If the soul and the ego were objects we could look at, the soul would be a translucent heart beating.
Enough already, read this instead. Really, look, this is interesting: “The Sheriff and the Management offer an immediate reward of $20,000 to anyone who will provide information leading to the arrest of any person or persons using violence against the employees of this filling station …” All the dramas of recent times unfold in settings as immutable as Athens. This one’s no exception. Only a Russian can think of such a thing. From the outside the plot seems pure and logically impeccable, but then you see it in all its staggering stupidity. The most unfortunate and vulnerable fragment. A man and a woman attempt to rob a gas station (it has to be one displaying the above notice), then disappear from the scene in a hurry, after which, according to the plan, a third participant—the name is withheld—is to turn the man in to the authorities (but in fact, it’s the woman who does it—she thinks it’s better that way), get the money and run. Meanwhile, the woman is to confess on local TV that she turned him in simply out of jealousy—they were both elsewhere at the time of the robbery, some 300 miles away, in boundless gardens—and that now she can’t sleep at night, consumed by remorse—she regrets her actions and apologizes for her innocent plotting—yet the scheme breaks down, she doesn’t appear either on TV or anyplace else—that is, she’s last seen with a stranger (one would imagine, the principal bearer of the intrigue) at the airport, but even that may be taken only as a hypothesis because she doesn’t seem to exist—and never did—in the reality of rumors and gossip; the person seen at the airport is someone else—a dwarf running to the horizon through the immigration gates—what’s important here is the trail of undisguised references, even if the dullness of the referent may not allow us to develop the theme any further. A story of this sort, if plotted far more precisely, could become a good pretext for conversations about coincidence and about how the seamy side of the law is the law’s doubtless affirmation. Who visited there drank mead and wine, and who didn’t visit bought cigarettes, beer, and a burrito, gracias, señora, put guacamole on top, sat down on the warm concrete of the porch, and listened to the harness jingles of the San Diego-bound train and to the night walking on, arm-in-arm with demons blinded by the ocean star, generously paying seaside bushes in the small change of glassy cicadas.
My diaries and travel notes (not all in them is clear to me now) count 5,783 pages. Four of these pages are irretrievably lost. Even when lying at times with some woman, stupid like me, I entertain myself by going over the imaginary pages (thereby doubling their existence), asking from time to time, what could possibly be written on, say, page 178? Sometimes those who stay tell me that the said page probably talks about love. I don’t argue. I’ve forgotten what it means to argue. I live without letting go of the pen even in my sleep—or rather in my never going to sleep, which affects me like alcohol—last thing my stomach doesn’t expel still—oh yes, we melt in each other so gently, clouds further out, images of birds, streaks of soaked honeysuckle and of rustling, bent tree branches, but occasionally a few photographs are there, too—they refuse to form the pattern of what they promise in the future, and at times sleep reminds me of boiling, gray ice someone puts on the eyelids—it’s impossible to wake up, leave the cobweb garden of insomnia that became the only dimension of space, save for the movements of the hand leading the blunt, indifferent, sputtering tool on the porous, crumbly paper, clay, or acid-eaten metal of my diaries, spraying ink or some other kind of emptiness that differs in color from the page, stone, or skin on which in the even light of dawn one can read a tattooed request never to deny what was said, or when this request doesn’t differ from anything at all—it’s there that the roots of existence originate (but I didn’t have the time to jot down—what a shame—that this is true only of the limits of indefinite tenses where well-off processes actually unfold) because above all, I want to make sure my vision keeps up with my hand, destined, in a carefully calculated way, to run ahead of the future event and the event’s reduction to what happens in it. I must confess, I’ve pulled off this simple trick for over a quarter of a century. Nothing special. Easy as pie, just an old lounge number. I certainly have no reason for thinking this, but in my work on diaries (few, though, would consider it work strictly speaking; should anyone wish to get acquainted with a particular description of alpine passes, sinister cries of predawn birds on bleak riverbanks in the fog, doomed revolts in countries no one ever heard of, burning fluxes, or studies of the human prime mover, they wouldn’t find a single page about these and many other things), I must have wanted—how shall I put it more precisely?—to “get ahead” of the Other or others in their conquering and appropriating words at the origin, even though the very concept of “origin” is clearly dubious and exists as the transparency of an allegorical figure. I’m not sure I managed to present an articulate tale of digression and its strategies. At one time they used to be magnificent. Anticipating any possible intention and following the logic of the established order, I had to strive to become all people at once, in order to retain everyone who became “me” (a human trap) “within me,” and thus eliminate myself (sometimes I thought about simple physical self-elimination—who in his youth didn’t dream of conquering every woman in the world, of winning in the absolute weight, of attending one’s own funeral?) or eliminate the limits of my self-representation, and therefore of that which endlessly grew as a discernment making up some “me.” The thought that neither time (in any of its senses), nor space have any crucial significance on the scales of their mutual disclosure sometimes brought a note of peace. Which for those times (as well as later) was of no little importance. No money. War. Cold. Nothing to be done. Time to end this. There are letters (I mention them in the diary without, however, reproducing them in full) I still haven’t managed to read. Much in them is dictated by the sense of justice. The important thing is that abandonment in such cases becomes the necessary condition for studying the physiological particulars of decomposition. The breakup of the reflection in your eye forced me to peer in your face even more intently—peer in the growing void of the face I’m full of today because I don’t see it anymore, and the knowledge of it binds me to nothing. The simplicity of inversion also charmed. One can imagine, for example, a reverse process—not an expansion, but a compression—theoretically just as absolute—a shrinking in which is is located in nowhere. Expansion and compression.
Diary writing was in essence both these things at once.
I also looked for your trace in what hasn’t yet happened and probably never will. That’s the first thing. The second isn’t too far away. The third is always non-conceptual. The idea of the third can’t be articulated. Its presence is described in relatively uncomplicated terms—it’s simply there when one needs it. Guess, wrote Dikikh at the top of the page. His fingers melted on the keyboard as he walked away down Kirpichny Lane.
So long ago. Under a totally different constellation, under a different twilight of the eyelids. But of course, there it is—the incomprehensible town in a very different south, magically calmed in the cavity of vision … here the evenings of the same front gardens and dreamily rustling acacias are stopped in imprints, the nights are soaked in the ethereal resin of petunias and nocturnal tobacco, and the days see dust flying over Piatnichany into the stupefying nowhere, the same nowhere where the ruins of some estates are still standing—three, four times transformed into foul ashes, remembering neither relations, nor beginnings, nor decay, and equally unsuitable for the description of those parts. I remember it well. I’m from the South too, as it happens. As is Father Lob, who in those days was an insane programmer with an iron guitar and probably saw computers only in drunken dreams; or Karl, who later went surfing the limits of the Matrix for the very last time, with a handful of coral beads in the mouth still smoking with the hoarfrost of liquid nitrogen; as did Yury Dyshlenko, who became dead at the moment someone uttered under the low, smoke-filled vaults, “He died in Quincy, and the grammar of predestination immediately turned him into the Only Color of the Universe (it colors everything while touching nothing; it forever precedes the outline, the line, the number entering the wrangle of differentiation with the illusions of substance, like light and the impregnations of quartz discovering sparks of the surface—quite so, wise Rishi!—therefore, does an enlightened one contemplate the chi while looking at them … ?)”—how many of them are there? For how long? Why? Must one think? One must always think because “always” is unavoidably necessary, as is “think,” “a second,” or “the paradox of the liar”—we promptly ascended the prescribed arch, each in his hour, like wooden birds on whose backs a piece of paper with illegible instructions is pinned, and, stirring the squeaking plumage of the flippers, started moving in our blind, greedy rambling toward the blinding-white corners where, as was written in the seventh clause of the instruction, there was neither zenith nor nadir, yet, upon eating the book, one could expect a resurrection from the ashes into which our bodily mechanisms were transformed by the friction of their opinions with the jags of light, night, the wind of solar storms, and the teeth of angels—unlike ours they weren’t missing, crooked, or tobacco stained—without, at the same time losing the outlines, necessary for any further recognition, in which we moved in the same exact way as in our blind, avid rambling, so slowly that the physical laws that govern the life of metals, acids, ghosts, and tides were losing legitimacy, and philosophers gliding on soapy axes of gravity and counteraction had ended their disputes 12 minutes early and were gloomily packing their trapezes and patched rugs, greasy from the countless touches of bare feet, back in the trunks—need I mention that the sun and moon were losing their meaning in the ceaseless combinations and separations? I remember how beautiful steel, burning hot from its own perfection, bloodlessly entered that in which the first timid images showed (they were spots, lines, planes, and later the dimensions of time, color, and smell among which prepositions established the power of vectors, and indivisible particles of language opened the fans of intricate suppositions regarding patterns flowing in the hot wax of imagination)—this is how I acquired a pair of eyes given to me on loan, and I knew I’d have to return them in due time, but I didn’t feel any pain, as if nobody had yet created it in me—as though the ability to feel pain was something like the last stroke, the finest detail of fulfillment—and this is why the skin separated so easily from the sticky, milky air in which streams of blood boiled and babbled greedily, like asthmatic gills—tens of thousands of worlds twinkling in hungry salt swarmed in the fog, each of them ready to bear the name brought to it by others. Someone claimed he had seen all the Buddhas—they supposedly cracked nuts, singing molecular songs of subterranean birds. We, on the other hand, knew neither exclamations, nor surprise—only speed and movement rigorously gathering the dust from which we consisted into the weight and space of suppositions. What’s necessary for continuation? Embraces, fusion, sex, the reduction of particulars to a whole, a few throat-breaking spasms? One body or many different ones? Sister has no third option. A bit further, there were running herds of buffalo; they flowed like lava in the voids of the world to which presentations were still unknown. Fish found shelter in the backwater relic of our being, but we knew neither surprise nor possibility of a simple cry of joy when meeting an ordinary acquaintance by a corner bakery. What does this road remind me of? It reminds him of a frosty dawn leading to the train station. Then … oh yes, the school is behind us, right? Could it be that the old temporal rupture was a journey here, to this page, sentence, this line? And am I yet to open my eyes, as though those 20 minutes had been excluded from my life in order to teach me how to return? Will I once, transmitting the tremor of the fingers from letter to letter, find myself in the street on a winter morning, two steps away from railway tracks, in the black bustle of a useless day? I’m convinced: only chains of similar moments of disappearance, of disobedience to the known and the visible, constitute that into which their traces merge as the holes of perforation merge into the monosyllabic is.
Translated from the Russian by Evgeny Pavlov.
Evgeny Pavlov holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Princeton University and is currently assistant professor of Russian at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. His monograph on Walter Benjamin and Osip Mandelstam is forthcoming from Novoeliteratumoe obozrenie in Moscow. He has recently completed the English translation of Dragomoshchenko’s forthcoming novel The Chinese Sun.
Arkadii Dragomoshchenko was born in Potsdam in 1946 where his father was a colonel in the occupying forces. Dragomoshchenko grew up in Vinnitsa, Ukraine, and has lived in Leningrad/St. Petersburg for more than 30 years. As a writer whose work did not conform to official Soviet canons, he made a living as a caretaker, night watchman and boiler room attendant, publishing until the mid-’80s almost exclusively in samizdat. In 1983 Dragomoshchenko met the American poet Lyn Hejinian, who introduced him to the English-speaking world with two translated poetry volumes, Description and Xenia (both Sun & Moon Press). Dragomoshchenko’s latest writings include a collection of essays, Fosfor (Phosphor), and the novel Kitaiskoe solntse (The Chinese Sun). Dragomoshchenko is the winner of Russia’s prestigious Andrei Bely Prize. At present he combines writing with teaching and journalism.
If the soul and the ego were objects we could look at, the soul would be a translucent heart beating.