A Memoir, Ego-grafii series, Polirom, 2007, 272 pages
Translation rights sold to: Ad Marginem Press (Russian Federation), Ediciones Akal S.A. & Foca (Spain), Hacca (Italy), KX - Critique & Humanism Publishing House (Bulgaria)
Everything i am writing here originates from a two‑sided, not necessarily unique experience. It is the immediate experience of a citizen at home in the Soviet milieu, on the one hand, combined with a literary, culturally‑acquired experience, on the other. They jointly define me as a product made in the USSR. It is virtually impossible for me to distinguish between the two. My narrative perspective, however, is that of Homo sovieticus, an undeniable product of that land and its culture. I therefore propose to avoid making any direct use of the intellectual paraphernalia I have since acquired.
I am going to attempt a sort of archaeological approach to daily life in the former Soviet Union, with the object of arriving at a metaphor for Soviet culture and civilisation. The ensuing text, bearing the unavoidable marks of a “heretical genre”, aims at a puzzle‑like synthesis of topics, heroes, situations, memories, objects and key words. Although each piece of the resulting text‑puzzle can be read separately, the whole can only be perceived by methodically assembling the jigsaw. The resulting construct makes no claim to being an exact replica of Soviet culture as we knew it, in terms of objectivity and accuracy. Rather it is an exercise in subjective, personal archaeology, primarily concerned with tracing the contours of a culture, with capturing its overall “mood”, so to speak, its recurrent thought‑ and speech‑patterns, in short, with sketching the Soviet cultural mentality. This archaeological exercise neither offers a key intended to foster understanding, nor does it pass moral or value judgments. It is simply intended to induce a familiarisation of sorts, with a view to helping each and every one of us to comprehend what the Soviet Union actually was, and – more to the point – what its absence actually means.
Recounting the daily life of past times automatically poses all the risks associated with nostalgia – there is no doubt about that. Yet nostalgia as a concept clashes with the very idea of Homo sovieticus for the simple reason that nostalgia is a form of past‑oriented utopia, whereas he operates with future‑oriented utopias. Moreover, nostalgia as a form of homecoming is well nigh impossible since for us there is no such thing as home anymore. Thus, if there is any nostalgia to speak of, it is not of the kind that embarks upon a reconstruction of the past, but rather of the kind that resolves itself in the attempt to record memories from the past. As nostalgia, at least in theory, is not so unrelated to irony – both operate with the joint contemplation of the object and the subject – I take the liberty of combining the two, and thus look back with a mixture of nostalgia and irony.
From time to time I feel the urge to book a ticket back to the USSR, and each time I have to remind myself such things are not on sale anymore. There is no train, no plane and no road that can take one back to the USSR, for the simple reason that the Soviet Union no longer exists. The only way for me to visit my country is by resorting to memory. The following text is the narrative reminiscence of that incredible adventure.