Алексей Иванов – о сытой Москве и небесном Челябинске (Eng subs)


Who would you rather be known as:
a traitor or a loser? If I had hair,
it would move. Yes, yes, yes!
Why are you laughing? – Aren’t we in a democracy?
– You call that democracy? You met Vladimir Putin twice. What’s with the look? [Moscow] [Moscow]
[3.5 hours] [Moscow]
[3.5 hours]
[London] [London → 2 hours → Manchester] Alexei, many people
are about to be surprised. To meet the minstrel of the Ural
and Russia at large, we had to leave Russia and go to England. [Alexei Ivanov, author]
[Select books:]
[The Geographer Drank His Globe Away]
[Dorm-on-Blood]
[Heart of Parma]
[Tobol]
[Yoburg]
[and much more] To Manchester. – I hear you really love this city.
– That’s true. I do. Your producer even said that
you lived here your whole… – Previous life.
– …previous life. How come? I love Manchester for its
industrial heritage. Speaking poetically, this is where
about 200 years ago, well, not just in Manchester,
but also in Liverpool and Birmingham, the first rise
of the machines began. Long before The Terminator. The first industrial revolution. Here, machines robbed people of the fire
that people had stolen from gods. Woah! More literally, Manchester was home
to textile manufacturing. All these canals shooting off
from the River Irwell to its feeders had been dug out
to bring barges to all these factories,
warehouses, and so on. Liverpool sent here
wool and, – …what was it, cotton?
– Yeah. Here, steam-powered looms
produced fabrics, which were then shipped
elsewhere. Manchester basically
became this unique canal-laden city,
an industrial Venice of sorts. I really love that feel. I like these rugged
brick walls. I like the cobblestone roads
and this water. I like the old-fashioned arches
and riveted structures. I like how it’s adapted
into the present, the 21 century. I see this not done in Russia, and come here to marvel
at how it should be. Remember Voznesensky’s poem? “I don’t know about others,
but I feel an intense nostalgia,
not for the past — for the present.” Manchester is
English Chelyabinsk. Basically. Someone put it beautifully:
Manchester is a celestial Chelyabinsk. – Celestial?
– Yes. And it’s true. What do you think?
Why isn’t Chelyabinsk the way it is? Why does Chelyabinsk give off
a completely different vibe? Sure, it’s an industrial city. You can’t compare it to London.
Living here is different. Still, when you come here,
you don’t get the sense of hopelessness that you get when you
come to Chelyabinsk and especially when you talk
to the locals. It’s because Russia
isn’t like England. Russia doesn’t care
about herself. She doesn’t appreciate herself,
doesn’t try to know herself, or to reinvent herself
in the present. And so the wealth
of her cultural heritage doesn’t work neither
as a tourist hook nor as a source of
self-respect. – Whose fault is it?
– I think the nation’s. – The nation’s?
– Yes. – Meaning, you, me, Seryogas*.
– Yes.
[*Cameramen are both named Sergei.] Okay. Why is it our fault? Give an everyday example. Seryogas are probably not that guilty.
But you and I are. Because we don’t discuss it. Alexei! I recently learned that
you don’t eat tongues as a food. Is that so? It is. Someone’s a yapper. I can’t eat the tongue. To me, it’s worse
than eating live babies. I’m a writer. I consider the tongue
the greatest implement. How can I eat it? – You’re not kidding?
– I’m not. If a business lunch has tongue
as the appetizer… – …you’ll skip it?
– I will. When did you discover
this rejection? I don’t remember.
Since the beginning. I always thought
you can’t eat the tongue. Even before your
success as a writer? Before my success
as a writer, but after I started writing. My better half recently
finished Tobol. As she was reading it,
she sent me a quote. “Siberia is the key
to understanding Russia.” There was a whole
paragraph saying: “Siberia is the reason Russia
is so different from Europe.” Can you elaborate? I can. Siberia is ONE
of the reasons. But what I say in the novel also applies
to the 21 century. The first thing that
Peter I had to do, if he wanted to reform and
modernize Russia, was to abolish serfdom. [Peter I was the sole ruler of the Russian]
[Empire from 1696 until 1725.]
[Serfdom was abolished in 1861 by Alexander II.]
Because you had Siberia
with her plentiful resources, [Peter I was the sole ruler of the Russian]
[Empire from 1696 until 1725.]
[Serfdom was abolished in 1861 by Alexander II.]
you could introduce reforms you could introduce reforms without doing the key thing,
abolishing serfdom. Our present reflects
the same idea. For as long as we have
Siberian resources, we can adopt auxiliary
improvements, without adopting the changes
that matter. This is what they call
‘the oil curse.’ – Wait, so in Peter’s times,
Siberia gave us furs.
– Yes. Then it was rich,
expensive, and good. Today, it gives us oil. And this stalls
our development? Generally, yes. It changes between eras. Fur didn’t bring riches
because fur coats kept you
warm in winter. See, in Peter’s times,
Russia didn’t have gold of her own. All the gold in the state
was foreign. Obviously, you had to trade
something for it. What could Russia sell? Food? Europe had its own. Wood? Europe had its own. Fur was the only good
the West would buy. For gold, of course. Selling furs wasn’t a way for some bearded statesmen to get rich. It was a way to pump gold
into the economy, because economies NEEDED gold
to mint their own money. So you believe that Russia
began to stagnate so abruptly because she got addicted
to the same thing in the aughts? Well, jumping from Peter I… You brought it up
as an analogy. You brought up an analogy that
it held us back then as it does now. So, I can’t speak
about the ’90s, but did it hobble us
in the aughts? Absolutely. The influx of oil dollars allowed
the government to stop the reforms. What reforms should’ve
been introduced? Well, further democratization, further liberalization,
and so on. The money we would’ve gotten
as courtesy of completed reforms, we instead made off of the oil industry,
without completing the reforms. The aughts were the years
of missed-out-on money. How would we
have made it? If we had finalized the transformation
into a proper liberal economy
that brought money, that would’ve been
the out. But we didn’t do that, because we got money
for nothing. We dug up a treasure. When you enter
a local pub and look at the patrons
and the interior design, I mean the retro style reminiscent of mid-
to late 19 century, you can picture workers in greasy
overalls coming into this pub after having spent the day working
conveyor belts and steam machinery, with gears and belts spinning
and running around them, with parts being produced
on machine tools. This was monotone,
mechanical, hard labor. They would come
to this pub and get hammered. And as normal human beings,
they needed a way to release
the pent up energy. Football was a great way
to evacuate excess strength. – It’s called ‘sublimation’
or whatever, isn’t it?
– Yes. When you replace one
thing with another. – Do we have that sublimation in Russia?
– Of course we do. The most famous examples are
ballet, space, and sports. When the state fails to
reach certain standards in its economic development
and social organization, but wants the nation
to feel like it has, it achieves that through sublimation. You want to feel
like a great nation. To be a great nation, everyone has
to have a heated outhouse. When you can’t build heated outhouses
for everyone, but can build a space rocket, you build a space rocket. [Traveling like in a rocket] Again, we’re not in Moscow. Architecture and trees behind me
are dead giveaways that we’re not in Manchester,
and not even in England. It’s a completely different
part of Europe. We won’t tell you
which one just yet. Most of you must’ve noticed by now
that we’ve been trying out
new genres and formats. Trying out new things in general is one
of the key rules of our creative crew. We also adhere to this rule in our
most problematic realm, education. As we travel between cities and continents, the only time to try and fill in
the blanks in our education is in transit. I have a special button in my phone
for said transit periods that solves oh-so
many problems. The Storytel app. Two of my most recent
impressions from Storytel: first, a series of lectures
on the art of Ilya Repin. Fairly timid tone-wise,
but really engaging. Second, and this thing is
100% timidness-free, Dmitry Bykov’s lecture
Chekhov as an Antidepressant. As you know, Dmitry Bykov recently
struggled with health issues. Listening to this lecture, I want to wish
him good health extra passionately. “When we don’t want to live,
we pick up Chekhov, “and eventually come to feel a burning,
earnest gratitude to him, “for in some incomprehensible way,
he will have pulled us out of that state.” Two books I plan to download
for our next flight are, first, a biography
of Quentin Tarantino, and two, another one
of Bykov’s lectures, USSR, the Country Gaidar Made Up. This is ARKADY Gaidar, the author of
Timur and His Squad. One of Storytel’s
biggest strengths is the vast array of various
genres and sections. These guys are not afraid
to experiment with formats, so the app has anything
from Russian classics, to Victorian novels,
to stand-up, to podcasts and biographies,
and much more. Storytel recently went
even further and released the first Russian
series written specifically
for the audiobook format. It’s written and read by no other
than Dmitry Glukhovsky. Soundtrack by Kaufman Label, performed by youth’s favorite,
Tima Belorusskikh. If you love serialized shows
but lack the time to watch them,
you can now listen to them. Here are some of Storytel’s
wonderful features. My favorite is speed up. When I listen to stuff in English,
I sometimes go 0.75x. “Beside him, sat his silent parents…” Offline Mode. Obviously, you won’t have
Internet access on a plane. The solution is so simple! Sleep Mode. Turns out, some people listen
to audiobooks before bed, realizing they’ll probably fall asleep
before they close the app. Sleep Mode is their salvation. Select 30 minutes. In 30 minutes,
the book will close, even if you’re happily
snoring away. There’s a link
in the description. You really should click it and
download Storytel. Listen and grow! They say, something might come out
even from someone like me. [Listen]
[Read]
[Grow] Do you have a most
hated city in Russia? I do, but I will not
name it. There are people in it.
It’ll offend them. – Let me guess.
– Shoot.
– I think it’s Moscow. Oh no!
I don’t really like Moscow, maybe even hate it, but not THAT badly. Here’s how I as a Muscovite
see the system. Moscow has everything. Being the capital, Moscow drains
money from the state, absorbs this money, and develops itself at the cost
of the rest of Russia. Is it so? It is, but it’s not
that simple. The thing is, Moscow… First off, Moscow
SHOULD be rich. Under current establishment,
Moscow should be rich, because it is the airbag
of the Russian government. All power in Russia is focused
in one place, in Moscow, because we live in a super
centralized country. Consequently, only people of Moscow
can affect the government. Even if the craziest riots happen
somewhere like Irkutsk, no one will even blink. The only threat to the government
is Moscow itself. And thus,
it has to be fed. No one will blink,
because Moscow is fed? They won’t blink, because Irkutsk
is small and far away. Second, everything in Russia
converges in Moscow. A couple of years
or so ago, I heard an estimate of domestic
air travel on RBK radio. They said that at least 70% of all flights
converged in the Moscow air hub. Even with our distances,
all planes go through Moscow. It’s one example of just how
centralized Russia is. Because everything
converges in Moscow and main money flows
converge in Moscow, the strategy for success in Moscow
is to latch onto a money flow. But these success strategies
don’t work in Russia at large, because there are no
money flows there. Yet Moscow broadcasts her
strategies to the whole country. Meaning, she broadcasts strategies
that don’t work outside of her. To be successful outside of Moscow,
you need different strategies. Moscow does not allow
the existence of other options. What are the success
strategies for others? I don’t know.
Personal resourcefulness. You don’t need to be resourceful
in Moscow, in the liberal sense. You just need
the right contacts and access to financial
resources, and you’re gonna
be successful. Where do you
currently live? What does it matter? You’re not saying
where you live! – Why?
– Because we have… In our culture,
place of residence is a way to label
a person. Meaning, if you live in Moscow,
you’re a hotshot. If you live outside of Moscow, you’re a loser.
If you live abroad, you’re a traitor. Since I obviously
don’t live in Moscow, my choices are
“loser” and “traitor.” And I don’t want
to pick. Alexei, hold on! I get the “traitor” part, okay. But why is someone who lives
in Kazan, or Novosibirsk, or Petersburg, or beautiful Vladivostok…
Why are they a loser? – How?!
– You can argue about this
ad nauseam with as much humanism
as you please, but de facto,
that’s the case. And it can’t be helped. “De facto” where?
In the collective consciousness? In the collective consciousness
and the particular cultural clique you’re a part of
or supposed to be a part of. Why do you care what
the cultural clique thinks? – I don’t…
– We live in the punk age. You can stay
completely detached. I don’t care about
their opinion. But if this opinion exists,
it gets in the way. And so I don’t fight opinions.
I prefer to remove myself
from evaluations. Okay. Putting the lid
on this subject, are you closer to
a traitor or a loser? Who would you mentally prefer
to be known as? – A traitor or a loser?
– I’d prefer neither. Otherwise, I’d already
be known as either. That’s not hard. But it’s not Perm either, right? I don’t want to choose between Stalin
and Hitler. They’re both worse. Okay. Just to make sure,
it’s not Perm, is it? [Ivanov spent a big chunk of his life in Perm]
Okay. Just to make sure,
it’s not Perm, is it? [Ivanov spent a big chunk of his life in Perm]
No, it’s not Perm. I want to extensively discuss
something with you. The ’90s: cool or shit? Depends on the observer. Ouch! This is the worst
start to an answer. Okay. What’s YOUR take? If we take my
personal view, if I recall myself
in the ’90s, it’s a very
uncomfortable time, dramatic even. Because in the ’90s,
I went to the university to study history of art, Rembrandt, Van Gogh,
and the like, but made money by taking
troubled kids on road trips. Little punks and
petty thieves. I was wondering: why do I study
Van Gogh and Rembrandt? To take this crowd on road trips?
To serve them? Whole life was like that. What’s the point
of anything? To have uneducated,
criminally-inclined people at the top? Nevertheless, this is an opinion about the ’90s from
the eyes of a single person. But you can rise above
yourself a bit. Then it turns out the ’90s were
a more complicated time, than increasing poverty,
disasters, and so on. In the ’90s, certain institutions
came into existence and became vital for
21-century Russia, and you can’t imagine
modern life without them. First and foremost, they are
the institute of private property, which didn’t exist
before the ’90s, and the institution
of elections. Obviously, today, these institutions are
inadequate, compromised, and crooked. But they exist. They’re cemented
in people’s minds. They were created in the ’90s. The main mission of the state in the ’90s
was to create these institutions, not ensure the well-being
of the people. Surprisingly, our state
succeeded in this mission. So there was also a powerful
productive current in the ’90s. When we only see a national
catastrophe in the ’90s and ignore the real work
that’s been done, we’re doing a major
disservice to history. How did you get
that job? – Which one?
– Guide for troubled teens. Connections. Is it a dicey job? Well, if you go on road trips
and into the wilds, watch mountains
and clouds, it’s not a dicey job, but when you look at the type
of people you’re entertaining, it’s not very fun. Was it difficult to connect
with them? Not at all, weirdly enough. Because I quickly realized that they were used to people
dancing around them. Youth crime officers
danced around them. Teachers too,
and so on and so forth. I told them from the get-go:
“I don’t care about you. “My job is to bring back
the equipment: “tents, paddle boats, backpacks,
sleeping bags, and everything. “You can all burn,
or get killed, or drown. “My job is to bring
the equipment back. “That’s all I care about.” This shocked them, because no one
had every treated them so harshly. They would quickly establish
a quazi-dedovshchina, which resulted in
discipline of sorts, and the group became
controllable. Great method! It’s a monstrous method
that fit the times. – You were a caretaker
at some point.
– Yep. – Is it a really dumb job?
– It is. Besides being a caretaker,
I used to work, well, it included caretaker duties,
at a sponge cake factory. It was a wonderful job. Now, this was in the ’90s. At first,
I sat at the desk. Women working at the factory
would walk past me and open their bags to show that
they hadn’t stolen anything. I was embarrassed
to look into their bags, so I’d look away like this. They realized the desk boy was nice,
and you could steal stuff, so they started
giving me food. They’d bring me jars of kompot,
pieces of cake, and tasty ingredients
used at the factory. It was heaven. – In exchange for what?
For turning a blind eye?
– Yes. For letting them steal
some sponge cakes? For not checking
under their skirts. So you participated
in a criminal scheme. I did participate in it, but it was because of my courtesy,
not thirst for some gain. How did you fight boredom
working as a caretaker? I read. What else could you do
in Soviet times? Not Soviet. Post-Soviet. Only reading. Have you ever lost
a manuscript? – I have.
– What happened? This happened in early ’90s. Writing The Geographer, I lost the manuscript twice. First time was when I was working
as a caretaker. I left it in a drawer
of my work desk. The janitor lady was cleaning up and
found a filled out notebook. “Filled? Must be old,”
she thought and threw it away. I had to write it
all over again. Second time, someone stole it
along with a bag. So I wrote The Geographer
a third time. Can you reconstruct
the feelings and actions after you opened the drawer and
the manuscript wasn’t there? Fit of ungodly anger. Such oafish stupidity.
It’s infuriating. Remember Liquidation
miniseries? There’s a scene where the female lead
comes to see Gotsman. He’s not at home,
so she leaves him a note. Gotsman’s nephew who
lived with him came home, so a scribbled paper,
“must be waste,” rolled a cigarette
out of it and lit it. I mean, come on! – Do you think those
manuscripts had differences?
– Yes. Could you say that
these two accidents served as editors and made
The Geographer better? You probably could. I remember the first version. Can’t remember the second,
but do remember the first. It was a lot shorter. So each time, I made The Geographer
bigger and bigger. – Did you like the film
adaptation?
– Yes. – Is Khabensky a great actor?
– He is. I believe Khabensky
could play anyone. From playboy to Sluzhkin? Yes. He really dives
into his characters. I realize that interpreting
a book’s meaning to its author is bad form, but it never stopped us. – Be my guest.
– So I’ll be as blunt as possible. Is Dorm-on-Blood a metaphor
about Russia? Originally, certainly. I had this ambition
at first. But this ambition
gradually dissolved, because Russia was
rapidly changing, so it became a metaphor about
life in general. In general,
not just in Russia? For example, in it, people
don’t want to leave the dorm, not because they
don’t want to leave Russia, but because they want to live.
They don’t want to leave life. Their life the way it is? Doesn’t matter.
They just want to live. Reading it gives you a sense
of unbelievable dreariness. Fascinating, yes,
but dreary. After I finished it, my first question was, will life in Russia ever
not be dreary? At least outside
the major cities. I don’t know.
I don’t see any prospects. You know,
they say in Russia, every ten years, something changes drastically,
yet nothing’s changed in the last 200 years. – In that respect, it’s doubtful.
– Nothing’s changed in 200 years? I think that’s
Saltykov-Shchedrin’s words. Wait, but he said it when things
actually didn’t change. After Saltykov-Shchedrin, we had czarist Russia, Soviet Russia,
and sort of independent Russia. Some basic things
stayed the same. – Like what?
– Freedom. – Freedom?
– Lack thereof. Why is it so? – Why do Russians don’t want freedom?
– Long discussion. What if you tried to condense
it into one minute? Alright. In my opinion, Russia is not
a homogeneous formation, but a set or a collection of
different strata or identities. These identities
can be corporate. They can be regional. Sometimes, they’re
national-denominational. There are other strata too. Every stratum has
its own identity. An identity is… It’s not faith, or language,
or religion, or culture. It’s a value system. Within this value system,
every identity has a key value, through which representatives
of this identity self-actualize. Say, if you’re a peasant
identity-wise, your greatest values are
power and property. You self-actualize
through them. The peasant community’s greatest
cultural hero is the bogatyr, defender of the community
and property. If you’re a laborer, your key values through which you
actualize are work and labor. As a result,
the greatest cultural hero of, let’s say, the Ural, as the first industrial
region, is Danilo the Craftsman. The craftsman, not the bogatyr. For cossacks, it’s Stenka Razin. Their great cultural
hero is an outlaw, because their key values
are justice and equality. For any national community,
faith and traditions are at the top. They have their
corresponding heroes. What am I
getting at here? To a Russian, to a person who lives in Russia,
not necessarily Russian ethnically, identity values always outweigh
the value of freedom. Freedom is also valuable, but it always comes
second or third. Identity value is
the key value. Meaning, to me,
property beats freedom. To me, work beats freedom. To me, faith beats freedom. When we start living
without identities, we’ll start living pure lives
like the Europeans. – Will we ever?
– Technically, it’s possible. What about my children?
I know I won’t, but what
about my kids? Depends on your kids’ identity. I assume that they’re probably
children of the world at large, this global identity, so to them,
it’s a non-issue. There are many identities in Russia.
Including this global identity. Where freedom
is at the top. One, or two, or three things that you
dislike about modern-day Russia? Corruption, unfreedom, and… veneration of authority. Corruption. Why is it so widespread
in Russia? And why, as you start
reading Tobol, very early in the book, Menshikov
steals from Peter several times. [Alexander Menshikov, one of the closest]
[associates of Peter I, Governor-General]
[of St. Petersburg (1703-1724, 1725-1727)]
very early in the book, Menshikov
steals from Peter several times. [Alexander Menshikov, one of the closest]
[associates of Peter I, Governor-General]
[of St. Petersburg (1703-1724, 1725-1727)]
What’s going on? Genes? Habit, tradition? What? We shouldn’t mix
the two ages. Reasons for corruption in Peter’s times
were different from modern ones. They’re not on
the same level. Under Peter, it was the tradition
of boyar government and fief, where it was normal for Peter to appoint
a governor without assigning
them any pay. Naturally, he’s gonna steal. He’d steal anyway, but this gave
the stealing legitimacy of sorts. So Peter’s times are no role model,
or ideal, or explanation for us. In modern times, the reason for corruption,
in my opinion, lies in the fact that our country has a very
complex structure. Remember I said about different
identities and strata? If you gave them all
federalist freedom, they’d govern themselves and control themselves, including their finances, and report to
the federal center. But when you control
them all from the top, since they all
operate differently, each and every one needs
an administrative center. This bloats the bureaucratic system
more, and more, and more. It eventually becomes
so enormous that it turns into the dominion class,
the hegemon class. Meaning, we live in
a society where bureaucracy has become
a class of its own. It’s the people latched
onto money flows. Naturally, they operate these
flows in such a way that a substantial portion of national
wealth goes their way. – When will it cease to work?
– When we have democracy. – Aren’t we in a democracy?
– You call that democracy? Every X years,
we have an election. People go and vote for
whom they want. You know, a lot of things we have
in Russia are pure imitations. We have role patriotism,
imitated democracy. What is role patriotism? It’s, for example,
dressed up cossacks. – You don’t like them?
– Who does? What’s wrong with them? The absurdity. And just… The fact that it’s a travesty
of real cossackdom. – Real cossackdom wasn’t like that?
– Of course not. What then? I always thought they were swashbuckling
lads who served the state. – Cossackdom…
– Then, under czar.
Now… under another czar. Cossackdom was a social
stratum or class that served the czar in exchange
for certain privileges. For example, they ran their own
property and didn’t pay taxes. For that, they paid out of their
own pocket to serve the state. Modern cossacks
don’t do that. They don’t provide for themselves.
The state provides for them. – Subsidized cossacks?
– Exactly. Cossacks of old
provided for themselves. What other kinds of patriotism
do you dislike? How do you feel about
May 9 parades? Have to admit,
I’m a Soviet-raised boy. Overall, I like them. I like tanks riding across
the Red Square. It’s cool. At the same time,
I hate the militarization surrounding me
on all sides. From the TV and
everywhere else. This kind of aggressiveness and sabre-rattling
is just annoying. You turn on the TV, and some thin little girl, who looks like she should
cover stories about nature, starts telling that we
built this new tank, or we built this huge
new rocket, or this new fighter jet. That’s going way too far
with all the military stuff. When they seriously discuss
the possibility of a nuclear war. Even in the Soviet times,
they didn’t do it. – (Ivanov) It was a taboo.
– (Dud’) Come now! What about
the Cuban crisis? I wasn’t there for
the Cuban crisis. I’m not as old as I look. Nevertheless, they never
publicly discussed [Alexei Ivanov was born in 1969]
[The Cuban Missile Crisis was in 1962]
Nevertheless, they never
publicly discussed scenarios of a nuclear
conflict with the US. They discussed what such
a conflict would result in. But they discussed it as a potential
global catastrophe. Not in the sense, “we could
nuke ’em scot-free!” “We have thicker guns
and longer rockets!” “We could beat anyone, and we’d be fine.
A bit of nuking is A-OK!” They never said THAT. You mentioned a thin girl that
should cover nature stories. I sensed a waft
of sexism. Yeah, that WAS
kind of sexist. I’m sorry if
I offended anyone. I’d just personally prefer if a thin girl
told me something about nature than a new SPG. – Alexei, aren’t these
residential houses?
– They are. Have you ever
stayed in one? Not in Manchester. I stayed in a house like this not far
from Amsterdam, in Leiden. – You even slept in it?
– Yes. How was it? Wonderful. That house was larger
than these tiny boats. There was a floating pontoon platform
with like a real house on it. Right. Do you get
seasick in bed? The river was a foot deep.
No seasickness, no. Have you ever felt utter despair
about what’s going on in Russia? Where you’d think:
“Crap, it’s time…” Utter despair, no, but disappointment,
definitely yes. When? Say, when I realized we
were returning to the sovok*.
[*Lit. “scoop.” Derogatory term]
[for the Soviet Union.] It was so sad. I thought:
“Great. Back to square one.” When did it happen? This happened maybe
5 or 6 years ago. It was when I realized… Not after some
political decisions, but when I realized that
the nation approved it. Let’s go step by step. Why is the sovok bad? Why is it good? They’ll say,
“What do you mean?!” Free education. The USSR taught you
the Russian language and how to write. Free medical care. I disagree. “Winter ended, summer came.
Praise the Party for this gain!*”
[*First lines of a propaganda]
[poem by Yuri Vlodov] The things ANY state
should do, teaching its language,
education, and so on, are not achievements
of the Soviet government. Any state should do it. Czarist Russia could do it, the Soviet Union
could do it, liberal Russia did it
as much as it could. What does the social system
have to do with it? Factories were running. They were.
Albeit poorly. What do you dislike
about Soviet life? – Soviet life was…
– You get what I’m doing, right? I really like
the Soviet Union. To me personally, the Soviet Union
is the colorful land of my childhood. When I was a kid
in the Soviet Union, I was comfortable and generally
felt safe, more or less. The downside was: everything
was decided for me. I had no say in… I mean I did have
some wiggle room. I could choose where to study:
polyU, medical, or philology. But the rest of your life
was on rails. I have to get a diploma and
do years of obligatory work. After that, I’ll probably stay
where I was sent, and I have to work there
for the rest of my life, because I’m tied to the place
by registration, tickets, allocations, and so on. Obviously, life was overregulated. You couldn’t go off rails. If you want to accomplish something,
you have to go off rails. The Soviet Union
did not intend it. Okay. What signaled to you that
we’re returning to the sovok? The nation’s uniform
contentedness with the state. The nation shouldn’t be
content with the state? I think the nation should never
be content with the state. Even in Plato’s very best
imaginary state, the nation should be
discontented. It’s a rule of life: you should always be
discontented with the government. Someone should always
challenge the government. Not because the government is bad,
but because it’s the right thing to do.
In a healthy society. As soon as we
become content, we no longer have anything
to evolve towards. We should always be unhappy
with our education, our moral character, our financial state, and our government. Was Crimea a major point
to spark these thoughts? For the nation, yes.
Not for me. No, I mean when Crimea
was annexed, and this caused mass
excitement in the nation, was that the sign that we were
returning to the sovok? That too. – Putin’s re-election?
– That too. It encompasses lots of events.
Not something isolated. Slipped. Fell. Came to —
cast on arm*.
[*Quote from popular Soviet comedy]
[The Diamond Arm] Came to — Soviet Union. No. It’s been growing
gradually. Then it became apparent that
the nation doesn’t want freedom or European life.
It wants the Soviet Union. That was sad and bitter. Your quote that
boggled me a little. “I’d say the society doesn’t recognize
the greatest challenges of the time “and can’t see the problems
in truly problematic areas. “I find the cultural changes
introduced by the Internet “far more disturbing
than Novorossiya. “The society thinks
otherwise.” What are these cultural changes
introduced by the Internet? – (Dud’) These words scream anxiety.
– (Ivanov) We finally got to my main
and favorite subject. I believe that the biggest issue is not Ukraine,
or Europe, or the US, or corruption,
or anything else. All these issues are certainly
urgent and important, but either they will sooner or later
be resolved, because they have to, or they’re plain and simple and there’s
no point in discussing them. The biggest issue of
the society, Russian too, but I mean humanity
in general, in my opinion, is our
relationship with machines. Meaning, the situation where
we begin to live in real world according to laws created
for the virtual one. As a result, our world changes,
because it’s not suited for those laws. I can see examples
of this everywhere. But the society doesn’t. Can you give a few? Sure, but I need to make
a small disclaimer here lest people call me
a Luddite, [Luddites were mob protesters in the first quarter]
[of the 19 century that rallied against introduction]
[of machines during the industrial revolution in England.]
[Luddites argued machines pushed human workers]
[out of manufacturing, causing unemployment.]
[Protests often turned into riots with destruction]
[of machines and equipment.]
this sounds fitting in Manchester, [Luddites were mob protesters in the first quarter]
[of the 19 century that rallied against introduction]
[of machines during the industrial revolution in England.]
[Luddites argued machines pushed human workers]
[out of manufacturing, causing unemployment.]
[Protests often turned into riots with destruction]
[of machines and equipment.]
and lest they say [Luddites were mob protesters in the first quarter]
[of the 19 century that rallied against introduction]
[of machines during the industrial revolution in England.]
[Luddites argued machines pushed human workers]
[out of manufacturing, causing unemployment.]
[Protests often turned into riots with destruction]
[of machines and equipment.]
that I want the Internet
banned North Korea-style that I want the Internet
banned North Korea-style and staked through
the heart. I believe the Internet is
the greatest invention, and social networks, the quintessence
of the Internet, are a brilliant invention that transforms
human history. Human history transforms
not only via economic laws, but also via means
of communication. Say, Johannes Gutenberg
invented the printing press. You’d think all it did was make
the scribes’ lot easier. They used to copy
sacred texts by hand. In reality, after Gutenberg’s
printing press was created, we got journalism. Thanks to the press, isolated workshops
and guilds transformed into classes. Thus began the market era
of human history. Thus, a new type of communication
changed the flow of history. We switched to the market
path of progression. The Internet is yet another new
type of communication. It changes human history
and human sociology in equal measure. This also changes
our psychology. It changes parts
of our world view. For example. What’s a good example?
Let’s try this one. Let’s say, before social networks came along,
a young man wanted to meet a girl. To do that, he had to
accomplish certain things. Make some money
to take her out. Make himself look
presentable. Watch a couple of movies to have
something to discuss with her. – Wasn’t it so?
– But it’s the same now. Nope. Today, a young man can go on
a social network site and find a girl that will accept him
penniless, unsophisticated,
looking like a mess, and so on. I.e., he will still find
someone. – Meaning…
– Because choosing
became simpler? Yes. There’s tons
of options now. There weren’t so many
options before. So people had to evolve. – Meaning…
– Today, the need to evolve
disappeared? Yes. Evolution got replaced
by more options. I brought up a pretty blunt
and vulgar example… – …but you get the point.
– It’s a clear example. – It is. Evolution got replaced by options.
– So your fear isn’t that the Internet… It’s just that this quote
gave me the impression and the air of the wonderful people
from the State Duma, who want to make the Internet
region-locked. – You didn’t mean censorship.
– No, God forbid. You meant that we don’t realize
the risks the Internet carries. – Of course.
– And what it will bring. But do you allow that its consequences might be the opposite, as in good, and humanity will make the same leap
as it did with Gutenberg’s machine? I believe humanity
will certainly adapt, but it’s going to be
a very different culture, quite dissimilar to what
we have today. But whether or not we’ll be able
to preserve our old essence with new relationships,
nobody knows. Actually, every Russian
knows Manchester, because the famous tune used during
weather forecasts in the Vremya TV program… I’m going to recite it, and I apologize
to everyone and God himself. [Marie Laforet’s Manchester et Liverpool]
It’s the song
Manchester et Liverpool. [Marie Laforet’s Manchester et Liverpool]
It goes,
“Manchester, Liverpool.” Manchester-Liverpool was
the first real railroad in history, because Liverpool
was the port where all the cotton
would arrive, while Manchester was the industrial
center that processed it. It was the first railroad
in the world, but the song is about love,
as far as I can tell, where he’s in Liverpool
and she’s in Manchester, or the other way around. Regardless, Manchester is there
in our genetic code. Soviet television used a song
from the capitalist world?! – Ay ay ay.
– Why? It was commonplace. If only people knew. One time, on Vremya,
I remember it blew my mind, the weather forecast used a tune
from the film Emmanuelle. [Emmanuelle (1974) is a cult classic French erotic film]
– For real?
– Yes.
– But not the most popular one? [Emmanuelle (1974) is a cult classic French erotic film]
– The most popular one.
– That one? That’s the one! What does the process of film adaptation
of your books look like? First, are you involved
in the casting process? Let me clarify. In cinema, the writer
can be one of two things. You’re either the author
of the source material, where you write the novel, sell the rights,
and chill waiting for the result, or you’re the screenwriter, in which case,
you’re involved in the process. You fight with everyone
defending your opinion, because you’re responsible
for the end product. I’ve been both. Let’s talk examples. – On Geographer,
you handed and chilled?
– Yes, yes. So they didn’t consult you at all?
You only watched the result? I did talk to
Aleksandr Veledinsky, but I’m of the opinion that
if you trust the director, the best thing you can do
is not get in his way. Meaning, don’t interrupt him,
don’t question him, don’t tell him
how to do his job. Just step away, sit tight,
and don’t get in his way. This yields far stronger results. I did the same with
Sergei Ursuliak. [In 2018, Ursuliak adapted Ivanov’s]
[novel “Tempest” into a miniseries]
I did the same with
Sergei Ursuliak. [In 2018, Ursuliak adapted Ivanov’s]
[novel “Tempest” into a miniseries]
As a screenwriter? [In 2018, Ursuliak adapted Ivanov’s]
[novel “Tempest” into a miniseries]
As a screenwriter,
it’s the opposite: As a screenwriter,
it’s the opposite: in everything that counts
as your business, you intervene,
you argue your point, and you defend said point. I intervened and argued, but was disregarded. Which is why I left Tobol and removed
my name from the credits. What did you dislike? I disliked the fact
that director Igor Zaytsev had turned the script
into uninspired crap. First off, we’re talking about
the film or the series? We’re talking both, because the way
I structured the story, when you change
one thing, you automatically
change everything. I haven’t seen the series yet and
don’t know what they changed in it. I can only judge
by the film. But judging by the film, the series will also be nothing
like the story I wrote. Where did you watch the movie?
After the release or..? After the release. I severed the ties
with production and never tried to peek. Did they withhold money as a result,
or were you paid in full? Well, if I’d stayed in the project,
I would’ve made extra. But I didn’t leave
because of money. I did everything my agreement
with the producer entailed. I did my job in full. But I refused to do anything further
and thus make further money, because I didn’t like it. Important detail though. – From its inception, Tobol was a script.
– Yes. – So If not for the film,
you wouldn’t have written the book.
– I would. Just later. As it happens, the story
of Semyon Remezov, [Semyon Remezov was a Russian]
[cartographer, architect, builder, historian,]
[artist, writer, and encyclopedist.]
the main character of Tobol,
always fascinated me. [Semyon Remezov was a Russian]
[cartographer, architect, builder, historian,]
[artist, writer, and encyclopedist.]
Ever since like… Ever since like… When Leonid Parfyonov and I
were making The Russian Range, we began in Tobolsk, where the statue
to Semyon Remezov stands. This was like, what,
ten years ago? So. Five years ago, someone gave me
a collection of Remezov’s works as a gift. As soon as I got
the tomes, I thought, “I’m being sentenced
to write a novel.” I would’ve probably come
around to it later, but with the circumstances,
I wrote it when I wrote it. I’m a pretty
organized person — I have a decent idea what I’ll be
writing in the nearest future. Occasionally,
it just so happens that I get lucky to be offered work
on a subject I’m already interested in. This kind of happy
coincidence. What did this situation
teach you? Be more picky
with directors? Goodness!
It taught me that… Well, I never selected any directors.
I don’t get to. I never selected
actors either. I promised myself I’ll never write
another screenplay and immediately broke
this promise. – Okay? How?
– I agreed to write one. What are you writing? I can’t say just yet. NDA in the contract. It was a far better offer, not financially,
but in terms of rights and respect
for my work. Hope beat experience. They’ll still make
their own changes, but they’ll pay more
attention to me. I wanted to talk to you
about your method. About your method
for writing books. Here’s a simple question. Please, don’t be offended. – Just to make sure.
You don’t take drugs?
– No. Can you tell me then in the most
down-to-earth terms what was it like writing
the novel Heart of Parma? You start reading it,
and you can’t help but feel that the author
at least smoked ganja to come up with all these
historic connections, and khans, and shamans,
and stories. While at most, they’re obsessed
with occult stuff that itself reaches deep into history. How did you construct it
if you don’t use? As you claim. After you read my book
Ships and the Galaxy, you will be positive I used, and I’ll never convince
you otherwise. I don’t mean I don’t trust you.
I want to learn the method. The method… I love discussing
writing methods, because I’m still trying
to understand how it works in order to not waste
time and effort. It starts with
the fact that something piques
my interest. Okay, let’s take
the Heart of Parma. When I first came
to North Ural, I was surprised that
it was North Ural where I saw the world from
old Russian folk tales: the age-old pines
overgrown with moss, the huge boulders covered
in more green moss, the general sense of expanse,
severity, the cold, passing clouds,
all that stuff I wondered: why does the Ural have
the atmosphere of Russian folk tales? You’d think it would be somewhere in
Ryazan or Tambov, or Vladimir Oblasts, not in the north
of Perm Krai. I began to investigate the origins
of Russian folklore. I found out that Russian folklore
developed in the 15 century, right when Russians
first invaded the Ural, the world of
Finno-Ugric pagans. In many ways,
Russian folklore is reused ritualistic practices
and worldviews of pagans. Obviously, reused to fit Russian culture
and across many generations. Little by little, they became
Russian folk tales. This gave me an idea
for a story based in reality about
the last Old Rus principality, Great Perm, that existed on the border of Russian
and Finno-Ugric worlds in the very heart of where
Russian folk tales originated. I decided to write
a novel, technically historical fiction,
about this principality, but generally, the novel is about the birth
of the Russian world from those two. About the origin of
Russian expanse. Technically, it’s a mix of historic
fiction and fantasy, because in real history, all those shamans,
and warlocks, and kniazes, and everyone else, they did all meet
in this Old Perm. How did you get the information
about this? There are libraries
with books about..? Of course I read works of
historians on the subject. Not just historians.
Also archaeologists, ethnographers, and other stuff. – Is it true that a lot of scenery descriptions come from your own hikes?
– It is. What did it look like?
You went: “It’s Saturday, or Friday. “I’ll do a 200-kilometer jog from Perm
and scout some hills”? Well, not like that. There’d be a week-, week and a half-,
or two-week trip along some river that passes
some interesting places. I’d go on this trip. Or rather, I’d organize it. Did you take photographs,
or were they memory pictures? Memory pictures. Do you ever think these days:
“So I’m planning a new novel.” – Sure I do.
– “I need to do some prep work.” What is this prep work? Today it’s the same
as it was years ago. I’ve recently come back
from a trip to Kaliningrad. There, they took me
to the town of Baltiysk. It used to be a German
town called Pillau. They showed me a fortress
and told me an incredible
story about this fortress. Immediately, it starts rolling in my head.
I begin thinking of the plot. I feel the atmosphere
of this novel. I see the adjustments and
the twists and turns I need to make. If I decide to write this novel,
I will certainly visit Baltiysk again, I will walk around
in this fortress, I will ask the tour guides
to give me a tour. So on location, brain works better. Your characters
drink a lot. Take the classic.
Sluzhkin. [Viktor Sluzhkin, protagonist of Ivanov’s novel]
[The Geographer Drank his Globe Away]
Ivan the Fool.
Loves to drink. [Viktor Sluzhkin, protagonist of Ivanov’s novel]
[The Geographer Drank his Globe Away]
Reading the book and in general,
I often thought… Reading the book and in general,
I often thought… Correct me if I’m wrong. In Russia, alcoholism is rarely considered
a downside. It’s often considered
valorous. – (Dud’) Why?
– (Ivanov) At a certain age. Age, huh? Why? There’s lots of reasons. First, because at a certain age,
it is seen as valorous. I remember how heavily
I drank as a young man. Recalling this, if I had hair,
it would move. What was the point in drinking
so much and acting like we did? Then, we thought
it was cool. That’s one part.
Second is, alcoholism was another form
of national sublimation. We used alcoholism
to fight off social pressures. For example. This is by the way what Viktor Sluzhkin
does in the novel. Viktor Sluzhkin has to
commit a depravity. He doesn’t want to do it. So he gets hammered. He trades a depravity
for a disgrace. In the Soviet Union,
this was accepted behavior. Why commit a depravity?
To be a “bad boy?” To be this alpha male
and bully? No, Sluzhkin in particular had
to commit a depravity, because it’s what
you did. If he hadn’t done it, he would’ve
put himself above the others, belittled them
with his goodness. He didn’t want to be
above anyone. He didn’t want
to belittle people. To him, it was
the easiest solution. Try to recall your
craziest drinking party. I have. How much did
you drink? It wasn’t one night. You did go on binges,
didn’t you? In my life?
Yes, of course. What was the longest? We probably drank, like,
three days straight. – So you only drank and
made sleep breaks.
– Yes. How old were you? I was 22 or 24.
Something like that. That was near the end
of student years, when you don’t give a damn
and anything goes. So you drink. – Do you go on benders anymore?
– Of course not. Since long? When was the last time you
could’ve gone on a bender? Today, or relatively recently, could someone find you
in the middle of one? I can go on a bender
at any time. That’s not a problem.
Get a bottle, and I’m out. I just haven’t done it
in a while, because it’s no longer fun. For at least the last 15 years, if I get drunk,
I’ll have a hair of the dog. But no bender. – Just to recover?
– Yeah. I want to talk to you
about the economy. – …of a writer.
– Oh, writer economy. Sure thing. No, not global or
anything like that. How do you make money? What are your sources
of income? I have a single source of income.
My novels. But they can be converted into money
in a number of ways. I had a production center and a producer who
does exactly that. [Yulia Zaytseva is Alexei Ivanov’s producer]
and a producer who
does exactly that. [Yulia Zaytseva is Alexei Ivanov’s producer]
They haggle.
They sell. [Yulia Zaytseva is Alexei Ivanov’s producer]
They handle
the rights game. They handle
the rights game. I barely handle
the money. In fact, I try to make my life
as free as possible
of the things I don’t need. For example, I don’t handle my clothing.
I have a stylist for that. I don’t handle money.
I have a producer for that. I don’t use social networks.
I don’t drink. I don’t party. I do only what I enjoy.
I write novels. I know the overall gist of how
the writing market works. But when it comes to details,
my producer can tell you more than I. You mean you don’t know
how much you get for a book? Imagine that. I don’t. – Okay. Let me…
– Well, I know ballpark figures. But if you, say, asked me
how much I have on my account,
I wouldn’t know. I read that in early aughts,
your advance for a book could be at least
— not early, in the naughts — your advance for a book
could be at least $50,000. How accurate is this figure? – Pretty close.
– Close. Film rights for an Ivanov novel cost
between $20 and $40 thousand. How much is that
in roubles? From 1.2 to 2.5 million. – Roubles?
– Roubles, yes. – I don’t know if I should tell you honestly…
– Of course you should! Let’s put it this way. That feels too low. You’ve got nonsense
numbers there. But I work above
market price. The numbers you
mentioned are not the numbers
that exist on the market. I won’t say if it’s
more or less. I can tell you that the claim
that the author can’t live
off of his writing is a myth. They can, even without writing
ironic mysteries and novels for women. A mainstream author
can make money. Plus, your income isn’t limited
to author’s fees. You make money by selling
film adaptation rights, by writing scripts. You make money by selling
audiobook and ebook rights. There’s a bunch of mediums.
Stage adaptation rights, and so on. All this bunch of adaptation rights
gets re-sold every three, four,
or five years. I have many works.
I have about 20 books. They all obviously… Every new printing
brings you more money? Yes. The amount varies,
but it brings more money. A few simple indicators.
Do you have a car? I do. – Do you live in your own apartment?
– Yes, of course. – You’re not renting?
– No. Would writing one book
a year provide enough to live
comfortably, travel, and live large? It would. It’s how it is.
I do write one book a year. – How did you react when Putin
ran for president again?
– I didn’t. What was I
supposed to do? Were you more dismayed
or happy? No, I wasn’t happy.
I was… upset. But I already knew
the nation’s vector, and this step from
the president was inevitable. You got upset,
but lots of people will tell you that this huge country
that you write about can only exist if it has
this kind of autocrat who rules with
an iron fist. Autocrat with an iron fist
isn’t enough. They also want a democracy
under the autocrat’s iron fist. If the people just wanted
an autocrat, I mean… An eastern tyranny
is nothing new. But they want a democracy
under the iron fist. How do you combine those and align this
Centauromachy, nobody knows. Isn’t it the only way? Way to what? To control this huge,
as fate would have it, country. Control can be different. – How do you picture it?
– Control isn’t always a club over
people’s heads. What else can you have in a country
that’s one sixth of all land? This. – This country is a lot smaller.
– So? If you apply federalism,
size doesn’t matter. Are people in charge of the Ural
and the Far East and those
who live there capable of controlling their territories
themselves? I believe so. Based on what? On my belief in
the human nature. A person can order their life,
can’t they? – Even in Russia?
– Of course. Put in very
simple terms, where’s the guarantee that
a bunch of guys from Yekaterinburg raised by Uralmash don’t
band together, I don’t mean the district (I get it.),
I mean the criminal gang, and start ruling strictly
and violently? No guarantee. See? Is that good? Life never guarantees
anything. You need to accept
life the way it is and react to its
challenges sensibly. If Uralmash guys have gathered
and are out of hand, you need to fight the Uralmash gang,
not freedom. You met Vladimir Putin twice. How did it happen? First time, they invited me
to some event in Piter. I can’t remember what it was about.
It was 2004. I was seduced
by the fact that there were
about 40 guests, and among them, I was the only one
not from Moscow or Piter. All other artists were
from the two capitals. I was just curious
to see Putin. And I did. – Right?
– Turned out, he’s the same in real life
as he is on television. No difference. Second time, I went
to a smaller meeting. There were about
ten writers. That time,
I had a specific goal. At the time, I had initiated
the publication of a literary series
called Perm as Text. This was a collection of works,
not all fiction, that formatted
the regional identity. The local authorities gave me
the money for this series. They weren’t my works,
obviously. They gave the money with one hand
and embezzled it with the other. I raised hell: “Sort this mess out.
Punish the embezzlers.
Publish the rest of the books.” I decided to go to
this meeting with Putin, because I thought this would
give me more weight. – “Come on! He met the President!”
– “That’s Ira Saltykova.
The whole Moscow knows her.” – What?
– Remember Brother 2? The gangsters discussed
that you can’t touch her. Sort of like that. But our officials
are steadfast. You can’t deter them by something
as tiny as the President. My trip didn’t change
anything. The series stayed
robbed. Important. Was the idea of the trip
to report the outrage to the wise czar? Or to just go there and become scarier
for the local corruptionists? Just attend and show my mug,
’cause I didn’t say anything. How do you feel
about Putin? Hard to tell. Same as about the nation. After all, Putin is very accurate
with what people want. He’s basically the quintessence
of the people. What’s with the look? – For real, the quintessence?
– Yep. Why do people
love him so much? No idea. Probably for the hardcore things he does that coincide with
people’s idea of a president or a czar
as a superhero. He rides tigers.
He flies planes. He dives to the sea bottom.
He brings up amphorae.
He can do anything. – Is Russia stagnating?
– Yes, of course. Stalling and stagnating. Because there’s no
forward movement. Doing something new,
at least in economy,
is nigh impossible. I have a ton of friends who led successful
businesses and went bankrupt. Not because they’re morons
and have no clue how it all works. It just became harder.
Everything got stickier and less flexible. Including culture. For example,
eight years ago… – It’s 2009, right? Ten even.
– It’s 2019. Right. Just ten years ago, I could create a project like
The Russian Range. I could secure money
for the project, [The Russian Range is a 160-minute documentary]
[by Leonid Parfyonov and Alexei Ivanov]
[about the history and life of the Ural.]
[Filming took a year, in which time the authors]
[went on 8 expeditions, crossed 20,000 kilometers,]
[and visited 112 Ural towns and villages.]
I could secure money
for the project, [The Russian Range is a 160-minute documentary]
[by Leonid Parfyonov and Alexei Ivanov]
[about the history and life of the Ural.]
[Filming took a year, in which time the authors]
[went on 8 expeditions, crossed 20,000 kilometers,]
[and visited 112 Ural towns and villages.]
invite Leonid Parfyonov
to collaborate, and arrange its broadcast in prime time
on the country’s biggest channel, Channel One. You can’t do that today. Although production cost for such a film
has become a lot cheaper. – How much did it cost at the time?
– $2 million. $2 million? How do you remember
The Range? It’s half-and-half. 50% is satisfaction with
what we accomplished. 50% is shame, ’cause we
could’ve done so much more. But unfortunately, as Leonid Parfyonov
told me himself, no federal channel will broadcast
a series about the outskirts
if it’s over four episodes long. That’s awfully insulting. Meaning, show business is okay,
Kremlin mistresses are okay, but something about Russia?
Four episodes, and that’s it. That’s insulting. We had the money
for a larger project. – So you had the money to film more,
but nobody would’ve broadcast it?
– Yeah, they would’ve passed. Hey, $2 million, I get that it’s
a different kind of production, but today it sounds like an enormous
sum even for 60 shooting days.
Where did it go? Well, first, Leonid and his crew
cost an arm and a leg. Second, production back then was
far more cumbersome than today. We’d take a whole caravan
of cars to backcountry, with rails and
dollies for cameras, with spotlights, cranes,
and all that stuff. We had to hire
helicopters. There were
no drones yet. Of course it cost a lot. You said Leonid Parfyonov
costs a lot. My sources tell me
he didn’t make a dime. Was I misinformed? I won’t comment. These aren’t MY secrets. They’re Leonid’s secrets. – How close are you?
– We’re not close.
We’re very different people. – You had a conflict? An argument?
– Not at all. Did you enjoy
working with him? Leonid Parfyonov
is a super professional. You can learn a lot from him.
Professionally, he’s impeccable. I learned a lot from him about
TV and film production, and how your field
works in general. A question we ask
in every episode: does Viktor Pelevin exist? Of course. – Have you ever seen him?
– I have, on television. What television? Normal television. When was he
on television? This was ten-ish
years ago. There was a story where our writers went
on a trip to Japan. They were Pelevin, Tatyana Tolstaya,
and two others. Four in total. I think Parfyonov’s Namedni
did a story about this. You mean it was a real person
with arms and legs? I can’t remember.
He sat at a table. Maybe it was a dummy
or a robot, but I was convinced
it was a real person. – Do you like Pelevin?
– No. Why? Not your jam? For many reasons. First, I believe that Pelevin invented
a literary method, and this method
is brilliant. I’d even say that
Russian literature before Pelevin and after Pelevin
are two different things. Pelevin is an extraordinary
craftsman with a permanent spot
in Russian literature. However, his own works
that follow this method get worse and worse
every year. Can you explain the method
to the neophytes? Sure. You just take the three main components: pop culture,
Buddhism, and digital technologies, give ’em a healthy stir, and add absurd plots. They will inevitably correlate
with modern life and seem like lampooning, like sarcasm,
like irony, like… I don’t know,
commentary on reality. But in reality, I think,
they’re just mantras, and the vast majority of people
who read Pelevin, in my opinion, don’t understand
what they’re reading. Reading Pelevin is trendy. It’s just a symbol that you’re successful and “in the know.”
‘Cause you read Pelevin. But people don’t understand
what they’re reading. There’s a simple rule:
clear thought, clear expression. If you got what
it’s about, explain. Tell me, for example,
what Empire V is about. – Right. So if you can explain
it in a sentence, then…
– Make it five sentences. Whatever. Saying, “This evoked some
associations in my mind. This is really cool.
This is him making fun of X.” You can spew this bull
about anything. This is not analysis of a work
that indicates you understood it. Sorokin and all of
his predictions. I deeply respect
Sorokin, but he’s not my type
of writer either. Not the type I like. Sorokin works in roughly
the same fashion, but he’s more traditional. And thus, more digestible. The predictions he made
about the Russian state — is he a clairvoyant, or was it
fever writing that coincided
with what happened? Or, third option,
the guys making decisions read his works and made a fever
decision to make it so. I think, neither
of the three. No clairvoyance, no fever,
no guesswork. He’s just a smart man
who correctly extrapolated the key existing trends
to the near future. It’s just extrapolation. Clever, talented,
but it’s not some God-given
clairvoyance. Can you name three of your favorite
modern Russian authors? – Modern?
– Yes.
– Still living?
– Yes. I doubt anyone heard of this author.
I really like Sergey Pavlov. He’s a science fiction writer who hasn’t
written anything in a while. [Sergey Pavlov died on 18 April 2019, aged 83]
He’s a science fiction writer who hasn’t
written anything in a while. [Sergey Pavlov died on 18 April 2019, aged 83]
But I really like
his old works. [Sergey Pavlov died on 18 April 2019, aged 83]
I don’t think I can
name two more. I don’t think I can
name two more. Flash quiz! Short questions,
not necessarily short answers. – Are you Orthodox Christian?
– Yes. – Were you churched?
– No. How do you feel about
Orthodoxy getting stronger? With apprehension. What are you afraid of? I believe faith is
something personal. And church should be
separate from the state. I fear pressure and infringement
on freedoms. Viktor Sluzhkin or
Erast Fandorin? I haven’t read Fandorin. You haven’t read..? Why? You were never curious
about Akunin? No, I have a huge respect
for Akunin. However, back when I was only coming
onto to the literary battleground, people kept comparing me
to Akunin for some reason, and I kept saying:
“No. I never copied him.
I never stole from him.” To make this 100% true,
I never read Akunin. Russian word you
hate the most? There’s lots of those! Name a few. Order. Or “on the order.” For example… I hate it when
they say, for example, “Several cars arrived,
on the order of 40.” Order means: ten, hundred,
thousand, million. Not “on the order of 40.”
“Around 40.” I don’t like
the verb “burrow.” They say,
“He burrowed out of X.” He DUG his way out. People dig.
Animals burrow. I dislike when they say
“fight fire.” [*Translator’s note.]
[Obviously, these three are approximations]
[of the Russian words Ivanov mentioned.]
[They’re very close, but not quite the same.]
[Don’t be mad at Ivanov for debasing]
[words and expressions that make]
[perfect sense to you.]
[Blame the translator.]
“Fighting”* means combat. Is it true that until very recently
you’ve never been abroad? No, it isn’t. – Do you remember your first trip?
– I do. When and where? Prague. Not sure when.
Five or seven years ago. – Five or seven?
– Yep. So by late aughts,
you’d never been abroad? In moments like this, I zone out.
Please, don’t think it’s snobbery. It’s not snobbery. It’s me trying
to understand how you can be an artistic celebrity and
an art expert to boot, and never go abroad until
you’re forty-something. Be born in 1969,
and you’ll understand. Did it hamper
your work? Not at all. – I’m actually…
– I mean it’s art! It’s… See, for a while now,
I’ve been an art expert, I’d say, only on paper, because I didn’t pursue
this professional path. I didn’t become a museum worker,
or an art dealer, or something. I didn’t go abroad for a reason that was quite sensible. I thought, I’d go, and my view of Russia
will somehow change. And it did. Pray tell? When I first went abroad
and saw everything, I realized that the struggles in
modern Russia are like inventing
the wheel. All these questions have been
asked a long time ago. The answers have
been found. It’s all clear. There’s nothing
to discuss. I’ve since lost interest in a lot
of the public issues in Russia, because for the world,
or at least for Europe,
they’re old news. So you intentionally didn’t go abroad,
knowing this risk? I knew there was
A risk. I didn’t specify it
in my mind. But when I went abroad,
that was what happened. Sorz for focusing on this. So you’re forty-something. You have enough money. You’ve traveled
all over Russia. But you intentionally hold back
and don’t go to Europe, because it might change
how you feel about Russia. Yes. So what broke the camel’s back
and made you go,
“I can’t wait any longer”? It’s not like I had to struggle
to not leave Russia. I had a lot of fun
in Russia. What changed? I don’t know.
Things gradually fell in place. I thought: why not try it? That’s crazy! It’s really surprising. Come on, Yuri!
Lots of people in Russia, probably more than half
of the population, haven’t even been
to Moscow. No, I know the statistic
that around 80% of Russians
have never been abroad. It’s not surprising
at all. Again, please, don’t take
this as snobbery. I understand how messy
our state is, and it saddens me as much
as anyone else that people don’t see
what life can be like. I think in general,
it affects our vector. I’m surprised
specifically because someone had
the ability and was curious,
but kept themselves back. That’s what
surprised me. Well, I’m not a juvenile to jump on
every opportunity in life. I could snort coke. I don’t do that either. And lastly.
Wherein is strength?*
[*Main theme and quote from Brother 2] So I have to give some
snappy answer that would beat the one
in Brother. I can’t give you
a snappy answer. I’ll say this:
strength is in sensibility. You once said that the meme “the Soviet Union is the most reading
country in the world” was a myth. – Yes.
– Why? For lots of reasons. I remember
the Soviet Union very well, as well as myself and
the people around me. People read very little. Certainly not more
than they do today. The reason why the book was such a cult
item in the Soviet Union is obvious. The book was
a luxury item. It was a scarcity item. So people bought books.
But buying books and reading them
are different things. Lots of people had
wonderful collections, but books stuck
to one another because no one ever picked
them up to read them. That’s one reason. Reason number two… Why are you laughing? Because this describes
my parents’ collection too. I remember. It was ’90s Russia, but yeah,
it was like that. Secondly, in the Soviet Union,
literature took on unusual roles. Literature was
a history textbook. Literature was
a sociology textbook. Literature, for example, taught about
parapsychology and, I don’t know,
lots of things. Literature even fulfilled a therapeutic function
and so on. That’s why people read. Literature was also
a form of entertainment. Now, this train has been
broken up into separate cars. There are now books on history,
books on parapsychology… You no longer need to read fiction
to get information on these subjects. Fictional writing has shrunk
to its natural scope. It’s how it should be. So the meme itself was
just propaganda noise? Yes. Obviously. To create an imaginary
reality that’s far prettier
than real reality. Contest! What gift did you bring? So I brought this device. I bought it in the Manchester
Science and Industry Museum. It’s an electronic toy. It looks very similar to
the toys that were popular in the Soviet end times. – Wolf. Basket. Eggs.
– Yes, that’s the one! So. – You can buy it in Manchester?
– Yes. In the Science and
Industry Museum. Contest.
Rules of the contest. Alexei Ivanov is known as
someone who studies Russia and sometimes turns the stories
and legends he hears into books. You mentioned Baltiysk — how a simple
visit to a city can give you an idea
for a new novel. You know how enthusiastic we are
about cool stories about Russia, especially from
rural regions. Tell us a story in
the comments that could potentially become
the subject for a new novel, by Alexei Ivanov
or somebody else. We will pick the best
legend in the comments and send you
this present… Do you mind if I also put all Alexei Ivanov
books I have at home in the parcel? Be my guest.
I’d be grateful. All Alexei Ivanov books
I have at home. Books are pretty expensive.
So it sounds like a good gift. Alexei, thank you so much! [Translated by Semyon Galtsev]

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