It’s no good

I’m currently reading It’s No Good, a collection of poems and essays by leftist poet/activist Kirill Medvedev. I’m about halfway finished with the book (and with his essay My Fascism). Can’t say I agree with, or even enjoy, any bit of it, but it does provide an interesting look at the beliefs of this particular segment of the intelligentsia. The divide between intellectuals and “everyone else” is made quite clear:

A sickening aesthetic atmosphere has taken hold in our country. The average cultural consciousness is a putrid swamp – half-Soviet, half-bourgeois – in which Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Josef Stalin, the pop star Alla Pugacheva, and Jesus Christ all lie side by side, dead and decomposing. Russia is like a rotten ball, a hideous ball of yarn with a little gold trim on top, but filled with all sorts of trash – trash-food, trash-ideology, trash-culture – and fragments of religion, fragments of “Sovok”, and fragments of a dead empire; all of it bulges and sticks out in all directions; the ball rolls and gains speed, ready to shatter into pieces or else crush anyone who gets in its way. (p.115)

Our era’s intellectual mission now seem pretty limited: the solidification of national values at the expense of all others; a vague but pervasive demand for a single-minded, positivist image of the world; and the introduction of the phony construct of “conservative,” “supra-individualist” values, which are opposed to “liberal” consumerism and postmodern relativism.

By the time these forces came together against them, the “liberals” themselves were effectively nonexistent. Liberal journalists and politicians – the “thought-leaders” of the early 1990s – had mostly become ordinary people with ordinary virtues and ordinary vices. They had decided that this was now a normal country and they could live how they saw fit. (That’s probably how it should be, of course, just not in Russia, because Russia never became a “normal country”.) (p. 116)

The chief disappointment of recent history is the fact that this new Russian middle class, having finally in a sense emerged, far from being the steel in the back of Russian democracy, has turned out to be a neurotic, consumerist mass, full of social and national xenophobia, aggressively clinging to its privileges, ready to sacrifice more than just freedom. It’s a group of people who could easily become the central node not of a bourgeois democracy but a fascistoid capitalism. (p. 133)

But at least he refers to Russia as “our country” rather than “this country”.

In all seriousness though, I would recommend you read It’s No Good for its interesting criticism of post-Soviet intellectuals and commentary on the relationship between art and politics. Just be prepared to feel that you’re not part of Medvedev’s intended audience as you’re reading it.

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4 comments

  1. J.T., please – he is not a “leftist”! No person identifying itself with the left can be so scathing and hateful of own people. He is just your typical liberast bemoaning the sad fact that Russians are the “wrong people”, and Russia itself is “not a normal country”. No matter whom he fancies himself Kirill Felixovich is not a “Marxist” – not even close. He is a mainstream kreakl, an intilligent in at least 5th generation, smeared anointed by the substance as Khimki “ecologist” and Bolotnaya participants.

    He wrote “Всё плохо” way back in 2000. Since then he didn’t become less misanthropic to his own people.

    Besides – his own site is eyes-gouging. Call me “sovok” and “bydlo”, but I consider both his site’s design and writing “style” a piece of crap.

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    • Not a leftist? Not a Marxist? And old writings? It seems that Keith Gessen (the translator of this tome) has a lot of explaining to do…
      Fun fact: I wouldn’t have found this book if it hadn’t been for the fact that P.— Library moved the entire Russian literature section from the fourth floor to the third floor and didn’t tell me. It’s No Good was sitting in plain sight on a cart. I’d never heard of this fellow Medvedev before (the liberal, not the jolly gnome), so please don’t be too hard on me! Now [a couple of hours after publishing this post] I realize that It’s No Good is really not that good. It’s not that the quality of the book is bad, it’s just that Medvedev is an intellectual writing for intellectuals; he’s not writing for a person like me. Sure, I do consider myself pretty durn smart, but I’d rather use that intelligence to explore more pressing issues like US-Russian relations, rather than political art, maintaining symbolic independence and enlightening the rest of the populace with my values. But hey, different strokes for different folks, right?
      *mini-rant over*
      I do agree Medvedev’s site design could use some work – it looks like something I would’ve made a few back when I was learning the basics of HTML.
      BTW, happy belated Russia Day (If you did indeed celebrate – I know some people do and some people don’t.)!

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      • “It’s No Good was sitting in plain sight on a cart. I’d never heard of this fellow Medvedev before (the liberal, not the jolly gnome), so please don’t be too hard on me!”

        That’s okay – I myself only heard about him in passing, years ago and only in connection with the Khimki forest… thingy. Still, had to use some google-fu to find out more about him. Kinda confirmed my own suspicions. Oh, well.

        ” It’s not that the quality of the book is bad, it’s just that Medvedev is an intellectual writing for intellectuals; he’s not writing for a person like me.”

        That’s the paradox of the “Modern Russian Culture” I’m ranting occassionally. It devolved into an “Art for Art’s sake”, an elitist, cliquish, nearly completely divorced from the reality cesspool of Individuals With Rich Inner World ™ and ego the size of Moscow’s Metro. Note that this Kiril Medvdev is also a translator and an editor of some obscure paper – that’s how he earns his daily bread, not because what he writes are huge bestsellers.

        But the thing is – from a purely market economy POW – their writing is disastrously unprofitable! In “normal country” the all-might Invisible Hand of the Market ™ would have crushed them, paving the way in literature for something more up-to-date and imprtant for a large amount of people – e.g. for someone more like Zahar Prilepin. Instead our shy and modest intilligents hate the “crowd” of their potential readers, hate the state – and ask it about handouts and demand the “support of the culture”.

        “BTW, happy belated Russia Day (If you did indeed celebrate – I know some people do and some people don’t.)!”

        Yeah… the day Russia bacame independent from itself. What a joy!/sarc

        Well, the people appreciate another day-off and often “celebrate” it by going on dachas (like me) to start the gardening season properly. Like, tend potatos planted during May holidays, plant peas or beans, set up greenhouses for cucumbers, tomatos, peppers etc.

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        • ‘In “normal country” the all-might Invisible Hand of the Market ™ would have crushed them, paving the way in literature for something more up-to-date and imprtant for a large amount of people – e.g. for someone more like Zahar Prilepin. ‘
          Maybe that’s why he rails against the IHotM so much in this book. Of course, he tries to play it off as the literary world not being suitable for him, rather than himself not being suitable for the literary world.

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