Sunday, December 16, 2012

an unsolved mystery to the author

Blame science! they both say, waving their hands, Walser and Zoshchenko, a Swiss and a Russian with different lengths of arm, palm, and finger, separate here though united in other ways: science has been telling us it will explore every aspect of life, it sorts out the animals and fossils, it dates rocks, it considers the atoms, the nineteenth century has been industrially revoluting all over and giving us bombs, bicycles, telegraph, and cars (Zoshchenko was born in 1895, Walser in 1878) , now Einstein and his friends are sorting out the powers of the universe with their theorems: why not us too, listen, we will do the same with literature, we will cover everything, we will describe it all -- (they don't know but they are gesturing in the direction of The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein who was b. 1874) -- we are only trying to participate in the world, we are doing what the age seems to be demanding, and if it doesn't work then don't blame us. Literature can't cope, poor literature, what use is it in the new world of describing-everything when it is the art of leaving-out?

I am going for a walk, says Walser, and is not heard from again.

And me, I, insists Zoshchenko on the surface of his prose, which is so blatant it is a joke, I am only being kind and useful, I am trying to be perfect for the Party and the people.

In the opening chapter of his novella or long story, the same one I mentioned before, which has a good romantic title, namely What the Nightingale Sang, he has addressed any Party member who might be reading this book and asked them to believe that love is still a relevant topic in spite of the revolution ("I can see that these lines about love will call forth a volley of rebuttals on the part of public leaders" -- but --) -- I am a good comrade, he explains, I am only going to take up your time for a tiny while with this one worthwhile thing, and then he goes on severely criticising himself during the story, and correcting himself in the name of correctness, and insisting that he is working hard ("Phew!What a job it is to write literature!"), doing his duty ("At present, however, the author has to say something about citizen Vassily Vassilyevich Byekin"), confessing to the crowd when he can't fill in a detail that the reader might want to know ("How he managed to eat was an unsolved mystery to the author"), and even doubting the truth of his own statements which of course is pointless because being fictional they are always both true and false ("The author is ignorant of the details of his moving and of the bitter moments experienced by Lizochka. Did she experience them?"), until the romance is saggy under these duties and corrections and finicky adjustments, second-glances, self-questions, which take up so much of his attention that the story is practically over before he realises that he hasn't given you any reason why there should be a nightingale in the title, and all in all, I have to say ladies and gentlemen, it looks like a comedy on the subject of the same self-castigation that the Soviet authorities were enforcing earnestly and with prisons and murder.

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