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Vladimir Sorokin y la sátira menipea

[...]Sorokin es un gran provocador y, como tal, escribe siempre sátiras, o incluye una propensión satírica en sus obras. Tanto en La cola (1985), ridiculizando la miserable situación social de la era soviética, como en Manteca de cerdo azul (1999), donde su afán estético de iconoclasta empedernido lo llevó a profanar tabúes y mitos intocables de la historia moderna de su país (incluyendo una guiñolesca escena sexual de sodomía entre los camaradas Stalin y Krushov). La escandalosa novela sublevó en 2002 a un iracundo grupúsculo de jóvenes conservadores instigados por el Kremlin y Sorokin fue sometido entonces a un linchamiento mediático que, irónicamente, lo hizo famoso ipso facto como pornógrafo político. Desde una perspectiva literaria, esta fantasía esperpéntica confirmaba dos de las cualidades más sobresalientes de Sorokin: por una parte, su versatilidad estilística, esto es, su brillante dominio del lenguaje y su tendencia ofensiva a parodiar todos los registros oficiales u oficiosos del poder y sus cámaras y recámaras de ejecución y propaganda; y, por otra, su carnavalesco sentido de la realidad, exhibiendo hasta el ultraje y la profanación una grotesca concepción de la historia, la sociedad y la naturaleza humanas. Este último rasgo transgresor, sumado a su tendencia a la abyección estética, ha hecho declarar a Mark Lipovetsky, el gran especialista ruso en narrativa contemporánea, que Sorokin trabaja dentro de los parámetros del “realismo escatológico”. Con la trilogía Hielo (2002-2005) creó una de las obras más ambiciosas de la literatura europea reciente: una narración híbrida entre la ciencia-ficción y la metaficción historiográfica que ofrecía un retrato hiperrealista de la Rusia contemporánea y, al mismo tiempo, una paródica reinterpretación mitológica de la misma, con una conspiración nazi de largo alcance y una trama extraterrestre nada pedestre entre sus componentes más llamativos.[...]

— Juan Francisco Ferré

Vladimir Sorokin’s play Capital and the mythologizing
of money

The comedy The Merchant’s Contracts (Die Kontrakte des Kaufmanns) by Nobel prize laureate Elfriede Jelinek is the stage version of the global economic crisis. Written one month before the American bank Lehmann Brothers folded in September 2008, precipitating the collapse of financial markets, this many-voiced text for the theatre is as witty as it is ruthless in its exploration of what lies between economics and hysteria.

Vladimir Sorokin’s two-act play Kapital (Capital) whose title is meant as an ironic reference to Karl Marx’ book, premiered in October 2007 at the Praktika Theatre in Moscow. Here too the topic is greed for continuously growing returns, but with the typically Russian dimension of mythologizing capital and tabooing financial transactions. There have taken place fundamental changes in Russia’s money culture over the last twenty years. During the ‘wild nineties’, the economic reproduction of society got completely subordinated to the regime of money, but Russian society proved itself generally unsuited to the production of monetary value, and therefore had no money. Thus, paradoxically, “the process of monetarisation meant demonetisation, for example through defaults in payment and the rise of barter, substitutes for money and foreign currencies”. Russian citizens experienced Russia’s monetarisation as an extreme shortage of money — the ‘Trauma of the 1990s’. It therefore comes as no surprise that Russian capitalism is as idiosyncratic as its influence on Russian life. Only Vladimir Putin’s administration placed the re-creation of the states’s economic sovereignty at the centre of its economic, financial and social policies. This ‘economic patriotism’ was a hallmark of the 2000s, and it could not but have consequences for the national discourse on money and, of course, on capital.

In 2008, during an interview with the German slavicist and journalist Kerstin Holm, Sorokin commented in reference to his play and the discourse about money in Russia that “our culture has strongly mythologized the process of earning money. The nineteen-nineties were years of bloodstained adventure. Capitalism today is subconsciously perceived by ordinary people as a search for hidden treasure, which, especially if they live in the provinces, they imagine to be a sack of gold, a pot of diamonds or a billion dollars in cash. In my play the bank director, who has a new scar etched into his face for every strategic decision, takes physical responsibility for business decisions. It is a kind of sacred penance”.

In her article titled Motor Mammon written in 2007 Kerstin Holm discusses other noteworthy plays in the Moscow Praktika Theatre repertory, such as Viktoria Nikiforova’s Money Drama (Russian P’esa pro den’gi), in which the characters and lives of the protagonists are the product of their annual income, or Igor Simonov’s Divine Creatures (Russian Nebožiteli) which charts the rise and fall of a billionaire and alpha oil executive. To fulfil a commission from Praktika, Vladimir Sorokin returned to play-writing after a seven-year break and composed a piece with the laconic title Capital which spotlights the mystic rituals and group dynamics at a bank. Praktika’s artistic director Eduard Boyakov staged the premiere of this play about the esoteric priesthood of modern money-making as action theatre on a bare stage reminding of the “agitacionno-plakatnyj stil’ vremen rannej Taganki”. “Capital is the most wonderful play on our time. Every reply of this text provides a three-dimensional portrait of today’s reality”, the director said.

There is irony and sarcasm in the fact that Moscow’s economic boom, which is fuelled by the export of oil and gas, is portrayed as sheer devilry by Sorokin. He has understood that the economy is akin to the divine, miraculous process of creation. To start with a little and keep turning it into more and more — that is the supernatural element of a disturbing economy and the true secret of banking.[...]

Dagmar Burkhart

The body and the sign in contemporary russian literature Vladimir Sorokin. Vladimir Makanin. Viktor Pelevin

Soma and sema, the body and the sign, are mutually dependent in the works of Russian-speaking female authors in that they contrast the body as reality to the simulacra of post-modernism. In contrast, Vladimir Sorokin’s somatically infused prose and drama is based on a post-modern poeticism of grotesque ugliness, with which he reveals the violence of imposed discourse practices. Vladimir Makanin uses marks on the skin and intertextual tracks to shape his philosophical horizon. In his novels and short stories dealing with the digital media, Viktor Pelevin, on the other hand, takes disembodiment through virtualisation as his central theme.

Contemporary Russian literature reflects a discourse on the body that views the world, which is perceived as grotesque or absurd, as a conglomerate of signs and language systems. Female writers like Nina and Yekaterina Sadur (Yug [‘The South’], 1994, and Prazdnik starukh na morye [‘A Holiday for Old Women on the Sea Shore’], 1996) direct their attention to somaticism as a genuine authority. At the same time, Lyudmila Petrushevskaya places female corporeality in a connotation-laden context of eroticism and social constraint when she works with the semantic opposition of old skin as reality vs. young skin as deception in short stories such as Junost’ (‘Youth’) or Slabye kosti (‘Weak Bones’) (1999/2002). In contrast, in light fiction, which is characterised by its literal use of language, the stylised body of the “new Russians” is an invitation to murder, for example in Aleksandra Marinina’s detective novel Voyushchie Psy Odinochestva (‘The Whining Dogs of Loneliness’) (2004), or serves, as in Oksana Robski’s Casual: A Novel from 2006, as a stage for the exhibition of youth and wealth: ‘Katya’s sixty year-old mother, who liked to behave as if she was younger than she really was, met us wearing jeans with enormous letters out of Swarovski crystal on her backside: RICH’.

While an author like Vassily Aksenov was able to cause a furore in the Khrushchev era with his short novel Apelsiny iz Marokko (‘Oranges from Morocco’), in which the oranges symbolise the new awareness of life in the period of the ‘Thaw’, contemporary Russian literature presents itself as either lacking illusions or destroying the dogma of optimism prescribed by Socialist Realism. Here, too, the theme of food acts as a significant means of expression. Petrushevskaya, Yevgeny Popov, Dimitry Prigov, Vladimir Sorokin and others represent a literature which, now possible following the collapse of the censor, subjects Russia to an analysis that knows no taboos.
It is easy to suppose that this literature, in which the perverse consumption of food assumes a prominent place, is simply obsessed with shocking detail. However, this would be a misunderstanding of the intentions of these authors, for whom perverted eating represents, amongst other things, social coldness, disrupted communication and totalitarian indoctrination. The repulsiveness of, for example, the excessive consumption of alcohol instead of food in the works of Venedikt Yerofeyev, cold junk food in those of Petrushevskaya, dog-meat kebab in the writings of Popov, psychedelic drug-induced highs in Pelevin, the eating of human flesh and faeces in Sorokin etc. is all part of a poeticism of ugliness and an allegorical version of reality. ‘Taboos attract me’, said Sorokin, author of the novel Goluboe Salo (‘Sky-Blue Bacon’), in an interview, ‘and I like to penetrate them. Here is living flesh which one can eat in that one breaks the taboo’ (DIE ZEIT Nr. 46, 9.11.2000, p.67).

Sorokin, for whom the discourse of the body is more pronounced than is the case for other Russian-speaking authors, follows through his use of the motifs of excretion and the backside an aesthetics that constantly experiments with the borders of taboo. By crossing over (‘transgressing’ in the sense of Georges Bataille) into the area of physical violence and coprophagy (the eating of faeces), Sorokin reveals the totalitarianism of traditional templates of text and thought and questions long-established patterns of aesthetic discourse: his texts normally begin by imitating a style of conventional writing, only to break down at a certain stage into language which uses obscene or disgusting vocabulary, but at the same time lacks emotion. Sorokin deconstructs traditional aesthetic discourse by presenting different versions of textual templates and brings together contradictory readings of a text which destroy each other.

The short story Pervyi Subbotnik (‘The First Subbotnik’, 1992), which describes a working party raking leaves, at first follows the pattern of a socialist realist text: it describes the memories of an enthusiastic subbotnik at the beginning of the war; it depicts the young worker Mishka receiving praise for his first proletarian subbotnik, and it celebrates the achievement of the collective. After this socialist realist section, a deconstructivist change in style takes place in that the subbotnik, which had hitherto been celebrated as a ritual, suddenly becomes a farting competition. In Sergei Andreyevich, the spheres of the Soviet school and the dramatically idealised teacher as a transmitter of the correct way of thinking (à la Tendryakov) are deconstructed in a coprophagic scene in which the teacher’s pet devours his mentor’s excrement (that is, the ideology) on a excursion to the forest. In the short story Proezdom (‘Passing Through’), a deconstruction of the Soviet production novel takes place when the travelling regional manager gives his ‘blessing’ to the brochure for the factory’s 50-year anniversary by defecating on it.

Other texts which Sorokin parodies and deconstructs by filling them with a scatological lexis include those of fundamentalist village authors (Belov, Rasputin) and war writers like Bykov. The short story Obelisk not only unites these allusions, but also satirises Pushkin’s theme of monument. Accordingly, at one level Sorokin plays intertextually on the one hand with the false cult of heroes in Soviet literature: in Obelisk, the supposed hero receives a grotesque ceremony for the dead from his wife and daughter on the phallically protruding war memorial. However, in the execution of his ‘testament’ – a parodistic reference to Stalin’s version of ‘Lenin’s Testament’ – the litany-like cascade of words of an obscene ‘confession’ reveals that he was a coprophilic phallocrat.

At another level, Sorokin takes here the motif of the monument as a stimulus to memory to its absurd extreme. He also does this in his short story Pamyatnik (‘Memorial’) (1992), in which he satirises scatologically the heroic-dramatic symbol of the ‘eternal fire’:
On a bright summer’s day, when the masses come flocking to the sounds of sunny Mozart, a silk cover is pulled back to reveal a golden man with a slightly pushed out backside shining in the sun. From its centre shoots out a celebratory gas flame which is ignited by a worthy representative of the public: TO THE ETERNALLY BURNING FART will be chiselled into the plinth. Thus. And this will become the most important monument. And the people’s path to it will never become overgrown. (Translation based on the German translation by Gabriele Leupold).

The discourse of the body also plays a prominent role in Sorokin’s text Den Oprichnika (‘Day of the Oprichnik’) (2006), which takes as its theme a Russian police state, its elite circle and their addiction to sadomasochistic rituals: surveillance, corporal punishment and obscenity are the expression of political power in this vision of a totalitarian state. The characterisation of this power draws a somatic comparison with Ossip Mandelstam’s poem Ariost (1933): ‘Power is revolting like the hands of barbers’ (‘vlast' otvratitel'na kak ruki bradobreya’).

Sorokin makes use of the scatological and obscene style with its taboo lexis in his texts because this was the only level of discourse that had not been taken over by the official Soviet style of writing. This also explains his somatic-relationship to the text and his understanding of writing, which in his eyes consists of relieving oneself in public. [...]

Dagmar Burkhart


«Je refuse de faire du roman une relique de musée», déclare Vladimir Sorokine, sans autre forme de procès. S’il maudit aujourd’hui ses quelques cheveux blancs, celui que l’on surnomme l’enfant terrible des lettres russes n’a rien perdu de son éloquence tapageuse. À l’instar d’un Pelevine ou d’un Erofeev, il est de cette génération d’auteurs qui dérangent. De ceux à qui les jeunesses poutiniennes, trois ans après la sortie du Lard bleu, intentaient un procès pour pornographie. De ceux qui s’attiraient encore les foudres de l’État avec Journée d’un opritchnik, délire dystopique où il imaginait le quotidien d’un officier du futur, entre barbarie, prières et orgies, dans une Russie à mi-chemin entre celle de Poutine et celle d’Ivan le Terrible. «Je suis effaré par la régression de la société. Nous sommes dans la même situation qu’à la veille de la mort de Brejnev. Aujourd’hui la parole est encore libre, mais pour combien de temps?» On retrouve toujours chez Vladimir Sorokine cette conscience inquiète de l’Histoire, dont découle toute une réflexion sur la forme. Et si son oeuvre s’apparente souvent à une machine de guerre contre le pouvoir en place, la parution simultanée en France de Roman et de La Voie de Bro, deux textes écrits à quinze ans d’intervalle, montre bien que la virulence du discours politique ne va pas sans conséquences sur le genre romanesque.

Ainsi de Roman, composé en 1994, qui met en scène le crépuscule de la Russie du XIXe siècle, «une civilisation détruite par les bolcheviques», à travers la destinée de ce personnage éponyme ô combien romanesque. Dans ce texte monumental, Vladimir Sorokine tricote joyeusement les lieux communs de l’âme russe, rythmant la formation du héros de morceaux de bravoure à la gloire des grands maîtres du passé, Tourgueniev en première ligne - avant de tout faire valser sous les coups de hache de Roman. Il suffit d’une morsure pour que le tableau idyllique se rature de lui-même et conduise le héros à un jeu de massacre aussi féroce que jouissif. Tout se passe comme si le canevas du Bildungsroman et la tradition du réalisme classique étaient tenus de mettre en scène leur propre mise à mort. Et si, à l’instar d’Eugène Onéguine, la chute de Roman paraît inévitable, c’est que le grand roman russe est voué à l’implosion: «Roman convulsions. Roman vaciller. Roman convulsions. Roman vaciller. Roman bouger. Roman convulsions. Gémir roman. Roman bouger. Sursauter Roman. Roman convulsions. Roman bouger. Roman convulsions. Roman mort.»

Réécrire l’histoire de la Russie, c’est toucher à la fois le politique et le littéraire. Car le personnage romanesque, explique Vladimir Sorokine, est toujours «le produit d’un système étatique». Ainsi faut-il interpréter ces constantes variations génériques, thématiques ou stylistiques qu’il orchestre avec virtuosité. Cette instabilité fondamentale qui reflète non seulement les errances du XXe siècle russe mais les métamorphoses du langage qui lui sont corollaires. «J’utilise à dessein une multitude de formes, toutes associées à une époque, qui ont été en quelque sorte privatisées par mes aînés.» Bien au-delà de l’hommage, la référence à Pouchkine ou la citation de Tchekhov permettent en effet d’établir des jalons historiques. Et l’on ne sera pas surpris de voir surgir, dans Roman comme dans La Voie de Bro, une pléiade de clins d’oeil ou de pieds de nez aux « mammouths » des lettres russes. Comme cette scène d’anthologie où le jeune Bro rêve qu’il est interrogé par son professeur de lettres sur Dostoïevski, «cet homme morose et barbu au front sinistre» dont il a tout oublié.

La Voie de Bro s’inscrit dans un cycle romanesque, une trilogie entamée avec La Glace (rééd. Points, 2008) autour d’une secte imaginaire, la Confrérie de la Lumière originelle, qui incarne à elle seule toutes les dérives du totalitarisme. Après le récit minutieux de ses rites d’initiation barbares dans les bas-fonds de Moscou, Vladimir Sorokine s’attache au destin de son fondateur, Alexandre Sneguiriov, dit Bro, passant en revue un demi-siècle d’histoire russe, de la révolution de 1917 à la répression sous Staline. Dans cette prodigieuse autobiographie fictive aux allures de parabole, on assiste à l’irrésistible ascension d’une organisation secrète, limitée à 23 000 élus, qui infiltre les plus hauts échelons du pouvoir, à l’Est comme à l’Ouest, et finit par gouverner le monde. Encore une fois, la dystopie contamine la forme. Et si les hommes ou «machines de chair» sont trucidés à coups de glace, il en va de même pour le texte, qui s’ouvre comme un roman tolstoïen, tourne aux mémoires révolutionnaires, avant de s’abîmer en sombre Évangile. S’il s’agit moins, ici, d’un délitement que d’une mutation, le résultat est tout aussi monstrueux puisque le langage poétique se mue peu à peu en rhétorique sectaire.

Par un heureux hasard, cette publication croisée offre donc un aperçu saisissant des expérimentations de Sorokine sur le genre du roman. Loin d’en détruire les fondements ou d’en explorer les limites, il n’a cessé de mettre en scène les étapes de sa dégénérescence. Loin de verser dans l’exercice de style, il a su tourner le morceau de bravoure en acte de résistance. Loin de céder aux tentatives d’intimidation, il a fini par imposer cette parole libérée qu’il décrit volontiers comme «une substance folle, vivante, pareille à l’eau qui remplit les espaces vides, recouvre les digues et démolit violemment tout ce qui lui barre la route».

Augustin Trapenard

— Le Magazine Littéraire

A Dystopian Tale of Russia’s Future

A day in that near future, as imagined in “Day of the Oprichnik,” by the bad-boy novelist Vladimir Sorokin, opens with “always the same dream” of a white stallion, “the stallion of all stallions, dazzling, a sorcerer,” a dream that’s ever receding. This vision is interrupted by a whip cracking — in fact the ring of a “mobilov,” or mobile phone with holographs. (We later learn the year is 2028.) Andrei Danilovich Komiaga, our protagonist, snaps a fresh dog’s head onto the hood of his red “Mercedov” and is off on state business: putting down “sedition,” enriching himself and getting high.

Russia’s monarchy has been restored. And thanks be to God! Flogging is back, and the Kremlin has been repainted its original white. Sublime national self-­isolation has been rediscovered: a Great Wall of Russia extends from Europe through the Caucasus to the edge of China. The Red Troubles are long past. The White Troubles, which followed the collapse of the Reds, are a memory, too. It is a purer Ivan-the-Terrible age of pillaging and flag waving.

Enforcers like Andrei Danilovich, known as oprichniks — their name back in the days of Ivan — wear long, narrow beards and caftans while carrying ray guns. Their searcher-gadgets locate even well-concealed enemies of state, but their language is beautifully archaic, punctuated with incantations (“Hail the Purge!”) and aphorisms (“A sly approach is needed to run state affairs”).

The day’s first order of business entails the expropriation and execution of a rich noble (“Woe to this house!”). In strict order of rank, the oprichniks also gang-rape the noble’s delicate wife. (“Without this work, a raid is like a stallion without a rider.”) The noble’s children are sent to an orphanage to be raised as “honest citizens.” The Russian state is sacred. Cruelty is an art. And the day has only begun.

“Day of the Oprichnik” comes across almost as extended performance art in its evocative rituals and bizarreness. A Siberian soothsayer predicts that the country will be “all right” while tossing Russian literary classics (still printed on paper) into a fire. The half-Jewish czarina, who sleeps during the day and breakfasts at night — offering vodka, beluga caviar, Japanese soba on ice — poses a threat to the state because of her unpopularity, but up close her royal breasts mesmerize.

The oprichniks are not in on any joke, however. And they have power.

Sorokin was born in 1955 in a small town outside Moscow. His father was a professor of metallurgy, and he himself graduated from the Moscow Institute of Oil and Gas. But he forsook a career in hydro­carbons for book illustration and conceptual art. He came of age when the absurdity of Brezhnev’s comatose Soviet superpower trumped satire, and Gorbachev’s garrulous perestroika re-­energized the system into the grave. Then life became only more surreal, as Soviet DNA was recombined with the criminality and tiger-skin kitsch of the New Russia. All that is no simple assignment for a satirist, particularly one working within an acclaimed lineage, from Gogol’s “Dead Souls” to Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita.”

A prolific author of stories, novels, plays and movie scripts, Sorokin commenced writing under Soviet censorship — winks and nods, breached taboos, under­ground circulation. His novel “The Queue” was published not at home but in the West, in 1985. It consists entirely of sounds and dialogue from people performing the quintessential Soviet act: joining a long line to buy something, without knowing what.

Then poof — censorship was gone. Sorokin experimented further with postmodern form as well as porn, the craze of the liberated 1990s. He shares the same predicament as other talented Russian farceur-surrealists, like the Victors, Pelevin and Erofeyev: in their virtuoso burlesques about a crashed Russia, there’s often not much to be redeemed.[...]

By Stephen Kotkin

— The New York Times


Ochered' (The Queue) [1983]. Paris: Syntaxe, 1985.
Le Trentième amour de Marina, Lieu commun, 1987
Norma (The Norm) [1979-1983]. Moscow: Tri Kita in cooperation with Obscuri Viri, 1994.
Roman (A Novel) [1985-1989]. Moscow: Tri Kita in cooperation with Obscuri Viri, 1994.
Tridtsataia liubov’ Mariny (Marina’s Thirtieth Love) [1982-1984]. Moscow: Izdanie R. Elinina, 1995.
Serdtsa chetyryokh (Four Stout Hearts) [1991]. Moscow: Literary Miscellany Konets Veka, 1994.
Pervy Subbotnik (The First Saturday Workday) [1979-1984]. In Collected Works in Two Volumes. Moscow: Ad Marginem, 1998.
Goluboe Salo (Blue Salo) [1999]. Moscow: Ad Marginem, 1999.
Pir (The Feast) [2000]. Moscow: Ad Marginem, 2000.
Ice (Lyod) [2002]. Moscow: Ad Marginem, 2002.
Bro (Put' Bro) [2004]. Moscow: Zakharov Books, 2004.
23,000 [2005] in Trilogy (Trilogiya). Moscow: Zakharov Books, 2005.
La Glace, L’Olivier, 2005; Points Seuil, 2008
Day of the Oprichnik («Den' oprichnika) [2006]. Moscow: Zakharov Books, 2006.
Le Lard bleu, L’Olivier, 2007
Journée d’un opritchnik, L’Olivier, 2008
Zaplyv (Swimming in). Moscow: AST, 2008.
Saharniy Kreml (Kremlin Made Of Sugar) [2008]. Moscow: AST, 2008.
La Voie de Bro, L’Olivier, 2010.
Roman, Verdier 2010
La Tourmente, Verdier 2011

Pelmeni (1984–1987)
Zemlyanka (The Hut, or Earth-house 1985)
Russkaya Babushka (Russian Grandmother) (1988)
Doverie (Confidence) (1989)
Dismorphomania (1990)
Yubiley (Anniversary) (1993)
Hochzeitreise (The Post-Nuptial Journey) (1994–1995)
Shchi (Cabbage Soup) (1995–1996)
Dostoevsky-Trip (1997)
S Novym Godom (Happy New Year) (1998)

Film Scripts
Bezumny Fritz (Mad Fritz), 1994. Directors: Tatiana Didenko and Alexander Shamaysky.
Moskva (Moscow), 2001. Director: Alexander Zeldovich. First Prize on the festival in Bonn; Award of Federation of Russian Film-Clubs for best Russian movie of the year.
Kopeyka (Kopeck), 2002. Director: Ivan Dykhovichny. Nomination for Award "Zolotoy Oven" for best film script.
4 (Four), 2004. Director: Ilya Khrzhanovsky. Grand Jury Prize of International Film Festival Rotterdam.
Veshch (Thing). Director: Ivan Dykhovichny.
Cashfire. Director: Alexander Schurikhin.
Mishen (Target), 2011. Director: Alexander Zeldovich.

Other works
Photograph album V Glub' Rossii (In the Depths of Russia), in cooperation with painter Oleg Kulik.
Libretto for opera Deti Rozentalya (Rosenthal's Children), with music by Leonid Desyatnikov; written on request of the Bolshoi Theater, Moscow.