Wednesday, August 4, 2010

And then, between 1929 and 1932, he was sent on a number of journeys through central and southern Russia. Other writers who visited collective farms did so as members of Writers' Brigades—and they, of course, were shown only a few model collective farms. Platonov, however, was sent by the People's Commissariat of Agriculture, and he saw what was really happening.
That experience complicated his optimism. He seems still to have retained a belief that the shining communist future was a possibility, but having seen the stupidity, inefficiency, corruption, and brutality that were everywhere on the ground, no matter what the Kremlin planners might intend, he had to respond, to tell the truth as he saw it, and that response involved a complex and brilliant manipulation of the very language the Kremlin used to propagate its ideas. Characters are always talking about "directives" and "backwardness" and "tempo," regurgitating the catchwords that ceaselessly bombard them from Party organizers, "plenipotentiaries," and other emissaries from officialdom. One of them asks: "Is it really sorrow inside the whole world—and only in ourselves that there's a five-year plan?" The five-year plan inside us is one of the things the novel is about; some of the characters are trying to fulfill it by constant work, others by denunciations and violence, and the main viewpoint character, Voshchev, by questioning and introspection, irritating pretty much everyone else (as Platonov irritated the Party, despite his professed devotion to its ideals). By the time the novel heads into increasingly surreal-seeming and deadly territory, you're so accustomed to the strangeness of the telling that you can't escape its spell.
Languagehat on The Foundation Pit

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