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                               Deep into Russia:

                  (on stereotypes and new codes)

by Mila Bredikhina

In Russia the process of self-identification has always been a tormented affair. It is tragic today, as it was in the beginning of the century, since it entails starting afresh with a critique of all the ordinary cultural and historical values. To continue arguing about the mystery of the Russian soul is now simply indecorous. It makes more sense to argue about less mysterious stereotypes.

Ambivalence and androgyny

The ability Russia has of epitomising irreconcilable qualities astonished both inside and outside observers. "Russia is not part of humanity, but exists only to teach it a lesson", wrote Petr Chaadaev at the beginning of XIX century. 'The ambivalence of emotions is the legacy of primitive man's spiritual life that has been preserved so we ll among Russians in contrast to other peoples", observed Freud dispassionately at the outset of  the century. Russia's bent for exceeding the limits of humanity, and its nearness to human primitiveness, are extravagantly represented in the work of the Russian artist Kulik, who suddenly disguises himself as a dog. Androgyny, yet another extant stereotype in Russian culture, in Kulik's interpretation, is an indivisible whole combining man and beast. Erotism, in Kulik's zoophrenic transcription, compels him to desperately search for a sexual partner together with his non-anthropomorphic alter ego, a creature of differing biology (after the war of the sexes, where there are no winners, but rather a battlefield littered with the corpses of our desires, this shift seems nearly logical). At the same time Thanatos urges Kulik towards a suicidal intrusion into the vagina of a cow, to desire death and to be born again as something completely new. This programme, in its frightening physiological pragmatism, reveals an energetic overcoming of the amorphousness of Russian spirituality.

Aggression and moralization

By barking and snapping, the aggressive, crawling naked man is in fact completely defenceless before all types of social establishments. Kulik's aggressiveness is not unlike the desperate moralising by a human being who has been disappointed by the values of modern anthropocentric culture, and by its prospects and language faculties. The great writer and moralist Leo Tolstoy and his critique of the social establishments and the literary language, remains for Kulik a figure of strong principles. Kulik's a ctivities reveal simultaneously two vectors that contrast one another, both equally topical in today's Russia. His aggressive internal and external unpredictability today co-exists with the deep and tormented contemplation of one's own obscure, stifling, metaphysical profundities. The reverse was true with Russian avantgardism at the start of the century - due to its own nature, the aggressive energy of the great  Idea tended towards the metaphysical cosmos, towards a dead end. The weakly aggressive man-dog and the madly energetic explorer of the profundities of the cow, are respectively the new codes of two Russian realities that coexist in a unique one.

Dream of reality

The question about how to transform today's chaos into the order of tomorrow is the eternal question which Russia fails to answer. Russian culture is hurt by reality. "Life is remarkably disgusting, but nevertheless it is not the extraction of just any square root". This statement by Dostoevsky is symptomatic. The problematic roots, the continual overestimation, in other words, the loss of history, have implanted into Russian conscience the germ of scepticism towards any concept, theory and any "extraction of a square root". By contrast it has regularly generated poetic models. In any case Russia is now hardly associated with the Beautiful Dame, Sofia, the Sphynx or even the unconscious of the West. So now more than ever before it is maturing a stubborn desire to find its own authentic, non-conventional reality at all costs (an even madder desire since it emerges in a backdrop of total expansion of the virtual realities). That we lose this world and, in the process, ourselves, is no secret. A strong desire for a new rebirth into no matter what, is steadily building up in Russia. A desire that recalls the utopianism of the Russian avantgarde and of the cosmic pra-vagina of Malevich. Kulik is in the darkness of a cow's vagina, in the depths of Russia, inviting those who wish to find absolute reality to follow him. Like dreams of Dr Freud's patients, the deeper we go, the closer we get to the impossible reality that exists apart from the "concepts" and from the "square roots" at tactile-sensorial, animal level. The video film in the tow's belly, where the watcher must enter to follow Kulik, is not reality - only yet another surrogate; but neither is it the language of conventional culture. It is possible that a new intrauterine code may illustrate the old, prerational, Slavophile argument about space, unreachable for Western intelligence, "beyond philosophy" (but where is it, in reality.'). It is possible that this is how today the old idea of Russian ecumenicity appears (a consciousness that each individual is at one with the rest of the community and with Russia ) embraced in a new "zoophrenic" interpretation. However, probably not in very comfortable conditions for us, we will soon be compelled to watch a due! between what is conventionally real and what is virtually real. And with bated breath look at Russian dreams of an absolute reality.