It is almost New Year’s Eve. For most of the day, self was kept in quite a state of suspense, wondering whether son’s girlfriend would drive up here, or whether son would end up driving to San Luis Obispo. Son began to pack his things. Then Amanda called: she would drive here.
Now son is busy looking up restaurants in the City. Self, meanwhile, continues to read Orlando Figes’ Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia.
This is a fascinating book. Self began reading it after getting back from the Philippines, about 10 days ago. She read, among other things, about how Tolstoy always imagined himself turning into a peasant, but only for the day: at night he liked to have a good dinner at home, where he was served by white-gloved servants.
Now she is reading about Chekhov and his fascination with the Siberian steppe. Figes writes about how “the sheer monotony of the never-ending steppe drove many Russian poets to despair. Mandelstam called it the ‘watermelon emptiness of Russia’ and Musorgsky, ‘the All-Russian bog.’ At such moments of despair these artists were inclined to view the steppe as a limitation on imagination and creativity. Gorky thought that the boundless plain had
the poisonous peculiarity of emptying a man, of sucking dry his desires. The peasant has only to go out past the bounds of the village and look at the emptiness around him to feel in a short time that this emptiness is creeping into his very soul. Nowhere around can one see the results of creative labour. The estates of the landowners? But they are few and inhabited by enemies. The towns? But they are far away and not much more cultured. Round about lie endless plains and in the centre of them, insignificant, tiny man abandoned on this dull earth for penal labour. And man is filled with the feeling of indifference killing his ability to think, to remember his past, to work out his ideas from experience.
There is, in the steppe, an inducement towards inertia, what Russians call “Oblomovshchina” (“from the idle nobleman in Goncharov’s Oblomov who spends the whole day dreaming and lying on the couch.”)
Figes writes: “Oblomovshchina came to be regarded as a national disease. Its symbol was Oblomov’s dressing gown . . . ” The literary critic Nikolai Dobroliubov even went so far as to assert that “the most heartfelt striving of all our Oblomovs is their striving for repose in a dressing gown.”
But Chekhov loved this landscape and found it enormously stimulating.
And suddenly, almost miraculously, self is reminded that she is a writer: a message comes from the editor of the web-zine, The Writing Disorder. The winter issue, with two stories by self — “Dust” and “The Three Triangles” (The two could not be more different from each other) — has launched. Here’s the link.
Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.