"I love with my ears”

For Shishkin the concept of reality is present only through the immortal power of art and invariably self-sacrifice. Everything that we consider “real” or everyday” is actually dead the moment is happens.

by Mascha from Russia

SLOVO, the 5th annual Russian Literature Festival organized by Academia Rossica has opened on 8th March, the International Women's Day at the glamorous MayFair Hotel in London on a chilly Saturday evening.  “Women love with their ears”- some say. So, what better way to congratulate the beautiful sex, than with beautiful words? A lot of beautiful words in fact, bundled into an array of literary forms and poured onto us like sweet honey.   

SLOVO is a chance for Russian contemporary thinkers and authors to present their latest works, as well as for audiences in London to interact with the writers. It is the biggest Russian language literary event outside of Russia itself, and is a unique event in to interact with some of the most influential literary personas at the moment. Academia Rossica is making the attendance of lectures cool: tickets are selling out in hours, there is a commotion around the entrance of glamorous and trendy crowds trying to get the last remaining seat. For once the authors are the superstars, they are at the centre of attention.

This year, the theme of the festival is “In search of lost reality”- the sense of our ever accelerating lives and the fleeting moments that this leaves us to actually feel. The participants are specifically asked to address this aspect.  

Mikhail Shishkin kicks off the evening with his lecture “ Of living Noses and Dead Souls”- an analytical study of Gogol’s work as a prophecy of the current disintegration and moral collapse of contemporary Russia. Gogol, says Shishkin, is not in fact a comedic writer as he was branded, but a very sinister and dark missioner who probably was one of the first writers who quite so graphically stared into the abyss of degradation that was to follow. Not surprisingly, Gogol’s works do not have a single positive character, since in his first works he was challenged with identifying the problem.

It was his second book of Dead Souls that was the self-proclaimed mission to provide the answers, or at least paved the way for every men to develop the sense of self-worth and self-importance ( as the imitations of the Divine himself). Only through this process can the “dead” become “living”, and actually regain their souls. Gogol had a mission, but he felt that the words (which he so worshipped) had failed him and he burned the manuscripts. Russia from this moment, in Gogol’s eyes, was doomed. Mr. Shishkin when answering one of the questions from the audience commented “... every writer MUST have a sacred mission, a version of Gogol’s second book of Dead Souls, something that the writer will know that he can never finish or in fact even attempt to write, something that can make the world better. It is this secret and sacred mission, without which the writer is never really a writer but a mere paper pusher.”

For Shishkin the concept of reality is present only through the immortal power of art and invariably self-sacrifice. Everything that we consider “real” or everyday” is actually dead the moment is happens.

It is true that “Lost” and “reality” in the same sentence especially in a Russian event will rarely spell out something very cheerful, but what an absolute breath of fresh air was the splash of real rock-n-roll that is Diana Arbenina. Her poetry (from the recently published book “Sprinter”) is sharp, thoughtful and melodic. Her voice is hypnotic. What a real treat for the audience for the second part of the opening night.  

Any great narrative has the ability to hypnotise, challenge, evoke a powerful reaction or perhaps on the contrary subdue a powerful personal conflict or drama, but most of all it is welcoming us to think. The reality for each person is necessarily a very subjective concept, and given the array of amazing and inspiration people sharing their own is something not to be missed.  

And....Yes, I do love with my ears!! Happy holidays, ladies!  

Mascha From Russia

SLOVO is running in London until 23rd of March (check for details). Mikhail Shishkin is continuing a cycle of lectures on Russian contemporary literature with an analysis of Ivan Goncharov's "Oblomov" on 19th March in King's Russia Institute.