ON INTERDEPENDENCY


A person's appreciation of a city, if genuine, matures through the untrustworthy eyes of others. In order to change oneself from one context into another the knowledge of a language, history and customs is not nearly enough, because at least Moscow (like Genet for the New York Post I refuse to write would-be articles either under snow or on the pretentiously warm sidewalk cafes of San Francisco) functions ac-cording to the laws of a different reality than the rest of the world, and does it in such a cunning way as to make certain very emotional people believe in its absence altogether. A person can arrive from Sheremetyevo and have borsch at Praga and go to sleep at Rossiya Hotel or better yet the Metropol (which my friend, and one-time colleague, that rabbit-eyed sorrower whose name is also a little town north of Moscow, almost helped design the windows of, before he disappeared without a trace), only to wake up the next morning and realize that he is not the same person, if he is still a person at all and not an am-biguous nothingness left over from the spontaneous disintegration of identity in an acidic and unknown new system of coordinates.

Sometimes I forget the color of my toothbrush
и путаю цепочки разнообразных слов

где прячется один седой барулин,

где страшно ночью ночевать в натуре

где ты лукаво бродишь среди снов:

towards morning you dissolve like something airbrushed.

Там солнце, на травке торт сожрали,

там где-то длинный бармалей

и долгий, дивный лист

летел, гоняя красных мотылей

и твой печальный свист

пронзил им небо, где те проживали

in solitude and grim desire.


Let me examine that particular aspect concerning the untrust-worthy eyes of others: a space or a country is an intricate and complex system of interaction between language, history, political infrastruc-ture, economy and culture which continuously create society and social aspects which in turn shape the language, history, political infrast-ructure, economy and culture. The immediately ethereal nature of the concept of reality in Russia stems from the adaptation of its perceivers at first hand, but most importantly from the relatively stronger interdependency of the perceivers, of the members of that particular society.


I dreamed last night, or perhaps not even dreamed, but believed in delirium, that I slept on all the four beds in this apartment simultaneously that never for once was I to forget that, because then I would forget the three other crucial components of myself. And several months ago I observed a strange thing which led me to conclude that Russian reality by itself cannot exist and can only be the result of the talkative Russky's generalizations: unexplainably it didn't seem to puzzle anyone that a scheduled lecture at the State University for the Humanities posted on the schedule billboard spontaneously did not take place, for no reason at all. People have not only learned to take the absence of logic for granted, but have created vast and numerous pseu-do-logics to fill the vacuum of reason.


Another difference maddened me ever since the morning when I awoke and realized that I wasn't making any money. I knew the cliche of pre-tending to work while your boss pretended to pay you, but with the western mentality a foreigner is convinced that since he is aware of all these possibilities, he, as a reasonable, cosmopolitan individual can adapt quickly, learn to distinguish fraud, and establish himself in the most lucrative position possible under the circumstances. The first mistake is that no one can distinguish fraud, especially here, hence the name, fraud. The second has to do with a more complicated phenome-non: the fundamental change in the system of coordinates, the new mea-nings given to the words "individual", "success", "freedom", "respon-sibility," all godly paragons in the Glorious American Ideology. Wit-hin twenty four hours, a person can decrease his responsibilities by half as a matter of context: some say that the Communist Revolution was bound to happen for a very simple reason- geographical elements, ethnic geometry, and historical conditioning have produced a society more dependent upon the collective than any other. This conclusion is arguable, but the elements of the last clause are still visible all over this city. It takes an infinite moment to wake up in the morning and realize that your troubles and anxieties depend far less upon your own mistakes than you think, because you have much less of that which have been conditioned to call control, and in some sense freedom. Which leads to an even more interesting phenomenon: the relative-ly more dominant qualities of context itself. The relativist viewpoint that nothing exists unless it is seen has been seen was taken advantage of to such an extent (and I'm not going to dig in the Orwellian sewers of the local history of politics) that reality seems to be manifested not as what you deem yourself and your surroundings, but as that which is perceived by those surrounding you: the people you converse with, the new faces each day that I have taken to meeting in my bathrobe on the stairwell encountering guitars, poems, bags of food, beer, champagne, an endless series of other people's cassettes and books, mad kisses at the surprise of appearance, wrong apartments, etceteras.


The most horrifying knowledge of living in two worlds, as a subjective note, is the sense that when I speak to a Russian I feel that he sees through me, understands my motives, what I actually mean when I am trying to hide something, my mistakes, nervous giggles, spoon-rattlings and so forth, not to mention my inner peculiarities, while when speaking to an American I feel I see through him just as well. This problem has bothered me for over a year and, apart from the fact that I am much more confident when I socialize in English and with Americans than in Russian with Russians, I was consequently and reluctantly lead to suspect that this perhaps had something to do with the difference in average levels of intelligence. I will not dismiss this as either a misconception or a slavophilic outburst, or support it- that is banal and not my concern; but I have understood that it is the wrong explanation for the phenomenon I have been struggling with.


The problem is that Russians in general, as many cultures in the East, have a much more complicated system of socializing, though, paradoxically, unlike in America it cannot be called a system. This is probably impossible for anyone, let alone myself, to understand. In America the topics for conversation among friends or acquaintances are fewer and depend little on class or society. That is, two people who have just met at a cafe may just as easily get into a conversation about their love life as two life-long friends. That is not to say that their conversation will necessarily progress to higher levels of verbal intimacy or that our two life-long friends will also tearfully discuss matters of the "soul" (incidentally, this is a four letter word and subsequently a curse word in some post-intelligentsia social groups in post-Soviet Russia). Despite this, Americans are considered less "open" because their topics are often limited, though I suspect this is not due to secretiveness, but to the fact that some people may not know of other topics to talk about. Relationships in the West are built upon a practical set of rules, like the instructions for a blender (I remember with a mixture of nausea and hilarity, if thought in Russian context, certain subjects in school where we were actually made to take tests about communicating with people and things to create a better understanding) therefore by definition are more systematic. Relationships among most Russians are never built, but follow a very complicated and ancient code that is as accidental and ambiguous as my thesis statement. Spending most of their lives communicating with and practically entirely dependant on other people, their socializing is more intense, emotional and subsequently more agile. Newly met friends in a particular society at work would point things out to me about myself as aggressively as though we had been acquainted for ages, through which I would be mistaken into thinking that we had already reached a certain level of honesty and intimacy, which we hadn't. Others, like Michael, didn't ask a single personal question until we were drinking wine in his kitchen, after a month of meeting outside almost every day. There are really no rules on how much you can spill your guts to an American, the reactions among representatives of different societies will be mostly the same, but Russians of differing sets of social mentalities will look at you strangely and honestly tell you exactly what they think of you (except for Michael, who was a European until February). The truth is, they can see through you when you speak, because they communicate more than you and on many more different levels than you ever have, and the distress of this kind of alienation tormented not only me, but Dan the American, who took me out to pizza and desperately began asking a million questions about how to talk to Russians.

I write with the face of a hypocrite right now, because I told him that what he asked was unanswerable. But what Westerners may often mistake for intelligence cannot be explained, it can only be suffered through, only by traversing the complex webs of communications among acquaintances.