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Jul 29, 2013
Editor’s note: The Second Chechen War began in August 1999 and resulted in the brutal re-invasion of Chechnya by Russian forces. By May of 2000, the popularly elected government led by Aslan Maskhadov was deposed and a pro-Russian government set up in its place. The war continued, however, as the former government took to the hills. The years 2002–2004 saw a series of ghastly partisan attacks on Russian territory, including the seizure of a theater in central Moscow and a school in Beslan, in southern Russia. In early 2005 Maskhadov announced a unilateral ceasefire as a "gesture of goodwill." The ceasefire was to run out on February 22, the day before the anniversary of Stalin's deportation of the Chechen population to Kazakhstan in 1944. Read Emma Goldhammer's interview with Kirill Medvedev.
On February 23, 2005, the first day
after the end of the ceasefire,
I was riding the metro and noticed a man
watching me very carefully.
". . . and the Russians will understand,"
the Chechen rebels had recently said.
more precisely, they'd said:
"and the Russians will understand that this was
a real ceasefire."
this statement made no impression on me at the time,
I wouldn't have remembered,
but apparently it made a strong impression on this man,
he's clearly nervous, looking at me,
I haven't shaved, I'm standing here
with a hand on my belt,
smiling crazily to myself about something,
thinking of something.
the train sits at the station for a while,
as if giving the man a chance to save himself.
finally, glancing at me one last time,
he jumps out.
he runs to the middle of the platform and freezes there.
he's not crazy
to the contrary, he's probably perfectly sane,
everyone should be as crazy as this guy,
and everyone is,
it's just that our minds are weak.
you never know
what will make an impression on someone.
you can't do anything about a weak mind
you can't do anything about your own mind,
much less someone else's.
now I'm in Berlin, where I'm waiting for a late tram with a friend,
who's telling me about a scene
he witnessed the last time he took a late tram in Berlin:
a man eating a slice of pizza gets on the tram,
and the driver growls at him to get out,
because you can't eat pizza on the tram.
the man gets out and starts skipping down the rails in front of the tram,
eating his slice of pizza.
the driver is furious.
the man finishes his pizza and gets back on the tram.
meanwhile some drunk hippie with long hair
is on the tram,
and a skinhead's walking by him,
the hippie says,
"hey-hey, that's a good haircut, man,
I want one like it."
"I can give you one," answers the skinhead,
"I even have my clippers with me."
I love this scene.
Anisa left earlier today,
and I'm leaving tomorrow.
but for now me and my friend from Berlin,
the one we stayed with,
are still out.
first we sat across from the club
where Bowie and Iggy Pop played in the '70s,
drank some beers we bought from some Turks,
and then drank wine with two other friends,
then left them and visited
a Russian singer we know;
the cab driver who drove us there,
spoke a little Russian,
and, letting us out, said:
"so now we hit the whorehouses?"
I like this.
I like that we're walking around Berlin.
my friend understands me pretty well,
I remember reading somewhere:
"I have three friends who always understand me.
one lives in London, another in Ljubljana, a third in . . ."
that's how it goes,
and it's good.
no one should understand a man
in his own country.
for a prophet his homeland is enough,
what more does he need?
the people who understand should be so far away
that you can't talk to them on your cell phone or on email,
or over a regular phone,
otherwise what could force a person
to travel so far,
what would force him to pay
these miserable embassies,
and tourist companies, and trains?
rocks, the sea, houses, cathedrals, women?
the cab driver had this accent, and he said,
"so now we hit the whorehouses?"
the singer we were visiting lives in a neighborhood of gay bordellos.
Anisa and I
were standing in line at the exhibit of a fashionable young artist
in front of us in line
stood two gay men
both were tall,
and looked down on us
when we answered some question of theirs
in our crude English.
two good-looking men
they probably work in television
or in some other media
and probably consider themselves bohemians,
or rather, define themselves by this term,
which they inherited
from the cursed, talentless, nameless,
from the dispossessed,
who had nothing in this world
except this intoxicating romantic definition
which they in turn got from the Gypsies.
and what place, incidentally, do gay people have in the contemporary world?
mostly these are well-paid graphic designers and advertising men;
like Jews, they've mostly forgotten about their curse and their rebellion,
and only remember their identity
when there's some chance to profit
I like them (I'm biased)
I was rarely objective before
and now I'm not objective at all.
and the conclusion is this:
too much sympathy is dangerous,
it's just dumb,
it's an unnecessary anachronism,
it's time to treat all representatives of minorities
as regular people
and that's all.
all problems, complaints, and misunderstandings
come from too much sympathy.
you can't treat everyone like they're your relative
Jews, gays, millionaires
Israel and the USA.
which is something we should have realized
on the other hand I say all this
as if I'm the member of some majority,
which is strange.
I came to Berlin on money
earned by my girlfriend.
this whole tram stop is covered in stickers.
they say, "don't make space
for Nazis and anti-Semites."
I should take one down
and keep it.
the objectivist school, I'm thinking,
the objectivist school.
Or, rather, "objectivism."
this was a direction in
it had the following characteristics:
leftism, a concept of "sincerity,"
a Jewish identity.
that's interesting, I think.
how do these qualities
give birth to
an unbiased view of an object?
(Aside from the US, the objective movement in one form or another
developed in many countries of the developed world,
and recently, for example,
in Latvia, where the particular European quiet and calm,
the prosperity of a small space,
and the relative unity of society,
could give birth, until recently, to a particularly restrained
view of the world,
one that appeared to rise above political and social differences.)
across from me an old woman is talking to an old man riding next to me.
it's May 1, May Day,
she's holding a roll of papers, it looks a lot
like a rolled-up poster or sign.
suddenly she starts asking everyone for a tissue and
I give her a tissue.
then I see that a guy sitting next to her is throwing up on the floor
and she gives him the tissue.
the guy mumbles, "Thanks, grandma,"
and wipes himself off,
then gets off the train,
an old man sits down in his seat
next to the old woman.
a woman sits down next to me
with a burning icon-lamp,
she squeezes it in front of her like a little chick.
space squeezes space place time reality.
my friend accompanied me to the train station
and we talked of this and that.
he didn't want me
to rush back into the Russian panopticon.
a man on the platform between stations in the metro in Moscow
pressing his face to the wall
covering his ears with his hands
like a man struck deaf.
what is it?
he's gone crazy?
he's lost it?
it's a terrorist attack?
his face and a portion of the wall
are covered in the purple light
of a cell phone.
this old lady doesn't get off at Teatralnaya.
is she going to the meeting of the democratic opposition
whereas I'm going to the communist meeting on Teatralnaya.
I want to see
who there's more of:
leftist-internationalists or Stalinist-nationalist-anti-Semites.
but she's going who knows where.
objectivism is when the author pins down events,
and sometimes I think: how large a budget would you need to be truly
how large a budget would your cameraman need
to record things sincerely—beautifully and without bias,
but not in such a way that one would ask: why are we here and alone?
where is our director, costume designer, producer?
the men carry their beers,
and no curse is laid upon anyone now at birth
because of their religion
or their method of fucking
or their citizenship.
it's not given to anyone,
and there's no reality in Berlin,
or in France, or in the USA,
or in the Baltics—there's just the Russian language,
this fucked-up honest organism;
when you want to say something too correctly
it always comes out sounding false.
and so, there's no reality in the Baltics,
just like everywhere else,
and there's no reality in Russia,
there's just the remains of the male, the female, the fathers,
and Jews, gays, Muslims,
the intelligentsia, the Gestapo, the Russians,
just like everywhere—the waste products,
these pathetic remnants,
this is the Great Dreg,
the mighty stagnation
the remnants of identity
like the last remains
that need to be scraped out
the way you scrape out the rest of the fetus
after an abortion,
I'm for purity
and I'm for every individual identity
but it's something you need to fight for,
like for a clear writing style, like for lies,
and it won't give you anything but awful untruth
or the opportunity to die in battle, or live alone,
or die alone or among many others,
in any case, without any profit,
with nothing left but blind worrisome confusion
only wild blood flooding and clearing the brain,
and in any case there's no objectivity,
it's impossible to simply look at it,
and you won't touch reality,
because reality is cursed and guilty,
and you have to fight for it, just as you have to fight for being cursed
and being untouchable,
losing blood, sight, sincerity,
your Jewish or any other identity.
that's all I wanted to say.
no—actually—one more thing, an addendum. New Year's day—
in the half-transparent fruits of an enormous vineyard"
lovers imprisoned in a transparent cocoon
made up of wine vapors
she's around thirty
he's five years older
and by the exhaustion of their movements
and by the extent to which they're used to this state
you can tell they've been drunk
for a while now.
they probably brought in the New Year together
or in a small group,
and everyone ate a lot, and drank a lot,
and then slept a little,
or maybe didn't sleep at all,
and now they've decided to start up again.
they pay for a bottle of vodka, and something else, some sardines,
but they forgot their sausages!
we hand them to them,
and their cocoon pops,
and at that moment they meet us
there's a transgression, a crossing of boundaries,
like a bomb in the metro,
and we find ourselves in our uneven, jumpy world,
our child was just crying excitedly,
as we passed the groceries,
and yet these sausages,
these specific sausages or hot dogs,
became that boundary,
this border post,
where these two worlds, if you like, met,
and then they left.
but we'll meet them again,
or someone like them,
when the New Year ends,
because they'll find themselves in our world,
in our jumpy happy hell,
and no appearances or amount of fairness,
no objectivist school,
or even objective truth,
will get in the way.
Translated from the Russian by Keith Gessen with Isabel Lane. “The End of the Ceasefire (The End of the Objectivist School?)” originally appeared in It’s No Good by Kirill Medvedev, translated by Keith Gessen with Mark Krotov, Cory Merrill, and Bela Shayevich. Copyright 2012. Published by n+1 Foundation, Inc. and Ugly Duckling Presse. Reprinted by permission.
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July 29, 2013
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