If you look a little further down at the photos here you’ll see where the jokes come from. It’s been said this monument to Dostoevsky by Alexander Rukavishnikov is a “monument to the Russian hemorrhoid.” It is also called “At the Proctologist.” So says Russian Wikipedia, anyway. There’s plenty to joke about. This may be one of the weirdest major sculptures of an important cultural figure I’ve ever encountered. And it’s not just because it looks like Dostoevsky is slipping off the seat he’s trying to sit on. Look at his face. He’s ready to burst out crying. The pain on his face is plain as day, even on a gray, gloomy, murky day in October when the sun never shines, the rain never really stops and the sky allows no breaks in the monotonous, deadly dull, silvery canopy. His hands – he doesn’t know what to do with them. His right hand seems like it wants to grab onto something, but there’s only his leg, unstable because he’s neither sitting nor standing. His left hand is tucked under him but it does him no good – he’s going nowhere.
So, when you walk around this monument your thoughts are running wild. My first response was that I hated it. Then it began to grow on me. I kept looking around – sculptures are, after all, part of a landscape – and the artistic picture grew clearer and clearer. This Dostoevsky wants to be ANYWHERE BUT HERE! Anywhere. Almost anywhere. Anywhere except before that firing squad the Tsar teased him with in 1849. Just a little joke there, Fedya. We thought we’d teach you a lesson. You know, condemn you to death. Put you in front of the firing squad and then seconds before the trigger is pulled send in a well-dressed adjutant on a fine, prancing steed to stay the execution. Such a humane action.
So INhumane, actually, that one of the guys in the firing line with Dostoevsky went mad. So, no, he doesn’t want to be back there – but he clearly would be happy to be absolutely any other place than there and here before the Lenin Library on 3/5 Vozdvizhenka, just across the street from the Russian Duma (popularly called the Russian Dura, that is, Imbecile, these days), and a stones’ throw from the Kremlin itself. Fyodor is kind of looking out from under his eyebrows in a crosswise way at the Kremlin. Like, “God, I am stuck here for eternity! How in the frig am I going to do that?!”
The Lenin Library – it’s a great library, one of the greats in the world. I’ve worked there and I know. But the whole notion of poor Fedya having the name of Lenin, in bright gold even on a dreary day, shining eternally behind his head – how can you survive that? The building itself is a disaster, a train wreck of Soviet architecture pretending to play on Greek forms. Ugh! It’s gross and pathetic. Walk up close to those columns or the walls and they’re falling apart; the tiles are chipped and broken; everything is aging, cracked, forgotten. There are a couple of cathedrals attempting to reach out to Dostoevsky from behind corners or trees. They don’t seem to have much power on him, though.
Tiny story here. An hour before I took these photos I had participated in a conference on contemporary Russian culture in the Manege, the exhibition hall that is pretty much across from Dostoevsky, right in his site line. Our panel was crashed by a small group of semi-unhinged people with very unclear, but very adamant, aims. They hated us, they hate everybody who is making theater these days, they hate the Russian city government, they hate gays, foreigners and the Lord knows what else. We had to shut down early and go home because these guys wouldn’t quit shouting and interrupting. They were – they are – I believe, the eternal forces of Russian chaos. They are the people that Dostoevsky described in his novel The Devils or The Demons or The Possessed – the title is different depending upon what translation is used where you live. I came away from that aborted panel thinking black thoughts. It was raining and – not cold, but – chilly to the bone. And I walked around Dostoevsky, hating him (hating the sculptor) at first, mumbling, grumbling, picking mentally at every little thing. Until I got it. The sculptor’s point of view, the story he wanted to tell me, the satire he imposed on all the official people who must see this huge and imposing work of art in a wide-open space while they run around doing whatever they do – that all came home and hit me hard.
There’s a wonderful Bob Dylan song called “Lo and Behold” that will be coming out on a special CD compilation next month. We collectors have known the song for 45 years, but it will be released officially for the first time ever in November. There is a line in there where Dylan sings, his worried, agitated voice rising up higher and higher with unease as it goes: “Let me out of here, my dear man!”
That’s what Rukavishnikov put into this bizarre, deeply compelling monument to Dostoevsky.
The place Dylan’s voice best suits this is at about 1:20 on the Soundcloud recording that you can listen to here. For the record the monument was unveiled in 1997.
“Lo and behold! Lo and behold! Looking for my lo and behold! Get me out of here – my – dear – man!”