"People should speak the language of literature"


For a private person and a particular one, this whole life preferred any public role, for a person who has come to prefer this far enough - and in particular from his homeland, for it is better to be the last loser in a democracy than a martyr or ruler of thoughts in despotism - to be suddenly on this podium - great awkwardness and trial.

This feeling is aggravated not so much by the thought of those who stood here before me, but by the memory of those whom this honor passed, who could not turn, as they say, “urbi et orbi” from this podium and whose general silence, as it were, is looking for and not finds a way out for you.

The only thing that can reconcile you with a similar situation is that simple reason that - for reasons primarily stylistic - the writer cannot speak for the writer, especially the poet for the poet; that if Osip Mandelshtam, Marina Tsvetaeva, Robert Frost, Anna Akhmatova, Winston Oden, appeared on this podium, they would unwittingly speak for themselves, and, perhaps, would also feel some awkwardness.

These shadows confuse me constantly, they confuse me today. In any case, they do not encourage me to eloquence. In my best moments I seem to myself as if their sum - but always less than any of them, individually. For it is impossible to be better than them on paper; it is impossible to be better than them in life, and it is precisely their lives that no matter how tragic and bitter they are, make me often — apparently, more often than I should — regret the movement of time. If that light exists - and I can no longer refuse them the possibility of eternal life than to forget about their existence in this - if that light exists, then they, I hope, will forgive me for the quality of what I am going to expound: in the end , the dignity of our profession is measured by the behavior on the podium.

I named only five - those whose work and destiny are dear to me, at least by the fact that if I didn’t, I’d be like a person and as a writer, I’d be worth little: in any case I wouldn’t be standing here today. They, these shadows are better: light sources - lamps? stars? - there was, of course, more than five, and any of them can doom to absolute silence. Their number is large in the life of any conscious writer; in my case, it doubles, thanks to those two cultures to which I by the will of fate belong. The thought of contemporaries and fellow writers in both these cultures, poets and prose writers, whose talents I value more than my own, and who, if they were on this podium, would have already got down to business, also does not make things easier, because they have more what to say to the world than me.

Therefore, I will allow myself a number of remarks - perhaps discordant, confused and able to perplex you with their incoherence. However, the amount of time allowed for me to collect my thoughts, and my very profession will protect me, I hope, at least in part, from reproaches of chaos. A person of my profession rarely claims systematic thinking; at worst, he claims the system. But this is, as a rule, borrowed from him: from the environment, from the social structure, from studying philosophy at a tender age. Nothing convinces the artist more in the randomness of the means that he uses to achieve this or that - even if it is a constant - goal, rather than the most creative process, the process of writing. Poems, according to Akhmatova, really grow out of litter; the roots of prose are no more noble.


If art teaches something (and, first of all, an artist), then it is precisely particular aspects of human existence. Being the most ancient - and the most literal - form of private entrepreneurship, it voluntarily or unwittingly encourages in a person precisely his sense of individuality, uniqueness, separateness - turning him from a public animal into a personality. Much can be divided: the bread, the bed, the beliefs, the beloved - but not the poem, say, Rainer Maria Rilke. Works of art, literature in particular, and a poem in particular, address a man one-on-one, engaging with him in direct, without intermediaries, relationships. For this, they dislike art in general, literature in particular, and poetry in particular, adherents of the common good, masters of the masses, heralds of historical necessity. For where art has passed, where the poem has been read, they find in place of expected agreement and unanimity - indifference and discord, in place of determination to act - inattention and squeamishness. In other words, in the zeroes, with which the zealots of the common good and masters of the masses strive to operate, art enters a “point-to-point-comma with a minus”, turning every zero into a not necessarily attractive, but human face.

The great Baratynsky, speaking of his Muse, characterized her as having a “non-general expression of a person”. The acquisition of this non-general expression apparently consists in the meaning of individual existence, for we are already prepared genetically for this non-generality. Regardless of whether a person is a writer or a reader, his task is to live his own, and not imposed or prescribed from outside, even the most noble way of looking life. For each of us has only one, and we know well how this all ends.

It would be annoying to spend this single chance on repeating someone else's appearance, someone else's experience, on tautology - all the more insulting that the heralds of historical necessity, at whose instigation the person is ready to accept this tautology, will not fall into the coffin with him and will not thank you.

Language and, I think, literature are more ancient, inevitable, and durable than any form of social organization. The indignation, irony or indifference expressed by literature in relation to the state is, in essence, a reaction of a constant, or rather, infinite, in relation to a temporary, limited one. At least, as long as the state allows itself to interfere in the affairs of literature, literature has the right to intervene in the affairs of the state.

A political system, a form of social organization, like any system in general, is, by definition, a past tense form, trying to impose itself on the present (and often on the future), and a person whose language is the last one who can afford to forget about it. The real danger for the writer is not only the possibility (often reality) of persecution by the state, how much the possibility of being hypnotized by him, the state, monstrous or undergoing changes for the better - but always temporary — outlines.

The philosophy of the state, its ethics, not to mention its aesthetics, are always “yesterday”; language, literature — always “today” and often — especially in the case of the orthodoxy of a system — even “tomorrow”. One of the merits of literature is that it helps a person to clarify the time of his existence, to distinguish himself in a crowd of both his predecessors and his own kind, to avoid tautology, that is, the fate known otherwise under the honorary title “victims of history”.

Art in general and literature in particular is remarkable in that it differs from life in that repetition always runs. In everyday life, you can tell the same anecdote three times and three times, causing laughter, to be the soul of society. In art, this form of behavior is called "cliche." Art is a recoilless tool, and its development is determined not by the artist’s individuality, but by the dynamics and logic of the material itself, the previous history of the means requiring to find (or prompt) a qualitatively new aesthetic solution each time.

Possessing its own genealogy, dynamics, logic and future, art is not synonymous, but, at best, parallel to history, and the way it exists is to create a new aesthetic reality every time. That is why it often turns out to be “ahead of progress,” ahead of history, the main instrument of which is — should we not clarify Marx? - just a cliche.

Today it is extremely common to say that a writer, a poet in particular, should use the language of the street, the language of the crowd, in his works. With all its seeming democracy and tangible practical benefits for the writer, this statement is absurd and represents an attempt to subordinate art, in this case literature, to history. Only if we decided that it was time for “sapiens” to stop in their development, should the literature be spoken in the language of the people.

Otherwise, people should speak the language of literature. Every new aesthetic reality clarifies the ethical reality for man. For aesthetics is the mother of ethics; the concept of "good" and "bad" - the concepts are primarily aesthetic, anticipating the categories of "good" and "evil." In ethics, not everything is allowed, because in aesthetics not everything is allowed, because the number of colors in the spectrum is limited. An unintelligent baby, crying rejecting a stranger or, conversely, reaching out to him, rejects him or reaches out to him, instinctively making a choice of aesthetic rather than moral.

Aesthetic choice is always individual, and aesthetic experience is always a private experience. Any new aesthetic reality makes a person, her survivor, a face even more private, and this particular part, sometimes acquiring the form of literary (or some other) taste, can be in itself, if not a guarantee, then at least a form of protection from enslavement. For a person with a taste, in particular literary, is less susceptible to repetitions and rhythmic spells, characteristic of any form of political demagogy.

The point is not so much that virtue is not a guarantee of a masterpiece, but rather that evil, especially political, is always a bad stylist. The richer the aesthetic experience of an individual, the harder his taste, the clearer his moral choice, the freer he is — although, perhaps, not happier.

It is in this, rather applied, than platonic sense, that Dostoevsky’s remark should be understood that “beauty will save the world,” or the statement of Matthew Arnold, that “poetry will save us.” The world will probably not be saved anymore, but it is always possible for an individual person. Aesthetic feeling in a person develops very rapidly, because, not even fully aware of what he is and what he really needs, a person, as a rule, instinctively knows what he does not like and what does not suit him. In the anthropological sense, I repeat, man is an aesthetic being before being ethical.

Art, therefore, in particular literature, is not a by-product of species development, but exactly the opposite. If what distinguishes us from other representatives of the animal kingdom is speech, then literature, and, in particular, poetry, being the highest form of verbalism, is itself, roughly speaking, our specific goal.

I am far from the idea of ​​universal training in versification and composition; Nevertheless, the division of people into the intelligentsia and all the others seems to me unacceptable. In moral terms, a division is like a division of society into the rich and the poor; but if for the existence of social inequality some purely physical, material substantiations are conceivable, for intellectual inequality they are inconceivable.

In what, and in this sense, equality is guaranteed to us by nature. This is not about education, but about education of speech, the slightest proximity of which is fraught with the intrusion of false choice into the life of a person. The existence of literature implies existence at the level of literature - and not only morally, but also lexically.

If a piece of music still leaves a person the choice between the passive role of the listener and the active performer, the work of literature — art, in the words of Montale, hopelessly semantic — dooms him to the role of the performer only.

It seems to me that a person should act in this role more often than in any other. Moreover, it seems to me that this role as a result of the population explosion and the increasing atomization of society associated with it, that is, with the ever increasing isolation of the individual, is becoming more and more inevitable.

I do not think that I know more about life than any person of my age, but it seems to me that the book is more reliable as a companion than a friend or lover. A novel or poem is not a monologue, but the writer's conversation with the reader is a conversation, I repeat, extremely private, excluding everyone else, if you will, mutually misanthropic. And at the time of this conversation, the writer is equal to the reader, as, indeed, and vice versa, regardless of whether he is a great writer or not.

Equality is the equality of consciousness, and it stays with a person for life in the form of memory, vague or distinct, and sooner or later, by the way or inappropriate, determines the behavior of an individual. This is what I have in mind when speaking of the role of the performer, all the more natural that a novel or poem is a product of mutual loneliness of a writer and a reader.

In the history of our species, in the history of “sapiens”, the book is an anthropological phenomenon, essentially similar to the invention of the wheel. The one that arose in order to give us an idea not so much of our origins as of what this “sapiens” is capable of, the book is a means of moving in the space of experience with the speed of a page being turned. Moving this, in turn, like any movement, turns into a flight from the common denominator, from the attempt to impose on the denominator of this trait a feature that did not rise earlier above the belt to our heart, our consciousness, our imagination. Flight is - flight in the direction of non-general facial expression, towards the numerator, towards the individual, towards the particular. In whose image and likeness we were not created, we are already five billion, and there is no other future besides that outlined by art. In the opposite case, the past awaits us - first of all, the political, with all its massive police charms.

In any case, the situation in which art in general and literature in particular is the property (prerogative) of the minority seems to me unhealthy and threatening. I do not call for the replacement of the state by the library - although this thought repeatedly visited me - but I have no doubt that if we chose our rulers on the basis of their reading experience, and not on the basis of their political programs, there would be less sorrow on earth.

I think that the potential ruler of our destinies should be asked first of all not about how he imagines a foreign policy course, but about how he treats Stendhal, Dickens, Dostoevsky. If only for the fact that the essential bread of literature is precisely human diversity and disgrace, it, literature, turns out to be a reliable antidote to any attempts, known and future, of a total, mass approach to solving the problems of human existence. As a moral system, at least, insurance, it is far more effective than this or that belief system or philosophical doctrine.

Because there can be no laws protecting us from ourselves, no criminal code provides for penalties for crimes against literature. And among these crimes, the most serious is non-censorship restrictions, etc., not putting fire to books.

There is a more serious crime - the neglect of books, their non-reading. For a crime, this person pays with his whole life: if a nation commits a crime, it pays for it with its history. Living in the country in which I live, I would be the first to believe that there is a certain proportion between the material well-being of a person and his literary ignorance; It keeps me from this, however, the history of the country in which I was born and raised.

For reduced to a causal minimum, to a crude formula, the Russian tragedy is precisely the tragedy of society, the literature of which turned out to be the prerogative of a minority: the famous Russian intelligentsia.

I don’t want to dwell on this topic, I don’t want to darken this evening with thoughts of tens of millions of human lives, ruined by millions, for what happened in Russia in the first half of the 20th century occurred before the introduction of automatic small arms - in the name of the triumph of political doctrine , the failure of which is already in the fact that it requires human sacrifices for its implementation.

I can only say that - not by experience, alas, but only theoretically - I suppose that for a person who has read Dickens, it is more difficult to shoot a similar person in himself for the sake of any idea than for a person who did not read Dickens. And I am talking specifically about reading Dickens, Stendhal, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Balzac, Melville, etc., that is, literature, and not about literacy, not about education. Грамотный-то, образованный-то человек вполне может, тот или иной политический трактат прочтя, убить себе подобного и даже испытать при этом восторг убеждения. Ленин был грамотен, Сталин был грамотен, Гитлер тоже; Мао Цзедун, так тот даже стихи писал; список их жертв, тем не менее, далеко превышает список ими прочитанного.

However, before turning to poetry, I would like to add that it would be reasonable to consider the Russian experience as a warning, if only because the social structure of the West is still generally similar to what existed in Russia before 1917. (This, by the way, explains the popularity of the 19th century Russian psychological novel in the West and the comparative failure of modern Russian prose.

Public relations established in Russia in the twentieth century seem to the reader no less outlandish than the names of the characters, preventing him from identifying himself with them.) Only political parties, for example, on the eve of the October 1917 coup in Russia, no less existed than exists in the USA or the UK today. In other words, an impassive person might have noticed that in a certain sense the 19th century in the West is still going on.

In Russia, he ended; and if I say that it ended in tragedy, it is primarily because of the number of human victims, which resulted in the ensuing social and chronological change. In a real tragedy, it is not the hero who perishes - the chorus perishes.


Although for a person whose native language is Russian, talking about political evil is as natural as digestion, I would now like to change the subject. The lack of talk about the obvious is that they corrupt the consciousness with their ease, with their easily gained sense of rightness. This is their temptation, similar in nature to the temptation of a social reformer, it is evil generating.

Awareness of this temptation and repulsion from it are, to a certain extent, responsible for the fate of many of my contemporaries, not to mention the fellow writers, responsible for the literature that has arisen from under their feathers. She, this literature, was not an escape from history, nor was she silencing her memory, as it might seem from the outside.

“How can I compose music after Auschwitz?” Adorno asks, and a person familiar with Russian history can repeat the same question, replacing the camp name in it, repeat it, perhaps, with a big even right, for the number of people who disappeared in Stalin's camps, far exceeds the number of perished in German. “And how can you eat lunch after Auschwitz?” - the American poet Mark Strand remarked on this. The generation to which I belong, in any case, was able to compose this music.

This generation - a generation born just when the Auschwitz crematoriums were working at full capacity, when Stalin was at the zenith of the godlike, absolute, nature itself, it seemed, the authorized power, came into the world, judging by everything, to continue what theoretically should break in these crematoriums and in the nameless common graves of the Stalin archipelago.

The fact that not everything was interrupted, at least in Russia, is to a large extent the merit of my generation, and I am proud of my affiliation with it to no less than the fact that I am standing here today. And the fact that I am standing here today is a recognition of the merits of this generation for the culture; Recalling Mandelstam, I would add - in front of world culture.

Looking back, I can say that we started on an empty place — more precisely, in a place that frightens us with its emptyness, and that intuitively rather than consciously, we aimed precisely to recreate the effect of continuity of culture, to restore its forms and trails, to fill it with the few who survived. and often completely compromised forms with our own, new or seemingly so modern content.

There was probably another way - the way of further deformation, the poetics of shrapnel and debris, minimalism, interrupted breathing. If we refused it, it was not at all because it seemed to us by means of self-dramatization, or because we were extremely animated by the idea of ​​preserving the hereditary nobility of cultural forms known to us, equivalent in our consciousness to forms of human dignity.

We abandoned it, because the choice was not really ours, but the choice of culture - and this choice was again aesthetic, not moral. Of course, it is more natural for a person to talk about himself not as an instrument of culture, but, on the contrary, as its creator and guardian.

But if today I say the opposite, it is not because there is a certain charm in paraphrasing at the end of the 20th century Plotinus, Lord Shaftesbury, Schelling, or Novalis, but because someone who, as a poet, always knows colloquially referred to as the voice of the Muse, there is in fact the dictates of the language; that not language is his tool, but he is a means of language to continue his existence. The language, even if it is presented as a kind of animated being (which would only be fair), is not capable of ethical choice.

A person starts writing a poem for various reasons: to win the heart of his beloved, to express his attitude to the reality surrounding him, be it a landscape or a state, to capture the state of mind in which he is currently in, to leave - as he thinks minute - a trace on the ground.

He resorts to this form - to the poem - for reasons, most likely, unconsciously mimetic: a black vertical bunch of words in the middle of a white sheet of paper apparently reminds a person of his own position in the world, of the proportion of space to his body. But regardless of the considerations for which he takes up the pen, and regardless of the effect produced by what comes out of his pen, on his audience, no matter how big or small it is, the immediate consequence of this enterprise is the feeling of joining direct contact with the language, more precisely, the feeling of immediately falling into dependence on it, on everything that has already been expressed on it, written, implemented.

This dependence is absolute, despotic, but it also liberates. For, being always older than the writer, the language still has colossal centrifugal energy, communicated to it by its temporary potential - that is, all the time ahead. And this potential is determined not so much by the quantitative composition of the nation, which speaks to him, although this too, as by the quality of the poem, which is composed on it.

Suffice it to recall the authors of Greek or Roman antiquity, it suffices to recall Dante. What is being created today in Russian or in English, for example, guarantees the existence of these languages ​​during the next millennium.

The poet, I repeat, is the means of the existence of language. Or, as the great Auden said, he is the one by whom the tongue is alive. It will not become me, these lines of writing, will not become you, their reading, but the language in which they are written and in which you read them, will remain not only because the language is more durable than a person, but also because he is better adapted to mutation.

The writer of the poem, however, does not write it because he counts on posthumous fame, although he often hopes that the poem will outlive him, if not for long. The writer of the poem writes it because the language prompts him or simply dictates the next line.

Starting a poem, the poet, as a rule, does not know how it will end, and sometimes turns out to be very surprised at what happened, because often it turns out better than he thought, often his thought goes further than he expected. This is the moment when the future of the language interferes with its present.

There are, as we know, three methods of knowledge: analytical, intuitive and the method used by the biblical prophets - through revelation. The difference between poetry and other forms of literature is that it uses all three at once (mostly to the second and third), for all three are given in the language; and sometimes with the help of one word, one rhyme, the writer of a poem succeeds in finding himself where no one has been to him - and then, perhaps, than he himself would have wished.

The writer of the poem writes it primarily because the poem is a colossal accelerator of consciousness, thinking, and attitude. Having experienced this acceleration once, a person is no longer able to abandon the repetition of this experience, he falls into dependence on this process, as he falls into dependence on drugs or alcohol. A person who is in a similar dependence on language, I suppose, is called a poet.

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