UPPER LAYERS OF THE ATMOSPHERE

[on Alexei Parshchikov]

He was walking uphill, and it was as if he was tightening the strings with himself
and nut drawings were taking form.
— A. Parshchikov, DACHA ELEGY

I’m not good with chronology, never have been. Everything happens now or didn’t happen at all.

One the one hand, I am absolutely certain of my sensation of our absolutely unceasing, mutual mute speech, and on the other hand, everything  crumbles into splotches of color. Now that the “funerary feasts” have taken  place it is impossible to imagine adding anything to what has already been  said.

* * *

The first time he read “I lived on the field of the Battle of Poltava”, was here, then Leningrad, and didn’t astonish so much as offered up alternative subjects for discussion. Write down the year.

The ekphrasis of the “origin” of weaponry – “the first cannon was intended for the curiosity of the enemy”. In the stunning abundance and otherness of referential lines it’s as if the verse crystallized inside  the split in the reader’s consciousness and  of the magnetic curiosity arising in it as result ofsparagmos, which, in turn, was a trap – a “violation of  expectations”.  And at a certain  distance, in the inconceivable space of rhetorical synapses, I had then already  vaguely felt the pressure of the countercurrent similar to “wind blowing in the  lowest regions of the world”.

I have reason to believe, that in the finished fragment i.e. in part of the poem, namely in the section “First Gun”, the author is certainly found by that which comes from  without, not “one great poem” in Bloom’s terms, but by poetry in general,  reflected in the endless poetic mirrors of the shield of Achilles. “I lived on  the field of the Battle of Poltava” is not a simple reallocation of the power  of speech, but is his – Parshchikov’s – poetic battle of loss and gain of  primogeniture in rebirth.

* * *

He existed in a completely perfected form. In winter, high  fur boots, a short sheepskin coat, astrakhan hat, an onion in his pocket. He  drank cognac and crunched on onions. Homa Brut on vacation in Petersburg. In Moscow he was quiet, well-scrubbed, ingratiating in conversation, and infinitely inquisitive. A certain questioning  intonation was always discernable in his speech unless his statements were  obviously structured around a subject.

This also evoked interest. His ambivalence sometimes aroused  the anger of his colleagues. Sometimes it would also muffle the claims of the critics who saw him as either a new “Pushkin” or Skovoroda’s guide.

Then all at once everything changed. His place of residence, his apartments, his location,  finally. At Stanford he drank sweet  wine, because he was languishing from everything, but mainly, I think, from  himself. The bicycle was with him there too.

I am not certain that he “defended”, because he had a  completely different way of thinking even about obligatory matters, though I  may be mistaken.  He used say that he  didn’t want to talk about Lazar Fleishman because a) he’s wonderful,  b) he’s his advisor,  c) “I am interested in other things now”. I  was over at his student “apartment”, where he was celebrating his birthday.  I must admit, he knew a lot from Ivan  Zhdanov, read Yeremenko by heart, admiring his “propeller and crackle of crepe  de chine”. But he never talked about what he studied in some private shadow, what very seldom was exposed in the process of his own writing, or even in the  understanding of what he does.

These were obvious secrets. In his student apartment in Stanford he lived with his wife Martina Huegli. It was, if I understand  correctly, thanks to Lyosha that she started to study Apophatic theology, and  what she wept about in Encinitas, arriving in a straw hat “for a pony”.

What’s important – let’s recall how interested he was in the  contest between two whirligigs, which one was slower… What I mean is, the logic  of his statements was defined by a different psychological machine of  perception. He usually considered phenomena from what seemed to be a reverse  perspective. He was interested in the nature of trees which “bending, generate  wind”, and not the other way around i.e. the fact that “trees bend because of  the wind”. And his occasionally supersensual reality in verse turned out to be  a strategy for achieving perfect irreality. In that space, Benjamin’s  “intensity between intuitive and intellectual elements” unfolded.

Krzysztof Zanussi once made the film “Structure of Crystal”.  In the movie, a physicist fleeing to a village from the hardships of ideology shows an acquaintance some unimaginable machine – with wires, indicators, bulbs and so on. Everything is flashing, buzzing. When asked what the machine is for the physicist exaltedly answers – What for? It just works!

It is precisely this kind of intransitive  nonrepresentational action of poetic language that, on the one hand, mesmerized  him, while, on the other, he couldn’t abandon his much cherished reality, which, of course, grew thin over the years, all the while becoming more and  more capricious. He would change and the structure of his universe would change  with him.

* * *

Sometime in May – again it’s necessary to count the years –  he and Dmitri A. Prigov arrived early in the morning. Back then everybody  drank. I do it to this day. Dmitri A. Prigov didn’t drink, but he joined us  in  a certain speed-march towards a  certain supermarket, which, according to what was being said in our narrow  courtyard, was getting a “delivery”. This was the era of the triumph of  Pentheus.  Having waited our turn in  line, and received a certain quantity of Hereti wine, we came back for  breakfast.

Breakfast consisted of shouting. Instead of  lazily lobbing around retorts that were  appropriate to the moment we, I’ve already forgotten why, were shouting them. At the top of our lungs. The courtyard was empty. The courtyard turned into a  coffer of our cries. No reaction ensued. We had made fried eggs.

He loved to ponder the mechanics of things – the movement of toy trains, galaxies, sand, bicycle wheels and dirigibles.

In eighty-three? When  on a winter morning the doorbell rang and Parshchikov, in a coachman’s coat, a  Petliurist hat and boots stepped into the foyer breathing mists.

In his hand – a blind photocopy of “Instructions to a  Beginning Tacentologist” by Koloshin, a book on the definitive classification  of the world. Borges, even in a nightmare,  would not have dreamt up such a taxonomy of the world.

Anyway, after  discussions on “Radio Liberty” in a broadcast dedicated to his memory, I suddenly received a letter from Lev Berinsky (He was the first translator  of  Chagall’s poems into Russian, and  Alexei had introduced us at the Moscow House of Writers). In the letter Lev remembers facts from almost 40 years ago, specifying what took place:

…as I was telling about this to Alexei  Parshchikov, sitting at a table laden with food and drink, I read him a few  dozen passages from the aforementioned work, and in an act of weakness, during our long unsteady goodbyes, I let my guest borrow this miracle from me for “a couple  of days”. I managed to get this “Introduction” back from him only 9 or 10 years  later, in the autumnal city of Basel.  “That bastard Yeremenko took it to Leningrad  to show it to Dragomoshchenko…”

And thank God that’s how it happened, but I think it’s precisely because of these events that Lev Berinsky later published an essay on  “Tacentology” and the Kabala. Without a doubt these are invisible connections,  reasons that fall outside the field of vision, oblique influences and displacements. Did Parshchikov’s “manner” or “style” influence me? Of course  not, and that was pure luck – something like independence in friendship.  I would never have been able to write a single line like he could. Nor he like me. Nevertheless, in his writing I  always glimpsed a kind of lightning-glare, a gleam of “unravellable  remainders”, which wouldn’t leave me be. Besides, I think that few people  understand that Parshchikov was the last, most virtuoso bulwark of traditional, classical verse. He liked contradance.

Once in June, ten or so years ago, Mikhail Iossel invited  him to read a series of lectures at SLS (Summer Literary Seminars). By that  time Alexei was living in Cologne.  He came to Petersburg by way of Vyborg, where he had conducted something  between a lecture and a performance at the municipal library. In Petersburg, a few hours before our meeting, his bags had been stolen at the Ideal Cup café, containing  everything without which we’re nobodies in a strange city. We sat at a café  across from the Kazan Cathedral. He kept mopping his brow, seemed suspicious…  not so much in relation to those present but toward people in general, surrounding him.

I take note of one thing – the story occurs in curved space, where the concept of velocity changes in a radical way. We sit and talk about repetitions, which  coincide with one another. Parshchikov talks about how he’s now drawn to linear time, interested in deficits of time, which has a beginning and an end. Circular time, as he puts it, daunts him.

 

From notes from that period:

–Do you remember how in the winter, at 6AM, you brought over  the book by Koloshin? And you talk about “linear time”.  Now another circle has closed. You are here  again. Like the fellow traveler of arithmetic. Chapter One – Poltava. Chapter Two – Moscow. Now – Cologne.

He said something about dreams. I asked, what kind of dreams can you have in the heat? To which he said:

I’m always dreaming of the upper layers of the atmosphere. I  don’t like mountains. Something didn’t work out for me with mountains. I like  everything that is between heaven and earth. In the modern technoworld, strangely enough, I discovered a form that is very interesting to me, soaring between the sky and the earth, namely – the dirigible balloon.

They were the Leviathans of the heavens – Count Zeppelin,  Hindenburg. Their demise is sad, regardless of the champagne, billiard tables,  bouquets of roses, Zeiss binoculars, dresses by Coco, and the rest. Diamonds of the air the size of the Hotel Ritz. But today new  technologies again bring us back to the idea of the dirigible.  The idea is that the dirigible, hanging at  the height of eleven thousand meters is located above the clouds. It serves a  250 mile radius. It’s a hanging server, a node. And I wonder, maybe I should  devote the rest of my life to the business of the dirigible, the heavenly  internet. But then what do I care about history. Actually I’m looking for a woman, who could stop the sun and thus capture a solar-powered dirigible. I  think that women, due to their openness, are able in the new world to find  other sources of magic, which will force anarchy to retreat.

We got to know each other even better at, I believe, Sasha  Zeldovich’s, when he got out of Odessa, where he was filming “Sunset” and Lyosha kept insisting that he hire him as a consultant on sexual matters.

These mechanics interested him too. About seven people were riding in Zeldovich’s jalopy. Maybe it was eight. Or 108.

He rode around on his bicycle. With him you felt attentive and light.

 

 


To Alexei M. Parshchikov
Sunday, May 10, 2009

I don’t believe that it ended like that, don’t believe it at  all, no.
Over there, nothing ever ends, over there, there’s an ocean  of air.
Over there, if you want to be with her forever, there’s  nothing terrible about it,
Because the terrible doesn’t exist, there is only poverty,  and there is nothing
Terrible about that, there is nothing more terrible than  what’s terrible,
Like love, which is beneath all beggars, beneath everyone,  everything,
But happiness lies elesewhere, not in being a madman, but in  seeming
To be one, and in being, at the same time a madman, who will  say,
When the occasion is right, that there’s nothing in the  world that’s sweeter
than being an idiot.
We’ll end there, because everyone who is looking at us
Has low-set eyes, they are magnificent in the plaster of poses and speech.
Close-set eyes, long plaster sleeves,
The hands are slow, disappear from sight. They are light at the passing of blood and
After a retort. Who taught them the art of direct speech? In which there isn’t a single
Word about how the connifer needles clung to the shoulders, when they didn’t exist
In the first place, and won’t, because what will exist are Parshchikov’s  dirigibles,
His flock, my diopters, addresses, telephones, and no oil at  all.

 

 

 


 

translated from Russian by Genya Turovskaya
first presented at
Contact: A Symposium in Memory of Alexei Parshchikov(1954—2009)
Tuesday, November 10, 4:00pm-8:30pm
University of Pennsylvania
Organized by Kevin Platt
The essay was read by Charles Bernstein