LENIN LOST? "THE FATE OF A WANDERING GHOST"
The STD Library catalogue numbers 157 plays about Lenin and more than a thousand references to performances of those plays in theaters throughout the USSR. Considering the expansive dramatic and scenic attention that he received, one cannot help wondering whether he continues to make appearances on the post-Soviet stage and, if yes, in what capacity. In order to approach this question I shall discuss and analyze two post-Soviet plays featuring the persona of Lenin - "Six Specters of Lenin on a Piano" by Victor Denisov and "Profession: Lenin" by Alexandra Kolesnikova - together with their different stage interpretations. In order to contextualize this analysis, however, it is first necessary to outline the process of the creation of the Lenin myth and its development at different stages.
An understanding of the innate ritualistic and theatrical nature of the Lenin icon is crucial for further discussion of the ways in which the myth of Lenin operates within a theatrical frame. The Lenin myth does not stand by itself in the consciousness of the Russian people; it is, rather, inseparable from the myth of the October Revolution. As with all societies that undergo a rapid change, the newborn Soviet structure was, at it inception, in need of a myth of tradition, a common starting and reference point for the entire nation. The past had to be recreated (or reinvented, if necessary), and there could be no more appropriate choice than the event at the State's origin: the dynamic, turbulent October Revolution with the dramatic, spectacular storming of the Winter Palace as its culmination. The first official ceremonies and celebrations of the October Revolution appeared during the Civil War years between 1917 and 1920. As well as conveying the dramatic importance and essence of the October Revolution, these public reenactments of historical events served as a kind of revolutionary script: they gave individuals who had been removed from the actual events the opportunity to see themselves as members of the "cast", to sense their own involvement and importance through a theatrical form of belated participation. The more this reenacted story was repeated, the more crucial it became for the self-perception of the young nation.
The method of establishing a shared past through reenactment proved to be the fastest and most successful means of inventing a new mythology. Of course, in this case, the past was reinvented considerably more than recreated: as Corney writes, the taking of the Winter Palace was not historically the most important event of the October Revolution. Indeed, the building was not viewed by Russians as a symbol of oppression: it housed a powerless cabinet, it was seized a day after the Bolsheviks were already in power and it was never actually stormed.1 The actual facts were rearranged, distorted and embellished to create an event worthy of reenactment and which could serve as a dignified, glorious originary myth.
It seems that it would be more appropriate to codify the continuous mass reenactments as "ritual" rather than as "mythology". At the turn of the century mass spectacles were not a phenomenon unique to Russia, but were common throughout Europe and originated, as Fischer-Lichte claims, in a deep yearning for communal experience.2 Their general role has always been to shape and establish a collective identity, and this modern pageantry was perceived as a fusion between theater and ritual. Be that as it may, the mass spectacles of 1917 could not be defined as ritual, since this emerging society did not yet possess the necessary codified language. This inspirational combination of drama and play, which only became ritual some years later, could be best classified as "active mythology", or what Karen Petrone would probably refer to as "celebration discourse". Another way of reconciling this tension between historical definitions of myth and ritual is suggested by E. B. Taylor who believes that myth itself has a ritual character, insofar as the words of myth hide the same potential for action, which is put into force in ritual.3
In fact, for the creators of the mass spectacles - Vyacheslav Ivanov and Anatoly Lunacharsky - drama and ritual were inseparable from myth. The action of live participation that linked those three concepts was marked by Ivanov as deistvo: "the representation of a crucial transformation in the life of an individual that spoke for the whole of society through the symbolic essence."4 For Ivanov - the former symbolist poet and the current head of Narkompros - immediacy was key. The fabrication of a common experience with a symbolic meaning, very much in the Dionysian spirit, was close to Ivanov's understanding of myth as a flesh-and-blood dramatic action rather than a remote tale. In this socially relevant "active mythology" actors and spectators were united in mystical communion, or - Levi-Strauss wrote much later, "a desperate attempt to reestablish the continuity of lived experience."5 As always in performance, the move beyond text to event and corporeality signified the wish to overcome theatrical illusion and here it was employed to a very specific political purpose. As Von Geldern opines, "a foundation tale is only successful insofar as it is able to implicate the individual in the tale."6 As every new listener became in his turn the storyteller, the story gained momentum, acquiring new details, embellishments and adornments. The originating myth was established as a self-serving, constantly engaged mechanism-in-motion.
However, the process of constant retelling that was giving the myth its power could not retain the spontaneous immediacy of the original reenactments. In 1927, by the time of the 10th anniversary celebrations, the October Revolution was already part of historic memory: the October myth had been gradually and imperceptibly institutionalized. An important landmark in this process, which also serves as evidence of its completion, was Eisenstein's depiction of the events of October and his treatment of the Revolution as a spectacle of historical genesis. (Ironically, the director's inspiration for this film came from a mass spectacle performed at a festival on the third anniversary of the event.7)
Using the medium of film to record his impressions, Eisenstein had once and for all rid the scenario of any unpredictability or freedom. The immediacy was replaced by the stiffness of the frozen picture; the unrestrained physicality and the open space supplanted by the palpable, solid, and limiting artifacts of film and screen. Moreover, the constant reality of the film allowed it to become the 'absolute' version of the events. In his book Eisenstein, Cinema and History, James Goodwin demonstrates how Eisenstein employed various visual techniques and frames to distort both time and geographical unity in his representation of the Bolshevik Revolution. However, it was precisely this representation that later served as a script of sorts for further revolutionary role playing.
The possession of a fixed scenario allowed the transferal of the October myth from the private sphere to the domestic realm. Children growing up in the 1920s were encouraged to play at "revolutionaries" by dividing themselves into "reds" and "whites" and reenacting not only the charge of the Winter Palace, but many other battles. The full-bodied performance of history thus gained a casual, everyday character, and became not so much a celebration, but a lesson in mythical history. The children did not only learn through such play, but tried on their future adult social roles. As the October myth lost its spontaneity and gained a more rigid social codification, it followed the typical path of myths and became "servile" - used and adapted for particular social and political purposes. From 1928 to 1940, the carnivalesque, merry spirit of the Bolshevik festivals subsided, and the celebrations became more formal and standardized. Furthermore, as the 1937 festival, the 20th anniversary of the October Revolution, was shadowed by the purges, history was rewritten overnight, obliterating the role of the "enemies of the revolution" - such as Kamenev, Zinoviev and Trotsky - in the October events. In short, while preserving all of its outer ritualistic qualities, the October myth lost its initial essence. Since its initial purpose had long been forgotten, it ceased to figure as the originating myth, leaving behind only the shell of an empty ritual.
At the same time, the October myth had, at its origin, also fulfilled an opposite function: it created a sub-myth, aggrandizing it and subjecting it to its purposes. The charge of the Winter Palace did not suffice to legitimize the new regime; an iconic myth - an image - was needed to support and complement the ritualistic aspect. Since such an icon is most strongly supported by visual art, it was Eisenstein's film that which played a fundamental role in establishing Lenin as the symbol of the Revolution: "The film presents Lenin as a manifestation of the masses' energy and direction. Lenin does not control events, but rather he appears at the pivotal moments, when movement towards revolution is intensified."8 It is, thus, evident that the myth of Lenin never existed on its own, but was appropriated by another mythical structure at the moment of its birth.
Of course, the image of Lenin was selected and anointed by the Revolution as a very obvious and convenient potential grand-myth. A variety of mythical narratives pertaining to Lenin existed long before the establishment of his cult. As Tumarkin suggests, myths of Lenin had been popular in distant regions such as the Urals since the first days of the Revolution; and - not coincidentally - they were all of a folkloric nature: the stylized, familiar mythical forms of folk narrative allowed such a powerful and distant figure as Lenin to seem familiar and accessible.9 To facilitate the bonding of the populace with its leader, the impetus for which was demonstrated in these tales, more formal and "documentary" biographies of Lenin were created: by Olminskii, by his wife Krupskaia, by his sister Ulianova (whose work targeted a younger pioneer audience) and, finally, the famous biography of John Reed, "Ten Days That Shook the World" (1919). In essence, the metonymic message of all these works is similar: Lenin stands for the party, indeed, he is the party just as he was in the slogan, which became so popular soon after: "говорим Ленин - подразумеваем партия, говорим партия - подразумеваем Ленин." ("When we say 'Lenin', we mean 'The Party', when we say 'The Party', we mean 'Lenin'.")
This effaced image of Lenin as an entity that was completely merged with the party, though perfect ideologically, could not, by itself, be attractive enough to arouse and cultivate adoration and worship. An element of the supernatural or the divine had to be added to complete the picture. This deification of the national leader was not introduced to the Russians by the Soviet system: the emerging cult of Lenin (in the most Christian, archetypal sense) fitted well into the tradition that saw the Romanov dynasty as divine and also engaged with the cult of Alexander the Great. Tacitly, the same elements of Old Russia that the Bolsheviks had been eager to destroy were clearly present in the mythologization of the new leader.
This appeal to Christianity was the natural continuation of the exploitation of Christian rhetoric in Soviet festivals. In addition to the pagan Dionysian motives, the festivals were modeled on patterns provided by Christian mythology: history was narrated as in medieval mystery plays. Fischer-Lichte, for instance, finds a clear parallel between the forms of behavior and experiences during these festivals and those during the Orthodox Easter celebrations.10 Not only was the history of pre-revolutionary oppression narrated as a battle between Evil and Good, but the parallels between the finale of the mass spectacles and that of the Easter liturgy would have been evident to the attentive observer. At the culmination of the reenactment - the storming of the Winter Palace - the newly acquired collective identity of the revolutionaries was certified by a sacrifice, the blood shed in the fight for liberation.11 Of course, instead of crying for Jesus however, the emotional, excited crowds, cried for Lenin.
Naturally, no direct allusions to Lenin's identification with Christ were ever made. Moreover, there was always a certain confusion about the role of Lenin within the Communist pantheon: at the beginning of the cult, he was codified as a saint - first by Zinoviev addressing Lenin as "a saint, an apostle and a prophet"12, then by the creation of iconography - stylized portraits and busts of Lenin - by the writing of idealized biographies, typical of hagiography, and by the sacred writings of Leninism. At a later period, however, Demian Bednyi in his poem "Vozhdiu", written for Lenin's 50th birthday directly referred to his collected works as to "the holy bible of labor", thus making Lenin's mythological status lean towards Christ once again. The illness of the leader resulted in a definitive "promotion" from a saint to Christ, as the cult of the absent leader reached its expected culmination. However, this wavering and blurring between the image of a saint and the image of Christ survived even Lenin's death. On one hand, Lenin's wounds suggested a clear parallel to Christ; on the other, the Lenin corners that appeared during his sickness were reminiscent of the "saint corners" in Russian izbas. However, the cult established after Lenin's death directly pointed towards the Christ-like notion of life after death, hence the mausoleum and the slogan "Lenin lives!" Likewise, palm branches, which are symbolic of Christ's martyrdom, were intertwined in the wreaths at Lenin's funeral.13 As we can see, such ritualism - that is, the "worship" associated with the Lenin corners and, later, with Lenin's undead body in the mausoleum - did not just compliment the myth of Lenin, but underlined the fact that the origins of its mythological cultural frame had been always bifurcated.
As for the development of the Lenin myth into ritual, the immense physicality of the Lenin cult stands as important testament to this transformation. The Lenin museum used to contain more than 300 artifacts: Lenin's portraits were printed on posters, table cloths, plates, cigarette cases, match boxes. Vladimir Maiakovskii's famous poems "Vladimiru Ilichu Leninu" and "Komsomol'skaia", written shortly after his death, denounced the vulgarity of the Lenins cult and the transformation of his image into a commodity. As Levi-Strauss writes:
In effect, the merchandising of Lenin was the result of the successfully established ritual (and was, essentially, of the same nature as the obligatory mourning meetings.) The commodities of the cult, being part of the propaganda, not only acquired the charged powerful potential of words, but became ideologically relevant statements. As Mihail Epstein notes, such an expansion of the sign subjected the Soviet citizen to a "double control, a doubly reinforced signifying chain."15
The ideology, however, fast found other "signifying fathers", facilitating the Hegelian transition from matter to spirit: Lenin's very name became an object of merchandise as well. From a whole, intact sign, "Lenin" became a signifier - a verbal commodity. Dozens of sayings and slogans emerged that ransacked the name of Lenin and countless cities, streets and localities, as well as newborn children, were named after Lenin in some fashion or the other. It was as if Lenin's name, just like that of a saint, continued to emanate power after his death.16
The abundant practical utilization of a name as a sign is characteristic of mythological thinking. As Cassirer writes, in the mythical view "magical powers attach directly to the word. He who gains possession of the name and knows how to make use of it, has gained power over the object itself."17 Hence, the shift from myth to ritual leads back to myth. This serves as yet another illustration of the undulating, cyclical nature of the myth-ritual relationship that frames the Lenin myth.
The powers that were mythologically attributed to the name of Lenin fit well into the general social role of language under the new system. As the Bolsheviks strived towards a renegotiation of meanings, they believed that speech, as one of the most important societal aspects, must be deconstructed and built anew to reflect new ideas correctly. In this task they had to rely mainly on oral modes of communication as a large proportion of the population was illiterate. "The living word" thus gave citizens more direct and immediate access to the language, symbols, and visions of the new society and encouraged their active participation in its verbal construction."18 The multiplication and amplification of Lenin's name revealed the same performative power of language as the rehearsed speech at the October celebrations. Moreover, the reproduction of naming as a process could not be classified as either oral or written: it was beyond both these media, belonging to a higher and eternal aspect of language. The compulsive reproduction of the "Lenin" symbol as a signifier eventually blurred and nearly effaced the signified, rendering it too vague and utopian, a result that falls well within the characterization of the Soviet language project as discussed by Siniavskii: "The Soviet language tries to rename everything using labels that indicate only a potential meaning, an ideal that may never materialize."19 Curiously, as a political figure, Lenin in his speeches and writings was considered to be the chief decanonizer of language: literary critics, such as Shklovsky, mentioned his resistance to cliché and his use of colloquial and even vulgar language as a means of lowering the traditional language of rhetoric. Ironically, Lenin the symbol negated the work of Lenin the writer: as the vague idealized signified never reached its intended potential, the signifier was horribly trivialized; "Lenin" became the overriding cliché, the canonized, sacred cliché. Lenin-the-symbol had been appropriated once again, this time, by the very language that produced it.
The cult of Lenin persisted until the end of the 1920s, when it was slowly replaced by the cult of Stalin around the time the first wooden mausoleum - a place of mass pilgrimage for several years - was replaced by a new construction made of stone and granite. Tumarkin sees in this proof of the demise of Lenin's cult: the stone - cold and lifeless - represented Stalin's deliberate attempt to confine Lenin to the past, and, symbolically, his second death.20 However, a more probable reason is suggested by Paperny in his acclaimed book "Kul'tura 2" a shift from one culture to the other; from the revolutionary and NEP years ("culture 1"), to the period of Stalin's reign ("culture 2") Cultures 1 and 2 present opposing systems in both ideology and aesthetics: culture 1 looks into the future and lives in the future, while culture 2 eliminates future by turning it into eternity while looking back towards the past as into the end of history:
The Lenin myth was thus cemented and, in a way, imprisoned by Stalinist culture: it was no longer simply caught in its own past (as often happens to myths); it was caught in the past of another culture, a culture removed and distanced by a new one.
The following years marked the most cynical appropriation of the Lenin myth.22 The figure of Lenin either went hand in hand with the figure of Stalin, portraying the spiritual succession between the leaders, or was simply used as a mouthpiece for Stalin's ideas. Such way of representation helped to foster an unspoken understanding that the image of Lenin stood for Stalin. Thus, "Lenin" became the signifying image for Stalin. This was, naturally, reflected in the "Lenin plays" of the period, which appeared in abundance. For instance, Nikolai Pogodin's play "The Gunman" ("Chelovek s Ruzh'iom"), written at the peak of Stalin's Terror in 1937, which deals with the fears and anxieties of the Bolsheviks on the eve of the revolution, is, in fact, written to no other purpose than to justify the events of the 1930s. Lenin is shown here through the eyes of the protagonist Schadrin - a red army commissar. The leader of the revolution is portrayed as an ordinary, reasonable and likable person: warmly humorous, honest, self-critical, yet also very demanding - a sort of superman whose simplicity is, too, enigmatic and intriguing.
Stalin, a seemingly minor character in the play, upon closer turns out to be the dominant figure. If, in the second act, Lenin (conversing with Stalin) shows complete approval of the latter's deeds and intentions from the position of a leader, in the last act it is Stalin and not Lenin who instructs and encourages the Red Army soldiers. Besides the continuation of Lenin's legacy by Stalin, the playwright Pogodin lays emphasis on a "division of labor": Stalin is the executor, the practical man, while Lenin is the man of ideas. Not surprisingly, Lenin's "idea" echoes Stalin's own: the fierce and merciless repression of "counter-revolutionaries" and other "enemies of the regime". In a conversation at the Bolshevik headquarters, Lenin proclaims:
In the play's finale Lenin delivers an unambiguous speech: "the man with a gun" shall not be feared anymore, since the Red Army, though considered dictatorial by some, is protecting the country and its people. Undoubtedly, the necessity of terror during the Civil War years is equated to the necessity of terror in the thirties, and the implacable Lenin stands for the implacable Stalin.
The sanctity of the Lenin figure as an image of Stalin superceded the sanctity of the actual Lenin cult. The highest criteria were applied to the representational construction of Lenin's scenic image. Only specially chosen actors were allowed to represent the "holy" figure, and any play that represented Lenin was severely censored. As a result, the playwrights approached their Lenins timidly and hesitantly, creating the kind of flat, external, even static portrayals that are so characteristic of 1930s plays. As Petrone puts it: "The Lenin that emerged during the twentieth anniversary lacked any internal complexity and more resembled the Lenin in the mausoleum than the Lenin who organized revolution."24
For instance, in Alexander Shtein's "In-Between Rains" (Mezhdu Dozhdiami), which was written in 1939 and deals with Lenin's suppression of the Kronshtadt Rebellion, Lenin is almost absent from the play altogether. He appears only once in the first act, humbly eating black bread in his kitchen, and once again in the second where he discloses his torn sentiments in a very long monologue in which he debates whether to stick to his principles or to pity the rebels and forgive them. Eventually, showing complete indecision and a lack of resolution or leadership, he allows the people to decide: "Съезд решит. Убежденные коммунисты принесут на лед свою революционную убежденность. И свою жизнь. И решат судьбу Кронштадта."25 ("The congress will decide. Devout Communists will bring their revolutionary decisiveness to the ice. They will bring their life. And they will deicde upon the fate on Krondstadt.") One could suppose that Shtein suggests Lenin's innate democratic principles selflessness, and great magnanimity, yet, in fact, this is just an awkward literary juggling, with the author himself running 'in-between rains': the fear of making Lenin appear flawed and the fear of making him appear too significant for the revolution and thus overshadowing the role of Stalin.
In 1940s, as Stalin foresees and fears the imminent war, a need to create a more humane image of the leadership arose. Therefore, a more humane, sympathetic Lenin can be seen onstage, a Lenin who is a creator of the new, not just a destroyer of the old. Pogodin's "The Kremlin Chimes" (Kremliovskie Kuranty) (1940), the second play of his Lenin trilogy, presents Lenin as a dreamer and a peacemaker. It is the end of the Civil War, the dawn of the Soviet regime, and Lenin - instead of occupying himself with important governmental issues - visits peasant izbas, making friends with peasant children, or promenades with the protagonist Rybakov, conversing with him on emotional issues and advising him to love "like in the old times". When he finally chooses to interact with the "proletariat", it is the workers who convince him of the power and omnipotence of the Soviet regime, rather than the converse. Lenin confesses to Rybakov: "я вам по секрету скажу... иногда я мечтаю... Разгуливаю один и рисую перед собой невиданные вещи. Башню до небес мы строить не будем, но с нашими людьми можно дерзать, можно мечтать..."26 ("I will tell you a secret... sometimes I dream... i walk alone and I imagine unbelievable things. We will not build any sky-high towers, but with our people one can dare, one can dream...") True to this encapsulation of his character, Lenin manifests a unique understanding of the engineer Zabelin who protests and rebels against the new system; instead of punishing him, he "converts" him, and in the finale the happy, enlightened engineer is ready to engage in the project of Russia's electrification. This is definitely a completely different Lenin - not the determined, fierce, hawk-eyed leader of the revolution, but a mellow, peaceful, and sentimental "grandpa Lenin", a Soviet incarnation of Santa Claus. Thus, the myth of Lenin experiences a double removal from its sign. In following Barthes' assumption that materials of mythical speech are reduced to a signifying function when caught by a myth ("That which is a sign in the first system, becomes a mere signifier in the second,"27) "Lenin" first becomes a signifier of his own myth - the myth of the Revolution symbol - and then a signifier for the myths of others.
To achieve revitalization, the Lenin cult required a pause - a moment of complete oblivion that permitted a rupture of the vicious circle of violation. Such a break was naturally provided by World War II, which eliminated even mass political holidays, with the exception of the October 1941 parade, which strives to show the defense capacity of the Soviet Union.28 The focus shifted completely, as Lenin was forgotten and overshadowed by a new heroic narrative, that of the holy Patriotic War. Then, more than a decade later, Khrushchev publicly denounced Stalin, and the Patriotic War narrative, which had been inextricably connected with Stalin, had to subside for awhile. Since "nature abhors a vacuum", the gaping hole in the State mythology had to be filled with something, and Khrushchev turned to the only obvious option: the resurrection of the Lenin cult. It seems that since "culture 1" - that which created the Lenin myth - took over again, it could "unlock" the myth from a point of common understanding, ridding it of its accumulated superfluous shells and reuniting the separated halves of its signifier and signified. However, this was but a desperate attempt to rekindle the fire, to reutilize once again this abused, worn down myth.
The 60s Lenin is represented either as a grand and imposing titanic statue, or as a kindly, soft, approachable figure: the "Grandpa Lenin" that was mostly emphasized in the Lenin pioneer sub-cult.) New colors and shades were thus needed to diversify the figure of the undead leader and make it more complex. Quite a few plays were written to fulfill this social "commission". Alexey Kapler's "The Storm Year" (Grozovoi God), set in the midst of the Civil War, is at first glance reminiscent of Pogodin's "Gunman". Just like Pogodin, Kapler seems to be justifying the cruelties of the 1920s, portraying Lenin's battle with the oppositionists and enemies of the new regime. However, the pathos of the play is different: Lenin here is forced to be harsh with the "kulaks" who hide bread and speculate on prices, since he is struggling to feed the people during times of hunger. In general, everything that Lenin does in this play is dictated by his love of humanity, whether it is finding a home for an abandoned child, or ordering Dzerzhinsky to build ten orphanages. This is a portrait of a selfless man who lives for others and for others' happiness. Lenin as an active character is not given so much space, yet throughout the entire play many characters in different degrees of proximity to Lenin tell their personal stories of him. "Мы расскажем вам о Ленине. Мы знали его. Мы видели Ленина совсем близко, как человека, с которым встречаешься каждый день, которого видишь вот так вот - рядом с собой, слышишь его голос, ощущаешь тепло руки."29 ("We will tell you of Lenin. We used to know him. We saw Lenin from up close, as a person one meets everyday, we saw him that close, we heard his voice, we felt the warmth of his hand. ") The accent here is on showing Lenin's remarkable qualitieswithout the distancing that is inevitably linked to his "saintly" status; this play is about Lenin the person: an extraordinary person, but still a person.
Dmitry Zorin's play "The Eternal Spring" (Vechnyi Istochnik), written in 1956, also looks into a more personal aspect of Lenin's life. The action takes place in 1922 in a village in central Russia. Lenin happens to wander there hiding from the rain after a hunting expedition - a completely mundane, even aristocratic hobby - and befriends the villagers for a day. During the course of the day he defends a little girl, who is being teased by malicious children, pacifies a jealous husband and intervenes in other insignificant details in the village life. This Lenin is modern, soft and tolerant: he philosophizes on the life that he envisions for the peasants - which does not preclude becoming rich and modernized - and, while helping the protagonist create a kolkhoz, scolds his gubprokomissar for being too harsh, accusing him of trying to build a dictatorship, not a socialist society. In this play Lenin is a prophet: wise, kind, approachable and responsive to the troubles of the smallest, most insignificant people of the Narod.
In "Tret'ia Pateticheskaia" (1958), the play that ends the trilogy, Pogodin jumps to the other extreme, presenting not the flesh and blood Lenin, but Lenin as a symbolic construction. It could be said that this Lenin is not the "father" (God) and not the "son" (Christ), but the holy spirit of the revolution. The events of the play unfold between the spring of 1922 and the winter of 1924. Lenin, far from being the protagonist of the play, is nonetheless constantly on the lips and in the minds of all of the "good characters" As for his actions, he is adamant in the importance given to social context, refusing to forgive a Bolshevik who has 'sinned' and would not look into the 'personal side' of affairs, and humorous, soft and gentle with his loved ones. Yet his gentleness does not make him accessible; it is an introspective, otherworldly gentleness. This aspect is emphasized in the play when one of the characters remarks after meeting Lenin: "Человек... как я... А дивный."30 ("He's a person... just like me... but he's wondrous all the same.") In this wistful distance from the material world, we see a tired, melancholy Lenin, not just on the eve of his death but already in 1922: he knows that there are people who doubt his life's work - the revolution - and he dies with this knowledge and disappointment, yet somehow reconciled with it. Even though he is not the central figure in the play, the other characters (even the ones who know him but briefly) feel that 'the world is orphaned', the spirit which kindled the revolution has largely subsided with the death of this man. Thus, the efforts to make Lenin's image believable and corporeal ultimately have a completely different effect.
The new Lenin cult followed the same forms, but in a more polished and pervasive way; no area of public life is left untouched. The "trading" of Lenin's image also gained new popularity: he appeared everywhere from posters to lacquer boxes. In 1967, on the 50th anniversary of October Revolution, the celebrations returned with magnificent splendor, a huge portrait of Lenin being suspended in the sky.31 Indeed, with the reestablishment of the cult, the image of the leader of the Revolution became a commodity on a truly capitalist scale. Thus, this new, more extensive Lenin cult bore more similarities to the Stalin cult that preceded it. Of course, this "heredity" is not surprising, considering that this time the Lenin cult was artificially reestablished to replace the Stalin cult. It would seem that the historical gap between the 1920s and the 1960s could not be overcome without leaving a trace: the return to the original Lenin myth was no longer possible. This ironic attempt to reappropriate the signifier by its long-displaced signified was bound to fail. What the Khruschevian era could offer was not the reacquisition of the lost original signified, but an artificial installation of a fabricated, still-born signified into the gaping hole.
The most prolific "Lenin playwright", Mikhail Shatrov, is considered Pogodin's pupil, yet he surpassed his teacher in writing not three, but more than a dozen plays about the Leader. In the five volumes of Shatrov's collected works only a few plays do not touch upon Lenin and his life; it seems that Shatrov dedicated himself to the role of the last Lenin bard in the pre-perestroika era. In order to reveal unknown nuances of Lenin's character and biography, Shatrov placed his plays in different and unexpected periods in his past, and yet in their style and essence the plays all seem to belong to a whole and complete piece, an endless Lenin saga. Considered "rebellious" and provocative when writing and consistently panned by critics, especially the devout Leninists, Shatrov is, nevertheless, widely staged across the Soviet Union by such prominent directors as Zakharov, Efremov, Liubimov and Sturua
Making his debut at the very dawn of the Khruschev era in 1957 with his play "In the Name of the Revolution" (Imenem Revoliutsii), Shatrov returned in 1962 with "The Brest Peace" (Brestskii Mir) where he made an attempt to approach documentary drama, a genre that he most fully mastered in his 1964 work "July 6th" (Shestoe Iulia). This play depicts episodes of the struggle between the Soviet goverment and leftist socialist-revolutionaries (esery), attempting to follow historical facts so carefully that it seems almost completely devoid of artistry and of art. In aninterview recorded during the 1980s, Shatrov confessed to his obsession with the factual and the 'real', talking of the necessity to recreate the true, "authentic" Lenin. Yet it is precisely the attempt at such a recreation, manifested in a happy acceptance of the imposed narrativization of history and hyper documentation - in fact, pseudo-documentation - that makes Shatrov's plays utterly and blatantly mythical.
In his historicisation of theatre, which he achieves through a documentary writing style and the citation of authentic documents, Shatrov treats small, personal episodes in Lenin's life, enlarging them into significant events in the history of the Soviet Union. Such is the idea behind "A Day of Quiet" (Den' Tishiny, 1965), which takes places in a sanatorium in December 1917: the play is rather uneventful, and has no direct connection to the revolution other than Lenin's thoughts, which do not for a minute stray from this subject. Another example is "Thus We Shall Win" (Tak Pobedim), written in the early 80s and depicting fifteen minutes that Lenin spends in his cabinet on October 18th, 1923. This particular play receives full approbation of the government, winning the USSR National Award.
Some of Shatrov's plays, however, offer potential for director rearrangement, of which he boldest example would be "Blue Horses on Red Grass" (Sinie Koni na Krasnoi Trave) written in 1970. This play operates on three time planes: an outlook from 'today' (the seventies), a window to 1920 and episodes from one day of the beginning of Lenin's physical decline. The Lenin of this play is marked by modesty, warm humor and self-neglect, insofar as he sacrifices his health for the sake of his work. Lenin's stance against violence is reiterated throughout the entire play: in long soliloquies, in conversations with his dear ones and in his scolding of young Comsomol and party members for their misconceptions of the Bolshevik ideology. Lenin's constant worry is that, due to misinterpretations and abuse, such an ugly distortion of Marxism would be accepted as Marxism itself. In short, Lenin is portrayed as a completely innocent figure that has nothing to do with Stalin's terror, or even the terror of the Civil War and the early years. In order to be more convincing, Shatrov utilizes real documents from the 1920s or, rather, excerpts from these documents, though they are, of course, carefully selected and often drawn out of context.
Mark Zakharov, directing this play at the legendary Lenkom in 1979, not only modified, but almost completely reworked the play. Zakharov had never shared Shatrov's sympathies towards Lenin32 and he did all that was permissible in the Brezhnev era to retain the visibility of following the play, while, in fact, using its form and surface to "show the finger". Thus, the actors play not the roles themselves, but their ways of relating to their roles, in an almost Brechtian manner. The acclaimed actor Oleg Yankovskii, who played Lenin, wore a black jacket and used neither fake beard nor make up. He later remarked: "Я не играю здесь образ Ленина. Я играю свое отношение к нему, переломленное сквозь призму сегодняшнего дня."33 ("I am not playing Lenin's image here. I am playing my own attitude towards Lenin, seen through the prism of the present day.") As a result of this distanced performance, it seemed at times that the actor was challenging the integrity of Lenin's words, just as he was challenging the integrity of the entire text. Thus, instead of vindicating Lenin, the performance played with authorial intention. There is conceivably something in the play's texture that allowed the possibility of this interpretation. Considering its two structuring devices - the 'contemporary times', which are part of the play, and the stage direction explicitly indicating the absence of make up for the actors - we are left to wonder whether Shatrov deliberately left those 'gaps' in his texts.
In contrast "On, On, On" (Dal'she, Dal'she, Dal'she), written in 1986 at the beginning of the glasnost period, and published in "Znamia" in 1988, causing a stormy polemic, leaves no doubts about the authorial position. In this play the character of Lenin himself vehemently attempts to prove that there is no connection between Lenin's October Revolution and the bloody Stalinist rule that followed. The complex structure of the play enables the simultaneous existence of temporal and atemporal planes: the latter plane, representing a trial, allows the characters to exist outside of time while retaining an omniscient perspective on history. In this unofficial trial, Stalin is proclaimed guilty. Lenin himself is not only completely above suspicions, but is constantly shown as a deeply responsible, moral individual. He actively denounces Stalin, Trotsky and the rest of the party for defaming his life's work. It seems that the main goal of the play is to show Lenin's disgust with Stalin, which the playwright believed would be as strong as his own. In the very end only Stalin and Lenin remain onstage, and the directions explain that Lenin waits for Stalin to leave, but to no avail. Stalin tries "to explain" this one last time, but Lenin cuts him short with a hand gesture and, addressing the audience, tells them to go "on... on... on..." The last sentence, more of an author's remark than a direction, states: "Очень хочется, чтобы Сталин ушел. Но пока что он на сцене."34 ("One really wants Stalin to leave. But meanwhile he's still onstage.")
In this way, "Lenin" does not conceal that it is Stalin who disappointed him, not the ideology; it is the execution that is at fault, not the idea. "Социализм - да! Все осуществленные социалистические преобразования - да! Методы Сталина - нет! Нравственность по Сталину - нет!"35 ("Socialism - yes! All implemented socialistic reforms - yes! Stalin's methods - no! Morality according to Stalin - no!") The October Revolution is not only fully justified, but endowed with a new, fresh meaning in Lenin's last endearing speech:
In a 1988 interview, Shatrov repeated the thought of his character, confessing that to consider the October Revolution altogether evil would make the lives of his generation meaningless. If Khrushchev strategically used Lenin to get rid of Stalin, Shatrov used Stalin to "save" Lenin, whitening the latter by blackening the former, thus attempting to reverse the initial appropriation of the Lenin myth. The October revolution, mentioned in Lenin's soliloquy, is a desperate resort to the mythologem, which was so tightly linked to the original sign of the "Lenin" icon. The message encoded in the revoked originating myth is an appeal to its performative quality - hence the performatively inclusive nature of the language of the monologue - the attempt to submerge the readers/audience in the emotional experience of the event, to recreate an already fragmented collective identity.
Another play of the perestorika period - the little known "Enemy of the People" (Vrag Naroda) (1989) by Oleg Agraniants - makes a first awkward attempt to criticize Lenin. Act I takes place at the very beginning of World War I in Europe and follows the hardships of exile for Lenin and Krupskaia. The second act jumps to Petrograd in 1917, and thus the disgraced, pitiable Lenin is contrasted with his powerful, majestic reincarnation. If in the first act, he is filled with doubts and at times self-critical, in the second he is reborn into an entirely different individual. Such a sudden shift, represented with a lack of psychological nuances, is not very convincing, but it is definitely critical, as shown by Lenin's order:
The repetition of the last word gives a sense of Lenin's certain sadistic pleasure at terror and excludes the convenient version of a great leader fulfilling his duty of battling his enemies (which is often used to "excuse" Lenin's "sternness"). In the end, when Armand exclaims that she would like to live long enough to see life in twenty years, in 1937, to see for herself how happy and free people will be, it is supposed to make the audience - already well aware of the meaning of 1937 - shudder Stalin then echoes this fearful apprehension of the future, which is known to be past, by declaring that the history of the country will from now on evolve according to the rules of socialism. While Lenin's "shoot away, shoot away, shoot away" still rings in the ears, it is not hard to guess why the country has taken such a course. For the first time in the history of Russian drama, the entire fault is not put upon Stalin, and Lenin receives his portion of criticism. Moreover, the image of Lenin's sanctity and supreme spirituality is destroyed in a serious breach of taboo, as the author mentions Lenin's shameful and all too corporeal disease: "Хорошенькое дело! Вождь партии, несгибаемый марксист околевает от сифилиса. Позор."38 ("How lovely! The Leader of the Party, an unrelenting Marxist is dying from syphilis. What a disgrace!") And yet, this attempt to undermine the myth only marks another change in the appropriation of the signifier; this time, it is appropriated by the intelligentsia of the Perestroika era. Indeed, the agenda pursued by Agraniants is reminiscent of that found in Alexander Solzhenytsyn's writings on Lenin: the author of Archipelag-Gulag represents Lenin as the source of all trouble and evil in taking the land away from the peasants and initiating the bloodshed: - in this way, Stalin's responsibility is diminished. Such an appropriation of the 'Lenin myth' for the vindication of "Stalin" is exactly the opposite of the Khrushevian appropriation and makes sense within the context of the late 80s when the desire of confronting the past clashed with the desire to retain an imperial consciousness. Naturally, sacrificing the icon of a distant and non-relevant Revolution happened to be a lot easier than refuting the icon of the "Soviet Empire".
After the fall of the Soviet Union, 'culture 1' and its aesthetic returned to dominance in Russia yet again, after the supremacy of "culture 2" during the Brezhnev era and the 'times of troubles' during perestroika. The relocation of the 'Lenin' myth into a cultural context similar to that which created it tempts playwrights to reexplore the myth from contemporary perspectives. Such is the case of Andrei Maksimov's "The Shepherd" (Pastukh) written in 1998. The only two characters are Lenin and a woman - probably the creation of Lenin's own imagination - who impersonates all of the important women in his life (Krupskaia, Armand, Iakubovich) by a simple change of wigs. In a dialogue with this multi-faced ghost woman, Lenin relives and reconsiders his life and relationships. The topics of conversations are mostly of a personal nature, and provide a survey of Lenin's affairs of the heart. In fact, this sentimental, even melodramatic, play could be subtitled "Lenin and his women".) The author creates the impression that Lenin's perception of himself as a pathetic failure is the source of his future thirst for revenge. On top of that, Lenin's strange confession rings with anti-Semitic allusions to his Jewish origins, a thought that was very popular in the 90s:
This Lenin character is strangely self-conscious; even more importantly, he is conscious of his own mythological status and desperately craves it. He expresses his wish to be the shepherd of mankind and passionately asks Krupskaia to make him God, at least a temporary one: "Чтоб портреты мои висели - только не в углу: как иконы, а на каком-нибудь самом видном месте, чтобы люди моим именем клялись, чтобы с именем моим шли куда-нибудь - лучше, конечно, на казнь..."40 ("So that my portraits are up high - but not in the corner like icons, but in the most visible place, so that people make oaths using my name, so that one walks somewhere with my name on his lips - preferably, to a beheading...") By making his protagonist so omniscient, Maksimov merges Lenin's voice with his own authorial voice, creating a lack of verisimilitude. Lenin is so openly and overtly the anti-hero, so innocently evil, that the result is not a demythologization, but a negative mythology, that is i.e. another variety of an appropriation, which fails to retrieve the integral sign and is bound to position the abused signifier as the entire myth.
The only successful moment in the play is the surprising mock-buffoonery that occurs when the nameless, mysterious woman wears yet another wig - one with a bald spot - and becomes Lenin himself. She taunts him and plays with him, as she is playing him, speaking with his recognizable accent, talking in quotes from his select works. She is so convincing that finally even Lenin exclaims: "Ты играешь меня лучше, чем всех моих женщин!"41 ("You play me better than you play all of my women!") This is precisely the point: playing "Lenin" is easiest, since the shattered, mutilated myth has turned into a coded system of clichés. Showing how easily a myth can be reconstructed is, ironically, one of the most effective ways to approach a deconstruction.
Mihail Ugarov's "April's Green Cheeks: First Day Opera" (Zelionnye Shchioki Aprelia: Opera Pervogo Dnia), written a year later in 1999, distances itself altogether from the particular historical figure and the rhetoric of Lenin. The action takes place in April 1916 on a lake in Zurich, yet it is uncertain who the characters are. Even though they call each other "Nadia" and "Volodia", they are signified by the author as Lisitsyn and Krupa: "Лисицын - маленький, рыжеватый... ...она же никакая, оплывшая, неуклюжая, держится деревянно..."42 ("Lisitsyn - smallish, red-hairish... ...she is nothing special, corpulent, clumsy, her motions are wooden...") The information provided (including the stage direction about the woman's "goggled eyes") suggests that the characters are Lenin and Krupskaya, but this is only hinted. In fact, the character of Krupskaia is made more easily recognizable than that of Lenin, since her name in the play is an abbreviation of her real surname. This refusal to name Lenin is a deliberate rebellion against the religious abuse of his name that has become a definite part of his mythology; It should be understandable to every reader, even if uneducated, who the protagonist is, but this information is not pinpointed. This game of silence and intimation with the reader/audience suggests the possibility of doubt as an option and provides an ironic distance, which guarantees that the signifier of the Lenin myth is left untouched; moreover, for a short time, it becomes the signified reached through a different signifier.
Unfortunately, the detached, distanced undertone of the play is spoilt by several moments of coarse realism. One of these instants is the superfluous naturalism of Lenin urinating before the audience and complaining that the last droplet always falls into his underwear. This shocking, scandalous image serves the same purpose as the mention of syphilis by Agraniants: Ugarov intends to belittle and vulgarize the image of the Leader in order to knock it from its pedestal. Yet, ironically, this very concrete physiological action implies that it is, after all, a particular flesh-and-blood man who is at the center of the story; the protagonist ceases to represent a suggestion or an allusion and becomes merely self, bound by his characteristics and particularities, and the signified turns into its old form of a signifier, which automatically leads to another appropriation.
However, humor and irony in themselves do not suffice to combat the myth. Indeed, innumerate popular jokes about Lenin have "have penetrated into the most trivial aspect of life,"43 cohabitating with his iconic status. Thus, Lenin's centenary, with its abundant production of 'Lenin commodities', simultaneously produced fresh anecdotes, some of which soon became quotes known to every child: "They all began with the ostensible fact that every enterprise would have to produce some sort of commemorative item: a perfume called 'Lenin Scent', or a bed for three inspired by the motto "Lenin Is With Us."44 While jokes about Stalin were based on a more sinister kind of humor, the jokes about Lenin were usually harmless and good-natured. This was not only due to the fact that the memory of Stalin's Terror overshadowed any of Lenin's bloody deeds; certain details of Lenin's biography - his syphilis, his death from sclerosis (and his last years as a dimwitted plant), even the disproportionately large size of his head -all invited a degree of condescension. Those who wished to undermine Lenin's status as a cult figure, intuitively employed that undertone. The jokes about Lenin have become an innate, integral part of his myth.
Perhaps it is precisely for this reason that such jokes about Lenin cannot be classified as subversive. Yurchak is completely justified in his argument against traditional analysis of the Soviet jokes as examples of resistance to the system: "In the Soviet case, fragmentation is both desideratum and dread; the anecdote always deconstructs a coherent narrative and demands a new one simultaneously."45 As a new sub-narrative was inadvertently created at the anecdotal level, the aesthetic of the joke was used (despite the intent of the tellers) to produce the same institute of Soviet culture it rebelled against. Moreover, as the anekdoty were heard by a person more than once ("people took part in the reeling out not only to hear new jokes, or any particular "type" of jokes, but to participate in this enjoyable collective ritual itself...")46 the production turned into a constant reproduction. The particular word that Yurchak uses in the above quote - "ritual" - which suggests the ritualistic nature of joke-telling in the Soviet Union is indicative of the position of this activity within the mythological frame, and not beyond it. Being part of the larger mythical frame of Lenin, the Lenin joke is unable to hurt the myth or question it.
There is, however, a type of joke that is able to obviate this conundrum: that is, the joke, which does not assert itself as a joke. A brilliant example of this is the famous hoax project "Lenin-Grib" by Sergei Kurekhin - the most successful attempt of the 90s to provide an ironical twist to the mythology. This 1991 event took place on Sergei Sholokhov's half hour TV show "Piatoe Koleso" on the widely watched "Rossia" channel and immediately attracted public attention. A pseudo-scientific conversation between two young men focused on proving to the television audiences that Lenin was a mushroom, and that this was the reason behind the success of the October Revolution. By resorting to old photographs, quotes, and different historical and scientific facts as backup materials, this raving argumentation acquired a certain perverse logic. The reactions of audiences - most of whom did not realize the stiob nature of this broadcast - attested to the success of the hoax. After the spoof story is dispelled, it is generally interpreted as proof of the zombification potential of television for zombification: the average spectator can be made to believe any kind of idiocy if the delivery is made according to a certain aesthetic that conforms to certain academic standards of form and style.
However, the choice of this particular taboo object cannot be coincidental. Kuriokhin's main theory is more than suggestive and metaphorical: a person who eats a particular type of mushroom becomes inhabited by the mushroom's personality, since the two cannot coexist within one person. The habit of eating mushrooms from early childhood thus means that one's personality is slowly displaced by that of the mushroom. The entire October Revolution, claims Kurekhin, was organized and performed by mushroom-people with Lenin at their head. Of course, this quite transparently suggests that the revolution could only be a product of possessed people, raving and hallucinating individuals (as dictated by the mushroom's nature). Yet, Kurekhin's allusion goes much deeper: the audience's immediate, unquestioning acceptance of this hoax for truth is an expected result of this game. The presence of Lenin in Russian culture goes so deep, and has acquired so many diverse mythological faces and facets, that any new reincarnation of his persona is believable, no matter how nonsensical it is: and the audience are so brainwashed - being in the "habit of eating mushrooms from early childhood" - that they would eat this additional mushroom unhesitatingly. In short, members of the audience belong to the same "mushroom clan" as the makers of the revolution: they have lived so long inside a bundle of entangled myths that they have become utterly mythical themselves, and their reaction to the TV broadcast is the best proof.
The joke that hides its own humor, not revealing its true nature before due time, exposes and disentangles not the myth itself, but the web of mythical thinking around it, demonstrating precisely the process of its creation. Kurekhin's methods - the use of a distancing irony to effect a complete recontextualization of the sign - may be defined as neo-Conceptualism. His arsenal of tools is very similar to that of his predecessors who established ways of working with resilient Soviet material; only Kuriokhin, in the post-perestroika reality, goes further: after isolating the sign, he subjects it to a layering of irrelevant, superfluous contexts. Instead of laying it bare, he redresses it in blatantly unfitting, absurdly ridiculous garments. Kurekhin's Lenin is a confused, self-mocking sign.
Kurekhin's neo-conceptualist prank, however, did not appear out of thin air. The "Lenin-Grib" project was distinctly linked to, and grounded by, a Conceptualist text by Venedikt Erofeev - Moia Malen'kaia Leniniana.47 Even though not all of Erofeev's work should be classified as Conceptualist, this selection of quotations, numbering but a few pages, is definitely related to Conceptualist aesthetics. Moreover, this is a very concentrated, even purist Conceptualist effort. The entire text consists of quotations by Lenin, arranged chronologically from 1896 to 1922; Erofeev labels this progression of selected quotes as the time period during which Lenin slowly "unlearned" how to write, and this is the only authorial remark. Thus, with the exception of one sentence, Erofeev uses exclusively documentary, historical material to craft his message.
In the beginning, the citations he chooses either ironically contrast with Lenin's ideology (for instance, his complaint of a lack of servants in Siberia or his comment that Paris is a disgusting dump) or offer prosaic reflections that have nothing at all to do with any ideology (a description of him and "Nadia" riding bicycles or skating). Interspersed with absurd sounding musings on free love and a quote that which shows that Lenin did not remember Stalin's last name, the sequence of citations carefully constructs an image that is completely opposed to the canonical Lenin icon. De- and re-contextualized utterances create a parodic version of "Lenin", almost an anecdotal one; even when the nature of the quotes is slowly subverted, becoming more sinister, to reveal the post-revolution merciless, scourging Lenin. However, Erofeev's mission is not the revelation of the "unknown" Lenin or of his grotesque sides. In the spirit of the Conceptualists, the author engages in a game with history and historical representation, and his work constitutes another attempt to counter history, similar to that of Bitov, an archaeological fragmentation of the arch-narrative, an open manifestation of the whimsical ways in which a myth is created and recreated.
Erofeev's and Kurekhin's treatments of the Lenin myth created a certain tradition, which continued in 1993 by the playwright Victor Denisov in "Six Specters of Lenin on a Piano" (Shest' Prizrakov Lenina Na Roiale). The play's plot is so fantastical and uncommon that it deserves a short description. In the prologue, a painter (supposedly Dali, the author of the famous eponymous painting) and a spectator turn into a piano professor and his student in the midst of a failed lesson. The Student claims that she cannot play, since ants have crawled all over the score, and she cannot see the notes. The Professor does not see the ants (or pretends not to) and tries to send the Student home. The Student refuses to leave, desperately trying to prove she is right, even as the Professor threatens to abandon her altogether. At the culmination of their passionate argument, the Professor falls down, submerged in a deep sleep, while the ants transform into Specters and appear from under the grand piano's top. Even though Lenin's name is not mentioned anywhere in the play, the specters are quite obviously six incarnations of Lenin: the Leader, the Prophet, the Practitioner, the Monument, the Original and the Portrait.
The specters desire to rearrange the grand piano - to perfect it (as they claim), but, in fact, to destroy it - by breaking off the pedals and screwing them onto the keyboard. Their arguments are random, but passionate and scary in their pseudo-logicality and demagogy. The student rises to defend the piano in an unequal battle with a band of confirmed psychopaths. She tries to talk sense to them, to talk them round, to distract them, but - having lost the hope of convincing, buying or scaring her - they throw her from the room and continue to break the piano. When the professor wakes up, he plays along with the specters and tries to ingratiate himself. When the piano is ultimately destined for destruction, Beethoven's music suddenly breaks into the room and makes the specters disappear (it is hard to miss the parallel with vampires who disappear at the break of dawn). In the epilogue, the Professor, who has turned back into the painter, - is left together with the Portrait, the only specter who refuses to leave the stage.
Denisov's overall aesthetic is grounded to an underdeveloped line of Russian drama: the Gogolian tradition. This particular humorous grotesque has been developed mainly by two playwrights: one of them - Nikolai Erdman - was destroyed (as a writer by the Soviet system, the other one - Evgenii Shvarts - was created by it. Denisov, who considered Shvarts to be one of his principal teachers in art, adapts two main Shvartzian devices of the grotesque (which are, in fact, borrowed from the Gogolian tradition): misplaced language and misplaced physicality (the distorted body). Shvarts's characters (particularly in Drakon (The Dragon) and Ten' The Shadow) regularly lapse into alogism, hyperbole or excessive, meaningless speech. In the world of these two plays - a corrupted world ruled by corrupted people - language itself has been corrupted; used as a means for lying, denying and covering up, it has lost its initial purpose.
The language of the Schvartzian play world is, of course, a reflection of Soviet language; the estranged, crippled language described by Siniavskii:
Equally removed from its origin and devoid of meaning, the Shvartsian language shares the tendency of Soviet language to renaming everything using labels that indicate only a potential meaning. This language denounces itself, fabricating a series of inflated signifiers that cover up for the absence of the signified; it produces not just empty, but mutated signs. This is, in fact, mythological language per excellence. By recontextualizing this language and forcing it to show its destitution and inadequacy, Svarts is laying it bare, forestalling the work of the Russian Conceptualists.
In Six Specters language, too, is the main means of manipulation. The Original - an anthropomorphized book of Lenin quotations - blurts out citations whenever the Leader's arguments fall weak. Those comments are often used out of place and seem like complete non sequiturs, but it is precisely their misplaced, absurd quality that gives them an infernal power to turn the conversation the other way. This destitution and depravity of speech is used as a strength. The Leader, on the other hand, is a skillful demagogue: while the Practitioner breaks the pedals off the piano, the Leader, arguing with the Student, claims: "он не ломает, он откручивает. Надеюсь, разница понятна?"49 ("He's not breaking it off, he's screwing it off. I hope you understand the difference.") Of course, as far as the piano's mechanism is concerned, screwing the pedals off is breaking them; yet in the Leader's thinking, words freely take on the meaning attributed to them: the empty signifier gladly takes in any wandering signified.
Likewise, the Leader claims that the specters possess the piano, since they play it. This very flawed logic is symbolic of the play's entire semantic situation: whoever successfully plays with language possesses it and wins the argument. This is why the Student, who is honest, earnest and takes words and meanings literally does not manage to gain the upper hand on the specters who constantly resort not only to cheap tricks of language distortion but to simple witticisms. Just like Shvarts, Denisov reflects the problems and characteristics of Soviet speech: the specters, just like the typical Soviet narrative, mediate between the talk of the "people" - a more colloquial form of speech - and the ideologically "conscious" language of the state. Just as the official jargon assimilated and reappropriated competing modes of languages, so do the specters with the speech of the Student: by constantly repeating her lines and then reformatting them to change the meaning, they swallow her speech and return it to her in distorted form, forcing her to participate in their mode of communication, where she stands no chance of winning. These constant repetitions and meaningless reproductions of words do not only precisely fit into the definition of the grotesque (the world of possible normalcy is threatened by some prodigious tendency to self-repetition and unbounded growth50); they are the epitome of mythological reproduction, the demonstration of a pattern through its repetition.
Another typical Gogolian characteristic in Schvarts is the "bringing to life" of idiomatic expressions. The phantasmal reality concealed behind the concrete world is revealed when the metaphor is read literally. This particular device is yet another game of distortion with language, yet - since the externalization is physical and chooses the body as an object - it borders on the theme of misplaced physicality. If in Dead Souls characters possess one grotesque feature, which is monstrously deformed, the characters in The Shadow are marked by certain physical characteristics that are symbolic of their inner qualities. For instance, the scholar's near-sightedness suggests his naivete and failure to see reality clearly.
In Denisov's play, the specters similarly represent different images of Lenin: the tireless, hyperactive Leader, the self-assured Prophet, the dumb and merciless Practitioner, the pompous Monument, the Original who talks in citations and the "naïve" simpleton Portrait. These are the various cultural stereotypes of Lenin's image that are rooted in the country's consciousness, the numerous faces of Lenin that have been diligently created by armies of writers, dramatists and politicians. In The Dragon, the townspeople reveal themselves to be the extension of the Dragon's body that broke into thousands of pieces, just as Lenin also remained in the memory not in one, whole piece, but in six incarnations. In Russian, all of them begin with the letter "P", which suggests that they are similar despite their external differences, and that they are pale replicas of the original name, the symbol long since turned into a commodity. The name of each character stands for their dominant inner quality: the signifier dictates the content; the mythologized persona is merely an icon, established through layers of memory and signification, hinting again at the superficial nature of everything that it critically examined in this play. both language and identity are revealed to be of a mythological nature. Curiously, in this case, the two are closely related, since the existence of identity is dependent upon on language. When a myth is subjected to a mythological language - the largest mythology of all - a double myth is created; its nature originally presupposes that the signifier stands for a different signified, and as the myth - as word - becomes a signifier in itself, it becomes doublyempty. This split of Lenin into six different characters is a concise, accurate reflection of the way in which the Lenin myth has become a signifier for other myths and ideologies.
The clearest Schvartzian homage to Gogol is in his rendering of the concept of "soul" corporeal. In the most famous quote from the play the Dragon says: "Безрукие души, безногие души, глуxонемые души, цепные души, легавые души, окаянные души. Дырявые души, продажные души, прожженые души, мертвыедуши."51 ("Armless souls, legless souls, dumb-and-mute souls, chained souls, cop-like souls, damned souls. Hollowed souls, corrupt souls, hard-boiled souls, dead souls.") The soul can be mutilated, burnt or sprained, as if it were a bodily organ. This twist at once continues the physicalization of metaphor in its extreme form and merges into the realm of the displaced body: in this case the body expands to assume metaphysical aspects. Denisov both follows this idea and reverses it. On the one hand, the specters are no more than dangerously materialized ideas of Lenin. On the other, it is an inanimate object - the grand piano - that seems to possess more spirit than the people in the play. It is not by accident that when the Student's attempt to save the situation fails it is music, a melody that manages to scare the specters away. In the performance of the play staged by Andrey Rossinsky in 1996 the physical grand piano is divided into two parts: both the piano top and the keyboards stand center stage, and the music stand, where the score is placed, are situated in the corner. This arrangement subtly alludes to the separation of the body - the piano mechanism - and the soul - the musical score, which animates the piano, and gives it life. Consequently, while the specters take up all of the space on the piano, demonstrating their power and in a way forcing themselves on the piano's "body", the "soul" remains untouched and clean as the specters never attempt to play the score, replacing it with their own "music".
What ultimately connects the grotesque body with the grotesque speech is the idea of the automaton: both empty speech and the distanced body (that is, the body as a metaphor) are devices of dehumanization. While Gogol only hints at the automative aspect of his characters and generally restricts the motif to Dead Souls), Schvartz employs this form quite directly. The tyrant is represented as a dragon, one of the characters in The Shadow is an ogre, and the limbs of the Minister of Finances are operated by his servants, although here, perversely, the marionette manipulates its puppeteers, giving them precise directions. The "inhuman" in Six Specters is transmitted by the specters, who are inherently inhuman. By gaining a monopoly on speech, they succeed in subduing the Student, who slowly but surely becomes a victim of the same alogisms, repetitions and verbosity that is characteristic of the mythological language used by the specters. Thus, though the Student never stops resisting, her speech is made into a "puppet" of the specters.
If the Student falls into the specters' trap unwillingly, the Professor loses his human aspect quite consciously. Just like the Scholar in The Shadow, the Professor is the reflection of the Soviet intelligentsia, which for decades was "forced to play on a "perfected piano" by ant-like people". Like the near-sighted Scholar, the Professor is oblivious to reality. Waking up and seeing the Student being abused by the specters, he does not defend her, but rather greets the apparitions with sympathy and seeks their approval and acceptance. He fails to notice their rudeness, their lack of manners, and - most importantly - the fact that they are about to destroy his instrument. He consents to close his eyes to their actions, as long as they humor him. It is hard to believe that a music professor cannot see the difference between Chopin and dreadful cacophony, yet he pretends to like the music that the Practitioner bangs on the piano. The Student is defeated by being forced to reproduce the specters' speech; the Professor chooses to reproduce their actions. By participating in their dance and by collaborating in the destruction of his own piano, he becomes one of them. As if infected by the spirit of the specters, he lets go of his own. Having betrayed all his principles, he has emptied out his "content", leaving behind an empty shell of words and actions; as a soulless exterior, a replica, he has not only dehumanized himself to become an automaton: he has become a specter, which means that he has reduced himself to a myth.
The ease and eagerness with which the Professor allows his own transformation suggests that he is not so innocent: when in the beginning of the play he denies seeing the ants altogether, he is not earnest, but pretends to be oblivious to the unpleasant reality before him. This realization is what gives the fundamentally ironic play its tragic undertone, which does not compromise its grotesqueness; as States remarks: "the grotesque seems to exert a "drag" on tragedy", i.e. the grotesque as a form must inherently include the tragic in order to operate with it.52 The seriousness is seconded by the playwright himself who admits that one of the impulses that drove him to write the play in 1993 was the political background, and the decisive year in the conflict between Yeltsin and Ziuganov. Denisov invites the spectators not only to reflect, but also to make their own choice: to become specters or not.
The famous final words of the knight Lancelot in The Dragon ("в каждом из ниx нужно будет убить дракона") are transformed into the following utterance by the seemingly harmless Portrait, who stubbornly stays onstage: "Я в тебе - вот и сижу. Я - в тебе."53 ("I'm inside you, so I just sit there. I'm inside you.") He suggests that the Painter (his creator) should walk to the storage room; having exhausted himself on this dubious creation, the Portrait suggests that the Painter is no longer good for anything. Since the Painter readily sccepts it, they walk offstage hand in hand. Yet, is the Painter the only addressee of the Portrait's words? We must also take into account the Russian people (including those in the audience) who have "been creating" Lenin's image - or, in fact, several images - for decades. Clearly, Lenin is still in them and with them. The playwright's offer to consider their life positions turns into a quite vicious attack: surely, they are good for nothing, appropriate only for the storage room. Here, one cannot help but recall Moses who led his people through the deserts for 40 years, just so that the generation that could still recall the Egyptian slavery, died out.
Would that mean, then, that the writer who writes about Lenin's six incarnations - just like the Painter who paints it - is also inhabited by Lenin and part of this vicious circle of appropriation? Even worse, if we consider the play to be an extended metaphor of the eponymous painting, Denisov figures as one who "reflects the reflection", engaging in the "copy of the copy of the copy". This is, yet again, the notorious, mythical reproductive pattern, the inability to stay outside of the myth, the trap of the "mise-en-abyme". Curiously, many of the critics who write about the show adopt its rhetoric, concluding that "Lenin is with us". The utilization of this particular old Soviet joke to signify Lenin's presence in society leaves the criticism within the system, not outside or above it: the "specter spirit" continues to spread. However, does the play really leave us so hopeless and caged, with no chance of escaping or of developing an immune resistance?
In Denisov's play (just as in Shvarts' plays), the manipulation of memory, leading to a manipulation of cognition, operates through language. The infiltration mechanism is constructed from the constant process of rearranging the space of knowledge and the manipulation of speech; it operates purely on the verbal level. Quite logically, the music, which comes from nowhere, breaks the specters' hypnotism and makes them disappear; since it is non-verbal and inapproachable in verbal terms, it is inherently resistant to any kind of mythology. This is the greatest hint that the play offers: salvation lies in a realm that cannot be reproduced by another simulacrum. Due to the corruptive nature not just of this particular language, but of any kind of language, the only way of avoiding the trap is to choose an impenetrable, opaque medium, one that cannot be reduced to a formula. The moment when the music begins to play - chasing the specters away - offers (if rightly performed) a catharsis for the audience. While textual means oriented towards a battle with myth are inherently vulnerable since the weapon consists of the same material as the target, performance, on the other hand, has a clear advantage in the possibility of a resort to nonverbal means.54
This unexpected catharsis is supposed to set in motion a very intricate, subtle mechanism that is an integral part of the play's structure. Such a sudden moment of lucidity, of escape from words sound, leads to a curious realization: interestingly, details that appear as evident dangers may sometimes shrewdly reveal themselves to possess an opposite meaning and intention. Thus, John Freedman's remark on the sympathetic and even endearing appeal of the Lenins in the performance is not the director's fatal misreading of the play, but the playwright's deliberate choice, carefully constructed for a certain effect. As a reader, one cannot help feeling sympathy towards the specters, especially since the Leader is quite charismatic, despite his insane argumentation and intense charge. Moreover, at certain points the reader is forced to repress his annoyance at the Student's nagging whimpers and at her growing helplessness. As the idea of screwing the pedals off and reattaching them to the keys begins to look amusing, one is almost glad when the specters win the argument over and over again, and when the Professor takes interest in this original, extravagant proposition.
By the time the Professor awakes, it is easy for the audience to identify with him; when the music suddenly breaks the agitation onstage and the specters disappear, the spectator wakes up from the nightmare together with the play's characters. The Professor and the Student freeze, facing each other: this is the ultimate moment of audience participation. They realize that - quite like the Professor - they have never considered the nightmare to be a nightmare, up until the moment when it was over, dispersed by a magical melody. They now view their involuntary sympathy with the specters as a forbidden pleasure, yet they fail to understand how they arrived at it, and how they could be so misled. This unflattering realization should hopefully lead to a critical reflection and an understanding of the mythologization process. Just as in the case of the "Lenin - Grib" project, it is the mock-analysis of mythological way of thinking, not of the myth itself, which helps to break out of the myth's interior. "Six Specters" is a variation of the joke that asserts itself differently: it is a trick, played on the audience, which does not reveal itself until the end. Denisov's audience (at least, those who are intelligent enough to understand his game) are slightly mocked, yet they are offered a straw to hold on to, they are given a chance to save themselves from drowning in myth. While following the tradition of Gogol and Shvarts, Denisov at the same time joins the Conceptualist Erofeev and the neo-Conceptualist Kurekhin by revealing the mythological sign through a grotesque process of forced internalization.
While in post-Soviet Russia the intellectuals were preoccupied with ridding themselves of Lenin's ghost, the intellectual radical left in the West embraced it with open arms, trying to instill it with new life. The most telling example would be, of course, the writings of Slavoj Zizek. Zizek's article on Lenin in "Lenin Reloaded: Towards a Politics of Truth" and his introduction to a reprint of Lenin's selected writings named "Revolution at the Gates" share many overlapping thoughts, ideas and even phrases, all of which strive to revalidate Lenin's cause. This time, not only are Lenin's ideas approbated, as is often the case with modern Western Marxists, but his persona is celebrated and reinstated to its primary symbolic status as the icon of the Revolution: "This is the Lenin from whom we still have something to learn. The greatness of Lenin was that in his catastrophic situation he wasn't afraid to succeed"55 Zizek's accounts are not theoretical musings, but an unequivocal call for action, and in this sense his language is as performative as the text of a play. Leninism, for Zizek, is not just a "politics of responsibility", but a "politics of action" - an alternative to capitalism and imperialism. The adaptation of Lenin to today's needs reflects the necessity to reinvent the revolutionary project in contemporary times: "The idea is not simply enough to return to Lenin... for we must repeat or reload him: that is, we must retrieve the same impulse in today's constellation."56 The terms repeat and reload used by Zizek are indicative of the mythological chafe of this idea: simple repetition is not enough; a reloading is indispensable. A reloading is, in this case, a repositioning of the myth anew, ridding it of its undesirable layers and associations and recharging the core, the initial long lost signified, with relevant meanings. However, since this signified is obstructed and transfigured and the recharging necessity implies the contemporary agenda of the Leftist West, Zizek's quest is yet another appropriation of the mythological sign. Zizek's buffoon-like revolutionary texts are an example of the negative potential of the performative dimension, its ability to perpetuate the reproductive pattern innate to a particular myth.
Meanwhile, Russian public opinion regarding Lenin's relevance is slowly changing. True, many Russian provincial towns still count 3- to 4 Lenin monuments, and many of the streets still bear Lenin's name. However, the FOM population survey on the eve of the 90th anniversary of the October Revolution showed the dominance of the only attitude worse than hatred: indifference. 40% of the population (which seems like a rather large percentage) are of the opinion that the Revolution had more positive outcomes than negative ones; yet - while 29% percent were of the opposite opinion - 31% had a hard time answering the question, as if not really knowing enough about the Revolution. More importantly, only 9% mentioned Lenin's name in connection with the Revolution Boris Dubin, the prominent sociologist and the leader of the Levada Center, claims that for most of the population Lenin belongs to history: many still think vaguely positively about the Revolution, since it lead to the formation of the Soviet Union, but there is no identification with the Revolution era; thus, Lenin had ceased to be key figure.57
The "Lenin" who was still frightening in the 90s seems to be no longer relevant in the new millennium. His continued presence in the names of streets and monuments can, in fact, testify not to awe and remembrance, but - in complete contrast - to oblivion and neglect. He has become as outdated and obscure as the members of the Romanov dynasty; the average contemporary young person would know of him from history books and anecdotes and dimly remember he played an important role, but, probably, not much more. By the 2000s, the myth was approaching oblivion precisely because of its familiarity; it resembled a coin, which is so used up that the figures standing for its monetary value are erased. During the 2000s and onwards, "culture 2" has returned with a vengeance: it is not as interested in cultural and historical self-analysis as 'culture 1', which ruled in the 90s; it turns the past into stone, ruthlessly cutting off what is no longer needed.
Yet, nevertheless, one of the phenomena of the 90s has continued to the present day: namely, the Lenin doubles. The look-alikes and the impersonators have aged, but they still appear on Red Square and at other tourist locations in Moscow and Saint Petersburg to offer entertaining photo opportunities for tourists, as well as for younger Russians. It is to read Alexandra Kolesnikova's verbatim play dedicated to the fate of one of the impersonators. The protagonist/interviewee tries to reason the existence of this phenomenon: "А вот двойника Сталина сейчас нигде нет, удивительно просто! А он столько правил страной, и двойника его нет. Кроме как в кино. Просто Ленин, у него другое свойство."58
"Professia: Lenin" ("Profession: Lenin") was written in 2005. Though it is based almost word for word on an interview with a real, living person (a stylistic characteristic of verbatim), it is not a naïve account, but a breakdown of the look-alike performance; it is a perspective onto the 90s from the 2000s with its changed cultural aesthetic. Throughout the entire play, the character muses on the nature of those properties that make Lenin's image survive through the 90s and roam the streets of the 2000s. The playwright tries to answer the same question, yet differently; not changing the lines, she frames the narrative in such a way as to expose her own authorial meta-narrative: the transformation of man into myth. It is not by accident that she subtitles the play "verbatim-farce". To begin with, the list of characters announces Lenin's double Koklenkov, the interviewer Alexander and the random visitors of the cafe, where the dialogue takes place. This self-replacement by a male alter ego already hints at a reversal of roles and expectations. Indeed, the random visitors often take on the roles of people in Koklenkov's life, stealing a line or two, as he tells his tale (which may be read as a metaphor of his own life being snitched through his performance of Lenin).
As already stated above, Lenin's "Double" makes money by posing for cameras together with the customer. This togetherness serves as alleged evidence, which delivers the customers into a state of intimate proximity with history: they are captured in eternity with a legendary symbol of their country's past - the emblematic past, in which the real is already inseparable from the mythical. The presence of a third person - the photographer - does not allow the moment to completely sink into the realm of historical fantasy, keeping it within a frame of commercial relations.
This is not merely a fixation on visual imagery, which, as we have seen, has always played an important role in Lenin's representation, but a reinvented obsession with liveness. This nuance is emphasized in the play, as a cafe visitor who impersonates a passer-by from Koklenkov's account says: "Ой, да зачем нам к мавзолею надо, он там мертвый лежит, а тут живой! Да давай с ним сфотографируемся."59 ("Oh, but why should we go to the mausoleum, he lies dead there, and here we have him alive! Let's take a picture with him.") The encounter (and the commemoration of the moment) with the fake "living" Lenin is valued more than the encounter with the "real", dead one. What is, in fact, for sale here is an experience of 'real life'; a certain immediacy and spontaneity of interaction. This brings us back to the October festivals with their immediacy and liveness. The circle has been completely closed: from the complete loss of the original spontaneity in the folds of the myth's multitude of layers and to its reacquisition through a reinvention of meaning. The interaction between the double, the customer and the photographer is of a ritualistic nature; the ritual, which had always been inherent to the Lenin myth, returns with a vengeance. However, this time, instead of the Lenin corners or the compulsory mourning meetings, it is posing for a photograph with a man who is dressed and made up like Lenin. The monetary exchange stands for a verbal exchange - as a sign of appreciation - thus also manifesting a ritualistic shade. Unfortunately, the overt appeal to the 'make-believe' nature of the situation makes it a mock ritual, just as the sense of life it conveys is a mediated, pre-arranged, and thus, artificial, life.
However, for the double himself there is nothing even remotely mocking or even humorous in his role-playing. In contrast, he is indignant at the cheap representation of Lenin impersonation shown on a television program made by Russian pop star celebrities:
The Double protests at the attempts to reduce Lenin impersonation to the level of pop-culture. He treats his role with deep veneration and gives his mission a meaning of historical importance: "Двести долларов, это уже Ленин, это уже он зарабатывает, не я, это интересно сразу. И вот с тех пор я понял, что моя роль в общем-то не очень-то сложная - просто сообщать, сколько я имею, и все будут знать насколько Ленин жив."61 ("Two hundred dollars, this is not me, ut Lenin who makes this money, this is interesting. And since then I've realized that my role is not that difficult - simply to let people know how much money I make, and everybody will know that Lenin is alive.") Interestingly, Koklenkov does not care about whether the customers approach him in all earnesty, or whether they mock him; Kolesnikova reaffirms the attitude of the prototype: "what matters is that they remember Lenin, the mere fact of recognition means that the entire country remembers Lenin."62
At first sight, it would seem that Koklenkov has joined the long line of traders who have used Lenin's image as a commodity, that he is another appropriator. However, the contrary is in fact the case, as Koklenkov, does not simply abuse his resemblance to Lenin to make a profit; financial success is not his end goal, but a tool that is supposed to reflect Lenin's presence in people's hearts, a "thermometer" to measure the degree of affection in which he is held: "То есть, я должен показывать градус любви людей к Ленину, не ко мне, а к Ленину, именно сообщая, сколько я имею на этом деле."63 ("I mean, I need to show the degree of people's love to Lenin, not to me, but to Lenin, by announcing how much money I make out of it.") The money paid for a "photo with Lenin" is a material proof of the remains of his spiritual legacy, of the unabated interest towards the Leader.
It seems that this particular person sees all material sides of impersonation as symbolic of a spiritual essence. Thus, he finds his resemblance not at all accidental. Remembering her interview sessions with the Double's prototype, Kolesnikova remarks: "He told me that it is no coincidence that he looks so much like Lenin - he must be his reincarnation. He believes that he is on a certain mission."64 Of course, he takes pride in his authentically reddish hair and bald spot, in the fact that he resembles Lenin more than the other look-alikes, yet he seeks a complete fusion, which includes a fusion of mind and heart. He confesses: "Меня больше привлекала в личности Ленина не внешняя его сторона - как он дергается, как он там бегает, - меня больше волновали его мысли."65 ("I've been most attracted not the exterior of Lenin's persona - how he twitches or runs - I was deeply moved by his thoughts. ") Koklenkov reads and rereads the complete works of Lenin, so that his inner world matches his looks. Eventually, he began to identify so much with his part that he divorced his wife for not sharing his communist views. Thus, the double's appearance began to influence his thoughts, which - in turn - influence his actions. This movement from the exterior to the interior and back to the exterior suggests that Koklenkov's identity is going through the same mythological journey as the Lenin myth itself, with its undulation from the iconic to the ritualistic and back. The case of Koklenkov is one of supreme amalgamation: not only does he follow the myth, but he also lives through its very structure and pattern.
Indeed, the negotiation of identity is one of the most dominant themes in the play. Even though the list of characters presents us with the double's name (Koklenkov), he appears further only as the Double (Dvoinik), as if to assert that his identity is assumed through another, that his own authentic identity is missing. The protagonist, however, sees this as a fortuitous opportunity to change his life. Kolesnikova recalls: "He told me that at 40 he suddenly realized that he looks like Lenin, and it was so natural for him, that he immediately inhabited this part. This idea really grew on him: that he can influence people's conscience, that if he becomes Lenin, it will be more than just being himself."66 This coexistence of two personalities within one body seems rather challenging: the self-proclaimed messiah is still forced to engage in such mundane things as grocery shopping and paying the bills. Yet in Koklenkov's case this dualization does not lead to an inner conflict: "Почему-то говорят, что перевоплощение в другую личность должно связано быть с отказом от своей. Но я очень органично, очень органично, это как бы продолжение меня."67 ("For some reason they say that a reincarnation into a different persona should involve a renunciation of your own identity. But for me all of this is natural, so natural, this is like a continuation of my own self.") The compromise of identity is best shown in his home nickname - "Lenik" - used by all family members, including his granddaughter. This warm and playful diminutive reflects the recognition of Koklenkov as a domestic, tame and endearing incarnation of Lenin, a Lenin fit well enough for coexistence. That kind of doubling, which peacefully and harmoniously appropriates the person's entity, transforms into "othering": not just becoming the other, but being the other, metamorphosing without damaging the self, since the self is also inherently changed.
This notion is reflected in the lives of other doubles who surround Koklenkov. The play, based on Kolesnikova's sociological research, refers us to a rich subculture of doubles. Some Hitlers (like Koklenkov's best friend), some more Lenins, some Brezhnevs, even some doubles of pop figures. They have no friends amongst ordinary people, they mingle with each other: celebrate together, drink together and compete for places to ply their trade. At times they organize competitions, where many doubles compete for the title of the most 'authentic' look-alike. The winner, thus, is one whose own identity is most effaced; the lack of self is perceived as a virtue. Such doubling is more than a career, more even than a "mission" (though it is so for Koklenkov): it becomes a way of life. This time it is the signifier that performs the appropriation, assuming the entire life and identity of a flesh-and-blood human being.
This 2000s play from the 2000s is, in fact, about Russia in the 1990s, those notorious 90s, which, after taking everything away - identities included - offered unique opportunities: "vacant" identities to inhabit. Those many unfortunates who lost everything- homes, jobs, their home country (which overnight became mythological) and their self-respect found a new calling, a life credo in assuming another's identity. Though the identity crisis of the 90s has often been described in contemporary Russian literature and theater, 'Profession: Lenin' is the only work that directly relates to the mythological crisis. The system containing the old myths, which was already destitute, but still held together, had collapsed, and those empty mythical shells, having been released from the restraining frame, began wandering freely, inviting and welcoming any who desired to inhabit them. The impersonation of the figure of "Lenin" as an assumption of a fictional identity might stand as a metaphor for the 90s generation. This time, however, the appropriation was a two-way process: the fictional identity was no longer appropriated as a signifier, but for its "self", as an integral sign. Nevertheless, since the sign had long been reduced to a signifier, it swallowed the appropriator reducing him - in his turn - to a signifier as well. In this way, Koklenkov turned into a signifier for Lenin: a signifier for a signifier.
The performance of the play under the direction of Olga Lysak reiterated this thought, becoming a game of "Lenin identity tag", playfully distributed amongst the other characters in the play. People mentioned by Koklenkov in his account seem to appear straight from his memory, turning from the cafe's regulars into the desired characters. Some of them take on the narration, telling his story instead of him, sometimes using the third person, yet often lapsing into the first person as if - in their turn - they are trying his identity for themselves. This can be read as a comment on the flexibility of Koklenkov's identity: since his authentic persona is completely effaced, he acquires a mythical status, which means that anyone can represent him, just as he chooses to represent a mythical icon.
However, this appropriation of the character's lines has another sub-textual meaning: it is, in fact, Koklenkov's dream come true, insofar as he "infects" everyone with whom he comes into contact with "Lenin essence", fulfilling his life's goal of transfer perpetuating Lenin's image. This is further reflected when everyone onstage sings the famous pioneer song on the Revolution: "I Lenin takoi molodoi", and for that very instant the interviewer Alexander in his red vest transforms into a young pioneer. However, since "Lenin" in this context overtly stands for a collection of clichés and platitudes, Koklenkov's mission is accomplished only ironically; the pervasion of Lenin's identity is possible not thanks to the renewed awe at the Leader's thoughts and ambitions, but due to the loose, unstable and penetrable identities of everyone involved. This situation as it is written and played out is a keen reflection on the identity-myth interaction in the post-mythological space; when myths are definite, however worn out, identity is usually defined in relation to the myth whether according to it or against it, yet upon the destruction of this frame, once the myth is dispelled and disconnected from reality, points of reference are gone, and identity helplessly flutters in an empty space, orphaned of myths.
Moreover, the staging of the play adds another dimension to the negotiation of identity, placing it in relation to the identity of the performer. The actor's living body is, in general, a complex sign, theatrically functioning as a 'double'; as Marvin Carlson notes - "existing simultaneously as present material objects and as signifiers of absent signifieds, so that an audience is aware both of an actor and the character the actor is portraying."68 However, the actor who embodies the role of the protagonist neither resembles Lenin, nor is made up to look like him. Arbitrarily accepting this discrepancy, the audience is forced to associate the actor with Lenin, at least for the duration of the performance. Within this newly suggested reality, even the notion of physical resemblance is deceptive and misleading and any points of reference to the original myth are lost. Once the mythological frame is disturbed, any of the components can be rearranged.
If the move beyond text toward corporeality - as the most distinctive feature of performance art - typically struggles to blur the boundaries between art and reality, bringing theater back to ritual, in this case, the staging only emphasizes the theatrical and illusionary quality of the seemingly documentary text. While a performer is usually "acting in between identities"69, making performance the paradigm of liminality, the actor impersonating Koklenkov is performing doubly: he plays a role of a person playing a role. When in the end, the real prototype or interviewee (a true spitting image of Lenin) participates in the curtain call with the actors, beaming and smiling, two performances are occurring simultaneously: the first of the actor who is still inside his role, and the second of Koklenkov who is always performing himself in his borrowed identity.
The prototype's performance is no less fictional than that of the actor who had been saying his lines from the stage; in a sense, the latter is more conscious of his performance, not hiding behind an artificially constructed appearance, while the former performs naively, unaware of his true behavioral definition. Consequently, we deal with a performance conscious of its status and an earnest, oblivious performance, as Koklenkov never steps out of his role. The liminality of staging "Profession: Lenin" is not only in the duplication and multiplication of identities; it is a liminality between fiction and nonfiction, with ambiguity inherent in the status of each. This doubling of doubles, and the game of recognition that it creates, is a touchstone for each audience member to check his or her level of personal associations, of vulnerability or opaqueness to lost, wandering myths.
There is, however, a physicalized element of the Lenin myth, which remains not only well grounded, but immobile. This is, of course, his embalmed body. Let us return to the scene in "Profession: Lenin" in which a passerby chooses to take a photo with the Double rather than reaching his original destination: Lenin's body in the mausoleum. Koklenkov's performance (which often takes place in Red Square) is, thus, inconstant awareness of the body's proximity. This enforced juxtaposition, and the resultant tension between the Double and the corpse, makes Koklenkov's performance site-specific, and, as always in site-specific performances, the place is "read"; in the words of Michel de Certeau, "Space is a practiced place... [...] An act of reading is the space produced by the practice of a particular place: a written text, i.e., a place constituted by a system of signs."70
The past associations reveal and revivify years and decades of a particular ritual that used to take place at that space, together with with all of the gradual changes that it has undergone. The awareness of the historicity of the place brings to mind the long lines of people coming to bid last farewell to the Leader, others - too young to remember Him and becoming younger still - coming to admire the dead/living legend, and yet "others" visiting out of habit or idle curiosity. Meaning is inevitably bestowed on a location by its continuous use; however, this meaning fits itself to the ever varying, changing nature of the ritual. The mausoleum as a space has accumulated invisible layers of history - just like the earth or a tree trunk; it has been first a shrine, a place of worship, then an official dusty cornerstone of the Soviet system, a destination of many bored schoolchildren on a forced field trip, and, finally, a tourist attraction, an appendix of the dethroned past, a former relic, desecrated by irony. When such a place becomesthe locus of performance, it is "read", and all its past associations and meanings are worked upon and transformed.711
It seems that the time has arrived to part with the defamed artifact and, in fact, a majority of Russians are ready for the change. According to a VCIOM survey from 02.02.2011, 61% of Russians believe that it is time to move Lenin away from Red Square into a cemetery, and 43% suggest that it should be done without delay (compared to 38% in 2005-2008). Yet, this is not being done: something holds them back. Todorov, writing on the topic in the mid-90s, has a rather poetically sinister outlook on the possible reasons for such hesitation:
According to Todorov's vision, the material (the mummy) again serves as a metaphor: the Lenin corpse perpetually authorizes his ideas, and, while it is present, there is always a hope of a comeback, of a return. He continues: "The mausoleum is a marvelous catapult constructed to launch Lenin back into the living world...Like a butterfly, Lenin will take off some day from his own mummy."73
Yet, what is most interesting is the definition of the corpse as the carnal counterpart of the "roaming communist specter": it appears that the "loose, roaming myth" orphaned from the system that birthed it, is not completely loose and not completely orphaned as long as the mausoleum stands erect. The mummy is the myth's safeguard, its matrix, the only string that still attaches it to a certain reality, to a known and defined shape, so that the myth does not become so loose and formless, that it is no longer recognizable. It is precisely the mummy's inner mythical durability (to the changing myth of Lenin) that makes it transgress time and history: "The mummy stands beyond the principle of real and fictitious, beyond the code that splits them. [...] The mummy is the maximum of presence, totally excluded absence. The mummy is the real."74
If the mummy is the real Lenin, why then does passerby choose the double? The answer is simple: it is precisely the presence of the double that alters the status of the corpse. Just as the performer (the double) is affected by the site where he performs (Red Square, with the mausoleum nearby), so is the site affected and recontextualized by the performer. If the doubling of Koklenkov is read as "othering", then the corpse, radically familiarized, is the ultimate "other". The performance of Koklenkov, taking shape in the same physical space, is not an othering in itself, yet it inevitably echoes the "real", original othering, of the stiff, timeless, time-winning othering of the mummy. The money made by Koklenkov as an evidence of Lenin being alive is an extended commentary on the money made for decades by the mummy, a part of a larger economy of existence of the myth. Yet if the mummy is in a perpetual liminal state between life and death, the double embarks upon a move in an affirmative cycle of life: whilst supporting the Lenin myth, he is equally supported by it in a wondrous symbiosis. This is precisely why the interaction of the "Lenin photo" exchange for money cannot offer real liveness or an original ritual, but only an echo, a repetition, in the end, a mockery. "The real" is vulnerable to mockery, to repetition: it cannot, after all, seize the myth and prevent it from corrupt cycles of self-copying.
In his silent, covert combat with the mummy, Koklenkov is the winner - by his complete metamorphosis he reaches the same "realness" and eternity as the mummy, while not having had to die first. (At the curtain call of the premiere, Koklenkov breaks down crying, saying that Kolesnikova, the playwright, had given him immortality; yet the play only grasps what is already there.) Kolesnikova confesses that she sees her play as continuing the 'little man' theme in Russian literature: "it is about a man who tried on this huge overcoat and believed in his self-importance."75 Amazingly, the Double manages to keep his 'overcoat' and make it even bigger. And still, the Double's existence within his 'eternity' is accentuated and set off by the mummy: he needs the mummy as an intermediary between himself and Lenin, as a process of time transgression already long set in motion, as an exemplary myth for the little man to follow. All of the components continuously evoke each other in this complex mythological system, and they all meet at the curtain call of "Profession: Lenin": the actor playing the Double, the Double himself, and the ever-present mummy in the mausoleum. Those counterparts of the Lenin holy trinity repeat and echo each other, coexisting in a simultaneous mode of reflection and impersonation, a circle that can never be broken until one of its components is gone. It is neither the play, nor the performance, but the performatively liminal moment of the curtain call, which clearly demonstrates the possibility of mythical existence outside its frame, the life after death, the possibility of afterlife for orphaned myths.
1. Frederick C. Corney, Telling October: Memory and Making of the Bolshevik Revolution (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2004), 2.
2. Erica Fischer-Lichte, Theatre, Sacrifice, Ritual: Exploring Forms of Political Theatre (London & New York: Routledge, 2005), 90.
3. According to that logic, history itself is an "active myth", which one relives when seized by the power of the events recollected or re-enacted.
4. Corney, Telling October, 143.
5. Clause Levi-Strauss, The View From Afar (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1985), 743.
6. James. Von Geldern, Bolshevik Festivals, 1917-1920 (Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), 1; henceforth cited as: Von Geldern, Bolshevik Festivals, followed by page number.
7. Von-Geldern, Bolshevik Festivals, 2.
8. James Goodwin, Eisenstein, Cinema and History (Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 90.
9. Nina Tumarkin, Lenin Lives: The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), 92.
10. Fischer-Lichte, Theatre, Sacrifice, Ritual, 9.
11. Fischer-Lichte, Theatre, Sacrifice, Ritual, 116.
12. Tumarkin, Lenin Lives, 82.
13.. Ibid. 165.
14 Claude Levi-Strauss, The Naked Man (London: Jonathan Cape, 1973), 671.
15. Mihail Epstein, "Emptiness as a Technique: Word and Image in Ilya Kabakov", in Russian Post-Modernism: New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture, ed. Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover (New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1999), 313.
16. The obsessive repetition of Lenin's name is reminiscent of a movement in Orthodoxy called imyaslavtsy (which had been popular in the end of 19th/beginning of 20th century) who had been convinced that repeating God's name multiplied His sanctity.
17. Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953), 118.
18. Marvin Carlson, Speaking in Soviet Tongues: Labguages at Play in the Theatre (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2006), 45.
19. Andrei Siniavskii, Soviet Civilization (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1988), 191.
20. Tumarkin, Nina Lives, Page 206.
21. Vladimir Paprny, Kultura Dva (Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2006), 10.
22. In fact, Stalin's manipulation of the Lenin myth began when Lenin was ailing, but still living, yet the abuse of the "Lenin" sign gained full momentum after Lenin's death.
23. Nikolai Pogodin, "Chelovek s Ruzh'iom" in Trilogy (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1969), 45.
24. Karen Petrone, Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades: Celebration in the Times of Stalin (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 165.
25. Alexander Shtein, "Mezhdu Dozhdiami" in Plays. Volume I (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1968), 54.
26. Nikolai Pogodin, "Kremliovskie Kuranty" in Trilogy (Moscow: Hudozhestvennaya Literatura, 1969), 110.
27. Roland Barthes, Mythologies (New York: Hill & Wang, 1972), 114.
28. Christal Lane, The Rites of Rulers: Rituals in Industrial Society - The Soviet Case (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 181.
29. Alexey Kapler, Grozovoy God (Moscow: Glavnoe Upravlenie Teatrov Ministerstva Kultury SSSR, 1957), 68.
30. Nikolai Pogodin, "Tret'ia Pateticheskaia" in Trilogy (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaya Literatura, 1969), 165.
31. Lane, The Rites of Rulers, 184.
32. Mikhail Shatrov, Intervoew to Klutura Channel (1992).
33. Mikhail Shatrov, Tvorchestvo. Zhizn'. Dokumenty. Sochinenia, Volume III (Moscow: Bond, 2006), 130.; henceforth cited as Shatrov, Volume III, followed by page number.
34. Shatrov, Volume III, 89.
35. Ibid, 83.
36. Shatrov, Volume III, 86.
37. Oleg Agraniants, "Vrag Naroda" in Plays (London: Overseas Publications Interchange Ltd., 1989), 98.
38. Agraniants, "Vrag Naroda", 83.
39. Andrei Maksimov, "Pastukh" in Den' Rozhdenia Sinei Borody i Drugie Istorii o Liubvi (Moscow: Delovoi Ekspress, 2004), 416.
40. Maksimov, "Pastukh", 425.
41. Maksimov, "Pastukh", 427.
42. Mikhail Ugarov, "Zelionnye Shchioki Aprelia: Opera Pervogo Dnia" in Maiskie Chtenia Literary Almanac 1 (1999): 74.
43. Birgit Beumers, Pop Culture Russia: Media, Arts and Lifestyle (Santa Barbara: ABC CLIO, 2005), 173.
44. Andrei Sinyavskii, Soviet Civilization (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1988), 223.
45. Alexei Yurchak, Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 257.
46. Yurchak, Everything Was Forerver..., 275.
47. Victor Erofeev, "Moia Malenkaia Leniniana". In Sobranie Sochinenii v Dvukh Tomakh. Tom 2 (Moscow: Vagrius, 2007).
48. Andrei Sinyavskii, Soviet Civilization (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1988), 203.
49. Victor Denisov, "Shest' Prizrakov Lenina na Roiale" in Shest' Prizrakov Lenina na Roiale I Drugie P'esy (Moscow: Agar, 1998), 137.
50. Bert O. States, Irony and Drama: A Poetics (Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1971), 77.
51. Evgenii Shvarts, "Drakon" in Three Plays (New York: Pergamon Press, 1972), 188.
52. States, Irony and Drama, 78.
53. Denisov, Six Specters, 149.
54. A text written to be performed contains a performative intention and should be considered as a performative text.
55. Slavoj Zizek, "Introduction" in V.I. Lenin. Revolution at the Gates: Selected Writings, ed. Slavoj Zizek (London and New York: Verson Publishing, 2002), 6.
56. Sebastian Budgen et al, ed., Lenin Reloaded: Towards a Politics of Truth (Durhamn and London: Duke University Press, 2007), 3.
57. Boris Dubin, Interview, October 11, 2011.
58. Alexandra Kolesnikova, "Professia: Lenin" in Prem'era 2006-2007: a Collection of Plays (Moscow: Moscow Culture Department, 2008), 24.
59. Kolesnikova, "Profession: Lenin", 31.
60. Kolesnikova, "Profession: Lenin", 19.
61. Kolesniova, "Profession: Lenin", 25.
62. Alexandra Kolesnikova, Interview, November 24, 2011.
63. Kolesnikova, "Profession: Lenin", 23.
64. Kolesnikova, Interview.
65. Kolesnikova, "Profession: Lenin", 20.
66. Kolesnikova, Interview.
67. Kolesnikova, "Profession: Lenin", Page 21.
68. Marvin Carlson, Speaking in Tongues: Languages at Play in the Theatre (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006), 95.
69. Richard Schechner, Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), 129.
70. Michel De Certeau The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 117.
71. Mike Pearson and Michael Shanks, Theatre/Archaeology (London & New York: Routledge, 2001), 110.
72. Vladislav Todorov, Red Square, Black Square: Organon for Revolutionary Imagination (New York: State University of New York Press, 1995, 5).
73. Todorov, Red Square, Black Square, 134.
74. Todorov, Red Square, Black Square, 140.
75. Kolesnikova, Interview.
Keren Klimovsky - short bioKeren Klimovsky is a playwright, a script writer, a writer of short fiction and a translator. She was born in Moscow in 1985. When she was five, her family immigrated to Israel. In 2004 Klimovsky was admitted to Brown University on a national scholarship. She double majored in theater arts and comparative literature (English, Russian, French) while simultaneously earning an MA in Slavic studies (which was made possible by Brown's 4-year combined BA/MA program.) She also studied playwriting with such masters of American drama as Bonnie Metzgar, Aishah Rahman and Paula Vogel. In 2014 Klimovsky earned a Ph.D. degree in Slavic studies (Brown Univeristy) (Dissertation Title: "Performing The Communist Myths: The Afterlife Of An Orphaned Myth")
In 2012, Klimovsky has co-founded the KEF Theater company together with the musician, composer and performer Elias Faingersh (Malmo, Sweden). Up to date the company has produced three shows, which have received both national and international acclaim.
Keren has published her literary work since the age of 15 - in Russian, Israeli and American periodicals, such as "Novaya Yunnost'", "Dialogue", "Neva", "Interpoeziya", "October", "Druzhba Narodov" and many others. Together with V. Klimovsky she translated Hanoh Levine's play "Bachelors and Bachelorettes" (Published in "Contemporary Drama", 2004). Her translations of Israeli poetry (Yakov Besser, Dalia Ravikovich, Yona Wollach, Roni Somek and others) are published in "Dialogue", "Interpoeziya", and the online-literary journal "Prologue".
Keren became finalist and laureate of many prestigious drama festivals and contests in Russia, such as the Free Belarus Theater Contest, the Textura Festival, the Badenweiler Festival, the Premiera Festival. Five of her plays and experimental dramatic prose texts have received staged readings in Moscow, Perm, Ryazan' and other cities in Russia. Her play "Lullaby for a Grown Man" was staged by two small theater groups in St. Petersburg and Krasnoyarsk (2013) and published in the book "Eight" - a collection of contemporary Russian drama (SEIP Fund, 2013).
Klimovsky's short fiction had won first and second prices at the Voloshin Festival (2011, 2013) and entered the short-list of the "Debut" Award - 2013 (a prestigious Russian award for young writers).
The film "Rehearsals" (2013, 2D Celluloid Company) that Klimovsky co-wrote with the director Oksana Karas won the "best debut" prize at the Moscow Premiere Festival (2013) as well as the ORT National Channel prize at the "Take 2" Online Festival (2015).