Thursday, May 05, 2011

Russian Literary Awards

The Russian literary scene is a really funny place. Michael Idov, who won a GQ award for his novel Ground Up, writes:

There are two kinds of serious novel in Russia right now: “extreme” and phantasmagoric. The first kind deals with the most wretched dregs of the society, which by implication stand in for the society as a whole. The reader, trained by decades of Aesopian Soviet satire, knows that if the novel’s action takes place in a mental ward, that mental ward is Russia; if it’s a prison, the prison is Russia; if it’s a tiny Siberian village populated by, say, cannibals, the village is Russia and the cannibals are the government.

The second kind is a conspiracy fable, devoted to the thesis that the world is run by shadowy magic forces. Supernatural cabals figure in a staggering percentage of Russian highbrow prose—Pavel Krusanov’s Angel’s Bite, Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice, and just about everything by the bestselling Viktor Pelevin, whose 1999 satire Generation P (published in the U.S. as Homo Zapiens) explained that the world leaders are CGI cartoons. In Pelevin's three subsequent novels, the world government is revealed to be, respectively, a gay mafia, werewolves, and vampires. This mode of thinking has a rather touching teenage tinge. Earlier this week, when the culture portal asked prominent Russian intellectuals to respond to bin Laden's death, half dutifully answered that bin Laden had never really existed, or was a projection of "naively dualist American consciousness."
You could literally write a novel about the novelists, filmmakers and media people who showed up for the awards cermony. One wrote an enormously popular novel in which the main character dies from eating someone else's fingernail. Another says that her thing is "black bogs of despair". One of the presenters kisses Idov, releasing a torrent of tabloid attention.

Go read it.

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