Our Books

Before and During

Author: Vladimir Sharov

Translator: Oliver Ready   Cover design: Marie Lane  

“Scriabin was still very young then,” Ifraimov continued, “but everything about him - his countenance, his demeanour - was erotic through and through: his fine, languorous features, the sensual dimple on his chin, his intoxicated gaze, and that same languor and voluptuousness in the way he moved, the way he touched the instrument; Balmont rightly said of him that he kissed sounds with his fingers. His fingers really did move smoothly and tenderly, as if taking their time, even lingering, so as to draw out the pleasure. He caressed every key, only for the piano to give birth to spasmodic, convulsive rhythms, to sounds that were broken and twisted, and you began to understand that this was not merely a caress, but slow, refined torture, and that only by tormenting himself and the instrument did music exist for him.
“When he was alone with de Staël for the first time, he was very tense, as though unsure whether she would understand him, accept him; for a long time he held back, playing for time, but then he began talking with a terrible conviction with which she too was instantly infected. She was like Mother Eve, he told her; her passive feminine principle was waiting - still merely waiting - to be given form, and it was hindering him. She found herself inwardly agreeing: she really was cold, uptight. That was when he took her by the hand and told her to relax, and she understood, feeling her body obey his voice and soften, no longer resisting him.
“ ' Every animal, insect, and blade of grass,' he would say to her, 'bears the countenance of our spiritual movements. They are created by the same caresses with which man caresses woman; so it has been since the days of Adam. It was not God but Adam who, caressing Eve, begat and named with his caresses all that surrounds man in this world.’
“ ' Here are birds,' he would tell her, barely touching her nipple with his lips or his tongue, ‘they are winged caresses. Here are twisting, serpentine caresses - they are caresses wandering at large,' said he, the tips of his fingers sliding up from her little feet, up and up, and then along the very edge, so that she was filled with fear for him; he circled the entrance, the dip which led inside her, then carried on up over the stomach, between the breasts, wrapping his fingers around one, then the other, as if framing them, before straightening up once more over the hollow of the clavicle and up the neck to the earlobe and hair.
“Then he would start mauling her, mauling her slowly and cruelly, with the caresses of every wild beast on earth; he tormented her flesh with the caresses of tigers, pecked and tore it to pieces with the caress of a thousand eagles, stung and bit it with the caress of hyenas, and when she was already losing her mind, yelling from pain and passion, he soothed and calmed her with the cold, slippery caresses of frogs, after which the breath of a warm breeze seemed to travel up her body - these were flowers come to life, and butterflies and insects brushing against her with their light little wings. The caress of the revived flowers came just before he and she, dissolving one in the other, were already entering oblivion, and the last she heard before sinking into herself and into him was his voice as it whispered, 'This is the final dance, everything is about to end... soon already, soon ... and now we will shatter into millions of butterflies and cease to be people, ourselves becoming caresses, beasts, birds, snakes.'
“After their affair had ended, she thought of him quite often. For as long as he was there beside her, love and passion had dominated, all else was secondary; now that they had broken apart and distanced themselves from one another for good, she suddenly began to see him differently, so differently she even surprised herself. With each passing day she became more and more convinced that in the figure of Scriabin fate, perhaps, had brought her together with the most brilliant of all the revolutionaries to have crossed her path. It was a gradual process, and one day she recalled the occasion when, happening to wake earlier than usual, she saw him praying. He was kneeling by the window and whispering loudly: 'Despite everything I’m alive, alive, and I love life, I love people, and I love them all the more for the fact that through You, God, they too are suffering. I am going to them to proclaim victory, I am going to tell them not to rely on You and not to expect anything from life other than what they can do and provide for themselves. Lord, I thank You for all the torments, all the horrors of Your trials. You have allowed me to know my infinite strength, my limitless might, my invincibility. You gave me my triumph ...’
“On another occasion he told her that as a child he was religious in the extreme, that he loved attending services; there was a Church of the Ascension on their street with a very intelligent, knowledgeable priest and a fine choir, and he went there almost every day. At home, too, he prayed often, for hours at a time. For as long as he could remember he had wanted to be a concert pianist; he knew that this required an enormous amount of work, though practice came easily to him—he enjoyed everything about the piano, even the scales that others found so loathsome. He was twenty years old, negotiations were already underway for a contract and a proper concert tour around the south of Russia; but then, literally a week before he was due to leave, he sat down at the piano one morning and discovered he could no longer play: he had practiced too hard and his left hand had given up on him. His life fell apart before his eyes, and that was when, after taking his time to think it all over, he conceived a hatred for God and cursed Him. A few months later he regained the use of his arm, but this happened too late to change anything in his relationship with the Lord.
“Recalling this story now, it occurred to de Staël that Scriabin’s rebellion against God and his path to the Revolution were unusually direct and natural; if the participation of others frequently puzzled her and struck her as a matter of chance, and if, naturally enough, she was always unable to trust such people completely, with Scriabin it was quite the reverse. It suddenly became clear to her that he was more dependable and more devoted to the task of the Revolution than even she herself.
“Twice Scriabin told her in passing that he was the Deity come to earth, doomed, as Christ had been, to pass through unthinkable torments, to sacrifice himself for the salvation of mankind. His mission was beautiful, but hard, and he had no authority to refuse it. He was the messiah of the races that appear in the eras at the very end of a Manvantara in order to perform the Mysterium and unite humanity with the Deity, the world spirit. His precursor was Christ - a kind of little, everyday messiah. He explained to her firmly and calmly that the end of the world, the time when every prophecy would be fulfilled, was near, but that the beginning of the end depended on him, Scriabin, and this date was not yet fixed. The Mysterium would be the act through which the One would be reunited with the world that had fallen away from Him in multiplicity and fragmentation.
“‘In the past,’ he would say, ‘I thought I would accomplish everything myself, that my sacrifice was all that was needed, but I came to understand that this was not so, or not necessarily so. The fact is that my “I” is reflected in millions of others, like the sun in a spray of water; single, catholic personhood can be obtained only by gathering everything into one, with nothing forgotten, nothing lost—this is the mission of art. I will describe everything in a new Gospel, which will replace the old one, just as the New Testament once replaced the Old. The end of the Universe will be sublime coition; just as during the sexual act man loses consciousness at the moment of orgasm and experiences bliss in every inch of his body, so too the God-Man, experiencing ecstasy, will fill the Universe with unthinkable happiness and start a conflagration. The Mysterium will be mankind’s final holiday. Its center will be a sublime orgy, a kind of global sectarian ritual. A dance without end, ecstatic and extreme … ’
“Scriabin said that the ‘Mysterium’ would combine poetry and music, music above all: for it is music that possesses eternity and can bewitch, even stop it; and it is rhythm that casts a spell on time. To write down the ‘Mysterium’ he would have to create an entirely new language. He would have to invent the means to record dances, smells, taste, movements, gestures, and glances too. Just the slightest inaccuracy, and all harmony would be lost. The ‘Mysterium’ would end with an enactment of the Universe in ruins, of global conflagration, and this very image would provoke real global catastrophe. To follow - the death of mankind in the God Who Rebelled, but how this death would occur he could not for the moment say. Would the act of the reunion of the brothers in the Father happen at the beginning or would it happen later - he did not know. Scriabin told her more than once that the human race was blameless and always had been; it was without sin and always would be, whatever it might do. In general, there is no truth in the world, nor good, nor sin. It is we who create truth which, whatever form it may take, excludes the one thing that really exists, that is really a good - freedom. The whole world, the whole Universe is within us; we, not God, are its sole creators, and when we stop, when we cease creating, it will perish right away. The physical world, he would tell her, is just the gleaming of our spirit.
“A week before their separation Scriabin invited her to his apartment - the first time she had been there - for a musical soirée. Later, she learned that he regularly gave concerts at home - twice a month, in fact, for an audience that hadn’t changed in years. That day he played a large fragment from a piece that he intended to include in the ‘Mysterium’ - the theme of the bells; it appears never to have been written down. Observing the guests as they listened to him, she realized that she was attending a meeting of some kind of Scriabinist sect. It was all very reminiscent of the rituals of the Flagellants: they were intoxicated and stunned by his music; he performed in a state of perfect ecstasy, and they were in exactly the same state themselves. Brass harmonies, full of dread and doom, flowed forth like the sounding of a tocsin; mankind was now ready for the terrible and joyful hour of the final reunion, and Scriabin was bidding it farewell.
“The sounds he drew from the piano controlled these people like puppets. His every note transformed their faces - torment, unthinkable suffering and fear instantly gave way to bliss and purely infantile joy; but then, once again it was as if an image of the ruin of the whole world had been suddenly unveiled before them. There could be no doubt that he was their God, that they believed in him, that they professed him as their Messiah; any one of them, on being summoned by him, was ready to cry, ‘Truly you are the son of God,’ and to follow him. When he finished playing, he leaned back, but his hands hovered over the keys as before; he whispered something as he watched his fingers fly through the air, perhaps trying to persuade them - for he clearly lacked the strength to stop and becalm his hands.
“Like everyone else, Staël was waiting, transfixed, to see if he could bring them under control, when all of a sudden Scriabin thundered: ‘Ah, if only these bells could be made to ring from the heavens! Yes, they must ring from the heavens! It will be a summons. Mankind will respond to it, follow it, to the place where the temple will stand - to India. To India and nowhere else, for that is the cradle of mankind; it is from there that mankind emerged, there that it will complete its circle.’
“Though the theme of the bells vanished into thin air, a few parts of the ‘Mysterium’ have survived. They were found in the late 1920s by the musicologist and well-known expert on Lenin’s writings Professor Trogau, director of the Institute for Natural Genius. Thanks to his labors we now know that Lenin’s famous work The State and Revolution is, from start to finish, nothing but a painstaking record of one of the principal themes of the ‘Mysterium.’ Decoded samples of other works by Lenin gave a similar picture. In fact, said Ifraimov, ‘Trogau was of the view that all Lenin’s late writings, up to and including the articles he wrote on his deathbed - ‘On Cooperation’ and ‘Letter to the Congress,’ his political testament - are part of the encoded score of the ‘Mysterium.’
“As I have already told you,” Ifraimov continued, “Trogau’s work was cut short at the beginning, but nevertheless two of the fragments he decoded - one from the prelude, another from the main theme—were not confiscated and miraculously survived. I have them here today; you may find them useful.”
He handed them over to me and here, in my “Necrology,” I cite without alteration Trogau’s rendering of Lenin’s shorthand.
“Smells are a constituent part of Scriabin’s score, on equal terms with every other, and in some discrete sections they even come to the fore, pushing both the lighting effects and the music itself into the background. The sounds slowly cool and grow cold. The whole ‘Mysterium’ is a tissue of death, whose throes Scriabin traces with almost clinical precision; sometimes the end never seems to come and the theme goes on and on - exhausted, twisted, in an agony of pain - but these are not yet the throes; a long struggle with death is underway, life hangs in the balance, then the theme gathers force once more; he puts more and more into it, and that’s how it is with people, too. A man can endure a great deal, in fact it seems he can endure just about anything, and it’s precisely this, man’s ability to endure anything, the fact that he knows no limits whether in filth, abomination, baseness, suffering, humiliation, or evil that Scriabin deems the apotheosis and triumph of life.
“As a rule, however, these themes are weak and melodic, they keep dying on him, they don’t last, and like old women who have prepared themselves and already lamented their own passing, they slip away quietly; and it is always then, once Scriabin, having accompanied the theme on its final journey, as if to its burial, muffles the music almost to the point of silence, that the smells come into their own. This is when the smells run wild. Still, in the opening chords, whose subject is St. Petersburg, the smells are very weak, deathly. Scriabin combines them in the most whimsical way, with no thought for harmony; his favorite device is to mingle the smells of the high-society salon, of perfume and flowers, with the smells of the abattoir and the rubbish heap.
“If in music the laws of harmony still retain their importance for him, and the melodies, now breaking off, now reappearing, stretch almost to the end of the ‘Mysterium,’ then the smells are a cacophony, they are the direct negation, murder, immolation of harmony; he loathes them, like an asthmatic; if there is any madness about him, then this is where it lies—in the way he treats smells. It must be stressed that despite this mishmash, his palette of smells is sharp to the point of violence; the smells, in whatever combination, are exaggeratedly pure, unrelated, unclouded. They will never add up to even the lousiest of bouquets; all they do is stop one another from living, scoff at one another. So when music emerges once more from amid this delirium, very quietly, as if from nowhere, it seems softened and more tuneful than ever, however tragic the theme, bringing calm and peace.
“In music, for all his innovation, Scriabin undoubtedly remains within the bounds of tradition, albeit in the broadest, freest sense; in smells, he denies not only tradition, but culture in general. It is the destruction and negation of everything, first and foremost of organized, man-made bouquets, whether cheese or perfume. Yet still, in that cacophony of smells that permeates Scriabin’s score, two interwoven themes can be clearly distinguished: the city in its St. Petersburg guise and the Russian south - the beginning of the movement of the Mysterium to India. Both themes are treated at ostentatious length; and through them, through these smells, it becomes easier to grasp how Scriabin imagined the course of the Mysterium than, strangely enough, through the music.
“‘St. Petersburg: war and gradual weakening, the dying away of the smells of normal, manicured life, of confectioner’s shops, restaurants, bakeries, where everything—who should smell, how and where - has long been established and become a matter of habit; in their place are the smells of men engaged in their primordial labor of war, leaving for the front, briefly returning home after hospitalization, leaving once more; the artificial smells of the sick quarters: iodine, spirit, carbolic, ointments of various kinds—all this mixed up with the smell of a body rotting alive, of excrement, urine, and the rich, abundant sweat of the wounded and the dying; the smell of the desperate and hopeless struggle for life, the smell of your body being cut into pieces like meat, the table where you are carved up, your part - an arm, a leg - is already corpse, but you are clinging to life. The sweat of deadly fatigue and deadly labor. And also: the smell of freshly laundered bandages, which take the place in this world of freshly laundered linen; the smell of a rotting wound and of the bandages, white and medicine-soaked, that have just been applied to it. Yet stronger than all is the smell of corpse, and it gets stronger all the time; you can’t get rid of it, it’s the definitive, terminal smell of man - the end of life.
“The theme of the sick quarters seems almost deliberately drawn out, and suddenly, when no one expects it, just here, Vladimir Ilyich, a new theme starts up: unrestrained jubilation from the opening bars, fireworks, everyone having fun, dancing, the Tsar overthrown, the future beautiful and cloudless; and everyone is kind to everyone else, and everyone is beside themselves, and everyone loves everyone, and there are no doubts. All afflictions and sorrow are gone—just here, the theme of sadness seems to slip by but is immediately gone and forgotten (flashes, and is gone)—and once again everyone is carefree, euphoric; it’s the revolution, the first days: they were afraid, terrified, but it turned out easy and simple, and no one’s even died, or hardly anyone, and it’s just like the French dancing on the spot where the Bastille once stood. Now the dance melodies begin, followed by firework explosions—a touch of parody here, a cheerful parody of military explosions (there is a war on, after all), and people shudder: must be war, and they’re scared, before immediately realizing: no, just a firecracker, and now they’re really having fun (after the firecrackers there’s always a burst of fun), and the music gets louder still, even though the orchestra seems stretched to its limit and can play no louder. And the smells also seem to come from the old life: good cooking and market plenty, gluttony and restaurants, perfume, champagne, and subtle sauces - like a burst of life before death. Cinnamon, incense, cardamom, the particularly rich and saccharine smell of thanksgiving services, then it’s as if you’ve suddenly stepped outside, into the cold. Tomorrow, it seems, the war will end; everyone believes that, everyone is full of hope.
“The town wakes up gradually, the mills and factories start working, it’s all very rhythmical, mechanical, crisp, harmonious, almost no extraneous sounds, and here, in these rhythms, lies a massive force, and nothing, it seems, is beyond this force; the triumph of materialism. Spirit is almost absent here, it’s not needed anyway and only gets in the way, popping up here and there and always sounding off-key; it’s redundant and goes away on its own, for its time has not come. It soon will.
“The holiday ends: hunger, cold; see how quiet and slow the music is, like the way people walk when they are cold and hungry, when they are saving their warmth and their strength. But no one is angry with anyone else; this is what everyone wanted. Once again, the slow weakening of life and the dying away of the old smells; first to disappear are the rare, refined smells, but they have became foreign to you by now anyhow, and you are glad they’ve gone; next to go are the perfectly ordinary smells, but also slowly and gradually, so that you barely notice - they don’t so much go, they are muffled.
“Women start smelling differently; there’s no wood for the fire, no hot water, it gets harder and harder to wash, but there’s still an abundance of perfume, rouge, and face powder; in trying to kill off the smells of their own body, the feeling of dirt, they lay them on much thicker than before, but the perfume and sweat merely make one another stand out more strongly, and the women start to smell cheap. The smells combine so sharply, so vulgarly, that the women increasingly resemble the prostitutes who used to smell that way themselves, and the men like it, they pick up this smell, it arouses them; the women sense this, and now they want to smell cheap, feel cheap, be cheap, be loved and taken like cheap girls - this is a rejection of culture, of convention, rules, etiquette, a return to nature and to the search within for one’s own fate, for meaning. This theme will last to the end, merely growing in intensity and complexity.
“There’s less and less warmth in people’s homes. Only recently it felt warm everywhere: it wasn’t just the stoves, hearths, fireplaces and lamps that smelled of warmth - no, the warmth came from the walls, and from the furniture, and people also smelled of warmth; the warmth intensified certain smells, but it was the same wherever you went, so everyone had got used to it, and, unable to separate the smells, they would say: it smells warm. Now, when most of the warmth has gone, but it’s still warmer indoors than out, all the smells inside faintly but unmistakably begin to change. Especially wood, and especially the wood nearest the earth—the floorboards that creak with damp. Before, it was warmth that brought smells to life; now it’s damp. Hence the smells of must and age and stagnant water, the smell of rot and lilies. Before, the warmth forced everything foreign to it beneath the floorboards, behind the wallpaper, beyond the windows and walls, now all that is returning into the home, and only around the portable wood stove does the old smell remain. The room is split into these old and new smells, and during the day you are constantly passing from one world into the other, as if you keep leaving home and returning; you want to be home, not go anywhere, but you are already a nomad, a rolling stone, and that is your fate.
“The boundaries of warmth are shifting, weightless; they are not walls to keep you in. The men just back from the front find it easier, barely notice the change. Then the smells become fewer, the very strong smell of rot goes away, thins out, dissolves, and you begin to smell faint old-womanish decay. There’s hardly any waste; it’s been a month or two since the municipal services went on strike day after day, when the rubbish wasn’t collected and everything smelled of rot; now the city is purging itself, everything joins in, everything very clean and cold.
“Living things are going away; there’s almost no horse manure, so pungent against the winter snow. The hallways don’t smell of the street, the doors are kept locked, people rarely go out, walk slowly; most lie in bed, saving warmth. You’re still alive, still not frozen; there’s a cult of life smells in the city, a cult of warm, hot clothing, preserving the smells with the warmth.
“The smells of the main entrance and the back door are hard to tell apart now; the women are no longer hiding their natural smells, nor trying to hide them; only occasionally does a piece of Swiss cheese, or a bottle of good wine, tasted and lamented at great length, burst into this world as a strange reminder. Earlier, during the raiding of the royal cellars, an explosion took place, an apotheosis of fragrant wines, rose rivers streaming through the city, melting the snow and washing away last year’s dirt, an insane confusion of wines from all over Europe flowing down the streets, pouring under arches, into courtyards and cellars; summer in the middle of winter, a harbor, the sea, wine, and everyone walking around drunk. As a memento of this - a bottle picked up who knows where.
“Then even natural smells grow faint; so as to last longer, people keep them inside, hardly sweating or smelling, drying out before death like mummies. Somehow there’s less of the city now than there was before; in the centre it’s cold, fresh, and smells of the forest, no smoke from the factories or the mills; the urban warmth, which used to force foreign smells out beyond the gates, is all but gone, just like human warmth; the surrounding world with its sea, forest, flowing and stagnant water, is reclaiming the town bit by bit.
“At home the expensive garments exchanged long ago for bread and potatoes are replaced by old, mothballed clothes from the drawers, and for a long while everything bears this strong, sharp smell, even food, but it too goes away. Now the city will be smelling only of damp and neglect, of creaking floorboards swollen by moisture; and it is this smell of wood on stone that will last longest.
“The south of Russia. The same forcing out of hot and dirty factory smells and the return to the town of the smell of the steppe, the pungent smell of wormwood; it grows and grows, because many fields are unsown, the earth lies idle; here too is a rejection of culture - of agriculture - and a return to how things were even before there were people. Wrapped up in mutual violence, people forget about nature, and it rises up. Even when, during battle, a forest or a field with ripened wheat catches fire, nature apprehends this as a part of itself, as something elemental; shellbursts are just as sharp and fleeting as lightning, there’s no system here, no planned, methodical destruction, and the trees, accepting the fire as their fate, do not grumble. In Scriabin, it must be said, there are occasions (a slow, quiet death or an explosion before death) when the beginnings and ends of the two categories - music and smells - come together, but here too he emphasizes that in one case life obeys harmony, however veiled that may be, and in the other, discord.
“The south, once again; seems to be the Civil War already. Retreating and advancing units keep swapping places. Those advancing are calm, confident: the thrill of the chase. Those retreating smell like sweating, hounded animals, like game. They run themselves into the ground and, like offerings given up for sacrifice, accept their death, as mercy and liberation from deadly fatigue. Primitive life has returned: the Fall is still very recent and not yet forgotten. The times of Nimrod, perhaps even earlier: bivouacs and encampments, hunting exploits, strength, intelligence, cunning, and luck; people indefatigable in love, free from convention, subordination, and all the old customs; power seized in a flash by men who are worthy of it, who smell of strength and can prove their strength with their own hands.
“A free and beautiful life, with nights in the field, horse bathing, bonfires, the familiarity of death and food, where everything is a hunter’s trophy, where everything is prey. You are once again the man who really is, and this is the life, the happiness, the freedom and will for which one part of a people offers up another, like a lamb, to God, and believes itself to be Abel and its sacrifice to be pleasing to the Lord. And the whole earth, the whole steppe is an altar, and the steppe’s wormwood smell is condiment, spice; one part of a people leads another to slaughter, and the smell of the offering, the fragrance of the offering, which has been brought with faith in truth and justice, with unwavering willingness, goes up into the sky. A return to paganism: the enemy is sacrificed, and God catches the scent of triumph and victory.”
The second fragment deciphers parts of the third chapter of The State and Revolution - “Experience of the Paris Commune of 1871”:
“Now listen up, Lenin. Here are the first bars, there’s a lot of uncertainty here, the rhythm keeps being broken, people tearing around in all directions, scouring, searching, the occasional burst of jubilation: they’ve found it, but no, that’s not it either; the weak give up quickly, very quickly, in total confusion, in despair, they’ve thrown in the towel; just listen to this, it’s like a tangle of sounds, the apathy growing and growing, but the strong ... the strong - no, here comes a surge - it takes more than that to stop the strong. But what are they after, Lenin? What can’t they find? The Mysterium is a sublime sexual act, sublime coition; the amorphous feminine essence, which has never been given form, should be impregnated by the strong, unbroken masculine principle; this very act of impregnation is the Mysterium; the Mysterium is the new birth of the Universe. Passing through death, ceasing to be anything at all, dissolving in this boundless feminine principle, humanity, and with it the whole world, is reborn, this time for a life that’s eternal and beautiful. Here is the music of this life. See, Lenin, how effulgent, how bright are the harmonies! The feminine principle is Russia, an immense, boundless country, a meaningless plain, on which there is nothing except inertia and resistance; but where is the masculine principle that will impregnate her, where is the creative spirit that will leave its stamp on her, that will make her conceive; where is it?
“The strong seek someone strong; I also sought him long and hard. Lenin, I expect you think it’s the Revolution, that the Revolution will get Russia pregnant, but no, Lenin, that’s not the case at all. Yes, you’re right, Russia is already pregnant with the Revolution, that is, she has already conceived; the Revolution is her dear, dearest child, so the creative spirit must already have begun to leave its mark, but who is it? The Revolution is a child; it can’t do much on its own, though it quickly, very quickly becomes a woman, beautiful, decisive, excitable, passionate, but still a woman; a woman who at times will behave like a man, but remains nevertheless a woman, and, like her comrades, quickly runs out of steam, gets tired, and is incapable, unwilling to do anything new. Power, too, is a woman. . . .
“Lenin, I have gone over these words again and again, I have tried them all out, and found only one with the masculine principle: rebellion; but rebellion is short, fleeting, and chaotic; dealing with woman is beyond its resources; it will never last long enough to leave its stamp on Russia, it will sink in her, vanish without trace. I searched long and hard for this masculine essence, searched and searched and eventually I found it - that’s right, Lenin, I found it! It is terror; that is the mauling, crucifying principle, indefatigable, ubiquitous, sexual, that I was seeking.i
“The executioner and the victim, their union, their tie - it’s erotic through and through. See how terror is made: insane cruelty today, a softening tomorrow, one day the hangman is a sadist, the next he shows leniency, full of sympathy and understanding; and the joy when they stop beating you, when they let you catch your breath; and the hope, and the love, and the purely feminine conviction that everything is as it should be, that the executioner has every right, above all the right to torture, and there is no greater sin than to doubt this. And the constant desire to justify, and the faith that grows the greater the cruelty, meaning that cruelty is for good, not ill; the faith that terror can move mountains, that it is the principal means, the principal tool in the making of all that is radiant and lofty, that there can be nothing without it; truly it is the creative spirit, and most important of all is the profound mystical eroticism of terror, its deeply sexual nature; after all, it even arrives in the guise of a woman, Revolution, and wears her clothes, and only when the act is under way does she turn into a man - eroticism of a very distinctive kind. And the equally mystical, indissoluble bond of executioner and victim, the impossibility, imperfection of one without the other, their inseparability, their fusion, infusion, like man and God in Christ.
“Terror and terror alone deserves pure, loyal love, terror alone can screen off everything else that has happened in your life, force you to forget it all, and Russia will give herself to terror unreservedly, selflessly. Terror grips you, dominates you body and soul, you can’t think about anything else, only terror and fear: any day they may enter and take you, night and day you think of nothing else, you just wait and flinch at every rustle, every squeak, at every careless word or hint, and when the terror suddenly weakens, it seems to you so mild and tender, so kind and generous! You thought ill of it, but it proved better, milder, so who are you now if not a scoundrel, a bastard?
“Later, when terror’s soft caress gives way once again to cruelty, you seek the blame not in it, but in yourself, only yourself, and you know that you only have yourself to blame, and all is fair, all is just, you are full of remorse and you die knowing that you deserve it all, that your death is recompense for your sin. Actually, Lenin, terror is not an executioner, but an investigator, only necessity can make him an executioner; an investigator who, trying to get at the truth, interrogates a woman.
“This woman has always been devoted to both the Revolution and Socialism, so she is no enemy, she is ‘one of us’, but here she is being arrested, taken away, and she finds out that she is just one of many, so many; the interrogations begin, extracting utterly unthinkable confessions from her, confessions about outrageous, insane things that, needless to say, never took place: it’s sheer, impossible gibberish, but who knows what might come out of it. She is asked to testify against her husband, whom she loves and who is also completely devoted to the regime, and against her children. Just picture her: she loves the Revolution and keeps trying to explain this to the investigator; she sees the investigator as the embodiment of the Revolution, and she never blames him for anything, nor will she, whatever he may do with her and with her nearest and dearest: he can beat her, torture, rape, even kill - whatever he likes, because if he is guilty, then the Revolution itself must be guilty, for he is only a part of it; but that means her arrest is justified, that she is an enemy, and there is no hope.
“The fact that she is locked up with so many women comrades just like her only goes to show how cleverly the enemy disguises itself, how difficult and impossible it is to expose the enemy, what an important and responsible job the investigator has, how loyal and devoted he is in defending her and other honest souls; it’s quite obvious that he can never be respected too much, and even if he may not be not entirely right in her case - well, never mind, in fact it’s only to be expected, and only right, given the sheer quantity of enemies; it could hardly be any other way and merely demonstrates that he is alive, and not a machine, that humans make mistakes, and she, a woman, likes the fact that he is alive and now she’s understood him, and actually everyone in power is so alive, so human, her nearest and dearest.
“She grows to hate her cellmates even more for selling and betraying power, for dressing up as power while being its enemies, and that means that only they are guilty, and he, the investigator, is the innocent victim of their deception. And she is sick at heart to think that she, too, behaving like these enemies, helped them, as it were, to disguise themselves, hid them. She hates them just as the investigator does, with the very same hatred. So now, beginning with the very first interrogation, she wants to tell the investigator that she is as open as an unclenched fist, when you want to show that you’re not hiding anything, that you’re not a threat.
“And she herself searches, searches even more thoroughly than the investigator; perhaps she really is less than squeaky clean, perhaps she really is guilty of something, and he is right; after all, she knows that the ‘organs’ are always right, that any mistake on their part is almost as unthinkable as a mistake by God; so now she tells the investigator all there is to know about her, the whole lot, far more than she ever told her husband, and what she is really telling him is I love you, because you are the Revolution, and for me you are all as one, you are its human countenance, its human hypostasis, you are fused with it. She has bared herself before him, she is naked, and her every word is “I love you”; heavens, she will do anything for him, she is all his and only his; for his sake she forgets both her husband and her children.
“Initially, when she tries to convince him that she has been loyal to the Revolution, perhaps she really does want to save her own life, her husband’s, her children’s, but not afterward—no, afterward she loves only him and forgets all about them. You see, Lenin, she cannot be true to her husband and tell the investigator that she is true only to him, the investigator; she is split in two, and weak, and feels guilty; soon she forgets about everyone except the investigator, yet still, if she dies, she dies in full awareness of her guilt.
“He is interrogating her, and she can’t stop fretting that she is poorly dressed, worn out, exhausted, that he might not find her attractive, might not respond to her love. She does everything in her power to look after herself, to keep clean; her terrible moral filth before him (he thinks her an enemy) is complemented by her bodily filth - they fuse into one. She thinks only of him, dreaming or waking speaks only to him, seeks the right words, intonation, her own guilt, and sooner or later finds them and understands that she is guilty, not as guilty as her comrades, but still guilty; and she thinks how merciful he is, she believes he will forgive her; oh, how kind he is. And if all hope of leniency proves vain, then still, even as she dies, she understands that he is right; she, and only she, is to blame for her death.”


RRP: £12.99

No. of pages: 348

Publication date: 26.02.2014

ISBN numbers:
978 1907650 71 0
978 1 909232 99 0

World English