The Russians are Coming

There are two hundred and twenty Russian writers coming to New York City for the book expo, sent by their government, to try to promote contemporary Russian literature in the US. I will be on a panel at the public Library on Sunday the 3rd at 3.30 but far more interesting people will be reading from the 2nd to the 6th I believe. If anyone is reading this, miraculously, check out www.readrussia2012.com for a full schedule. My panel is on whether truth is stranger than fiction. I am really blocked about how to discuss this. I said yes to the panel because my old friend Peter Kaufman asked me to. He is very dedicated to the cause of Russian literature. I hate the idea of two hundred and twenty russians wandering around New York feeling unloved, so I said I would do the panel, even though I really don’t know how to articulate how I feel about this issue or in fact if it is possible to do so. Sometimes just showing up is enough, but I’m worried this is  not one of those times.

I spent so many years reading Tolstoy Dostoyevsky Gogol especially and more recently I reread The Master and Marguerita by Bulgakov. I think my favorite book of all time is Crime and Punishment because of the mix of violence and religion, a yearning for goodness, and the way he gets into his protagonist’s head so beautifully. The crime, how he comes to commit the crime, is made so understandable, nearly inevitable, and then the exquisite paranoia of the punishment…

2 Responses to “The Russians are Coming”

  • Therese Wolfe:

    Welcome back, once again.

    I find this very exciting and went to the website to see more details on this visit from the Russian writers. I have long been a reader of Russian literature, like you, and have read Gogol, Dostoevsky (Brothers K, four times, and just read The Possessed last year, which was astonishing, all his major novels and the short stories as I feel he is the greatest writer (not Tolstoy) since Shakespeare. But that aside, ‘Crime and Punishment’ I have read twice, and have always been drawn to Raskolnikov’s complex character.

    Per the topic for the panel: first, I think it’s the wrong question to ask. For, as Picasso said (I paraphrase), “Art is a lie so we can see the truth.”
    What is ‘the truth’? There is not one great writer that did NOT write from his or her life, no matter how imaginative the work. (Even Dostoevsky said he ONLY wrote from his life). The imagination cannot be codified to ‘truth’ or ‘un-truth’ and it is the imagination we are speaking of when we speak of fiction.

    The imagination, as you well know, uses everything. I am a painter, and there is not one person who stands in front of Michelangelo’s ‘David’, or a Francis Bacon painting who does not feel ‘truths’. One goes to art, whether fiction, paintings, film etc because art helps one live. Why? Precisely for the truths therein, that one may not be able to articulate, but one can certainly feel.

    When Francis Bacon was asked by an interviewer, or rather told, that some people found his paintings ‘horrific’, his response was ‘look around you at the world, are my paintings so different than what we all see every day in life?”

    There is no such thing as a single ‘truth’, so whether it is in one’s life or in fiction, which is created from life, there is not the one ’stranger’ than the other. It’s all strange!

    We are living in a highly impoverished literary time, especially in America, so it is with great pleasure that I see that America is open to the Russians and their contribution to literature.

    I hope this has been helpful in some way. Naturally, this is only my opinion. But as a painter who lives with a writer (whose book I recommended to you last I entered on the blog as a book I think would make a beautiful film, ‘The Lake’) and as one who reads a lot on the great artist’s lives, I feel that the artist’s project (all art, writing etc) is to deal with the truths that that writer perceives in his or her life to be the human truths, which are variable and a mystery. It’s all an approximation, hence the ambition (not conventional ambition) of the artist.

  • Rilla:

    „Truth is stranger than fiction“ I have to smile when I think about that sentence from a point of view of Human rights in todays Russia. Thinking about Anna Politkovskaya and all the other killed or „disappeared“ activists. When I read about russian orphans it reminds me of Cighid in communist Romania. The horrible situation of homosexuals in Russia and the funny fact that Mr. Putin got 99,76% in Chechnyaat last election. Yeah thats really stranger than fiction but I guess the writers sent by their government won’t hear that….

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