Ten Years of Shame: Arguments About Blame
THE INTELLECTUALS' BETRAYAL
The 1990s were the years in which the intelligentsia gave up its
identity and its autonomy. The intellectual [intelligent]--if he is
authentic and not a pseudointellectual (an intellectual by status,
bureaucrat, a clerk, a narrow specialist in a nonindustrial sphere
as education, management, or information technology)--is a creator:
creative individual, a genius, a person engaged in the search for truth
through rational (scientific) or emotional (artistic) understanding
assimilation of the world. True intellectuals comprehend their
individual role as thinking subjects and their social role as
enlighteners and emancipators. Genuine intellectuals are paragons of
critical thinking, opposed to conformity and parochialism.
In the 1990s the intellectuals betrayed themselves. They voluntarily
adopted the psychology of shopkeepers and prostitutes. The shopkeeper
oriented toward immediate material gain in order to sell more at higher
prices (and avoid having goods lying around). The prostitute also sells
her goods (herself)--which are, generally speaking, not at the peak
freshness--and likewise wants to sell them at top prices to a large
number of buyers. Neither the shopkeeper nor the prostitute is a
creator; neither produces; they only sell. In the 1990s the
"intelligentsia" became a social stratum of intellectual shopkeepers
intellectual prostitutes. Mass consumption demands mass--that is,
uniform, and to a large extent primitive--goods. The "intelligentsia"
agreed to foist their intellectual rotgut on anyone, faithfully taking
in every word and gesture of their pimps (sponsors, that is, bankers,
foundations, civil servants--those who gave money, awarded grants,
distributed wages, and established the rules of the game). This was
with an enthusiasm worthy of better uses, as they fulfilled each and
every wish, even the most perverted, of their pimps.
The "intelligentsia" has become an estate of philistines
[meshchane], a petty bourgeoisie. The "intelligentsia" is now a herd
conformists, and like any herd it is easy to control. The intelligentsia
of the 1990s does not want to create, to produce masterpieces (which
not make money, for it takes decades for masterpieces to be
recognized--often after the death of their maker--and they want success
right now). The "intelligentisia" of the 1990s has rejected critical
thinking: critical thinking is repressed (at best one is denied access
to the feeding trough, at worst put in prison or killed). The absence
critical thinking, however, also means an absence of critical
action--that is, the absence of creative action, revolutionary action,
action that changes the world, innovative action. Of course, the
"intellectuals" of the 1990s have lost their role as enlighteners and
emancipators. Instead, they have discovered a hypocritical, servile
contempt for their own people--viewed as mere cattle. The intellectual
prostitutes and shopkeepers have adopted (as lackeys and servants often
do) the views and manners of their lords.
The "intellectuals" of the 1990s believed in a postindustrial
"information" society, which gave them grounds for self-justification:
we are no longer dependent, they said, on those who mine coal, pick
cotton, and grow grain. We live in a different, "higher"
civilization--although farm products are not yet virtual but are still
produced by peasants; moreover, peasants in the "third world," who
in desperate poverty. Nor is clothing virtual: cotton is still grown
picked by peasants; weavers still weave the fabric as before, only
repaid in tuberculosis and pneumoconiosis; and coal (without which
would be no electricity, meaning that their computers and electronic
media--the entire virtual world of the pseudointelligentsia of the
1990s--would not work) is still mined by miners as it always has been,
for a pittance, even as they contract silicosis and die by the hundreds
annually in cave-ins and methane explosions.
The "intelligentsia" of the 1990s has become a predominantly
parasitical stratum, and like all parasitical strata it is inclined
toward counter-revolutionary sentiments. It has become unfashionable
be on the left. Revolution has given way to an anathema against
"violence" (as if counter-revolution is not violence; as if the "normal
existence" of the modern world, in which the United Nations estimates
that forty million people die from hunger every year, is not the mass
murder of the starving by those with full bellies).
The pseudointellectuals of the 1990s do not want to enlighten and
emancipate anyone. Geniuses, creators, prophets, and revolutionaries
eager to enlighten and emancipate: the broader their circles and the
greater their community, the more interesting it is for them to live,
the more meaningful their existence becomes. The petty bourgeois, the
intellectual shopkeepers and prostitutes, have no economic interest
emancipating and enlightening others: from their standpoint anyone
is enlightened and emancipated is an economic rival. Suddenly he is
selling something, and I am not? Suddenly the pimp dotes on him, not
The venality of our "intelligentsia" was already obvious in the
Soviet period, in the 1970s and 1980s when "intellectuals" unanimously
praised the "wisdom" of the CPSU and of Brezhnev personally, although
NKVD agent held a machine gun at their backs and forced them to do
they were simply well paid for it. But venality became even more
unattractive in the 1990s, when the very people who had praised
Communism under the Communists instantly became ferocious enemies of
Communism under the anticommunists. We need only recall P. Gurevich,
in the 1970s and 1980s "exposed" mysticism, neo-Freudianism, and
orthodox individualism while extolling Marxism but in the 1990s began
praise mysticism, neo-Freudianism, and right-wing individualism while
spurning Marxism. D. Volkogonov was still compiling ideological
strictures for GlavPUR in the late 1980s, branding anyone who
"slandered" the Soviet army; by the 1990s he was issuing orders for
struggle against "communo-fascism" and writing antihistorical "works"
demonizing Lenin and Trotsky. In the 1970s A. Tsipko wrote books on
Marxist theory (illiterate, true--he even confused the titles of Lenin's
works!); in the 1980s he was a consultant to the Central Committee
apparatus; but in the 1990s, as soon as he acquired a chic apartment
a Central Committee building on Dimitrov Street (many still remember
brouhaha the press made about this building in the early 1990s, when
campaign against privilege was being waged), he immediately became
ferocious persecutor of the Communist Party.
The "intelligentsia" of the 1990s have become a stratum serving the
interests of those in power and those with money; they ignore the fact
that these people are becoming increasingly dim-witted and esthetically
undeveloped. Stalin could phone Pasternak to find out whether
Mandel'shtam truly was an outstanding poet. Kennedy was able to ask
someone to explain to him ("just so I can understand it") what made
B»jart an outstanding ballet master. No one can prove to Luzhkov that
Tsereteli is a monster. No one could show Margaret Thatcher that
cyber-punk was the most brilliant literary phenomenon in the United
States in the 1980s (anything associated with the word "punk" elicited
an instinctive class aversion from Maggie). To please those with power
and money, one must conform to their tastes; and to conform to their
tastes, one must be like Zurab Tsereteli and Sydney Sheldon--that is,
one must either be a mediocrity or become one.
THE TRIUMPH OF MEDIOCRITY
The 1990s saw the victory of mediocrity over talent. The mass
culture despised by intellectuals of the sixties and seventies and
of the 1980s was proclaimed an equal culture, one that completely
supplanted authentic culture (because mass culture sells well, and
sells well because it is designed to satisfy the primitive tastes of
primitive minds of the "middle class"; mass culture is the authentic
culture of the middle class). Entire cultural branches (which usually
have a short history within the authentic culture) were destroyed in
1990s. The first victims were the cinema and rock. As art forms, the
cinema and rock emerged from mass culture relatively recently: the
cinema shed the fetters of "mass culture" in the 1920s, but it emerged
as an independent, serious, and authentic art form only in the 1950s,
when post-Stalinist cinema developed in the "Eastern bloc" (the Soviet,
Hungarian, Polish, and Czech cinematographic schools), and Italian
neo-realism became dominant in Western cinematographic consciousness.
Rock emerged as an authentic, serious art form only in the second half
of the 1960s.
There is no more cinema. Instead of cinema we now have movies. This
is no longer art. It is a part of show business. Show business bears
relationship to art (as revealed by the very name "show business").
Fellini or Tarkovsky could not exist in the 1990s; they are not related
either to show or to business; they cannot be sold. Show is a strip
tease, a man with two heads, a band playing out of tune led by a
bare-legged, simple-minded drum majorette. In the final analysis it
Pozner or Arbatov ("a talk show"), diligently making fools of housewives
on TV under orders from those in power (another version of the "soap
opera"--it fills the viewer's time, but God forbid their brains should
ever be engaged). Business is business: I have a commodity that I have
to palm off on the consumer; brains in such cases are downright
harmful--God forbid that you should wonder whether the consumer needs
such a commodity.
The shameful story of the blatantly second-rate, intolerably boring,
unbearably tawdry, cloyingly sentimental, archetypally tabloid Titanic
is symbolic. It symbolizes the death of cinema as art. There are many
such symbolic phenomena in the 1990s: there is, for example, the solemn
elevation to "modern classic" and "outstanding cinematic achievement"
the blatantly miserable and second-rate film The Fifth Element (designed
at best for ten- to twelve-year olds), or the awarding of the Legion
Honor (!) to El'dar Riazanov for his monstrosity Parisian Secrets.
In the 1990s everything cinematic that was neither kitsch nor show
business but art found itself banished to a ghetto.
In the 1990s, neither The Doors nor Janis Joplin nor King Crimson
could exist. They are too oppositional. They are not politically
correct. They are too philosophical. Finally they are unpleasantly
gloomy. The attempt to reproduce Woodstock thirty years later showed
far the rock scene had degenerated. Instead of a holiday of union and
love, a feast of geniuses, a communion with the pulse of the world,
was an ordinary show with crowds of half-drunk, done-up, sated,
self-satisfied yuppies and children of yuppies who did not even listen
to the music or express an interest in who was playing or what was
sung (which was, in fact, no longer important--this was not the 1960s).
Rather they strove to be part of a "historical" event by wallowing
the Woodstock mud.
Those who resist with all their strength the spell of
commercialization and musical primitivism and attempt to preserve the
spirit of genuine rock are also relegated to the ghetto (in extreme
cases they are made into "useful Jews"--dubbed "stars," "outstanding
figures," "living legends," and "national treasures"--and the British
queen and the U.S. president are ready, should the occasion arise,
shake their hands and give them an official document testifying that
"the bearer is a genuine member of the Judenrat in the rock ghetto").
Using mechanisms discovered and perfected in previous decades,
mediocrity with money has learned to render harmless creative people,
artists, and true intellectuals. In the United States, for example,
Hollywood and TV, of course, perform the role of "murderers of talent."
As soon as a talented prose writer appears on the literary horizon,
is immediately tempted with large sums of money to do screen plays
Hollywood and/or on TV. That is all that is necessary: the talent dies.
The same happens to poets, only they are swallowed up in the quagmire
Actually, it is interesting how American pseudointellectuals--the
mediocrities who imagine themselves to be "art people"--reacted to
in the 1990s. Since both Hollywood and TV are interested only in people
who are able to create talented, gripping, dramatic, and psychological
prose (i.e., prose for which some distinct classical criteria exist
quality is easily determined by comparing it with familiar models),
literary buffoons incapable of working at this level of difficulty
"automatic" works that have no theme, no characters, and so on. In
way they console themselves and suggest to others that only this type
prose is "truly contemporary," reflecting the spirit of the present.
Mediocrities behave the same way in poetry. Being incapable of creating
interesting works within the poetic tradition (for example, it is not
easy today to write original, nonepigonic, rhymed verses, especially
complex forms--try, for instance, writing a Spencerian stanza!), the
mediocrities rush, to a man, into minimalism and free verse, arguing
that only such verse is modern and reflects the "spirit of the times."
Actually, elemental envy of one's more successful colleagues hides
behind these "theoretical manifestoes."
In the 1980s these people were still able to turn up their noses,
snort, and stigmatize the more successful people who were part of
Hollywood and the pop scene as having "sold out" and descended into
"mass culture." In the 1990s this is impossible. They themselves have
proclaimed "mass culture" genuine, venality a sign of success, and
success a sign of talent.
Society's loss of interest in modern artists (in the broadest sense)
is retribution for mediocrity. Why spend money to look at a mediocre
film if it is obvious that on that level I can make a film myself?
you have tens of thousands of members of the American "middle class"
the 1990s taking video cameras in their hands and making porno films
which they themselves participate, and which they later exchange with
one another. But actually this is far more interesting than the
analogous products that use actors whom, unlike your neighbor, you
never meet in real life.
The triumph of mediocrity was also reflected on the political scene.
Brilliant politicians were supplanted by opaque, gray, wretched little
people. One need only look at the physiognomy of, for instance, Robin
Cook or Jamie Shea to call to mind if not a manual in psychopathology,
then at least Max Nordahl's Degeneration. President Clinton will go
in history as a scandal involving oral sex. This is not Kennedy and
Carribbean crisis, and especially not Roosevelt with his New Deal and
victory in World War II. No one assassinates Clinton, because no one
needs such a Slippery Joe (unlike Roosevelt or Kennedy). The faces
European politicians, unmemorable and indistinguishable from one
another, openly blend into one another, devoid of all individuality.
Then there are Russia's farcical political leaders--from the dunce
Chernomyrdin, whose sole achievement was the phrase "They wanted the
best, but they got more of the same" to the first delirious, then
demented Yeltsin, a "second edition of Leonid Brezhnev" (I will not
mention the other Zhirinovskys).
The "intellectual elite" is no better. All our economists with their
advanced degrees were complete flops in the 1990s, written off as
utterly incompetent. Our sociologists did no better in all the major
elections of the 1990s, unanimously predicting a crushing defeat of
Lukashenko and Kuchma in the presidential elections in Belarus and
Ukraine, a stunning success for Our Home Is Russia and Russia's
Democratic Choice, and the defeat of the Communists in the Russian
Even Western economists did no better in the 1990s. None of them was
able to predict, or even provide a reasonable explanation of, the
Mexican financial crisis or the later Asian, Russian, and Brazilian
The phenomenon of Francis Fukuyama and his "end of history" could
have emerged only in an atmosphere marked by the triumph of mediocrity.
One need only recall a university course in the history of philosophy
(in this case Hegel), adroitly pluck out Hegel's ideological precept,
and use it in praise of liberalism (no one even noticed that Fukuyama
stole not only from Hegel but from Hitler as well, proclaiming the
"thousand-year Reich"--this time a liberal one!), and in a void one
earn the laurels of an "outstanding philosopher." Even in the 1980s
one could have imagined such a thing. The French "new philosophers"
also masters of self-publicity, but even they were unable to achieve
such success. Nor is it important that all Fukuyama's postulates have
proven quite untenable by the end of the 1990s--the name has already
been earned. Fukuyama is already studied at the university as a "living
classic," while other philosophers--real ones--are being removed from
university courses in the 1990s: Marx in Mexico, Hegel in the United
States and France, Gramsci in Canada, and Unamuno and Sartre in Denmark.
NARCISSISM, HEDONISM, AND DISNEYLAND
In the 1990s art lost its social significance--with the full consent
of artists and "intellectuals." Philosophical novels, social films,
rebellious poetry, political rock, frescoes and psychodelic paintings,
and psychodelic dances--both socially and politically oriented (a part
or a legacy of the counterculture)--vanished into the past. "Artists"
withdrew into a little world of petty and deeply personal problems,
heal (and cultivate) their numerous complexes. The age of narcissism
arrived, celebrating the individualism and shameless need for publicity
of the ordinary philistine "ego." In the 1990s "artists" spend their
lives in persistent (often futile) attempts to attract attention and
cajole money out of potential sponsors. Self-love compensates for lack
of talent and imagination. Prose about nothing sits side by side with
prose about love of one's own body. (A. Ageev showed me one such
masterpiece from the journal Znamia, saying, "That's it, I've had it!"
The author was describing at great length how she shaved her pubic
with her father's razor; who on earth could find this interesting?)
Having lost its social relevance, art lost its audience, said
goodbye to society, and became superfluous in the modern world. Then
became a game (the popularity of "Homo ludens" among our "intellectuals"
in the 1990s is very instructive, and so is the failure to understand
Huizinga, especially his warning that play by nature exists outside
morality). By transforming art into a game, "artists" of the 1990s
drastically reduced the value of art and their own value as "artists,"
and their "product" became something sold in a toy store, known to
unremarkable and readily interchangeable.
This kind of "art" is no longer dangerous to the System.
Consequently, such "artists" are not masters of ideas--that is, Artists.
No one will hang them as they did Ryleev, shoot them like Lorca or
Hill, guillotine them like Andr» Chenier, behead them like Thomas More
or Walter Raleigh, beat them to death in the stadium like Viktor Kharu
[name transliterated], throw them from a helicopter to drown in the
like Otto Ren» Castillo, shoot them like Lennon or Courtier, poison
like Sant'Elia or Li Hui [names transliterated], let them die in the
camps like Mandel'shtam or Desnos, or burn them alive like Serveto
Archpriest Avvakum. They will not die in battle like Xavier Ero [name
transliterated] or Jos» Marti, and no one will skin them alive like
Imadeddina Nasimi [name transliterated]. No one needs them because
terrify no one. Power respects only those it fears. By shifting their
activity into the domain of play, "artists" of the 1990s became the
of Power. All they had left was to play to exhaustion, to play
themselves in the game acceptable to Power.
The 1990s signaled the triumph of hedonism. Psychologically,
socially, culturally, there are three types of people: the philistine,
the bohemian, and the creator (creative personality). In the 1990s
philistine and the bohemian merged, here and in the West. The bohemian
adopted the values of the philistine world, and the bohemian lifestyle
made inroads into the philistine world. The "Artist" learned how to
hustle money for a "project" and, when the "project" was done, to turn
life into one grand party with weed, grub, and sex to exhaustion,
celebrating that he need do nothing for a long time except live on
money he received for completing the "project." John Milton, who was
unable not to write Paradise Lost, or Pushkin, whose "hands [were]
to the pen," would not have understood this.
Of course, all this requires surplus money in society. This surplus
is created, as we know, by unequal exchange with the "third world."
hacks can produce their talentless "artistic" products (of no use to
anyone) by the thousands and pump themselves full of heroin because
somewhere in Latin America, Africa, and Asia (and now in Russia as
thousands of children are dying everyday from hunger. In the 1990s
world of the middle class became an inseparable blob of philistines
bohemians, a single endless gallery, podium, TV show, sex, tourist,
Hence the fascisization of the artistic media. Fascism became safe
for the System (Chile's Pinochet confiscated no one's property; on
contrary, he returned what Allende had nationalized). Fascism became
game, but a game at the margins of the permissible. It is the surest
to attract attention to oneself, that is, to successfully sell oneself
in a market where there are too many competitors. The clearest example
of this is "Laibakh," and the "neue slovenische Kunst" [new Slavic
in general. Fascism has become part of the mainstream. The SS uniform
worn by bikers, gay ballet dancers, and visitors to sadomasochist clubs;
the humanization of Hitler by Fest and Sokurov--all this is merely
cultural expression of the political amalgam of bourgeois democracy
fascism in a single country (for example, Peru, where parliamentary
democracy destroys the villages of 600,000 Indians, turning them into
refugees, and kills 80,000; or Turkey, where parliamentary democracy
destroys the villages of 3 million Kurds, turning them into refugees,
and kills 200,000).
The "artist" at play is a hedonist and a narcissist;
he has no
chance of finding the same audience or enjoying the same demand or
same level of respect as a social artist--rebel, prophet, and "accursed
poet." In Sandinista Nicaragua there was a flowering of poetry and
universal love for Cardenal, Garcia Marquez, and Guaiasamina [name
transliterated]; the partisans in Timor pray to the poets and artists
clandestine theaters as they pray to the gods; and in the jungles of
Colombia the singers of songs of protest enjoy incredible honor and
respect among the armed campesinos. In a world where "artists" are
bought and sold--and consent to being bought and sold--they have no
future as true artists do. They are commodities: their fate (and their
price) is determined by the buyer, and the buyer in modern Western
society is increasingly drawn to objects that are used only once.
Hence, too, comes the enthusiasm for linguistic philosophy, which is
completely harmless, politically sterile. If one studies language and
text (Ur-text) instead of people and society, it is by definition
impossible to encroach on anyone's property interests. Today's
linguistic philosophy is just as much the refuge of cowards as
scholasticism was in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, and
is no accident that linguistic philosophy, like scholasticism, focuses
on the interpretation of texts, not the analysis of practice and
experience. There can be no action, no practice, without a clash of
interests. Action is engaged from the outset; hence anyone who analyzes
action is also forced into engagement: he looks through the eyes of
either winner or loser, and even as an "onlooker" he is forced to
acknowledge that there are winners and losers (which is itself
humiliating to one side). Only the author of a text, not its
interpreter, is responsible for that text--not to mention that exegesis
does not create intellectual essences but only recombines those that
already exist, whereas generalization and the analysis of experience
action do create new intellectual essences (experience and action are
pre- or extra-intellectual, natural phenomena).
Hence, too, the enthusiasm for nonclassical philosophy, which is
especially widespread among those "artists" and "intellectuals" who
parade in "left-wing" and "leftist" garb (the same kind of attempt
attracting attention as playing at fascism). Such "artists" and
"intellectuals" have always existed, but in the past authentic left-wing
Westerners called them "plush" or "chic leftists"--that is, inauthentic,
toy leftists. "Chic leftists" especially love Debors (since he
theoretically "justified" the meaninglessness of political struggle
before Fukayama--merely in a different, pseudo-Marxist language,
proclaiming the indestructibility of the thousand-year liberal Reich)
and Foucault with his penchant for studying psychosocial pathology
borderline phenomena. He says, for example, that madness is an
"antibourgeois" phenomenon. Of course, secretly the "chic leftists"
that madness is not antibourgeois: it does not oppose the bourgeoisie,
it exists altogether apart from class characteristics. Only that which
(or those who) presents a positive social project that can compete
the bourgeois project and create a new utopia are antibourgeois and
consequently dangerous to the bourgeoisie (i.e., dangerous to those
bourgeois society who are involved in this). This the bourgeoisie
represses. But madness is allowed. Madness is not a crime but a disease.
Revolution can be proclaimed a crime, illness never.
POSTMODERNISM, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, AND THE TYRANNY OF THE MEDIA
The 1990s were the age of postmodernism. The "1990s generation"
repudiated philosophy because of its own patent inability to understand
classical and postclassical philosophical texts and its fear of the
struggle to change the real world. The "intelligentsia" of the 1990s
enthusiastically embraced postmodernism precisely because it saw it
justification of its own intellectual mediocrity, its creative
barrenness, its political cowardice, and its social venality. For
postmodernists, the "supercession" of ontology, rationalism, and
philosophy in general "justified" the inability to come up with a
scientific vision and understanding of the world, to understand and
appropriate the legacy of philosophy (as V. Terin aptly put it at a
seminar at the Center of Modern Art, "Now you do not need to read Kant,
Hegel, and Marx--now you can read me, Terin"). The postmodernist
rejection of the cognitive, prophetic, and didactic functions of art
"justified" lack of talent and made it possible to replace the
traditional production of works of art with endless "activity" oriented
toward this activity as process. The postmodernist proclamation that
rational action was "obsolete" (since the "result never coincides with
the plan" and "the object of change responds violently to attempts
change it") "justified" fear of repression (narcissists and hedonists
are afraid not only of death, torture, or prison but of the absence
comfort and loss of the means to indulge in a variety of pleasures--can
one truly live without LSD and a bidet?). The postmodern decision to
grant equal status to genuine art and to kitsch, to the serious and
play, to left and right, to building and destroying, to the real and
illusory "justified" the banality of the "intelligentsia" and
transformed it into a machine for satisfying the quite primitive needs
of a "middle class" in pursuit of hedonistic pleasure.
Postmodernist society is A. Moll's [name transliterated] "mosaic
culture" become reality. Society is divided into small groups, each
its own "geniuses" (utterly wretched), its own neophytes (even more
wretched), its own standards of quality, its own morality, and its
fashion. Postmodernist society can no longer act as a whole; it is
defenseless before those wielding power. Micro-groups are unable to
unite, and they have great difficulty interacting with one another
they are secretly hostile and do not need one another. The postmodern
world is a world of singles. In the ideal case, postmodern society
strives toward atomization, to complete self-satisfied equality, and
intellectual limits, despite its apparent diversity ("the machine
stops," according to E.M. Forster). The biggest, carefully guarded
secret of the postmodern world is its extraordinary political utility
for the ruling elite. The elite is consolidated, engaged, and utterly
rational; and it owns property, receives profits, and organizes (on
purely rational grounds) world industry and the world political process.
The elite is conservative out of necessity (no profit without
stability); it does not play postmodernist games. (It wears stiff suits;
its children attend closed schools where they receive a classical
education and the nineteenth-century discipline of the rod; it buys
C»zanne paintings, not the installations of Karl [Charles] Andr»; it
listens to Beethoven in Carnegie Hall, not Michael Jackson in stadiums,
etc.) The elite forces postmodernism on the "middle class" and the
"grass roots," for an atomized society is safe (it cannot take away
elite's property, and hence their power).
If a mosaic culture is not to degenerate into an open war of all
against all, political correctness is necessary. Political correctness
is, according to the brilliant definition of Paco Raban [name
transliterated], the "virtue of sheep being led to the slaughterhouse."
Social conflict spurs a search for allies. It tends toward
globalization, and any such conflict, even though it begins with a
among the myriad cells of mosaic society, threatens to expand into
class and race conflict (since during the course of the conflict,
greater and more general contradictions and incongruities come to light,
fundamental contradictions and incongruities, and blocs of allies are
formed). Political correctness ensures stability by its disregard of
Other. Laziness and an aversion to understanding any other cell of
mosaic society makes it possible to avoid conflict (by avoiding
comparisons) while narcissistically glorifying oneself. As Christopher
Higichens [Hitchens] observed, political correctness has not inspired
people with respect for diversity; everyone is afraid of everyone else,
and out of fear each tries to show no interest in the others. Hitchens
called the reign of political correctness the "I-millennium" (another
form of the "liberal Reich"!).
Political correctness guarantees mediocrity high status within one
cell of mosaic society: the hierarchy of talent from craftsman to genius
(from Bulgarin to Dostoevsky) is based on comparisons. Without
comparison there can be no hierarchy. Anyone can proclaim himself an
"artist" and a "genius." "Genius" becomes a declaration: one need only
gather two or three friends (drinking buddies) to start a "current"
In postmodern society the media become gendarme and censor. By
encouraging a specious diversity of styles and groups, the media create
a situation of information overload, which, as psychologists and
psychiatrists know, blocks the higher (peak) psychological functions
(emotional, intellectual, and creative). "Mass culture" becomes the
acceptable culture not only because it is imposed but because its
reception requires no effort. A brain overloaded with information
resists receiving anything that requires a serious intellectual or
In the 1990s the media successfully erased information deemed
inappropriate by those in power from people's picture of the world.
primitivized the picture of reality, the viewer as a person, and the
criteria of taste and morality in general. Thus, the scandal of Monica
Lewinsky forced hundreds of millions to meddle in the personal life
someone they did not know at the same time as it erased unpleasant
reality from the "electronic picture of the world": the partisan war
Colombia and the participation in it of American aircraft; the millions
protesting in New York against racist police terror set in motion by
Mayor Guiliani; and the government's attempt to disband the strongest
U.S. trade union, the Teamsters (truck drivers, etc.).
In the 1990s the tyranny of the media forces a loss of standards: it
is impossible to explain in terms of postmodernist (rational) thinking
why someone like Tudjman, a devotee of fascism, and the Islamic
fundamentalist Izetbegovic are "good," but the socialist Milosevic
"monster." In the 1990s it is unnecessary to explain anything; it is
sufficient to proclaim. As a result, those at the front of the media's
cultural portrait gallery are those who are completely safe. For
example, in prose writing we have Viktor Erofeev and his books that
everyone knows have nothing to do with literature; Pelevin and his
Chapaev and Pustota--an exact copy of the (morally even worse) novel
Al'tista Danilova, that mass culture "hit" from the "period of
stagnation," and so on. The 1990s loss of standards involved not only
quality but activity as well, the very existence of status. The court
requires expert confirmations that Avdei Ter-Ogan'ian is an artist
acts in an artistic way, although no one demands that Prigov prove
his writings are poetry (although bad verse or no verse can already
be considered poetry).
In the 1990s the media ratcheted up changes in standards, names, and
fashions. Styles and artists changed constantly--every day. Constant
novelty is required of the "artist"--thus demands the market and
advertising--and the demand is mechanical, formal, and esthetically,
qualitatively, and fundamentally irrelevant. In the 1990s "after" means
"better"--that is, if Yevtushenko writes after Byron, he must write
The tyranny of the media was in full display during the second
Yugoslav war (the war in Kosovo). The first Yugoslav war was justly
called a "postmodern war," but the second revealed the total dependence
of the postmodern "culture community" on the media, which were entirely
under the control of those in power and no longer even masked their
as brainwashing machine. NATO aircraft systematically destroyed the
Yugoslav media precisely because they were not controlled by NATO and
provided "incorrect" information--this was stated openly. Well-known
American professors unanimously complained that not one publication
wanted to print articles in which they criticized NATO, and television
crews refused to interview them as soon as it became clear that they
opposed the war in Yugoslavia. The postmodern pseudointelligentsia,
moreover, has begun quoting Roland Barthes, repeating that "every
discursive system is a presentation, a show," although the Yugoslav
example in fact refutes Barthes: it exemplifies the overt destruction
the show (the game). It is an example of how one discursive system
destroys another--not linguistically, not according to Barthes, not
through "aggressive dialogue," but with missiles and bombs, eliminating
dialogue and imposing monologue. Both Yugoslav wars had economic causes,
among others: the refusal of the ruling Socialist Party in Yugoslavia
privatize collective property and allow Western capital to buy up
Yugoslav industry (altogether, only 7 percent of the Yugoslav economy
privatized, and in Serbia the figure is 4 percent). The Yugoslav
leadership's position can be explained in terms of the economic
interests of the collective owners who are also the backbone of the
Socialist Party, but the Western media said not a word about this,
preferring to demonize one person, Milosevic. This is a deliberate
dumbing-down of the viewer to the level of the benighted and illiterate
Russian peasant of the early nineteenth century, who believed that
Bonaparte was the Antichrist.
THE GHETTOIZATION OF CULTURE
In the 1990s authentic culture was banished to the periphery, driven
into the ghetto: this is true not only of art but also of philosophy,
and the humanities as well--only the last were driven into the ghettoes
of universities and minuscule research groups and centers. The
humanities were split into dozens, even hundreds, of schools in the
1990s--and these schools did not interact with any of the others (except
perhaps for the most similar; even then there were conflicts). For
example, in post-Marxist European thought we have the "London school"
(an outgrowth of the Yugoslav group Praxis), which was expelled from
intellectual field considered enlightened by the media, and this cell
mosaic society was represented by a small group of politically
inoffensive French "chic leftists"--Deleuze and Guattari with their
"Desire," Lyotard with his "intensity," and Baudrillard with his
"temptation." By the 1990s in France, the historical schools, which
no effort to conceal their social engagement, were bankrupt, and they
were driven out of the publishing world and the universities. Only
that did innocuous things survived: for example, publishing documents
and compiling commentaries on commentaries. Strictly speaking, as a
discipline history no longer exists in France. What remains are
pseudohistory (helpless, stripped of its methodology, and popularized)
Ghettoization condemns to fragmentation and oblivion those who do
not accept the rules of the game imposed in the 1990s. Isolated from
media, given limited means and a limited circle of discourse and
communication, and published in very small print runs, they are
condemned to a struggle for survival and have difficulty finding one
The postmodern world of the 1990s actively hinders the acquisition
of full and accurate information as well as access to the pre- and
postmodern critical legacy and to authentic culture. It did this,
however, not by outright prohibition (which would have made matters
easier: "what is forbidden is true") but by information overload, by
overwhelming the sensory channels with "white noise." The ghettoized
opposition is increasingly torn from its own roots and is finding it
more and more difficult to find not only allies but even predecessors.
Thus, the theoretician of an Italian organization in Luxemburg,
Socialismo Rivoluzionario, was quite startled when I told him that
twentieth century had produced a large number of Italian Marxist
philosophers. He knew only of Gramsci; all the other names--even
Labriola, Della Volpe, and Coletti--meant nothing to him!
In the United States ballet troupes that tried to resist the "ballet
mainstream"--despite being isolated from one another and
impoverished--have ended up in a cultural ghetto. The situation was
similar in the second half of the 1960s and the early 1970s, but then
these troupes were able to find one another quickly, to work together
and interact (sometimes even in conflict), and on the whole saw
themselves as part of the Living Theater. As a result, they were able
force society to see itself and to recognize itself. Today this is
impossible because of the huge sea of ballet circles and studios for
"middle class," where overweight Americans learn dance to pass the
lose weight, and maintain their figures.
But the issue is not merely that the "airwaves" are overloaded. At
issue is the fundamental incompatibility of two cultures: authentic
culture, which is the legacy of the European tradition from the
Renaissance and the Enlightenment to the avant-garde; and "mass culture"
(a phenomenon that exists independently in any culture, not only
European or Westernized culture). Authentic culture is oriented toward
genius, creativity, and dissatisfaction; the new "mass culture" is
oriented toward philistinism, consumption, and comfort. They cannot
coexist peacefully any more than the Nazis and the Jews could coexist
peacefully in the Third-Reich.
And if today, in the 1990s, the "Nazis" hold the "battlefield," then
naturally the "Jews" are in the ghetto. Hence, for example, the splendid
journal Zabriski Rider is unknown to the "public at large"; the
remarkable painter, poet, publisher, and anarchist Tolstyi exists,
were, outside "cultural space"; and the brilliant rock bard and
performer Aleksandr Nepomniashchii has never appeared on the TV screen
or on radio music stations. For the same reason, "official poetry"
Voznesenskii to Vsevolod Nekrasov) diligently ignores the existence
Evgenii Kol'chuzhkin, an outstanding traditional poet and pupil of
Shervinskii, who lives in Tomsk. Finally, this is why the Russian
literary world pretends that the shocking parody It's Me, Little Boris!
exists nowhere in nature.
The intelligentsia of the 1990s related to the cultural ghetto in
the same way that the German population under Hitler related to the
concentration camps and the Jewish ghettos. That is the bill the
children (grandchildren) of this "intelligentsia"--the future RAF--will
present to their forebears in the twenty-first century.
By ghettoizing authentic culture, postmodern society itself drives
those who find themselves in the cultural ghetto into ideological and
political opposition. Thus, the journal Bronzovyi vek began as a purely
literary publication, bordering on mainstream culture. After a few
of ghettoized existence, Bronzovyi vek became a publication that was
openly opposed to liberalism--politically, esthetically,
philosophically--to the "open society," and to representative democracy.
THE DEGENERATION AND DECLINE OF THE POSTMODERN EMPIRE
By the end of the decade, the postmodern empire of the 1990s had
begun to putrefy--at a pace that would have been unbelievable in
preceding eras!--and began to demonstrate all the classic signs of
degeneration and decline
Intellectual banality was never a novelty, but neither was it so
massive and so destructive in its consequences (even for those who
sold themselves). On the whole, the "intelligentsia" sold out in two
ways. Let us provisionally call them the "path of Stephen King" and
"path of Jeff Koons."
Stephen King once produced talented tales that had a clear
antibourgeois and antimilitarist subtext (his past as an activist in
struggle against the Vietnam War was discernible), linking the lineage
of Ambrose Bierce with that of Ray Bradbury. With the advent of success
(later, commercial success) Stephen King moved from culture to "mass
culture" and lost face. Instead of stories, novels now appeared
(listings, fees!); individual style was replaced by brisk "dialogue"
"action"; psychology gave way to stilted, repetitive images. Even his
plots became repetitive--nowadays in a King work, basically someone
falls into a hole in space or time or someone (something) is drawn
sucked up at the sound of a whistle (or the smacking of the lips).
number of copies printed, however, continues to climb. But interest
declining even in the field of "mass culture." His creative and personal
degeneration is apparent. It is degeneration through success.
Jeff Koons showed himself to be an incredibly talented artist in a
very inauspicious field--the field of advertising. Success made it
possible for him to move from the sphere of mass culture to the world
serious culture. He ridiculed the mass culture of advertising at the
of the 1980s in his series Banality. In the 1990s Koons again moved
mass culture through the pseudorebellious action film Made in Heaven.
course, his marriage to Cicciolina belonged in the scandal columns,
in the 1990s you no longer surprise anyone with a series of photographs
of the sex act in various positions (the porno industry!) even if it
oneself and Cicciolina who are the "stars." But the rules of the tabloid
scandal are observed (including the pretense that this is a "political"
opposition to hypocritical, conservative, Reaganesque America, but
Madonna would be a "political fighter"!). So here we have scandal,
success, money--and degeneration. The openly boring, wretched but highly
paid works on command of the 1990s. This is degeneration through
For example, in our country Pelevin, who began writing stories that
were unquestionably interesting if not really of genius, chose the
of Stephen King. Saraskina, who went from articles on literary criticism
to articles on every conceivable topic in the "glasnost era" chose
path of Jeff Koons and then abruptly leaped into mass culture with
book on Dostoevsky's Women.
An entire pleiad of our best-known rock musicians--Grebenshchikov,
Kinchev, Shevchuk--have tried both scenarios. In the early 1990s their
rock was both a scandal (from the standpoint of "official culture")
a continuation of their success in their previous cultural activity.
end is the same for all: degeneration into barstool trivia and
indulgence of the tastes of the "new Russians."
One can witness this deterioration in the examples of such cult
figures as Tarantino, Lynch, and Greenway. First, what is the meaning
"cult" when there are so many "cults" that anything that is obviously
badly done ("punk loves garbage") can become a "cult." Second, the
repetitiveness and recognizable features in Greenway, Lynch, and
Tarantino, their production-line quality, soon renders them
uninteresting, even outright boring, except among a narrow circle of
"fans." The "cult" is instantly transformed into a minor "sect" and
dwindles to nothing.
The postmodern "intelligentsia's" abolition in the 1990s of the
dichotomy between scientific and ordinary thought naturally resulted
degeneration to the everyday, a return to philistine common sense.
the end of the 1990s the intelligentsia was already afraid to use
scientific terminology and the vocabulary of serious philosophy. It
speaks in professional pidgin ("deconstruction of discourse by the
syntagms of representative installation"--a familiar business: only
those who think clearly can explain clearly!). This fear extended to
include the very term "postmodernism." At the same time, the
"intelligentsia" began to panic every time it came into contact with
complex reality. For instance, Lee Rast Braun [name transliterated]
shuns all forms of systematization: if a phenomenon is systematic,
requires systematized knowledge and systematized thinking, and
systemized knowledge and systematized thinking are inaccessible to
victims of mosaic culture (a system presupposes hierarchy and
comparison). Peter Fend proclaims himself to be a "politically active
artist" but thinks in categories of the average American (and even
boasts about it), endlessly repeating the banalities of a "left-wing
Biedermeier" and maliciously attacking Sartre for supposedly "sitting
a caf» his whole life holding forth on how much he hated the
bourgeoisie" (although the real Sartre participated in the Resistance
and in [the student demonstrations of] May 1968, personally sold Lutte
ouvri’re in the seventies, helped the "urban guerrillas" of the RAF,
inspired revolutionaries from the sixties through the 1980s, to say
nothing of his direct role as a philosopher and writer). Peter Fend's
hatred of Jean-Paul Sartre is the hatred of a man in the age of
degradation who cannot realize himself socially and politically toward
man who was thoroughly social and political, a man who was fully
self-actualized. In other words, it is envy--envy of other times and
other "rules of the game."
The complaints of the "artists" of the 1990s that "the public is not
interested" in them is a phenomenon of the same type. Here, too, "the
public" is professional pidgin, a euphemism, a shameless and cunning
replacement of reality by "virtual reality." It is not "the public"
does not need the "artists" of the 1990s but society, or if you will
This is not the first time a mosaic culture has developed, but it is
the first time it has been global, not confined to one country or one
empire. A typical mosaic culture evolved in Austria-Hungary before
collapse. The same was true of the Greek states before they fell. A
postmodern type of culture, with all its attributes--repetitiveness,
citations, recombinations, emphasis on spectacle, sexualization,
play--has also appeared before. Such was Europe in the age of
mannerisms, in the late Byzantine empire, and in late Rome. Even small
details coincide--such as the hyperbolization of the "fashion industry,"
the enthusiasm for "ethnic music" and tattoos, or the transformation
communication by representatives of the "cultural environment" into
in-group patter. The analogy with Rome is especially appropriate because
late Rome, like the modern "first world," was a parasitical
formation--the metropolis existed at the expense of the provinces and
plundering the outlying territories, just as the "first world" today
exists at the expense of the "third world."
The classical signs of degradation and decline deprive the
intelligentsia of the 1990s of all prospects. Future historians will
approach the 1990s as they did the 1890s in Russia or the 1780s in
France: as "the putrefaction of a sated, parasitical society," the
de si’cle, "the growth of mysticism and immorality," "narcoticization,"
"heightened interest in and esthetization of illness and death,"
"decadence," "retreat into a world of illusion," and so on.
The development of culture will, as it always has, proceed from
sources beyond the mainstream of parasitical society--that is, from
sources alien (or at least opposed) to the Western liberal postmodernist
The "intelligentsia" of the 1990s has condemned itself to a future
of oblivion and ridicule. And that is as it should be.
Aleksandr Nikolaevich Tarasov is a leading expert
at the Phoenix
Center for New Sociology and the Study of Political Practice.
Russian Politics and Law 38 no3 49-68 My/Je 2000