Essay

Roman Osminkin: Poetry and Prose

by Roman Osminkin, translated by the Cement Collective

 

A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow

 

Having set off for Moscow after a dinner with friends, the hero awakens outside of Kolpino from an intolerable rocking. Seeing in front of him the windshield bespattered with vomit, he takes some effort to wake up a bum sleeping in a cardboard box and asks him to wash his ride, but is turned down because of the late hour. The hero is forced to give the bum money for vodka in order to continue his journey.

 

In Tosna the hero agrees to give a lift to a man with shifty eyes, who turns out to be a hustler supplying counterfeit driver’s licenses and registrations for shady characters with cars of the same make. Saying he doesn’t feel well, the hero drops him off at the nearest gas station.

 

On the way from Tosna to Liuban’ the traveller sees a peasant standing on the side of the road with his pants down and displaying his ass to passing cars “with great care,” even though it is November and drizzling. The peasant tells him that six days a week his family sells pickled goods and jams on the roadside so as not to die of hunger, but since there still isn’t enough money, he is obliged to sell his ass on Sundays, even though it’s a sin. The hero reflects on the brutality of f…ots and simultaneously reproaches himself, because he too has a friend named Ch., over whom he has power.

 

In Chudov his friend Ch. catches up with the hero and tells him why he had to leave Petersburg in a hurry. For the sake of diversion, Ch. decided to ride his scooter from Kronstadt to Sestroretsk. On the road, two meatheads in Hummers decided to have some fun with him and squeezed his scooter between their cars. Fortunately, there was a Highway Patrol station just a verst and a half away. The Hummers abandoned their victim-plaything and sped away, while Ch., pale and scratched up, made straight for the traffic cop. The latter, however, had chosen that moment for his nap, and the sergeant, his underling, did not dare wake him. When, through his own efforts, Ch. managed to wake the officer up, the latter said: “It’s not my responsibility.” Unable to find any sympathy for what had happened from the policemen of Petersburg, he decided to quit the city forever.

 

On the road from Chudov to Spasskaia Polist’ the hero picks up a man with honest eyes, who tells him his sad story. Having trusted his business partner in the purchase of some real estate, he was deceived, deprived of his entire fortune and brought before a criminal court. Upset by what had happened, his wife went into early labor and died three days later, along with her premature child. Seeing that he was about to be taken into custody, his friends lowered him down from the window with sheets and told him to run “where his legs would carry him.” The hero is touched by his travel companion’s story, and he wonders how to bring the case to the attention of the highest court, “for only that court is impartial.” Realizing that he is powerless to help the poor man, the hero imagines himself to be a supreme leader with a seemingly flourishing government, and everyone singing his praises. But then an underage girl fellating a long-haul trucker by the side of the road lifts the veil from the leader’s eyes, and he sees that his reign was unjust, that his benevolence was wasted on the rich, on flatterers, traitors, and the unworthy. He realizes that power is an obligation to safeguard the law and justice. But all of this turns out to be only a dream.

 

At the Podberezye station the hero meets a graduate student, who complains about the quality of contemporary education, which aims to satisfy market demand with the mass production of narrowly trained specialists. Genuine scholarship has been replaced with servility, and instead of critical thinking students master careerist cunning. The hero reflects on science and scholarly work, the goal of which he sees as making a host of discoveries, bringing glory to himself and his country.

 

Having arrived at Novgorod, the hero recalls that in the old days the city was ruled by the people, and questions Putin’s right to appoint his own viceroys to Novgorod. “But what avails right, when might prevails?” – he asks. Taking a break from his reflections, the hero goes to dine at his pal Karp’s, formerly a racketeer working the market, now a local lawmaker. They launch into a conversation on trade matters, and the traveler realizes that the recently instituted anti-trust laws do not ensure honesty, but on the contrary, facilitate easy money-making and theft.

 

Аt the Zaitsev post office the hero meets an old friend, Mr. Krestiankin, who used to serve in the bureau of criminal investigation. When an anti-extremism center was established on the model of this bureau, he was forced to retire, since it was clear that he would be of no use to his fatherland at the new center. He saw only cruelty, corruption, and injustice, when the opposite was needed. Krestiankin recounted a story about a cruel police boss, whose son raped a young woman from the provinces. Defending his bride, the girl’s fiancé cracked the rapist’s skull. The groom had several friends with him too, and, according to the criminal code, the storyteller was supposed to give all of them huge prison sentences. He tried to acquit the young men, but the rapist’s father put the heat on the court and they all went to prison.

 

Passing by a cemetery in Yazhelbitsy, the hero sees a funeral in progress. The father of the deceased sobs by the grave, saying that he is his son’s murderer, for he “poured HIV into him at conception.” The hero feels that he is listening to his own condemnation. Having indulged in promiscuity in his youth, he contracted chronic hepatitis and now fears that he will pass it on to his children. Reflecting on who is responsible for the spread of AIDS, the traveler blames the government, which doesn’t help the infected and doesn’t have drug use prevention programs.

 

In Edrovo the hero meets a young peasant woman named Aniuta; he speaks with her about her family and ex-fiancé, who came back from the army an invalid. In order to help him, she married a rich man, who does whatever he pleases with her, and she doesn’t dare defy him, because otherwise there will be no money for the surgery. The hero is amazed at how much nobility there is in the peasant woman’s way of thinking. He condemns the government, which doesn’t look after its own sons, and reflects on modern marriage, which forces eighteen-year-old girls to become the property of businessmen with deep pockets. Equality—that is the foundation of family life, he thinks.

 

On the road to Khotilovo, the hero is visited by thoughts about the injustice of exploiting immigrant labor. The fact that one man can enslave another, he calls a “beastly habit”: “slavery is a crime,” he says. Only he who works the land or builds houses has a right to them. And no government with several million citizens who are deprived of that title can “call itself blessed.”

 

In Torzhk the hero meets a man, on his way to Moscow with a letter about allowing an independent Internet portal to function again, free from censorship. They discuss the intransitive properties of television and the ill effects of censorship, which, “like a nanny, leads an infant by the apron strings,” and that “infant”—that is, the spectator—never learns to walk (think) independently. Society should be its own censor: it either acknowledges information’s right to life, or rejects it.

 

In the village of Gorodnya army conscriptions are taking place, which is the reason behind the weeping among the thronging crowd. Mothers, sisters, brides are crying, seeing off their awkward and sickly youth. But not everyone is dissatisfied with his fate. Some of the young men, the healthiest, smirk insolently behind lowered BMW windows. The army is no threat to them. Others, with the rabid gaze of thugs, are happy to escape their problems with the law and the tedium of village life.

 

In Peshki the hero contemplates an ordinary residential house and is amazed by the poverty that reigns here. A housewife asks him for a packet of Rollton instant soup to feed her child. In a lyric digression, the author addresses himself to a passing official with a condemning speech: “Hard-hearted official! Look at the children of the residents for whom you are responsible. They are practically naked.” He promises him death by helicopter during a hunt, as it is clear that there will be no justice on earth.

 

The Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow ends with Luzhkov’s book, TransCapitalism in Russia. The hero alludes to the fact that this book was given to him by someone from Lomonosov University, with whom he had lunch in Tver. In his book Luzhkov focuses mainly on the topic of the global crisis. The author sets himself a bold task: to determine where the origins of the crisis lie, and to find the path by which Russia can escape from it with minimal losses. Amid tormented thoughts about the search for that path for Russia, the hero enters the nation’s first capital.

 

*   *   *

 

A little bit of class war

A little bit of red terror

And the painfully familiar features

Of a velvet Thermidor

 

Inexpressible despair

In the eyes of tired Special Forces

You screamed so loudly from the toilet

As if you’d found the grail

 

The entire room is drunk

With the sweet medicine of interrogation

You didn’t try to deny a thing

And admitted guilt to the bottom

 

Oversee and punish

Oversee and punish

Supervise and control

Jawohl, my Putin, jawohl

 

*   *   *

 

fucking shame before the working class

sits in my bowels like mineral ore

I shovel it out with bare hands

but shame sinks ever deeper to the bottom

alright then, sit if you like it down there

only don’t shame me in the mornings

mornings I’m not cool with shame

and with great labor remember labor

mornings I sleep and watch my dreams

in them all workers are equal

godlike now and everlasting

all their needs are met

no one spits on grey concrete

blood that tastes of herzegovina flor tobacco

no one herds anyone else

into freight cars in glum columns

and each cigarette stub flying into the dark

illuminates the way for my verse

 

*   *   *

 

you know how sometimes you meet an underage girl

and instantly pull a stern face 

quickly, walk past here, child

you reek of sexual maturity

 

but I read the new laws

and you won’t pin pedophilia on me

be you thrice the image of Danaë

your age is imperfect

 

refrain:

 

the new dress is rumpled

champagne bubbles gone

Pushkin Street and Dvortsovaya Square

are all covered with puke

 

you know how sometimes you meet a foreign agent

and cross the street

so he won’t be tempted

to recruit you

 

because you read the new laws

human rights is the same as espionage now

if you protect someone’s rights today

tomorrow you’ll sell the motherland

 

documents are confiscated

inventory strewn about

agents hiding in their kitchens,

like in the good old times

 

you know how sometimes you meet some lesbians

and right away you make a stern face 

be you thrice the most blameless of maidens

you reek of Gomorrah for versts

 

and I read the new laws

gay propaganda you won’t pin on me

in Russia you can’t choose your gender

born a broad, then that’s how you’ll die

 

someone’s kidneys are damaged

and brains concussed

in Tavrichesky garden

they’re strict with reprobates

 

*   *   *

 

“where is the world headed, if the head of a top-ten bank is arrested red-handed”

 

corruption, it’s bad

crisp banknotes obscure the gaze

and conscience does not give a fuck

and shame is not shameful

 

money has penetrated freedom

you can sell even your mother

who was once so dear

today far cheaper than a whore

 

and these words of mine

are confirmed by that banker’s face

during the police raid

like a mirror of the world 

 

it reflects his fall

homo sapiens die for metal

there’s no further crime

that capital isn’t ready for

 

the banker doesn’t need to play

mephistopheles incarnate

only a pro flush with cash

can fix a tie like that

 

toying with a pen in his hands

licking its tip

like the sole of the heel

of a secretary the age of his daughter

 

just yesterday he was remembering

how against the backdrop of ancient ruins

she gifted him with anal

and today they take him away red-handed

 

if it doesn’t become universal

poetry is good for nothing

and this here mawkish slacker

is just a derivative of the system

 

as long as decent folk

steer clear of money and rank

poetry’s advice will be:

fight against the root cause

 

*   *   *

 

On Method:

 

 “I think that the most democratic

literature is not one that is comprehensible to everyone, but

one that takes into account all conventional

linguistic gestures.” Dmitry Prigov

 

Language rages in its tenacity to break through to reality—for today at last, it seems, there are no more barriers left against it: in tweets from the squares, SMS-es from police vans, re-posts of the hottest news, wiki-leaks, letters against and letters in support—this here is life as it is—naked facts, numbers, tables, info-graphics—maximally effective and useful language. The document’s pragmatics and nothing of rhetoric or poetics. Bloggers are like the famous woodcutter of Roland Barthes, for whom “a tree is not a figure, but simply the meaning of the action.”[1] That is, the woodcutter never fails to express himself, because the action itself expresses. For words are the one thing that we produce ourselves.[2] We are only words, and all else is the union and division of elements that long preceded us. But the aforementioned bloggers, who have operated with only words for a long time already, appear to continue unifying and dividing the elements of nature in their production activity, likening language to wood, and the word to the axe. And there’s the rub: since words aren’t “natural” (but completely created by man), they and only they possess the ability to draw man away from his “natural” calling, to obfuscate his functional gestures and rhythms, which are accepted in the “natural” cycles of productions. And all these aforementioned tweets and posts are expressions in the public sphere of language, which means that they are already to a varying degree political and literary expressions. These kinds of expressions, according to Rancière, are capable of possessing all manner of people, to deepen differences, to open new possibilities. But the main thing is that they are capable of circulating without their accompanying author, as blocks of speech—quasibodies—addressing every person they encounter on equal terms, declassifying old hierarchies and simultaneously forming accidental communities, declaring themselves collectives, which with the help of these acts of socialized discourse transform the existing allocated roles, territories, and languages.

On the other hand, what does “we are only words” mean today? According to the post-operaist Paolo Virno, under the conditions of post-Fordism the forces of production become “not only external technical innovations and the informatization of production, but the very immanence of the human ‘brain’ as immeasurable potentiality.” That is, the production of words becomes a self-sufficient procedure of our brains, which is now the main assembly line, issuing forth half-fabricated ideas, affects, and linguistic acts ready for use. But in distinction from real half-fabricated products, the consumption of ideas, affects, and knowledge brings with it the infinite expansion of language and thought, multiplying social and cultural practices. It would seem that the process of post-Fordian labor coincides with its result, that is, the result is not objectified into a product. Thought itself, discourse, becomes a producing “machine.” But here the question arises, what and for whom does it produce? Paradoxically, intellectual labor produces immaterial, linguistic wares that often do not correspond to the real world at all. The media vehicles of this kind of labor have been degraded to the point of being indistinguishable to the naked eye. Their mediation is less and less visible (but for all that, no less significant). Our gaze slides across the surface of the monitor, words and letters appear and disappear, leaving behind no trace, leaving ephemerality. Our interest isn’t sustained by anything, our attention is scattered, our practices of reading and correspondingly writing are simultaneous and extremely fragmentary. That very reality, to whose height of effervescence we just ascended, dissolves, not even leaving us with the signifier by means of which it was just subdued. Again the blank page. But only for an instant. To be immediately filled up with life, as it really is. The main thing is not to stop, not to resist the flow. To live means to communicate. The form is the message. There are no noises in the communication channel. Interference must be eliminated. That boundless network of communication, the additional value of which—be it idea or knowledge—is instantly estranged in favor of the proprietor of the given network.

But what can poetry do, whose communicative function in fact gravitates to a minimum? Is it possible that its destiny is to occasionally jump out from the curb of history and to poke sticks into the wheels of the cart of communication? Or is poetry in essence the temple of language, which can be built apart from the noise of time? No. Nothing purely poetic—that you could touch and say, yes, this belongs to poetry and to nothing else—exists. Poetry resides in the very same language environment as “hostile” profane communication. Moreover, poetry is an invasion into its very essence, a distraction from the “natural” cycle of re-production (and subordination), which, as we have already seen in the case of words, is absolutely artificial. The substance of poetry is the very redundancy of the communication, its critical mass, tearing itself up from within and falling into the residue of a new form. Into these new linguistic forms, recognizing themselves, “homeless” subjects, excluded (often by their own will) from the unitary mass body, can settle. These new social subjects—the emerging pluralities of units irreducible to one another—slip, retreat, commit a multiple “exodus,” manifested in the practices of civil disobedience and the establishment of a new type of relations, bypassing the normativity prescribed by the government. But above all, their slippage and new assembly take place in the impersonal medium of language (cf. utterances—quasi-bodies without a carrier, for Rancière).[3] We frequently speak about the struggle for the right to call the same thing by one word or another. In “The Logic of Sense,” Deleuze writes about the disequilibrium and asymmetry of the resonating series of signifiers and signifieds, where the first always dominate in number, leaving for that very reason the possibility of failure—a place in which a new closure of meaning arises, destructive toward the previous one. Poetry senses these gaps and closures in meaning from afar like nothing else. She feeds on them, like a true “idler” of language, preferring to live hand to mouth, but not distancing a single word from herself. Poetry is the un-alienation of any kind of labor in language—the un-alienation of the very labor of language, which, acquiring in poetry that coveted “life-for-itself,” gifts her to every word, which now becomes itself a new subject—and together, the linguistic plurality of equal, un-alienated word-comrades, ready to come to the aid of thought and the actions of those who take upon themselves the courage and responsibility of action.[4] According to Humboldt, the real word (the word-comrade[5]) is closer than the spoken or printed word. Every lexicon and any phonetics are already nothing but shadows. But the word in its true form always only grazes us. It is that which we are still hoping to say; that which we stubbornly try to hear through the depreciating signs. To attempt to speak already amounts to not keeping silent, but it isn’t yet speech.

Occupy Wall Street had a good slogan about timing: “You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.” The idea here isn’t named, but the doors of time have already been flung open before it, demanding to be named; and that idea, to put it in Heidegger’s terms, erupts into existence, having done weird things in it, and assigns it to being. Only then will existence be manifested as such. And here Boris Eikhenbaum’s hundred-year-old question about the complications of the writer’s practice has no place: from the literary “how to write,” to the real “how to be a writer” (or not to be one: his contemporaries called Aleksandr Vvedensky “without occupation”). Only from a conscious choice “how to be” is it possible to find the necessity of writing in a different way, a new way. To make the journey from form, as a formal search, to method, endowing that search with necessity, conditioned by the impossibility of speaking as before. After all, anything new that is coming into being has to be described in old language, and only the method—that protocol of the rupture between new and old ways of being—has as its poetic task to give name to those feelings, emotions, and practices that obstinately demand life. The success of the poetic task is by no means guaranteed—the new world is by no means bound to demand precisely these words and not others (or make any demands at all) of the poet.[6] The poet deliberately prohibits dreaming (according to Mallarmé, the enemy of his task) from entering into him, but for all that his words literally teem with dreams. The dream inside the poet is encapsulating—it totalizes and leads to catastrophe—but dreams drawn out from the body of the poet, found on the other side of signification, are dream-concepts that possess dis-embodied, deconstructive qualities. (The Conceptualists Lev Rubinshtein and Dmitry Prigov thus deconstructed late Soviet ideology: the first washed away all the dream elements, leaving the naked signs to witness their absolute constructedness, while the second in contrast saturated all known space with dreams, which as a result ceased to carry the meaning prescribed by ideology.)

As Valentin Voloshinov wrote, “it is not the word that is the expression of the inner personality, but the inner personality that is the expressed or the entrapped word.” The congenital capacity for language is pre-individual. But the medium of language is only what makes it possible to move from language as a congenital capacity to the individual speech act, to the “word trapped inside” which the poet as before “writes as he breathes,” but his “breathing” is no longer organized like the breathing of an author as an individuum of flesh and blood, resisting being-towards-death. Instead of a fixed point or source of the poetic word, the poet assembles into a subject every time, which is, as it were, “completely outside of himself”; he builds and molds himself, changes form, is born and reborn, and continues to live after the departure of his vehicle, but now in cultural forms and texts. In the words of Gilbert Simondon, individuation is never completed: the subject is always the struggle of the individualized with the pre-individualized, the singular with the anonymous-universal.

And language, like socialized raw matter, already saturated with certain codes and types of perception and interpretation, never fully becomes the “entrapped words” of the poet, allowing the pre-individual to cast about in searches of some kind of break, displacement, deficiencies, producing the effect of anonymous and uncontrolled speech. The poet’s task is “to find a place and a formula” (“We affirm you, method!” exclaims Rimbaud, saying that he “cannot wait to find a place and a formula”), to develop such a method that would allow this anonymous and uncontrolled speech to become that very word without accompaniment, addressing the other on equal terms. Only by distancing himself from the expression, erasing his traces from the word, renouncing his legal paternity, does the poet offer a form of expression for the new experience, allowing everyone the possibility of sharing that experience and the full range of (sensory) experiences associated with it. This is a kind of direct democracy of the word, when “all conventional linguistic gestures” are taken into account. The word ceases to be only the representative (agent) of a defective action, while the action ceases to be merely an impulse, a motive for the word.[7] They share the same reality—equality of rights—the comradeship of word and action, not reducible to one another, but also not existing without one another.

In “The Age of the Poets,” Alain Badiou speaks of the poetry of method as of that very type of thought that, under the domination of the scientific and/or political seams, takes some of their functions onto itself, without intending to take their place. That kind of poetry “establishes guidelines for thought and offers thought operations unique in their kind.” Badiou contrasts the motive of “operation” to the Romantic themes of “mediation,” contemplation, and speculation. One could argue that the poet, taking on himself tasks that are external to poetry, by that very means betrays her very essence—to strengthen the palpability of signs, concentrating attention on the message as such. But we clarified above that not allowing a dream to enter you does not mean chasing dreams out of your poetry.[8] And the will to method—to the conscious operation of cultivating the “entrapped words,” suggesting to thought “operations unique in their kind”—only gives it that very form of expressing itself. After all, every thought is the performative of thought, any experience at first takes on form only through expression. The poet’s choice of this or that form is in the first place ideologically conditioned. Not ideology in the vulgar sense, as the passive form of reflecting the conditions of its existence, but in Althusser’s sense of ideology, which doesn’t reflect and describe some reality, but imagines and expresses the will (conservative, conformist, reformist, or revolutionary), hope, or nostalgia. Of course, the poet may be unaware of his own ideology, deny it, placing himself outside of ideology (and therefore outside of politics[9]), but that denial will be nothing other than the product of another ideology, as there isn’t any kind of expression outside of ideology (outside of Logos[10]). The poet is not an abstract “selfless scriptorium,” dreaming in the midst of the roar of language, but always the first to realize that only in the word does he have being, movement, and life. And if one follows Althusser’s notion that ideology is always socially material and embodied in practice, then isn’t it more honest to recognize one’s own practices as already ideologically engaged? The essence of engaged expression lies in the fact that, in addition to the analysis of “immanent” forms of writing and techniques, it recognizes itself in the socio-cultural and wider historical context. For the poet of method, the engaged expression is not the betrayal of his poetry, but an “operation unique in its kind,” the only possible form (and place) of thought here and now. Walter Benjamin wrote of Sergey Tretyakov in his famous essay, “The Author as Producer”: “I would like to draw your attention to Sergey Tretyakov and the type of ‘operative’ writer he typifies and embodies. This operative writer gives us a convincing example of the functional dependence between correct political tendencies and progressive literary technique that exists under all circumstances. <…> Tretyakov distinguishes the operative writer from the informative one. His mission is not to inform, but to fight; not to play to the public, but to actively engage it in battle. He realizes his mission with the aid of insights, which he procures through his activities.”

Thus, to conclude our introduction on method, we will give several, perhaps rather blunt but necessary, from our point of view, recommendations to the poet who wishes to avoid getting locked into the “self-sufficient” word, who is afraid of losing his “self.”

Such a poet must realize, first of all, that this very “self-sufficiency” is the effect of his inability to digest a communicative totality. And to go further, recognizing his role in the production of the symbolic, he must expose “self-sufficiency” as a formidable weapon against present language practice (which order is a product of existing forms of social relations).

To this end, the poet must learn to defend and explain his work, rather than to talk starry-eyed about how he just sees things, hears things; how he is not important at all, he is just a medium, and it’s all the voice of the sky, etc. By defending and arguing, the poet comes to occupy a place from which it is possible to survey the borders and discover zones free of the reigning ideologies. If it is necessary, he will penetrate those ideologies and destroy the smoothness of their images and illusions, purveyed by the normalizing instantiations of the language of power, education, and mass media.

The task of the poet is to make visible the still emerging, still in the shadows, unreflected changes in society; to give form of expression to new experience, providing opportunities for everyone to share this experience, and thus fighting for its material irreversibility.

The poet must move away from a set of random or non-binding practices towards consistent activity—toward a literary and social machine aimed at the production of un-alienated spaces of thought.

Practicing action, the poet thereby does not run from words—there is no need and nowhere to run—on the contrary, he as clearly as possible writes himself outside of words, more consciously forming his expression: the flesh of experience and its actual implementation.

Engaged poetry is not just retelling or illustration (“hammering readymade ideological nails”), nor is it journalism, a pamphlet, or a fight song with clever puns and pointed rhymes. Engagement is like the fight for one’s place of thought in the literary field, just as it is an opening up to society— engagement in praxis—the creation of conditions that make possible not only estranged aesthetic experience, but also the experience of ethical reading.

 

 

–translations by the Cement Collective

 

[1] “<...> Here we must go back to the distinction between the language-object and meta-language. If I am a woodcutter and I am led to name the tree that I am felling, whatever the form of my sentence, I ‘speak the tree,’ I do not speak about it. This means that my language is operational, transitively linked to its object; between the tree and myself, there is nothing but my labor, that is to say, an action. This is a political language: it represents nature for me only inasmuch as I am going to transform it; it is a language thanks to which I ‘act the object’; the tree is not an image for me, it is simply the meaning of my action.”  Bart R. Mythology. S. 272.

[2] “All the phenomena of the universe, whether made by human hand or the universal laws of nature, don’t give us ideas about the actual creation of matter, but only an idea of its metamorphoses. Connection and separation—those are the only elements that the human mind detects when analyzing the idea of the production....” (Quoted from “Medditazoni sulla Economia Politica,” Pietro Verri, which Marx cites in the first volume of “Capital,” proving the dual nature of labor.)

[3] “The path of political subjectification is a path not of imaginary identification, but of ‘literary’ rejection.” Jacques Rancière, “Sharing the sensual.”

[4] Bibikhin in “Word and Event” cites the book “Vita activa, or active life “ by Hannah Arendt: “Closely interrelated are action and speech; <...> The hero Achilles is equally great in word and deed; so he was brought up (Iliad IX 443). Unlike in modern thought, his words were considered great not because they expressed great thoughts. Quite the contrary. The hero must without fail be capable of noble words at a crucial time, just as of courageous actions. <...> The idea develops over time from such speech, not vice versa.”

[5] Cf. the introductory essay “The word-comrade as action.”

[6] In 1928, responding to a questionnaire, Mandelstam writes: “The October Revolution could not fail to affect my work, as it took from me my ‘biography,’ a sense of personal importance. I am grateful to it for the fact that it once and for all put an end to spiritual security and a livelihood based in cultural revenue. Like many others, I feel indebted to the revolution, but bring her gifts that she does not need.”

[7] “Literature can influence the world of morality and the behavior of people, giving them motives for action. Political writing makes every effort to encourage people to certain actions, giving them certain motives for action. In this sense, language is only a means to spread more or less suggestive motifs that guide those in whose souls they act. It is characteristic for this point of view that the relation of language to action, in which the first is not a means for the second, is not taken into account at all. A similar relationship exists as if for the weak in language and writing, brought down to a conventional means, just as for the miserable flawed act, whose source is not in itself, but in some motives that may be spoken or expressed. But, no matter in what manifold forms language might detect its impact, it will do so not through the transference of content, but the purest self-disclosure of its dignity and identity. My understanding of the subject and at the same time of politically important style and writing is this: to go towards what is denied to the word; only in the ineffable, absolute night where that sphere of muteness between word and incentive deed opens, can the magic spark run, and their unity lies, equally real.” In Benjamin, “Letter to Martin Buber [about the nature of language].” “The doctrine of the similarity. Media aesthetical research.” Publishing house of the Russian State Humanitarian University, Moscow 2012.

[8] We use here the direct speech of poet and activist Kirill Medvedev: “I think that art should: a) fascinate and shock, b) induce reflection and analysis. The first without the second results in pop or propaganda, the second without the first—in a speculative, unfeeling product. In art, the artist may be unselfconscious, revolting, or even reactionary—this is normal, because he directly, honestly, and spontaneously expresses his emotions. In politics, he tries to put this knowledge about himself and the world into action, so that it all eventually serves absolutely conscious goals: knowledge, enlightenment, and liberation.”

[9] “The politics of poetry, as well as of literature in general, is that way of being-together-with-other-people, who gradually form in the mind and existence of the poet, because, on the one hand, he somehow or other relates to politics as a collective practice, and on the other, determines his understanding of poetry in connection with the latter (even excluding such a connection, he will be forced to reckon with similar exceptions: the strangeness of his poetry to politics; he will have to follow the establishment, to justify it). “Jacques Rancière, Politique de la litterature (Galilee, 2007), cited in translation of S.L. Fokin.

[10] Althusser borrows from the “Acts” of St. Paul the assertion that, in “the Logos, we have being, movement and life,” substituting in the place of Logos, ideology:  “in ideology, we have being, movement and life.”

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Poetry after Language

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Marijeta Bozovic, Walt Hunter
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