rationalization of life in the context of late capitalism, on the relationship between sleep, wakefulness and power, as well as on awakening and political subjectivisation. He will also discuss some early Soviet utopian projects concerning sleep.

Chto Delat & Pietro Bianchi
— night screenings

Saturday 3 July

Elena Sorokina & franck leibovici
performing a document: aerobics reconception (featuring Elena Sorokina)
— In order to answer the question “what does performing a document mean?” we will do some gymnastics in the small hours.

Tzuchien Tho (JVE)
Math politics

Aaron Schuster (Brussels)
Politics of nature: Marxism and psychoanalysis, labour and sex

Oxana Timofeeva (JVE)
Political animal

franck leibovici
mini-opera for non-musicians
— collective performance – concert

Factory of Found Clothes (Gluklya & Tsaplya, Amsterdam/ St. Petersburg) with Andros Zins-Browne (JVE)
Loving-politically
— ballet-dance performance + discussion on relations: We would like to organise a kind of “witness cabinet”: each participant can have a private conversation with us about their problems in personal relations. After summarising all the models in our laboratory, we will find the problem which is common to everybody and based on this knowledge we’ll create a performance piece.

Katja Diefenbach (JVE)
Less than a thing: queer politics and the deconstruction of the fetish

Katja Diefenbach
— night screenings

CONTACT:
Madeleine Bisscheroux
Anne Vangronsveld
Public Programme and Events Coordinators

coordinator.events@janvaneyck.nl
www.janvaneyck.nl
t +31 (0)43 350 37 29
f +31 (0)43 350 37 99

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Nikolay Oleynikov: The Urgent Need for Struggle (Moscow)

Nikolay Oleynikov
The Urgent Need for Struggle
May 12—June 1, 2010
Paperworks Gallery (Winzavod, Moscow)

At 2:00 p.m. on May 12, concurrent with the exhibition opening, there will be a presentation of the zine “The Urgent Need for Struggle” at Paperworks Gallery. A joint publication of Chto Delat, the Free Marxist Press, the January 19 Committee, and Paperworks Verlag, the zine features texts and artwork by Artemy Magun, Oxana Timofeeva, Maxim Stepanov, Paolo Virno, Christina Kaindl, Alexander Bikbov, Ksenia Poluektova-Krimer,  Władysław Szlengel, Kirill Medvedev, Darya Atlas, Keti Chukrov, and Nikolay Oleynikov. The presentation will also include a roundtable with talks by Ksenia Poluektova-Krimer, Kirill Medvedev, Maxim Stepanov, Alexander Bikbov, and Vlad Tupikin, and a discussion with zine authors and activists.

The revanchism of ultra-rightists on our streets, in the corridors of power, on the pages of newspapers, in university lecture halls, and at art exhibitions does not allow us to consign antifascism to the archives of the past century.

We are in solidarity with the prisoners who rose against the Nazis in Sobibor and the Warsaw Ghetto, with the struggle of Soviet soldiers, the anarchists and POUM militants of Spain, the heroes of the French and Italian Resistance, the Yugoslav partisans, and the victims of Pinochet’s reign of terror.

We do not believe that their heroism should be relegated to the ghettoes of ethnic, state, party or subcultural memory. We do not believe that the historical contradictions between antifascists in the past should divide us today. Historical memory belongs to everyone who is prepared to apply it in their lives and share it with others.

We do not perceive fascism either as an abstract, supernatural evil or a manifestation of perennial human vices. Historically, fascism of all stripes has been generated by a system that has particular features and a specific name. This system is capitalism. Fascism is born when dialogue about specific social ills and contradictions is replaced by a discourse that preaches the primacy of strength, success, and manifest destiny, and the inviolability of social, ethnic and all other boundaries and hierarchies, which are alleged to be God-given or natural. We believe that there is no such thing as God-given or natural inequality.

We know of only one boundary, that between right (that is, hierarchy, whether conservative, national-socialist or market-fundamentalist) and left (that is, equality as the ultimate horizon and the concrete steps that lead us towards this horizon).

We see the urgent need for struggle, including in the realms of culture, art, and knowledge. We must ensure the continuity of antifascist theory and practice.

—The Editorial Board

____________

Here is the conclusion to the lead article in “The Urgent Need for Struggle.”

Artemy Magun: “What Is Fascism and Where Does it Come From?”

[…]

In today’s Russia, fascism is not (thank God) the dominant ideology or political force. That force is conservative liberalism. Fascism, however, is still on the political agenda in Russia. The powers that be simultaneously fear it, use it to frighten the liberal opposition, and flirt with it.

First, Russia not only has smallish ultra-rightist youth gangs, but also popular fascist intellectuals – in particular, Alexander Dugin and Geidar Djemal. These men do not label themselves fascists (although Dugin did use this word in reference to himself during the nineties). Typologically, however, their texts belong to the fascist “family.” Their rhetoric is deliberately mannered and often does not withstand rational critique. For all the eclecticism of this rhetoric, its content boils down to certain invariants: mystical/eschatological scenarios, the imperialistic propaganda of war on the part of groups and countries subjugated at present (“Eurasia” or the Islamic proletariat), etc. Both thinkers combine appeals to the downtrodden with the propaganda of authoritarian obedience. These texts remained popular among readers for a time, provoking neither moral nor political “censorship” in a country where the consequences of World War Two have not been analyzed from the viewpoint of morality, and where the social consensus is ideologically right-wing. Today, however, Dugin’s ideas are being realized in practice in the “International Eurasian Movement” he heads and within other radical right-wing groups. They are employed to justify direct violence against outsiders (moreover, not non-Russians as such, but certain groups that are incompatible with Dugin’s notion of “Eurasia”). And yet at the same time, Dugin has served as an adviser to the speaker of the State Duma, was recently (in 2008) appointed a professor in the sociology department at Moscow State University, and is frequently invited to lecture at Saint Petersburg State University.

Second, surrounding the flagrant fascism of Dugin or Djemal there is a large zone that we might call fascizoid. It generates a climate in which the texts and gestures of such writers are perceived as comme il faut. As early as the late nineties, a manipulative attitude to political texts and ideas (“political technology”) took root in society, and there emerged an especially cynical style of aggressive rhetoric that did not hide the fact that it was purely demonstrative and sought to impress its audience by virtue of its effectiveness. Vladimir Zhirinovsky was probably the first to “invent” this style. It later came to be widely employed, for example, in the “war” waged on Russian television channels in 1999 (Sergei Dorenko’s style), and is to this day typical of the extremely aggressive nationalistic rhetoric of Mikhail Leontiev (on the “However” program). Moreover, in both cases we are dealing with journalists who were previously liberal and analytical in terms of their style. The ongoing Chechen war and contradictions in Russia’s foreign relations made it possible to engage in this rhetoric of violence with a relative amount of legitimacy. At the same time, this rhetoric services the subject who is “liberated” from ideology but is fundamentally passive. This subject is unwilling to give up those little things that fuel his subjectivity (apartment, education, recognition of his class), but wants somehow to express both his own ego and his frustration with the emptiness that prevails around him.

The aestheticization of violence was also characteristic of popular culture during the nineties (as typified, for example, by such films as Brother, Brother-2, and Brigada). In addition, as early as the stagnation period, a huge interest in mystical and occult theories and practices of all kinds emerged within society, including amongst the intelligentsia. This interest boomed during perestroika, thus coinciding with the popularity of the commercialized New Age in the western media.

Whereas during the nineties the rhetoric of violence, nationalism, and occultism were mostly ludic, aestheticizing, and, at the same time, manipulative in character, in the following decade, after Vladimir Putin came to power, they came to be taken more seriously: although the degree of its violence decreased, this sort of rhetoric became more widespread amongst public figures. Putin himself has frequently exploited it by as it were “breaking loose” from officialese (e.g., “We’ll wipe out [the Chechen terrorists] in their outhouse,” “If you want to become an Islamic radical and have yourself circumcised, I invite you to come to Moscow,” etc.) and publicly humiliating his underlings. Moreover, during the past decade, aggressive nationalism has practically become Russia’s official ideology. True, this nationalism is not ethnic in character and rarely leads to outright militarism. Nevertheless, it is one of the central rhetorical genres of public life (as exemplified in stories about the intrigues of the country’s enemies and the stupidity of politically correct Americans).

In short, a certain fascizoid context exists in Russia today. Given this atmosphere, acute socioeconomic disruption and failed liberal-democratic reforms could fortify the fascist movements and their alliance with the authorities. We could describe this context as a set of popular mindsets and particular facts that the society regards as legitimate and tolerable (at very least). These include a manipulative and cynical attitude to all ideas; a desire for “myths,” which allegedly need to be deliberately produced (many liberally minded intellectuals share these first two attitudes); the aestheticization of violence and violent rhetoric; a nationalistic xenophobia triggered by a sense that the country has been humiliated; and, finally, the presence of quasi-legal paramilitary youth groups. Whereas it is the police who should combat these radical right-wing gangs (something it does not do), it is the job of all citizens, especially intellectuals in their workplaces, to struggle against the overall context. We must strive to create an atmosphere in which fascism or semi-fascism ceases to be comme il faut. But we cannot achieve this with ordinary political correctness or liberal moralism. They are part of the problem, not the solution. It is likewise counterproductive to excessively generalize the notion of fascism, apply it to all non-liberal tendencies, and demonize our opponents.

We can achieve this [de-fascisization of public discourse] by involving people in a concrete democratic discussion of our country’s future, demonstrating the limits of cynicism and egoism, criticizing capitalism, revealing the roots and hopelessness of historical fascism, and seriously enlightening the masses with the aid of philosophy and science (as opposed to positivism, which precisely generates mysticism as its necessary complement). It is only enlightenment from the left, along with the practical struggle to democratize politics and the economy, that can rob fascism of its vulgar charms.

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2+2/Practicing Godard (The Story of the “Communal Life” Seminar)

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2+2/Practicing Godard (Part I)

I was inspired to make this film after the police forced me to delete video footage of the OMON raid on our seminar in Nizhny Novgorod. I was struck by their brazen confidence that they could erase things from people’s memory as easily as you can delete a video image.

This film is meant as a response to their challenge. It shows that we can not only document the crimes of the authorities for posterity, but also shape our own space of interpretation. We can recreate our own histories, in which the deeds of the police will be remembered as shameful acts against society.
—Dmitry Vilensky

You can read the working version of the screenplay here.

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2+2/Practicing Godard (Part II)

Concept and Direction: Dmitry Vilensky
Screenplay and Film Crew: Oleg Zhuravlyov, Nikolay Oleinikov, Kirill Medvedev, Dmitry Vilensky 
Camera and Editing: Dmitry Vilensky
Actors:  Andrei Amirov, Alexander Kuritsyn, Anna Tolkacheva, Andrei Nosov, Diana Sakaeva, Oleg Zhuravlyov, Nikolay Oleinikov, Marina Prokhorova, and many others who wish to remain anonymous.
This film is the result of a collaboration between the Vpered (“Forward”) Socialist Movement and Chto Delat Platform.

 

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OMON Arrests Our Comrades in Nizhny Novgorod

IMG_9310This just in from the Institute for Collective Action:

Today (May 9, 2009), Leftist Art. Leftist Philosophy. Leftist History. Leftist Poetry, the first experimental 24-hour “seminar dormitory,” was to take place in Nizhny Novgorod. However, at approximately twelve noon, OMON troops burst into the room where the seminar was supposed to take place and stopped the proceedings. Around thirty people were present at this moment. According to one participant, the OMON officers are behaving in a very aggressive way. They have confiscated identity papers and are now loading detainees onto a bus.

The seminar dormitory was meant to bring together four disciplines and four young practicioners of these disciplines: Nikolai Oleinikov (leftist artist), Alexei Penzin (leftist philosopher), Ilya Budraitskis (leftist historian), and Kirill Medvedev (leftist poet).They planned to hold a series of seminars and lectures on art, history, and philosophy, as well as video and film screenings and poetry readings.

Nikolai and Alexei are members of the Chto Delat work group (Moscow/Petersburg), while Ilya and Kirill are correspondents on our e-mail platform and good friends and comrades. We will keep you informed of new developments in this story as they become know to us. Unfortunately, this is just the latest sign of the total collapse of the “rule of law” in Russia and the ongoing war against social and political activists. Please repost this information as widely as possible in your blogs and e-mail lists.

The telephone of the police precinct where they are being held is (+7) 831-434-02-02. Please call this number to inquire about the health and safety of our comrades. The latest information is that the police have confiscated their mobile phones and preventing them from otherwise sending us on the outside any information. They are being interrogated individually, after which they are allegedly being released one by one.

Even if you cannot speak Russian, please call: it will remind the Nizhny Novgorod police that the whole world is watching, that it is their duty to uphold human and civil rights, which are guaranteed not only by the Russian Federation Constitution, but also by all the relevant European and international treaties and conventions. The Russian Federation is a signatory to these conventions, however much it has made a complete mockery of this fact during the past several years.

IMG_5966UPDATE: We have just received word that all the detainees have been released and the seminar is continuing. We have learned from our sources that the OMON raid took place while the seminar participants were watching a Jean-Luc Godard film. Allegedly, the police had received information that the seminar was a gathering of “extremists,” which is the code word the Russian authorities and their apologists now use for anyone even mildly opposed to their policies or otherwise not wholly compromised by their management of “managed democracy.”

Here is part of the statement we just posted on our Russian-language LiveJournal. A more comprehensive statement will follow in the next day or so.

We categorically protest police abuse. During these May Day and Victory Day holidays the impression has arisen that martial law has been declared in Russia. There are OMON officers posted every two meters on the streets. Some of these policemen break up peaceful demonstrations. Others are intoxicated and speed around the city in their vehicles, thus endangering people’s lives. Still others stop civilians in their tracks at every turn and inform them about non-existent “laws” that supposedly require them to carry their internal passports on their persons at all times. When will this come to an end? Probably not under the current regime, which tolerates police abuse in the name of the police’s loyalty and thus every hour bears witness to its own cynicism and weakness.

The hysteria of the authorities—especially the security forces, which often act in a completely uncontrolled way—is without real foundation. In our peaceful society, which has not yet reacted strongly to the growing economic crisis, the authorities not only break up public demonstrations, but also oppositional intellectual gatherings. They ratchet up tension, which in the end will lead to a destabilization of the regime.

As we know from experience, however, public opinion can influence the situation during such power vacuums. That is why in cases like the dispersal of the anarchist/antifa May Day demonstration in Petersburg or the arrest of seminar participants in Nizhny we need a consolidated public outcry against the actions of the authorities.

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