Viktor Pelevin. Code of the World

     Published: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 28.02.2001.
     Translated by Kirill Zikanov

Origin: http://pelevin.nov.ru


     A man is  half of what he is, and  half of  he wants  to be, said Oscar
Wilde.  If  that is  the case,  then the Soviet children of the sixties  and
seventies were all half-cosmonauts. I know this  for sure, since myself,  at
the age of seven-eight years I was such a half-cosmonaut. It is strange, but
already then I surmised,  that this is all a child's delirium that will pass
with the years. At the same time, I  told myself: "I know, everyone wants to
be a cosmonaut. But this is completely different for me!  I actually want to
become one, for real! And if this passes for others, please! Not for me!?
     I  think  that  many  of  my  peers,  dreaming  of  flying  into space,
penetrated the same depths of  self-reflection. A few even held the oath - a
few cosmonauts, after all, actually existed.  However  that may be:  at that
time, we  all, from  young  to old, lived  with one foot in  the cosmos. The
cosmos was  everywhere. In  school books, on the walls of houses and on  the
mosaics in the Moscow metro: a snub-nosed cosmonaut, behind the glass of his
helmet-  aquarium, was doing some symbolic  work  - planting a  small  green
sprout into a dimple  on Mars, or reaching a  satellite to the stars. In the
fumes of the  cities  he  was always and everywhere,  so he  became  to some
degree a constant witness of all that was happening, a constant "third", the
same kind of hypostasis,  as that Lenin, who is  dragging  that log during a
subbotnik. In this case the  adults  assumed him, in all likelihood, for the
inevitable boon companion, who although made no contribution to the purchase
of the  bottle, also  did not  drink  much. It could  be  that the couple of
drops, that the alcoholics ritually  sprinkle on the earth before the bottle
makes its first round, are dedicated to him.
     Under  the  windows of  the five-storied khrushchevoks stood  models of
satellites.  In  the  tear-off  calendars,  one  spaceship  was  followed by
another. The flow  of space allusions opened, so  to speak,  the road to the
future during the  Soviet working  days,  and did not let the  stink of life
strike the  nose. The world around seemed to be a  tent camp,  in which  the
people  lived only temporarily, until the sun city is  built. And  the  fact
that  this  camp  existed  almost eternally,  we  did not  remember, in  the
apotheosic moments of  our  space illusions: on television they were showing
the launches from Baikonur. These were the moments, when the cosmonauts from
the  friezes  on the  houses  came  alive.  In  their suits and  hoods, with
microphones by their lips, they waved  with their  hand to the viewers for a
last time, before turning and walking to the white phallus that stood ready,
aiming into the dark-blue Kazakhstan sky.
     One accessory from the cosmonaut equipment seemed especially mysterious
to me. They carried with them small, pot-bellied  suitcases that shone steel
and titanium in the sun. I  was greatly occupied by  the question what could
be inside.  Maybe,  star  charts?  Code  tables?  Secret weapons?  Emergency
rations for extreme situations? I wouldn't dare to ask adults about this for
a  long time - out  of experience knowing, that after their explanations the
world  rarely became  more interesting. When  I could  not hold the question
back anymore, the answer was stunning. "Suitcase?" - asked one of the people
sitting in front of the television again. "They're for shit. See, there is a
hose connecting it to the suit. Cosmonauts are people too, you know."
     That such a system of waste disposal was important could not be denied.
However  a  cosmonaut  with a  suitcase  of  shit in  his  hands  seemed  so
unthinkable to  me,  that my  clean star world obtained an explicit crack at
that moment. Since then,  whenever a new cosmonaut walked to his new rocket,
my  eyes, without blinking,  looked only at that suitcase. This was probably
because  I grew up  and noticed, that not  only the  cosmonauts carried with
them   this  suitcase;   all   the  Soviet  people   were  doing   it.   (In
pre-revolutionary Russia  it was said that everyone has to carry their cross
- possibly, this suitcase was an atheistic stump of that metaphor.)
     Moreover, all the Soviet cosmonautics ended up rooted deep in the stink
of the GULAG, where the main constructor  Korolev was, his  suitcase  always
with  him.  The symbols that  the Soviet  rockets  carried into  the  cosmos
(emblems with bundles of wheat, streamers with stars, and so on) were  fake,
while this was the very precise symbol, unveiling all the horror: the Soviet
man, who built the first  space ships and flew in them to the stars, towards
inhabitants of other words, could not offer them anything besides a suitcase
full of stored shit, tyranny and dark misery. The more I found out about the
world,  the  bigger became  the  suitcase,  and  the harder it  was  for the
cosmonaut to drag it to the rocket.
     This is why it did not surprise me that during the launch of the Soviet
shuttle "Buran" there was not one cosmonaut on board. The invisible suitcase
was at that time so heavy, that there was no space for humans anymore. Later
on, during the time of Elzin, it turned out that this universal  symbol also
exists in another one, deeply  Freudian incarnation: as a suitcase in a bank
safe. In order for some Russians  to keep their incarnation in a Swiss bank,
other Russians have to  exists, that drag a different incarnation up the icy
stairs in their  houses somewhere in the  cold Vladivostok - all this is, so
to say, the law of conservation of energy. The fatter one suitcase, the more
goes into the other one.
     Finally,  I  understood  that  in  Russia  there are  no communists, no
democrats,  nationalists and liberals, and rights  and lefts, no  matter how
hard the television tries to convince us. There  is only this suitcase - the
invisible main property of all the dramas  occurring in Russia.  It  is that
mysterious object that the "Kursk"  collided with before its  death. At this
moment, it is throwing  the station  "Mir"  down from its orbit. And  -  who
knows  - maybe, it  is that case, that one president inherits  from another,
and the generals do not cease to assure us in the fact that it is a  nuclear
     Once, the suitcase and I  were still  small, I discovered a  mysterious
picture in a Soviet children's  encyclopedia: white lines zigzag  on a black
background.  According to  the signature under the  picture, the picture was
the oscillographically coded words  "USSR",  "Lenin" and "Peace", which were
sent as high-frequency radio signals into  space.  Us, the future cosmonauts
of that time,  have long  grown up. The  USSR doesn't exist  for a few years
already. Monuments of Lenin were removed from the pedestals and melted down.
Now the "Mir" is falling - and with it the world, in which we were born. And
only those three word-signals fly into the Universe as rays  of a long  dead
star,  which, not existing anymore, still can be seen in the sky, and behind
this visibility there is nothing, besides emptiness and lucky circumstances.

     Published: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 28.02.2001.

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