Azbuka, St. Petersburg
by Matthes & Seitz, Berlin
Automatica Editorial, Madrid
“He calls himself DJ Stalingrad. His texts are excesses of violence. No one knows his face or his real name. He comes from Russia and is on the run. He travels through Europe in search of the next revolution.” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 03.04.2011).
“This text came out of nowhere – it has no author. … Rap, football, drugs, robbery, scams – and fights, of course. Violence has become a means of self-expression for these guys – a luxury of the weak. It is a luxury to be brave if your parents are poor. And it is an unheard-of luxury to relate your radical experience in such a way that it is not just a news report, not just the unbearably painful truth, but a book about Life and Death”. (book blurb)
The main character of the novel, an “anti-fascist”, or red skinhead, grew up in a poor family, without a father. “My mother looks me straight in the eyes and screams hysterically: ‘I’m going to kill you’. She’s a very poor woman, she suffers from schizophrenia or something like that, she also constantly experiences inhuman suffering and pain, and this always made her want to cause pain to the person who was a part of her – me.” This leads the main character to make an uncomfortable conclusion: “Pain is how we perceive the world around us”. There are millions of people like him. Not only in Russia. “You shouldn’t have any illusions. The wretched are created in order to suffer, and the poor in order to work and survive… I don’t need your fairytales… They were all thought up by smart guys, they have business plans and iphones, talents and grants, they laugh at all of you, they watch you struggle and comfort yourselves. There won’t be any heaven, forget that shit.”
The life of the main character and his friends consists of bloody fights, which sometimes end fatally, drinking, drugs, participating in prohibited protests with anti-government posters, and concerts in basements:
“Lie, steal and kill – the evil rules are the same for everyone;
Cops and politicians are liars just like you,
Us or them – who’ll survive in this war?
Someone has to kill someone else
Someone has to be worse than the rest
Someone has to die”
In a county where the people fear the police more than armed gangsters, where the police has turned into an invincible mafia structure, because it acts “in the name of the law”, these young men try to talk to the surrounding world in their language – the language of violence. They hate cops, the military, and the stupid and aggressive common people. They travel from city to city looking for fights with skinheads and cops – in search of adrenaline and the meaning of life. Their hatred proves to be the only medicine for pain: “I’ll get even with this faggot for all these years, for my whole life, for everyone like me, for the idiots, the wretched, the sick, for children from families of state workers, for the stupid, infantile, for all the loses who make up a fucking huge percentage of the population of our country. I’ll smash him over the head with a piece of iron piping for all of us, and in this there will be something holy. Or everything holy always contains something like this”
Their heroes are the terrorist mathematician Ted Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber, the punk rocker Kevin Michael Allin (whose original name was Jesus Christ), and the bluesman Blind Willie Johnson. They have no ideology except the destruction of all Western civilization. They are spontaneous anarchists, the forerunners of a new revolution. And they know that they only have a “one-way ticket”. “The finger of fate will constantly put pressure on us, until… our guts spill out. In this situation, the right thing to do is to go for broke… You always have a last trump card up your sleeve – your life, you risk it again and again, and your enemies pass and throw up their cards…. One day they’ll catch you bluffing and kill you.”
This short novel initially appeared on the Internet, then was published in samizdat, and later, quite unexpectedly, it was printed by the respectable literary magazine “Znamya” (and in 2011 by the Petersburg publishing house “Azbuka”). The editor of the magazine, Sergei Chuprinin, decided to apologize that such a radical text was printed in a magazine that has been greatly respected since Soviet times: this is a phenomenon that people should know about, even if their sons, friends and classmates do not suspect that a war has long been raging on the outskirts of the capital.
Many members of the literary beau monde were shocked, and a heated discussion began. The critic Viktor Toporov naively suggests that “terrorists and extremists” should not be given the chance to be heard and allowed into the media space – then terrorism itself will disappear. Nataly Romanova from Knizhnoe Obozrenie, on the other hand, calls for this “book of struggle” to be included in the “top 10 books that are required reading for senior school pupils… So that people who have yet to become socialized discover that besides the sacred vampire of ‘Russian literature’, there is another reality, which is not about the Comedy Club, Internet pranks and drinking beer while listening to r’n’b.”
“This generation was born in the time of the Soviet Union, and was forced to grow up among its catastrophic outcome, amidst moral and material wreckage… They were given no umbrellas at birth…” (Polit.ru)
“This is a report from the frontline of the civil war. A war that the common people don’t notice. This street fighting breaks out when the TV series ‘Daddies’ Daughters’ and the evening news come on.” (Shuum.ru)
“In a society where the division between the richest and poorest percentage has long exceeded all decent sociological norms, we shouldn’t wonder ‘where did this all come from?’, but ‘why is there still so little of it?’” (RabKor.ru)
“Ideology? Forget it, there’s not a trace of it here! The author preaches hatred that turns to violence as the only means of coping with the pain that life inevitably causes us, and as the best medicine against existential terror…” (piterbook)
“Violence is a language” …. In the country where we live, everything important, or almost everything important, our author tells us, is expressed in the language of violence… This, if you like, is resistance to evil by force. To institutionalized evil by non-institutionalized force. (Alexei Levinson)
“If you have nothing except your own life, live it in such a way that you become terrified of watching out for yourself. There is a deficit of messages like this today…” (Alexei Tsetkov)
“What is the main merit of ‘Exodus’? That it is a living text. And this is a rarity… in our literature today” (writer Roman Senchin)
“This unexpected and harsh text has scared many people, because it was read merely as an apology for violence. But in fact it should have scared them much more – for the author asks such extreme questions of existence which most of us would never dare to ask”. (writer Mikhail Butov)
The “light unbearableness of being”, which seems to consist of going somewhere and beating someone up, turns into an existential nightmare. Uncle Fedya, to whom the novel is dedicated, constantly helps the young men out, and pays off the cops, until his entire body is slashed over with a knife, and he dies an agonizing death. “He spent his whole life in poverty, in a small apartment with his mother and his sister’s family, in a room the size of a bathroom. He spent his whole life working at some warehouse, at some factory, in dirty bars, with bad alcohol and a bad life… He had nothing apart from his friends, apart from all the people who surrounded him, and whom he always gave everything he had, for some reason”.
Or the emergency doctor Sasha. “He doesn’t have a bed in his room – he sleeps on a mattress which he rolls up in the daytime, all the space in the room is occupied by lathes, rotary saws, electric cutters, and there are boards everywhere, unfinished objects, and medicaments, and above all of this a large punching bag hangs from the ceiling. Sasha is preparing for war, he trains every day, he works as an emergency doctor every third day, goes to church at the weekend and reads extremist literature on his mobile phone. He is preparing for an invasion, for the total collapse of the third world, a new war between the north and south, for Armageddon. Now Sasha is sewing up my arm on a piece of newspaper in the bathroom”.
But sooner or later, the moment comes when something breaks in the mechanism of their souls, as it does to Kolya; “He twisted and turned the tumbler of his life, and increased the pressure more and more, until it broke, until it all went out of control. He almost threw some girl out of the window of her own apartment, although later he slept with her, and many times he attacked his friends and acquaintances, sometimes with knives…”
At a certain moment, the main character stops feeling the customary euphoria from clashes with enemies: “I think I’ve lost the thread, now someone could come up to me and attack me with a knife, and I would be thinking about something else. That was the first sign. The second came a few months later, when the back of my head was slit open with a knife in the train, and my whole body poured out.” He decides to leave the country once and for all, when his drunk friend Kolya goes nuts at a hippies’ Christmas party. “It’s a good think they didn’t crush any children. But I had a sinking feeling of melancholy. Because… every blow of Kolya’s fist was inevitable, fatal, predictable… The Lord told me: stop, that’s enough. It was as savage and unavoidable as all our actions over the past years”.
The brutal scenes of violence have stopped many critics from seeing the most important thing – we are dealing with a literary work that is comparable in significance with Venedikt Yerofeev’s “poem” “Moscow-Petushki”. For the main character (who incidentally has a university education) is searching for God. He works as a laborer in monasteries, and in the ambulance service, rescuing tramps: “People often died right in front of us. They lay in empty, cold underpasses, and we stood over them. Sometimes Irka prayed, and read the 22nd psalm. Once we found a body where the face had already been eaten away by dogs. Another time, we found a man in a pigeon-house, he had been lying there on the ground for three months. He was paralyzed, and had been defecating under himself for the last three months, and all this had frozen into a single block of ice together with his body … He lay there until March, alive. A crazy woman fussed and moaned around him, she fed him with a spoon all this time, she stroked him and kissed the blue tattoos which covered his entire body. She didn’t understand anything and was virtually unable to speak in human language.”
“The main character is reminiscent of Venichka Yerofeev in his attempt to become holy by rather inappropriate methods, which are even more radical than Venichka’s “alco-trips”; but Yerofeev’s hero also answered the question asked by another well-known character from outside Russia: is it possible to become holy without God?” (poet and journalist Yelena Fanailova).
In the Greek monastery of Athos, the main character sees some small donkeys. On a donkey like this, which resembled a fluffy toy, Jesus made his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. “The Lord seemed to tell everyone who lined up to meet him with palm branches: ‘Come to your senses… What do you want from me?... Go home, you fools!”
For two years now, the author, who is a wanted man in Russia, has been roaming Europe, and he spent three months in a Polish jail. He is always around wherever protests are taking place: in Greece, the country with the most developed mass anarchist subculture in Europe, in Scandinavian countries, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany… There are many people who feel the same way that he does. Perhaps it is also time for us to listen to what these young men want?
The smartasses and richies, they’ve deceived us. They told us, thousands of wretched, poor, and stupid, that we were worth a lot. That we would be able to do something great, or at least something good. Something great for those who are stupider; merely something good for the more cowardly. They’ve divided and conquered us. Now they are using us for their own ends, which really are far-reaching and calculated. So that their talents develop. So that their power grows. The smartasses and the richies.
And everything has stayed the same. There’s no need for any illusions. The miserable are created to suffer, the poor to labor and survive. This is as simple as one-two-three. The sick are created for diseases, orphans for orphanages, old people for old age, cripples for agony, the destitute for envy, the stupid for laughter. Everything is all the same, and very simple, and I don’t need your fairytales and nonsense, which are based on nothing. The smartasses thought it all up. They have business plans and iPhones, talents and grants, they snicker at all of you as they watch you clamber and comfort yourselves. There is no heaven, and there never will be. Forget that bullshit.
Let’s imagine the world in a new way: there is nothing. You are a piece of living meat in this barnyard. You are not smart, not talented, not healthy. After all, all of these determining factors are programmed from childbirth, and there’s nothing you can do about your genes, the social status of your relatives, or your upbringing during the first year and a half of your life, which is when your identity is formed. Your genes and the history of your homeland already contain the venom that will poison the entire remainder of your life. You should be thankful for not having been born with a harelip, or without arms and legs (and there are plenty of those people around, as you know yourselves). You have already evaded this misfortune, thank God. Now your main objective for the rest of your life will actually have to be attempting to avoid those extreme horrors of pain and insanity that fate has generously scattered everywhere along our path. It is precisely this, and not at all the building of a better world, the development of your talents, self-expression in science and art, or the achievement of wealth and prosperity. You do not, and never have possessed either the intellectual or the financial resources for all of this. It’s all drivel. No matter how much you work, your success will consist only of buying a Lada. Creativity? All that you’re capable of creating is for other numbskulls, just like you. All that you really need to achieve in life is not to become homeless, crippled, or openly insane, and to die quickly, without suffering. “Lord, give us a death without suffering or shame.”
But if you look even deeper, then the situation becomes even more vivid and explicit. Look at our lives: we can’t really stay in the middle, not get sick, not go broke, not suffer. We always get Zen happiness through clenched teeth. We get sick, become poor, we get old for Christ’s sake, plus we are surrounded by inhospitable nature, and a whole load of dick-heads. We can’t remain apart from all of this; no matter how much we try, sooner or later we will go to jail, have a stroke, be seized with an enlarged prostate, and other infirmities. We will be fired, insulted, raped, beaten, betrayed, tortured at home, at work, by our colleagues, our families, our loved ones, our friends, our enemies, animals... The fat finger of fate will press us until it crushes us, and our intestines fall out.
If you’re poor and miserable, then all that remains for you to do is to gamble everything you have. All that we spent all those years creating - those were high stakes. This is the right strategy. Boys in third-world countries learn this concept from day one. Personally, I learned it in school, from the book, “Hidden in the Leaves.” Life is like a game of twenty-one, and you have a hand full of junk cards. The right thing to do in this situation is to go all-out, to bed everything. You always still have your last unchangeable game piece: your life. You put it on the table time and time again, and your opponents pass - they fold their cards. This is a sure way to win an OK jackpot, until your luck runs out. One day they will catch you bluffing and kill you. This is sure to happen. Although, if you pray every day, in the morning and at night, you can stay in the game for quite a while. This kind of strategy is the surest game plan for losers. I know lots of examples.
I have been seeing this picture for a long time now. It lives its own parallel life in front of my eyes. It’s not a dream. I first imagined it when I was quite awake, and right away it entered into my existence so easily, as though it couldn’t have been any other way, as though all my life I had imagined nothing else. I imagine it now, and truly, constantly, even when I’m not thinking about it, this picture lives with me, in time and eternity, as has already been mentioned.
It’s some sort of colonnade, sort of like an ancient one. There are arches and marble columns everywhere, and, very importantly, a marble floor. It’s a library, or an ancient temple, or a palace, or a city hall; some sort of monumental building, long since abandoned. As though all of the people had disappeared suddenly, shut up all the entrances to this place, and condemned it. Now everything here is in disrepair, there’s old dirt everywhere, you can tell by its patterns along the walls and down the stairs where the streams of rain water flow after coming down the flaking vaulting from the dilapidated roof. An old, abandoned, monumental building.
On the floor of one of the colonnades is a corpse. The smell of death is tangible everywhere. It’s very strong, ripened in this unventilated space. Since everything is made of stone, the body has not rotted but dried out and withered. It’s a man, he’s very thin, without clothes, totally naked, lying on the floor in fetal position on his side. A yellow contour is visible around him: this is the fluid that has seeped out of the corpse and gradually dried. This is no longer the body of a person. It’s an empty shell left here in this building like unwanted, forgotten garbage.
This person is me. It is me personally, as well as you, and man in general. Like a primordial Adam, Man with a capital M. This is Man. Here he lies like a dried-up bug that couldn’t crawl out of the glass. I see this picture so vividly, and it lives its own separate life, because it contains some kind of higher palpability. It has taken up a home in me a long time ago, and there is nothing to add to this.
I like feeling pain. As shameful as it is to admit, it’s all that remains for me. From childhood, life has always taught me: learn to love pain.
When I was little I wanted to start a notebook where I would record bad days, and good days - days when Mother beat me hard, and those when she beat me not so hard. I remember all the years of my childhood as constant pain. She simply beat me endlessly. Memory squeezes out the unpleasant, painful moments. I remember my childhood vaguely, in flashes. One of my first memories is from when I was three or four: I’m standing in the corridor, crying. Mother is looking me right in the eyes, and yelling in a rage, “I’ll kill you!”
She’s a very poor woman, she has schizophrenia, or something else, she also constantly experiences some kind of otherworldly suffering and pain, which pushed her every time to cause me pain, because I was a part of her. Bouts of pain and hatred would seize her constantly and unpredictably, so I could never anticipate the moment when she would attack. It was basically to be expected all the time, just like permanent pain, which you can neither predict, nor avoid.
I have only recently learned to have a neutral attitude about my mother. She’s a poor, sick, fucked-up bitch, to be honest. I shouldn’t have children: I would most likely treat them exactly the same way.
Pain is how we perceive the world around us. Sound passes through sensitive membranes and is imprinted as a torn groove on the surface of a vinyl record. Reality is just the same: all of its objects, and the world in general creates and models pain; it leaves its grooves on the surface of our identity through pain. The machine ceaselessly scratches the sounds of the environment into the smooth plastic, and something that was dissolved in air becomes a solid object. Every second of the day, life wounds us through the eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, and skin. We bleed, we become the way we are. Sometimes the craftsman’s hand slips and he cuts too deep. We might die or go insane. With time we acquire too many scars, they criss-cross each other many times over, and we stop being sensitive to them; we lose the subtlety in our perception of reality. We don’t feel anything any more, like running through a field full of sharp, thin blades of grass, and then we can’t understand why our feet are covered in blood.
The pain makes us insensitive to pain, and we now stand alone, in the middle of the boundless field.
I have a friend named Kolya. I think he’s lost his mind. When we were in school he was already pretty active, which really frightened me. His activity was of a frightening kind. He would absorb music, news, impressions, rumors, like a small black hole. Then he began also absorbing radical political views, alcohol, clothes, drugs, and good old ultraviolence. As time went on the black hole kept on expanding, and everything in its path poured in: accidental acquaintances, meaningless ladies, unhinged crash pads, unrestrained forays into alcohol and drugs, plus problems with the law. People thought he had sold his soul to chaos, and become its omnipotent avatar; its wrathful and depraved deity. I, however, saw that something had broken in the simple mechanism of his soul, just like it had to some extent in all of us. He kept spinning and riding the joystick of his life, kept increasing the pressure more and more, until it broke and everything spun out of control. Then Kolya kept spinning it and spinning it, but it just kept going around its axis, no longer regulating anything. All of this lost its meaning, and just kept going round and round on its own. Once he almost threw some girl out the window of her own apartment, although he later slept with her. Many times he attacked his friends and acquaintances, sometimes with a knife. He dreamt of procuring a shooter, which made everybody tremble.
Now Kolya is in prison, which is what he’s been expecting for a long time. He has a new life, new pals, and even a prison nickname. The joystick keeps on turning.
Once, a long time ago, Kolya came over to my place, sat around for a bit, and then suddenly said, “Listen, maybe I’m insane? Maybe I’m just a psycho, I’ve lost my mind, and I need medical help? No, really, I feel like something isn’t right in my head, like everything doesn’t add up. Maybe they can help me.”
I didn’t really get the fuck out of there after the debacles, massacres in clubs, and battles in the metro. Or after the hundreds of phone calls, fucking hysterical voices, stupid arrests, and endless interrogations. Nor was it after four or five heavy episodes were connected into one case and the cops started getting seriously interested in me. And it wasn’t after the press started constantly talking insane bullshit about wars between underground militant groups and organizations, and the news about us got the highest ratings week after week. And the open letter from the parliamentarian to the Attorney General and the FSB also have nothing to do with it.
My friend invited me to a hippie Christmas party. A lot of people gathered in a cozy, warm community center in a half-cellar. There were moms with children, all of them dressed up in fringe and homemade dresses, children screaming, people laughing everywhere. Hairy men of undetermined age were dressed as magi, shepherds, apostles, and storytellers. Our concerts used to roar here, and hundreds of witless people were piled on top of each other in an unbelievable throng. Now they’ve put homemade decorations all over the place, hung garlands everywhere, and placed rows of benches and chairs throughout the space. Polygamous hippie families spread out everywhere, and were waiting for the spirit of Christmas.
I proposed to meet Kolya here, amidst harmless strangers, which I thought was sensible in his situation. He arrived very drunk, and Ruslan and Alina were trying to control his movements. I decided that this was not the time to talk, besides which the show had already started, so I left them in the anteroom, resting on a bench.
The hippies were silly as usual. They exuberantly babbled something, made sensitive movements with their hands, and sang and played guitar. It was all pretty pathetic, miserable, senseless and a little insane, like it always is when forty-year-old people want to act like children. Nevertheless, the children themselves, the real ones, found it all pretty amusing. They were laughing and crawling around between the actors’ legs. In the middle of the play a middle-aged woman in homemade ancient clothing who was playing the Holy Virgin, walked out to the middle of the room, and announced in a heartfelt way that the bloodthirsty king Herod had ordered his soldiers to beat up all of the infants in Bethlehem. At this moment the door to the hall was thrown ajar, and Kolya stumbled into the room, breaking the set, and stepping on the heads of the actors and children. He was holding a large hippie in the regalia of a Persian king by the locks with one hand, and sweepingly beating him with the back of his other hand. The hippie was trying to resist, and finally fell on the spectators, taking the rest of the set with him. The two-hundred-twenty-pound Kolya fell on top of him.
At that moment something also fell inside of me. Without thinking, I jumped over the shocked moms, and just as automatically, started dragging Kolya away from the fight, and out of the club. “You want fairy tales? Fairy tale fuck-heads! I’ll give you a fairy tale! I’ll drown you all in blood, you hear me?!” the mad-eyed Kolya screamed into the hall as Ruslan and I dragged him out. It turns out that guy had been rude to him, said something wrong, and basically got what was his. After the party, Kolya caught up with that guy, and made his wife pay him a thousand rubles as restitution for the insult, and immediately drank it all away with the other guys who had joined him. By that time I had already left.
This scene has stayed with me. It’s a good thing they didn’t crush any of the children. As for that thing in me that fell at that moment: it fell, of course, because of boredom. Because in all of it, in every blow Kolya delivered, there was an inevitability, a fatedness, a predictability. It was supposed to happen. I had been waiting for it deep inside, and now here it was before my eyes.
The Lord told me that was enough. It was just as wild and unstoppable as all of our activities over the past few years. It was some kind of shit-show.