Bodies of terror: theses toward a logic of violence.
This showed itself, in Bakhtin, in two fundamental procedures: distancing and infinite jubilation. Although he calls the grotesque body of the folk "uncanonical by nature," it appears as such solely in its relation to reflexive culture. For terror and its installation of a collective corporeality are so "uncanonical" that the whole problematic of the flesh-bound, low-down folk can be understood as an unconscious attempt to systematize and canonize the Russian people.
Distance is created by transforming the plane of content, which is the visible reality of terror, into the rhetorical canon of the speech body. As a result, terror becomes intransitive, just as in grammar there are intransitive verbs, and speech, in contrast, becomes absolutely transitive, immanently containing within itself the entire world. Such an infinite, rhetorical distance [between ordinary speech and the rhetoric of terror - tr.] makes rejoicing infinite as well, with rejoicing in Bakhtin taking the "low" form of carnivalistic invocation, wherein the existence of things named is exhausted by the very act of signification. Accordingly the text has a liturgical sound that is constantly being borne up: in the text the folk perpetually celebrates a Mass of its own blessedness, righteousness, unerringness. In this sacralized atmosphere, words become ultimate values and cease to signify things that can be seen, things that have a smell, things that act on us independently of their liturgical naming.
However, the institutions of terror laid claim to the same liturgical quality, having likewise transformed the folk into its own ultimate referent. And in its turn, this second folk was hidden from itself by the thick wall of a particular rhetoric of the "folk-ness" (narodnost'), without which terror would not have been able to acquire the much-needed attribute of invisibility. However, as some had vaguely guessed already in the thirties, an inevitable necessity separated terror from this total blessedness, a necessity that consisted in the need to manifest itself physically, to become institutionalized (although the latter happened, in fact, deep in the underground [in the metro - tr.]). In distancing himself, Bakhtin detaches action from speech, making infinite the canon of folk-ness, thus protecting folk-ness itself from any fall from grace.
These preliminary considerations help to explain why Bakhtin's subject of interest was precisely the novel of Rabelais. The choice is tied, first, to the entirely immanent parodic nature of Gargantua and Pantagruel - that is, the stubbornly reproduced distantiation of these texts from the folkloric. Second, this is a problem of urban, in Bakhtin's terminology "marketplace," folklore, in general manifesting itself as an extremely attenuated, derivative form of the folkloric, torn from its roots in peasant country life and agricultural ritual. In exact congruence with this, a nomadicized mass formed in Soviet cities, out of the former peasantry, precisely during the time of [Bakhtin's] writing of Rabelais and His World, namely 1935-1936. And this is yet another, third reason for Bakhtin's interest in Rabelais's urban folkloric, paradoxically treated by Bakhtin as true folk-ness.
For Bakhtin, one way to normalize (Michel Foucault's term) the folk was by putting it into speech parentheses or a verbal frame: the folk appears before him at the end of alchemical incantations, within the magic crystal of the parole. The high degree of "reflectedness" of the people in Rabelais, and the novelist's distancing from any ritualized proto-folk-ness, allows Bakhtin to derive endless delight from the "authentic folk-ness" of these texts. As a consequence, the triumph of the folk turns out to be made possible only after its solemn imprisonment in the golden cage of ritualized speech. The ideal enclosedness of this mode of speech makes any kind of violence over and above a verbal violence impossible: the regime of the body is overcome by the stringing together of bodily epithets, and in the guise of a primordial chaos we are presented with a total literature that is immanent within itself.
Thus Bakhtin solves two interlocking problems. First he inverts the logic of terror, which acts upon real bodies and turns articulated speech into a fiction; second, he opposes the dominant ideology of the folk (narodnost'), which is founded on arbitrary states of social matter, and which Bakhtin, extending this material to infinity, replaces with the archetypal pure essence of folk-ness. Precisely this eternity is declared by him to be mortal, and is demoted to the state of perpetual coming-into-being and disintegration. Only the eternal essence of the folk possesses the right to an infinity of speech transformations: it is what urinates, defecates, eats its fill, copulates, continually is born, gives birth, dies - in short, it is what perpetually transforms itself on the rhetorical plane. Subject to this coming-into-being are the eidoses of speech, which paradoxically receive only the eternal right to be mortal.
Nevertheless the researcher can't help sensing some sort of innate fragility of speech facing the material, profane world - something appearing in speech as an undecodable, underlying cause; ousted to the periphery, terror exists there in the form of cosmic fear. Bakhtin: "A kind of dark memory of the cosmic cataclysms of the past, and a kind of vague fear in the face of oncoming cosmic shocks, are embedded in the very substructure of human thought, word, and image."(1) To the extent that "the struggle with this cosmic fear, the struggle with memory and with premonition of cosmic shock and destruction" is observed "already in the ancient images of folk creative work" (363) the folk finds itself to be deprived of the right to the transgressive ritual - all its violent transgressivity is devoured by an open series of canonical speech manifestations. Elementary physical movements are banished. In Bakhtin's world, seeing plays practically no role, and as for individuality, it constitutes a fatal sin.
Later in the text, it becomes clear that the historical conditions of the writing of Pantagruel are congruous with the situation of the writing of Rabelais and His World (this is what unites them on still another, hidden level, supplementing one more cipher to the original trauma). Bakhtin: "Pantagruel was planned and written during the time of natural calamities [Bakhtin's italics], which fell upon France in 1532 [in other words, almost exactly four centuries before collectivization] . . . Pantagruel was to a remarkable degree a merry rejoinder to the cosmic fear aroused by the natural calamities, and to the religious-eschatological mood. We face again the remarkable image of Renaissance journalistics, with roots in the public sphere of the folk marketplace. This is the warlike response to topical events and topical thoughts and moods from that historical moment" (368). Contact with the original trauma here summons to life the typical lexicon of Stalin's time: the eidos of the folk (narodnost'), at this conjuncture, becomes one with the journalistic writing of the epoch of terror. However, there remains a great difference between the individual who perishes from a collision of the giant icebergs of popular speech, and the one who is icebound in a GULag. Only in the first instance does death have liturgical meaning, deserving the kind of gnoseological requiem that constitutes the book on Rabelais. No matter what kind of death this individual suffered, the folk won't find time for the funeral, since the event is banal, and since the body is replaceable and has already been duplicated in kind many times over: "The death of the individual is only a moment in the celebrating life of the folk and of humankind, a moment necessary for their rejuvenation and completion" (369; Bakhtin's italics). This is understandable, for only the "all-folk [vsenarodnoe], growing and eternally celebrating body feels itself in the cosmos as in its own home" (369; Bakhtin's italics). The individual body becomes the ideally replaceable, synthetic body, and inasmuch as the act of sight relates only to it, the eye should be sacrificed to the collective insight of the folk as to its own essence. One cannot see the folk in Bakhtin, because it is precisely the folk that guarantees speech and appears as something so radiant and threatening within the eternal simplicity of its manifestations, that it inevitably strikes blind all who dare look at it. This infliction of blindness, against which Bakhtin's contemporaries the [avant-garde - tr.] Oberiuty took arms, appears in his world as a good.(2) But folk bodies are also untranslatable into bodies of confession (priznanie).(3) They are so eccentric and so incongruent with themselves that they can logically recognize only the guilt of others; and although their own innocence is guaranteed by nothing other than the infinity of guilt, the latter becomes still more inexpressible because of this. Denunciation definitively takes the place of confession or - and this represents the ideal outcome - speech shuts itself up and resorts to sublime self-devourment. The reality of denunciation and convulsions of suffering bodies, confessing their guilt under torture, is replaced by the coming-into-being of speech body-giants, gazing as if from the sidelines at the sufferings of their chance individual incarnations.
The pathos of eternally returning beginnings increases particularly because the new urbanized masses, still habitually called the narod, are capable of reproducing the beginnings (arche) only on a symbolic level, while in reality they are involved in the banal process of modernization. Precisely this irreversibility of the "retreat" of sources obliges these new city dwellers to see exclusively sources, and not the processes they actually endure. The trauma of urbanization makes their vision "speeched" - that is, consistently utopian; they see perfectly clearly and totally only the nonexistent. Common sense can overwhelm them as a revelation, as something entirely unreal; utopia remains the only form of common sense accessible to them. This is the source of the obsession both of Bakhtin's book and of the new ideological culture with the problematic of fertility so characteristic of this time. (The verb to give birth and words cognate to it can, along with the adjective cheerful, be considered the keys to the whole Rabelais book.) In this overstraining of the capacity to give birth and of the notion of fertility, one should not see the simple metaphor of the bleak reality of the thirties' industrial process; rather, the production process itself was born within a utopian, epic fertility, and was fertility's chance appendage.
Bakhtin admirably evokes by means of Rabelais the basic aporias of the thirties, and in this case we are dealing with the unconscious of someone superlatively intelligent. Rabelais and His World is one of the key texts that help us understand the radically changed situation of a member of the new society's intelligentsia, who has lost his status as a representative of the whole in exchange for the fate of a hostage. The resultant common denominator speech - and this turns out to be Bakhtin's private ritual, the material bodily lower stratum - is in effect a kaleidoscope, allowing him to survey in all possible new combinations the multicolored mosaic of folkness. Thanks exclusively to this kaleidoscope and to other analogous instruments of observation, the traditionally trained intellectual could maintain for himself on the one hand the appearance of cultural continuity and, on the other, could separate himself from the more dramatic, tragic aspects of the new culture which made intellectual life impossible. Only by opposing the ideal and imperishable image of folkness to terror as the catastrophe of the real folk could he survive, having entered into an imaginary compromise where an unconditional defeat had been historically suffered.
Accordingly, it is essential that we be attentive both to the trifling ethnographic details of that epoch and to its monuments, because in the infinitely small, as in the infinitely large (its haughty equal), the particularities of the most peripheral literary texts of the epoch can be perused, and, most valuable of all, become visible. This new visibility brings us into contact with the unconscious possibilities, which were only in part embodied in the literature of the time. Moreover these possibilities allow us to escape from the all-pervasiveness of public speech in the world-image of the Stalinist epoch. It's as though the order of the visible contained in itself unfathomed reserves of the unconscious. One such deposit of unused interpretive possibilities is the Moscow metro, which was created practically parallel with our other text, Bakhtin's book on Rabelais.
Back in the 1920s the Bakhtin circle, without reckoning the costs, began to adapt Marxism to the speech concept of consciousness. The upshot was that their criticism of ideology, like the criticism of ideology as false consciousness in Marx, is transformed into a decisive preference for ideology over science, the latter seen as ineradicably monologic.
Reason that overcomes itself becomes violently ecstatic. Consciousness on the plane of content appears as anarchic license, bounded by nothing exterior to itself. Special bodies emerge that do not require for their existence any foundation from outside. The reality of an accomplished death, its pervasiveness and excessiveness: such is the sole link still connecting these bodies with the tradition of humanism. The heavenly radiant lucidity of the world of speech in actual fact is completely reversed by life during a catastrophe, since the "humanization" of a cast-off reality can be accomplished through terror alone.
The possibility of social change within the framework of such a culture is actually linked to the limits of the humanization of death, which is organically inherent to that culture. This culture unconditionally took the side of symbolic exchange, substituting the problematic of the production of commodities by the production of total communication as its ultimate product.
Overall, the period of terror logically is marked by the fact that consequences proved to be a million times more powerful than their own causes. Precisely this insignificance of causes in the face of effects keeps us from understanding the period, for history is, on the contrary, the constant triumph of causes over effects. History annihilates itself in an unconditional defeat, which the effects inflict on their causes - including Joseph Stalin as a pseudocause. We have not yet learned to analyze this enormous priority of effects, and from habit we continue to seek the "right" causes. But terror is a pure logic of effects, which among other things are capable of "torturing" the causes that allegedly produce them. We have before us something like a theater that transforms itself into an orgy of effects; so much so that any possible performance we can stage, or that we simply desire to perform, requires as the condition of its possibility the cessation and violent annihilation of this logic. "History = Death of Terror; Terror = Death of History": in this brief undialectic formula (for death is undialectic, after all), is recorded the fate of a society which arose as the effect of mass terror.
Should such a society return to history it would no longer be itself, because the change would mean sacrificing those forces which made possible its very existence.
Apparently history is in principle inseparable from the right to distance, from the vita contemplativa. This very right is canceled out by violent action. Violent action is the antagonist of representation. Having become the norm, a violent image of actions also cancels the right to think oneself, systematically opposing to representation, as a foundation which erects a culture, "ecstatics" as the culture of chaos (that is, nonculture in the metaphysical sense of the word).
A number of consequences follow. First, the point from which the interpretation of the ecstatics of terror originates should be no less violent than terror itself, or, to be more precise, it should be so violent as to make the usual notion of criminality inapplicable to it. This thinking should constantly outstrip authority in its violent doings, thus creating in theory the fearsome simulacra of bodily decomposition. But as a result, thinking transcends its own boundaries, and there is no canon in accordance with which it could receive the status of thinking; just as there is no instance which could, so to say, "bless" it for the act of philosophizing. Overall, violence is like a culture without guarantees, without the transcendental, a culture which an eternal, outsider's gaze does not pierce, a culture with no history (and in this sense the phenomenon more resembles the natural); a culture that requires for its comprehension philosophy without guarantees, without history, and without God. It can be based solely on the waste products of thought, heaped in what Gilles Deleuze has called "minor" philosophy. In this instance the periphery of thought becomes in fact its center, and in order to conceive this "center" we have to concentrate the resources that were developed for interpreting the most remote periphery of a culture.
The characterizing trait of the images in the Moscow metro is their inconspicuousness, the fact that they are unnoticed by the masses who flow by them as if passing through them. And this is in spite of the broad, boldly striking images. The transforming of these representations into objects of contemplation is an extremely aggressive act, which quite often entails for them a lethal outcome. These images concentrate in themselves the imaginary realm of the crowd - that is, the sole unconscious reality, from which they derive their right to existence. The crowd lives not as we can see it, localized in a space of contemplation; indeed it never sees itself this way. The crowd is represented essentially, in an antireflexive movement, and what lends ultimate reality to these figures in the metro is the fact that they are figures of movement. In these images can be read the traumas brought on the masses, to the masses, through the masses, and the images do not yield to rational interpretation. It is as though they summarize the colliding and disintegrating wisps of interpretations. (The fact of the defeat of reason does not concern these images; overall, they are not familiar with force of reason.) Their function is not to be read, but to exert an influence . . . while remaining unnoticed.
For the potential observer, the unsullied innocence of the masses' imagination, as a collective thing, corresponds to the masses' existence outside any law. When they look into the mirror of the images in the metro, instead of seeing catastrophic excesses, which lead to the murder of the very principle of reality, the masses see only the perfect innocence of primary intentions (for the collective unconscious is innocent by definition; it successfully eludes in advance whatever could have laid blame on it).
At first glance the pictorial imagery of the Stalinist metro strikes one with its sense of redundancy. This impression is in fact derived only from an abundant number of rejoicing figures, whose absolute depersonalization lures the "spectators" into the maelstrom of their own nonexistence. That is, what strikes you is not the dense piling of bodies, but the impossibility of contemplating it all, the ontological profundity of the elimination of loneliness. No accident that these figures are situated precisely in public spaces, and, in contrast to what is on display in corresponding Western spaces, they incarnate the reigning ideology of public-ness, bringing the nonindividuality of the masses to its logical conclusion.
Within the totality of our speech-culture, images of the metro are intriguing because of the nondiscursive presuppositions coded into them, the pre-predicative field of the culture's store of visual possibilities. To train oneself for moving across this overly "harvest-worthy" field, I will now try to catch hold of several representations which for entirely arbitrary reasons seem to me the most capacious and productive (as Roland Barthes once began with a series of ordinary photographs he had found particularly moving).
Figure 1: The People's Procession at the Kiev Ring Metro Station; of all the representations, this is the most rejoicing, and is interesting also for its remarkable eclecticism: symbols of Ukrainian (Bogdan Khmelnitsky) and Soviet (Lenin) history, military insignia, decorations, folk costumes and musical instruments, a profusion of flowers and fruit, people of various ages and both sexes. In this mosaic panel, the rejoicing effect is achieved through the complete depersonalization of the bodies; raised above the principle of reality, these bodies have conquered it.
Overall, the look of figures in the metro has two different genealogies, corresponding to the genealogies of the masses on whom these figures were called to exert influence. First, this is a look that reveals total rejoicing, inseparable from the earth and fertility. The purity of this rejoicing is linked to the peasant origins of the imagination of the new, proletarian urban masses - because, having undergone urbanization, the masses continued to see themselves as precisely folkloric. Here a whole knot of interrelated problems arises concerning the special pornography of "speech vision," which sees only into the infernal darkness of the nonexistent: that is, it sees not that which is, but sees exclusively its own unrealized possibilities. Precisely these possibilities block collective bodies from visualizing themselves as individual bodies to whom something might happen.
But the metro has another look with another genealogy, one which can be just as stubbornly reproduced and goes back to the trauma of urbanization. In this vision is unleashed the criminal energy of the masses, untranslatable into the idyll of a rural holiday. This vision arises within the real momentum of the work process, which is perceived as a sacrifice and which unleashes destructive forces. The angelic beginning of folkloricized triumphs collides here with labor as an insurmountable obstacle - whose continual overcoming takes the form of violent action, in a climax of terror.
Also of interest are the moulded panels at Elektrozavodskaya Metro Station, representing the various phases of the labor process; so too the mosaics at Novoslobodskaya Station, which actually document the Party's seizure of the energy of artistic creation. Such faces appear in Russian culture only after the trauma of violent urbanization. Born as a result of this process, the masses continually vacillate between an imagined rejoicing set against a backdrop of symbols of the earth (all faces beaming with joy, concentrated on just one focus) and the wretched reality of the endless duty of labor, which the terroristic vision of the second type hopes to transcend.
These two genealogically different visions strive not to intersect. Their unconscious substructure could become the subject of a specific collective psychoanalysis, whose agents until recently were the basic forces of our society: Party, army, K.G.B.
For me, one of the revelations in the metro is its visual showing-forth of the inevitable traumatizing nature of industrial labor, camouflaged in every possible way by the literature of that era. The enthusiastic repressiveness of the labor process in the metro is abundantly clear. For the energy produced is huge enough to cast an extremely long shadow on the past, creating something nonexistent out of its very self. Such is the new "revolutionary" look of sculpture at the Revolution Square (see fig. 4) and Year of 1905 stations. These faces, which became possible probably no later than the early thirties, immediately create their own false revolutionary genealogy. The intensifying of these visions at Baumanskaya Station, even at this early time, is tied to the ideologeme of the external enemy (the sculptures were built during the Second World War), although we have before us the profound interiorization of the mechanisms of terror itself.
If one type of vision is de-realized by rejoicing, the other is no less de-realized by terror. From this follows the preeminence of speech over representation; for the joining of terror with rejoicing was fulfilled precisely through speech. (Bakhtin admirably demonstrated this in the Rabelais book, which is indirectly dedicated to the terror and dictated by it.) In the metro we see radically incomplete bodies, which need many metaphoric ligatures to keep them alive and upright. One of these productive visual-metaphor ligatures is woman, who is always located at the very epicenter of rejoicing and on the periphery of terror. Woman stands for the intuitive, natural principle; she celebrates a modest triumph both in her own world of total intuition and simultaneously in the most de-realized of all possible industrial worlds. The infantalized male falls under her maternal care. He senses a deficit of the natural, and is constantly refilled by woman and thus constantly revealed in all his emptiness. (It isn't by chance that in the metro a very rare instance of panoramic, distanced field of vision is linked precisely with woman. I have in mind the mosaic panel at Avtozavodskaya Station, where woman occupies the position of panoptic observation: the objects she beholds are males, working in a smelting shop.)
In general, what is linked with woman is the hope for a synthesis of fertility, which calls for rejoicing, with labor, which inflicts a joyless death.
Quite other kinds of imagery are Deineka's oval mosaics at the Mayakovsky Station, true works of art in the narrow sense of the word and not the only such instance in the metro;(4) and by contrast the late imperial vegetable symbolism in the metro.
Late socialist realism, which imitates the epic beginning of the whole era, gives the first hints of the possibility of common sense. A classic example of this is the panel at Borovitskaya Station (see fig. 6), where the subject of representation becomes that which in the Stalinist epoch was the most undepictable, a moving force and precondition of every representation: namely, the imperial tree, whose unity is the common root of both terror and rejoicing. The political substructure is herewith revealed as a collective corporeality: at the base of this and of all similar representations is naive cynicism, which distinguishes those collective bodies that have entered the stage of disintegration.
Curiously, the labor process in the metro is reinvented on the model of war, but war itself often appears framed by images of fertility. War symbolism in almost all medallions rests on sheaves (see fig. 7), and the imperial tree at Borovitskaya Station also has wheat sheaves at its base, supporting the walls of the Kremlin. The decorativeness of these sheaves, the fact that they are so imperceptible on the periphery, has a direct relation to the political unconscious of the proletarianized peasantry.
To detach these symbols of fertility from the center took about half a century. In the imperial tree and other similar works, this vision of an unconscious experience opens itself up to the possibility of scrutiny, becomes (or pretends to become) a picture. Here terror for the first time takes the form of storytelling; declines to the level of a theme needing a banal explanation. Terror's entry into the decorative phase is accompanied by what had earlier been an impossible synthesis of two nonintersecting gazes, the rejoicing one and the incinerating one. The search for transitive links between rejoicing and terror loses its urgency. The imperial essence crawls forth as an object and announces its own normalcy.
In the end the growth of decorativeness swallows up what remains of symbolism, so that the symbolism of material itself remains the only authenticating foundation. Imperial ideology turns utterly to marble, painted over here and there with vegetable and other vignettes. By this time, the moving crowd is already so well trained that it reacts even to this minimal symbolism. At the outermost stations, profane functionality usually triumphs; marble yields to plaster panels. However at the stations in the city center, including those most recently built, the marble equivalent of governmentality is strictly maintained. But some things become irrevocably passe; for example, the form of the Tsar's Tower, characteristic of the first twenty years of the metro, modeled on the patriarchal imagination, and in general the archetype of the ideal dwelling. Now, although this and analogous archetypes are squeezed out by the new functional attitude in Moscow metro stations, both at the center and at the periphery, these stations continue (especially at the center) to preserve a certain share of sacredness, which they will keep even when our empire collapses.
The empire is fully actualized in the architecture and makeup of the metro and no longer needs its profane political equivalent. This imperial quality, I would say, transcends the actual empire and will necessarily survive it. Moreover, it is not impossible that our empire will become the scapegoat sacrifice for the imperial quality - cleansed of its geographical appendage once it becomes unnecessary. (Earlier, the metro was purged of the image of its father [Stalin] and inspirer [Kaganovich), without rejecting in the process any of its initial basic intuitions.) Thus architecture thrusts on us a notion of grandeur that is deeper than a simple political dependency on father figures. Moreover, in the metro we can see how these figures are made - and how easily they are rubbed away in order that the archetypes, which they only temporarily represent, might live. It isn't these father figures, but the people itself that is the final referent of terror. After all, what else is a folk if not a God who has become completely immanent to his own creation, who has rejected any pretenses to a transcendental quality?
This explains why attempts to make this newborn God god-fearing are senseless; as the sole object of a cult, he refuses to delegate his powers to somebody transcendent. This is why religion in our country is the pornography of folk-ness.
In this respect, the Stalinist epoch, with its officially proclaimed atheism and its cult of leaders, was significantly more logically consistent than our present moment [of 1990]. Having completely duplicated a world within itself, it stopped needing anything external. The sociality of that earlier time was demiurgical through and through, and did not pretend that it wanted to move to another, qualitatively different state, of which it hadn't the slightest notion. Contemporary eclecticism, by the same token, is much more sentimental; it is possible that we have before us an until-now-unglimpsed form of decadence, with no relation whatsoever to personality, a decadence of collective bodies which are strengthening in proportion to their energetic emaciation. Nostalgia seizes these bodies by means of incomplete, violent gestures; overstrained, they turn violence into spectacle.
It is in this nostalgic-sentimental phase that the writer Iurii Mamleev finds his collective bodies.(5) In his stories, he has made poetry out of a series of deviant traits displayed by collective body-giants.
At first glance the problematic of collective corporeality does not appear new. It has been studied by ethnologists like Levi-Bruhl under the name "pre-logical" and comes up in various sociologies of the crowd which were in fashion at the end of the nineteenth century. What, then, compels us to return to this problem, and why does it appear before us in a markedly different form? The answer taking shape is at once simple and elusive. The fact is that traditionally the problem of collective corporeality has been examined as the threatening periphery of reflexivity, as a boundary ever being pushed farther out. In other words, collective corporeality was thought up; consequently, corporeality of this type had to be of necessity regarded as mentality (mental'nost) and neutralized in the rarified space of the spirit (dukh). It is not accidental that Levi-Bruhl spoke about prelogical thought, and Levi-Strauss about the mental structures of human spirit. It is also not accidental that the collective bodies of ethnographers are by their very essence bodies of observation; that is, they arise in the space of the thinking gaze. This gaze, strictly speaking, makes up their life. The ethnographer is interested in the quality of collective bodies, not in their intensiveness; the ethnographer, so to speak, exchanges the explosive immediacy of their becoming for the buffer of distance. We have before us a science that reconquers from the object the right to contemplation, thanks to which it becomes an object in the first place.
Here it is clear how specific our situation is, the situation of unstable bodies in industrial culture. By virtue of this we find ourselves in approximately the same position in relation to cognitive acts that classical philosophy occupied in relation to the alogical and the primordial: it is as though we constantly experience the roar of their distant presence, and involuntarily, on the level of cultural reflexes, we try feverishly to avoid direct contact with reflexivity. Collective corporeality, within which we ourselves are placed in a unique transhistorical situation, turns out to be the "center" and is brutally dealt with, along with the whole thinking periphery - with which philosophical instinct has always linked the conception of the center. Does this then mean that the aforementioned instinct [for theorizing a center and periphery - tr.] is already no longer functional in us? Yes, of course, and for exactly this reason we need to pretend that nothing significant has happened, that from the remaining ruins we can, even should, by some "higher" arbitrariness assemble culture. It is as though arbitrariness is manifested without fail in the Brownian motion of reflexive molecules, and that in order to put things right it is enough to add to the solution a familiar reagent. In fact, molecules are not reflexive by nature, nor do such reagents exist.
From the standpoint of the unprovided-for - that is, the ecstatic culture of Stalinist terror - introspection is a horrifying force that comes from without; it is, strictly speaking, horror incarnate. The ideological function of great (that is, nonexistent) local philosophy and great (that is, mediocre) literature consists in bypassing these circumstances without noticing them. They remain within the limits of the well-known terroristic refrain: "All is well, beautiful marchioness," by which the short intervals between acts of unambiguous cannibalism are smoothed over. (To this category one can relegate all conversations about responsibility resulting from the absence of a space of responsibility, and about morality, thus distancing us from the most insignificant moral action.)
Reading the classical philosophers does not help, since we do not know how our own body is arranged in relation to their texts. We read them, so to speak, with the unjustifiable presumption of cultural continuity.
What exactly are communal bodies? Are they not simply collective bodies in a state of urbanization? Surprisingly, in speaking about communal bodies, it is difficult to escape their association with the communal apartment. It stands to reason that the writer I now discuss, Iurii Mamleev, was literally "enchanted" by communal apartments. In the topography of the Stalinist era, these apartments were at once the most unnoticed and the most effective spaces. Precisely there, amidst bodies that grew up in centauric spaces, denunciation became a necessary and at the same time a perfectly innocent act.
What new insights does Mamleevian literature bring to our notion of communal bodies? First, he pushes to the limit the distortion of the principle of reality brought about by these bodies, thus demonstrating the fiasco of any study focused on the individual person. For a long time these bodies, as for example in Fedor Sologub's Petty Demon,(6) existed on the edges of a local literature. But here they completely substitute themselves for reality; their anatomy becomes the anatomy of reality itself. They can only preserve themselves as hyperreal by attacking the principle of reality, by attacking its very possibility. Mamleev becomes a poet of these total simulations, migrating into a world where an individual gaze or viewpoint is simply impossible. He turns out to be, as it were, paralyzed by the abnormal mobility of these bodies. Perhaps no other writer can be said to be as unlucky a man of letters as Mamleev; he was straightaway crushed by the aggressive swarm of his apparitions and lost the ability - indeed as writer he had no use for it - to construct literary form. He looked into the horrifying innocence of the communal world too deeply to float on its literary surface. This placed him in opposition to Ilya Kabakov,(7) who maintained a spectator's distance in relation to the world of communality; this preservation of the possibility of observation is what makes Kabakov a conceptualist, since any classification supposes that there is already a viewpoint. In Mamleev's world there is no viewpoint at all. There, people "look" however they please, mainly with their backsides, only not with their eyes. There arises the amazing phenomenon of anal vision, a vision not submitting to that directive the so-called higher functions. I have written previously on the violated physiologies of the Marquis de Sade; bodies there were violated by their striving for superindividuation, and were disintegrating from an overload of reflection. But Mamleevian physiological monsters suffer not by supergodliness, as in de Sade, but by subgodliness, so that each of their bodily parts turns out to be more divine than God himself. One could say that these are bodies of internal combustion, self-nourishing; their complete indifference to the transcendental, which ought to show them all the more blameworthy, actually imparts a perfect innocence to all their movements. In order to be perfectly innocent, they constantly commit the act of murder against the judge-spectator, who can arise again only on their broken pieces. They completely internalize death, and by virtue of this they do not wish - and, crucially, are not able - to die in the ordinary sense of the word; they are, so to speak, immortal by means of their successive reincarnations. Mamleev revels in the "aesthetic" effects of such bodies, effects which are simultaneously manifested in the bodies' physiological functions. As a writer he develops in himself perhaps the most consummate form of literary coprophilia that has ever existed. And again, as opposed to the Marquis de Sade, who is the greatest coprophile in literature after Aristophanes and Rabelais, behind Mamleev's coprophilia stands no principle whatever. This is pure aesthetics passing over into pure self-devourment. His bodies are valued because under no circumstances will they take legal form. These anatomical monsters are already illegal in their composition; they can act only involuntarily; they do not serve as a ground for their own mania; silently they are taking a reading of each and every norm. But there is also nothing of the carnival in them. They are not permitted in any case to be imagined sharing in the festivities of the corporeal lower strata: these are city bodies, constantly running up against walls, barriers, funeral cloths. The reality of their sociability in these unfavorable conditions has already become, as it were, astral. They are not up to rejoicing. Embittered, they defend themselves from a world that is not understood and that disperses them. It is as though through them there came into being something other than themselves, but what they don't know. They are becoming exhausted in city spaces that are too cramped for their agricultural fantasies, even as they are already infinitely far from a peasant mentality. This is the transitional floating state which Mamleev understood beautifully, providing these bodies with a poetical quality that is so banal, even physiological (in the most fantastic sense of the word), that as a result they cannot cross the threshold of literariness, become a part of belle-lettres.
Certainly this kind of urban folklore has always existed on the periphery of city culture, but nowhere and never has it shown a striving for cultural domination to the extent that it does here and now. Too often our contemporaries extract the fantastic consequences of our life from what seem to them normal, explainable causes. But having decided to descend to the very depths of communal corporeality, as Mamleev does, we begin to understand that these producing causes are themselves fantastic or, to be more exact, hyperreal, and that the craziness of consequences that reveals itself to us is only the weak reflection of the actual craziness of causes. But if the causes themselves are insane, then one must posit this madness as the basis of all the known forms of "high" culture. Strictly speaking, the height of this culture is the height of the Stalinist skyscraper (vysotka), as surrounded by the architecture of barracks. The skyscraper is necessary precisely because the barrack form dominates. Mamleev's is the daydream of the inhabitant of the barrack, a daydream that deals the final blow to the dreamer by means of its grandeur. It is no accident that the Lianovskaya School, a recent protoconceptual trend in the visual arts, named itself Barachnoi, literally "of the barracks";(8) or that the strongest cycle of poems by Igor Kholin was his "Barracks Cycle." But all the same Kholin distances himself from the archaism of the communal body by means of the kind of utterly direct and intent gaze that lies at the basis of several conceptualist theologies of the Christian (for example, Bulatov, and, in part, Kabakov, Sorokin) as well as of the oriental for example, K. D. Monastyrsky) type.(9) In this way normal culture is supported as a valued, albeit unrealized possibility. Mamleev as writer-hyperrealist is interested in something elsenamely the realized impossibility of collective bodies. As a result of this goal he sinks lower than any literary waterline. His bodies lose even the potential to become individuals or simply characters, and the poeticizing of their deviant attributes deprives us of any chance to see them from outside, from the side. He is therefore considered - and he himself yields to this description-as a satanist," though he hyperreal, being as it were a total vacuum cleaner, draws into itself not only God, but Satan too. Mamleev's "literary satanism" serves him as an ideological refuge and label, behind which he can somehow remain in culture. But one must not be too bedazzled by these self-designations, including conceptualism: here only the producing causes are important, not their totalization through a name.
The deviating physiologies of communal bodies - such is the reality of our reality, making it totally simulated. This is what hides behind Mamleev's "satanism" and behind the apparent satanism of our life: suicidal innocence. And this innocence writes by means of Mamleev, taking his literary laurels from him exactly at the place where, as a writing person, he is most productive. (Iurii Mamleev and Joseph Brodsky symbolize perhaps the two poles in Russian literary writing today: in Brodsky, a literature that has absolutely succeeded and yet is stripped of symbolic effectiveness; in Mamleev, a literature that has proved to be a definitive failure by virtue of its enormous symbolic effectiveness. Which of these we consider an important figure depends on what we want from literature; the ideal fulfillment of a literary ritual, or the profundity of a paralysis of correct speech.)
(1) Mikhail Bakhtin, Tvorchestvo Fransua Rable i narodniia kul'tura srednevekov'ia i Renessansa (The creative work of Frangois Rabelais and folk culture in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance) (Moscow, 1965), p. 363; hereafter cited in text. In English as Rabetais and His World, tr. Helene Iswolsky (Cambridge, Mass., 1968). (2) This is especially well displayed in Danil Kharms's "Elizaveta Bam" and in Aleksandr Vvedensky's "Elka u Ivanovykh." . (3) The problematic of "Bodies of confession" is developed by Michel Foucault in his many-volumed History of Sexuality, tr. Robert Hurley (New York, 1978-); self-knowledge through constant verbalization of the truth of sex-such is the French scholar's basic thesis, which is contradicted by the entire logic of collective bodies as studied here. (4) Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Deineka (1899-1969) was well known in the Soviet Union as a monumental artist. He received the Lenin Prize in 1964-tr, (5) Iurii Mamleev (1931-) emigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1975. In 1983 he moved to Paris. His works, including the collections of short stories Zhivaia smert' and Tretia volna, and a novel, Shatuny, were circulated in the Soviet Union in Samizdat-tr. (6) Fyodor Sologub, The Petty Demon (1907), tr. S. D. Cioran, ed. Murl Barker (Ann Arbor, 1983)-tr. (7) Ilya Kabakov is a well-known Moscow conceptualist artist. (8) Arising at the end of the 1950s, the Lianovskaya School (named after a region in Moscow) included O. Rabin, E. Kropivnitsky, I. Kholin, G. Sapgir, V. Nekrasov, and a host of other artists and poets, and in many ways continued the tradition of the Oberiuty [Russian acronym for the Association for Real Art, a Leningrad avantgarde artistic group, 1927-30-tr.] in the analysis of collective bodies, and also influenced later conceptualism. (9) Artists, writers, performance artists, and representatives of the Moscow school of conceptualism.
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|Title Annotation:||Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin's book 'Rabelais and His World' in relation to Soviet society|
|Author:||Ryklin, Mikhail Kuzmich; Wesling, Molly Williams; Wesling, Donald|
|Publication:||New Literary History|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1993|
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