More Pelevin

From Homo Zapiens:

On the dissolution of the Soviet Union

Then, quite unobtrusively, an event of fundamental significance for his future occurred.  The USSR, which they’d begun to renovate and improve at about the time when Tatarsky decided to change his profession, improved so much that it ceased to exist (if a state is capable of entering nirvana, that’s what happened in this case)    (page 3)

From Buddha’s Little Finger:

On death

Perhaps, I thought, death had already happened, and this icy boulevard along which I was walking was merely the threshold of the world of shadows.  I had realized long before that Russian souls must be fated to cross the River Styx when it is frozen, with their fare collected not by a ferryman, but by a figure garbed in grey who hires out a pair of skates – the same spiritual essence, naturally.  (p. 2)

On growth

This is the idea of development, progress, movement from the less perfect to the more perfect.  The same thing occurs at the level of the individual personality, even if individual progress takes such petty forms as redecorating an apartment or changing an old car for a new one.  It makes it possible to carry on living – but you don’t want to pay for any of this.  The metaphorical bull we were talking about rushes about in your soul, trampling everything in its path, precisely because you are not prepared to submit to reality.  You don’t want to let the bull out. You despise the positions that the times require us to adopt.  And precisely this is the cause of your tragedy.  (p. 35)

On the huddled masses:

It was painful to look at those men and imagine the dark maze woven by the pathways of their fates.  They had been deceived since childhood, and in essence nothing had changed for them because now they were simply being deceived in a different fashion, but the crude and insulting primitiveness of these deceptions – the old and the new – was genuinely inhuman.  The feelings and thoughts of the men standing in the square were as squalid as the rags they wore, and they were even being seen off to their deaths with a stupid charade played out by people who were entirely unconnected to them.  But then, I thought, was my situation really any different?  If I, just like them, am unable to understand, or even worse, merely imagine I understand the nature of the forces which control my life when I do not, then how am I any better than a drunken proletarian sent off to die for the word ‘Internationalism’? Because I have read Gogol, Hegel, and even Herzen?  The whole thing was merely a bad joke.

On freedom

‘I wish to propose a toast,’ said Chapaev, resting his hypnotic gaze on me, ‘for the terrible times in which it has been our lot to be born, and for all those who even in such days as these do not cease to strive for freedom.’

His logic seemed strange to me, because our times had been made terrible precisely because of the striving, as he had put it, of ‘all those’ for their so-called ‘freedom’ – but who freedom, and from what?  Instead of objecting, however, I took a sip of champagne – this was the simple precept which I always followed when there was champagne on the table and the conversation turned to politics.   (p. 80)

On life:

Man is rather like this train.  In exactly the same way he is doomed for all eternity to drag after him out of the past a string of dark and terrible carriages inherited from goodness knows whom.  And he calls the meaningless rumbling of this accidental coupling of hopes, opinions, and fears his life.  And there is no way to avoid this fate.  (p. 84)

On hairy naked men:

I suddenly noticed that this Volodin was entirely naked.  Moreover, he was wet and he was squatting on a tiled floor, on to which copious amounts of water were dripping from his body.  But what was most intolerable in this entire spectacle was a certain relaxed freedom in his pose, an elusive monkey-like lack of constraint in the way he rested his long sinewy arm against the tiles.  This lack of constraint somehow seemed to proclaim that the world around us is such that it is only natural and normal for large hairy men to sit on the floor in such a state – and that if anyone thinks otherwise, then he will certainly find life difficult.  (p. 87)

On beauty and attraction:

If I were truthful with myself, that was precisely what I had thought: that there existed in me something capable of attracting this woman and raising me in her eyes immeasurably higher than any owner of a pair of trotters.  But the very comparison already involved a quite intolerable vulgarity – in accepting it I was myself reducing to the level of a pair of trotters what should in my view seem of immeasurably greater value to her.  If for me these were objects of one and the same order, then why on earth should she make any distinction between them?  And just what was this object which was supposed to be of immeasurably greater value to her?  My inner world?  The things that I think and feel?  I groaned out loud in disgust at myself.  It was time I stopped deceiving myself, I thought. For years now my main problem had been how to rid myself of all these thoughts and feelings and leave my so-called inner world behind me on some rubbish tip.  But even if I assumed for a moment that it did have some kind of value, at least of an aesthetic kind, that did not change a thing – everything beautiful that can exist in a human being is inaccessible to others, because it is in reality inaccessible even to the person in whom it exists. (p 130)

On love:

‘I am thinking, Vasily Ivanovich, that the love of a beautiful woman is always in reality a kind of condescension.  Because it is simply impossible to be worth of such a love.’

‘You what?’ said Chapaev, wrinkling up his forehead.

‘Enough of this swaggering foolery,’ I said, ‘I am being serious.’

‘Serious are you?’ asked Chapaev.  ‘All right then, try this for size – condescension is always movement down from something to something else.  Like down into this little gully here.  So where does this condescension of yours go to – and from where?’

I started thinking about it.  I could see what he was getting at: if I had said that I was talking about the condescension of the beautiful to the ugly and the suffering, he would immediately have asked me whether beauty is aware of itself, and whether it can remain beauty having once become conscious of itself in that capacity.  To that question, which had driven me almost insane through long sleepless nights in St. Petersburg, I had no answer.  And if the beauty I was speaking of was a beauty unconscious of itself, then there could surely be no talk of condescension?  Chapaev was very definitely far from simple. (p. 135)

On reform:

The port wine still tasted exactly the same as it had always done – one more proof that reform had not really touched the basic foundations of Russian life, but merely swept like a hurricane across its surface.  (p. 154)

On Russia:

The path that Russia has been struggling to follow for so many years, as it enters again and again into its ill-fated alchemical wedlock with the West. (p. 35)

The unique vision of reality reflected in these two works of art is common to only you and us, and therefore I believe what Russia really needs is alchemical wedlock with the East. (p. 169)

There is nothing that happens to nations and countries that is not repeated in symbolic form in the life of the individuals who live in those countries and make up those nations.  Russia, in the final analysis, is you. (p. 177)

On dreams and reality:

‘Well now, Petka my lad,’ said Chapaev, ‘I once used to know a Chinese communist by the name of Tzu-Chuang, who often dreamed the same dream, that he was a red butterfly fluttering through the grass and the flowers.  And when he woke up, he often couldn’t make out whether the butterfly had dreamt it was engaged in revolutionary activity or the underground activist had had a dream about flitting through the air from flower to flower.  So when this Tzu-Chuang was arrested in Mongolia for sabotage, what he said at his interrogation was that he was actually a butterfly who was dreaming about what was happening.  Now since he was interrogated by Baron Jungern himself, and the Baron is a man of some considerable understanding, the next question was why this butterfly was on the communist side.  He said he wasn’t on the communist side at all.  So then they asked him why the butterfly was engaged in sabotage, and his answer was that all the things people do are so monstrous, it doesn’t make any difference whose side you’re on.’ (p. 205)

On yin and yang:

Power of night and power of day, same old garbage anyway (p. 208)

On the Red Army:

The deadly black baron and the white hussars
Want us to bow to the throne of the Tsars,
But from Siberia to the North British Sea
The strongest of all is the Red Army

‘Idiots,’ I whispered, turning my face to the wall and feeling tears of helpless hatred for the world welling up in my eyes.  ‘My God, the idiots . . . Not even idiots – mere shadows of idiots . . . Shadows in the darkness . . .’  (p. 239)

On love again:

I have always found kissing to be an extremely strange form of contact between human beings.  As far as I am aware, it is one of the innovations introduced by civilization….in essence, love arises in solitude, when its object is absent, and it is directed less at the person whom one loves than at an image constructed by the mind which has only a weak connection with that original.  The appearance of true love requires the ability to create chimeras; (p. 285)

More on freedom:

‘I just understood something,’ I said.  ‘There is only one kind of freedom – when you are free of everything that is constructed by the mind.  And this freedom is called “I do not know”.  You were absolutely right.  You know, there is an expression, “a thought expressed is a lie”, but I tell you, Chapaev, that a thought unexpressed is also a lie, because every thoughts already contains the element of expression.’  (p. 301)

On Russian history:

‘You know,’ I said, ‘if history teaches us anything, then it is that everybody who has tried to sort things out in Russia has ended up being sorted out by Russia instead.’ (p. 326)


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