Cynthia Simmons «Their Fathers' Voice»

Cynthia Simmons

Their Fathers' Voice

Vassily Aksyonov, Venedikt Erofeev, Eduard Limonov, and Sasha Sokolov

/ Middlebury studies in Russian language and literature; vol.4
// New York, San Francisco, Bern, Baltimore,
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Wien, Paris: «Peter Lang», 1993,
hardcover, 219 p.,
ISBN: 0-8204-2160-X
dimensions: 241⨉159⨉19 mm

Aksyonov, Venedikt Erofeev, Limonov, and Sokolov, «children of the sixties and seventies», were among the first to test the limits of «glasnost» in the post-Stalin period. Although their major novels suggest a shared modernist belief in the power of verbal art to provide a place or promise of truth, and, perhaps, salvation, they set out first to recapture, for their abused native tongue, its ability to «mean». They called into question the literary conventions concerning logicality, coherence, and propriety. Through their own «aberrant discourse» they sought to «mean» anew. Long in need of thorough explication, their works constitute the missing link between the «alternative prose» writers of the nineties and Russia's pre-Soviet literary heritage.

Edichka: A Butterfly with a Poet's Heart

«Нет положительно другими невозможно
Мне занятому быть.
Ну что другой?!
Скользнул своим лицом, взмахнул рукой
И что-то белое куда-то удалилось
А я всегда с собой

— Эдуард Лимонов, «Я в мыслях подержу другого человека»

«No, it is absolutely impossible
For me to be interested in others.
After all, what is the other?
He has cast his face, waved his hand
And something white has disappeared somewhere
But I am always with myself

— Eduard Limonov, «I will hold another person in my thoughts»

«There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.
Books are well written, or badly written. That is all

— Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Edichka, C'est lui?

The title of the third aberrant discourse we will be considering evokes a predictable response on the part of the reader. We expect of It's Me Eddie (Это я — Эдичка) a first-person account bearing some relationship to the book's author.1 Entitling his novel thus, Eduard Limonov signals a condition that we found prevailing also in the works discussed previously—a blurring of the boundary between fiction and reality. In The Burn, Aksyonov patterns the childhood of Tolia von Steinbock, and more parodically, of the adult endeavors and adventures of his Apollinarieviches, after his own. In Moscow-Petushki and It's Me, Eddie, the narrators bear a hypocoristic form of the names of the authors—Venichka Erofeev (Venedikt Erofeev) and Edichka (Eddie of the translation) Limonov (Eduard Limonov). Limonov goes a step further, however, in that he never encourages an interpretation of It's Me, Eddie as fiction. In Aksyonov's and Erofeev's novels, when fantasy intrudes upon the narrative or when the fictional events openly conflict with the known or assumed with respect to the author and other «objects» of empirical reality, the reader is reminded of the fictionality of the world as presented.2 Limonov's style is a stark naturalism where the reflection of reality is reinforced by stock realistic devotion to detail (here the geography or topography of New York City) and numerous references to the author's contemporaries.


Limonov attempts a greater claim to «authenticity», but in all these novels, the representation of reality or normality is shown to be deceptive. Whereas the aberrant discourse of The Burn or Moscow-Petushki results in part from elements of the fantastic—«deviations» according to the ideational (and consequently, the textual) function of language—aberrance in It's Me, Eddie is confined almost exclusively to the realm of the inappropriate (aberrance according to the interpersonal function of language). Although the inclusion of the taboo in thematics and lexicon may not assault the preconceptions of the Western reader as much as a surrealist aberration of representation, or textual eccentricities, they are not without their effect even in the West. For Russian literature, however, the depiction of utter existential alienation, in a register of Russian even more unprintable than unspeakable, created a literary phenomenon. The inappropriateness of Limonov's discourse to the literary text, and this ranges from lexical improprieties (barbarisms, obscenities, and such) to prohibited sexual explicitness or religious and secular «sacrilege», is far from gratuitous.3 It betokens the narrator's psychopathology and resultant distorted perception of reality. The etiology of Edichka's psychic malaise can be traced in part to the Soviet (and general human) condition that spawned the other aberrant discourses in this study.

The narrator of the novel, Eduard (Edichka) Limonov, is an émigré Russian poet living in New York City. Stripped of the celebrity he enjoyed in his homeland, abandoned by his wife, and subsisting on welfare, he roams the streets of Manhattan in search of solace, or at the very least, diversion from his excruciating grief. Edichka narrates a series of bizarre, pathetic, and sometimes, dangerous events—most notably, sexual trysts both hetero- and homosexual. He also chronicles failed attempts at the only «honest», but «morally» unacceptable, labor that the «establishment» offers him (as a busboy at the Hilton hotel or as a journalist for the reactionary émigré press). Throughout the narrative, and in the most shocking invective he can muster, Edichka rails against the established order and its representatives. In the Soviet Union, not just the political regime, but the defenders of the literary canon as well, were too rigid or unenlightened to appreciate his art. Edichka, lured to the West, as he contends, by the propaganda of Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, discovers in the United States a throughly vulgar (пошлый) society that cares too little about its artists to persecute them; and what is worse, it simply ignores them. He blames the powers that be in the West not only for his loss of position and purpose (a writer is «worthless» in a capitalistic society) but also for luring his wife Elena from him—or perhaps simply from the squalor to which he has been reduced. Edichka is angry enough to seek out revolutionaries. He claims he is ready to avenge himself in a violent overthrow.4 If the chapters reveal any kind of linearity or development, it is in Edichka's admission toward the end of the novel that he is still capable of love («it may be that I have the strength for one more love» 176/180), can tolerate manual labor (the chapter «I Make Money»), or that he no longer relates to New York City with hostility (the next-to-the-last chapter «My Friend New York»). Nonetheless, Limonov concludes the book with a vituperative epilogue. Once again Edichka sits on his balcony and questions his fate. His tale ends with a whispered curse, directed he knows not where.

Overlooking the counterevidence, numerous reviewers and critics of It's Me, Eddie have failed to distinguish between author and narrator.5 First, the «artistic» structure of the novel—loosely related, autonomous vignettes—helps to justify its exclusion from the genre of autobiographical confession. Yet the reader encounters the most significant clue to the narrator's separate identity even before meeting the text. In employing the childish form «Edichka» with reference to himself, the narrator introduces a consciousness that is chronologically, or at least psychologically, still a child—not a persona capable of producing the novel at hand. No doubt Limonov intended to play on this confusion. For instance, in a story from 1985, the narrator, Limonov, takes issue with the assumption within the international Russian community (since the publication of It's Me, Eddie) that he is homosexual. He relates that once in a restaurant in Brooklyn he had to «punch a guy in the face» for calling him «a dirty queer» («On the Wild Side» 226). Of course, the reading public has drawn conclusions concerning the sexual preference of Eduard Limonov, and not of his authors-personae. On the other hand, Arvid Kron cites personal correspondence with Limonov in which the writer states, with regard to It's Me Eddie: «Both in poetry and in prose, I always write about myself, probably because I have come to know this person best of all. If my memory does not betray me, none of the situations are fictitious. I only simplified many things, and a lot I left out» («Про бабочку поэтиного сердца» 89). In any case, the general situation that is presented in the novel concurs uncannily with what is well-known of the author's biography.

Eduard Limonov (Savenko) was born in the industrial center Kharkov in 1943 (which makes him somewhat older than his hero Edichka's thirty years at the time the novel takes place—1976). Ever on the periphery of Soviet culture, Limonov made the transition from «hooligan» or juvenile delinquent to celebrated underground «avant-garde» poet. He emigrated to the United States with his wife Elena, a Moscow femme fatale, at the height of his popularity in 1974. Here Limonov joined the ranks of the (at least initially) dispossessed and superfluous «Third-Wave» Russian émigré writers. This coincidence of real and fictional circumstance is a given in literature, and especially in Limonov's prose (cf. some of his later works: The Adolescent Savenko [Подросток Савенко], Memoir of a Russian Punk [Дневник неудачника], «Love, Love», «The Double» [Двойник], and «On the Wild Side», cited above). Although it is a «ground rule» of mainstream Western literary criticism to respect the autonomy of the aesthetic text, the state of the art is somehow abandoned in the emotionally charged reactions to more disturbing works that offend, frighten, or dismay the reader. The identification of narrator with author has characterized some of the criticism of all three novels, The Burn, Moscow-Petushki, and It's Me, Eddie. The confusion has been greatest with Limonov's work—Edichka's more violent outrage has been taken for the author's own.

The Literary Subject as Object

The similarities between Edichka and Eduard Limonov aside, the title announces another interesting relationship—that of the narrator to his narrative. The reader's assumption that Edichka will be concerned exclusively with himself is ever more confirmed with each page of his story. The situation does not surprise. In the previous aberrant discourses we have analyzed, the narrators have purposely isolated themselves, exempted themselves from mass culture and the masses. Those with whom they communicate successfully (imaginary or otherwise) partake of their aberrant discourse. The Apollinarieviches of The Burn and Venichka of Moscow-Petushki ensure their «privileged» status and mode of expression through alcohol abuse. Their discourse is shared by those in a similar condition (for the Apollinarieviches, for example, by the alcoholic artistic and intellectual fringe), or it may well be the case that their discourse emanates from the altered consciousness of the narrator alone (the texts of both The Burn and Moscow-Petushki could be nothing more than deliria). In any case their field of reference has been narrowed to themselves and their «own». This is not to say that the consciousness of the works is authoritative, or in the Bakhtinian sense, monologic.6 We have discussed their inherent ambivalence—their utopian visions or dreams of the ideal, though unrealized, «save» them from the post-modern.7 Still, the narrators and their retinues consciously isolate themselves in an altered system of communication. Inevitably they focus inward.

The title has forewarned us of Edichka's preeminence in the novel. From the beginning he indicates the liminal status that fosters his aberrant discourse when he introduces himself in startling juxtaposition to the civilized bureaucracy of diurnal Manhattan:

If you're walking past the corner of Madison Avenue and Fifty-fifth Street between one and three in the afternoon, take the trouble to tip back your head and look up—at the unwashed windows of the black Hotel Winslow. There on the topmost, sixteenth floor, on the centermost of the hotel's three balconies, I sit half naked. Usually I am eating shchi and at the same time working on my tan, I'm a great sun lover. Shchi, or sauerkraut soup, is my usual fare; I eat pot after pot of it, day after day, and eat almost nothing else. The spoon I eat the shchi with is wooden and was brought from Russia. It is decorated with flowers of scarlet, gold, and black.

The surrounding office buildings gawk at me with their smoky glass walls, with the thousand eyes of the clerks, secretaries, and managers. A nearly, sometimes entirely naked man, eating shchi from a pot. They don't know it's shchi, though. What they see is that every other day, on a hot plate there on the balcony, a man cooks a huge steaming pot of something barbaric…

I choke and gobble, naked on the balcony. I'm not ashamed before those unknown people in the offices or their eyes. Sometimes I also have with me, hanging on a nail driven into the window frame, a small green battery transistor given to me by Alyosha Slavkov, a poet who plans to become a Jesuit. I enliven the taking of shchi with music. My preference is a Spanish station. I'm not inhibited. I am often to be found bare-assed in my shallow little room, my member pale against the background of the rest of my body, and I do not give a damn whether they see me or don't, the clerks, secretaries, and managers. I'd rather they did see me. They're probably used to me by now, and perhaps they miss me on days when I don't crawl out on my balcony. I suppose they call me «that crazy across the way». (3-4/7-8)

Edichka sits in the heart of Manhattan within sight, if not earshot, of the cogs of ultra-urban America. Yet he is a foreign element. He has abandoned his Russian context, but still he eats a Russian soup with a Russian spoon. He is (if at all) only half-dressed, commensurate with his «barbaric» Russian roots. Even if he listens to the radio, it is not to American, but to Spanish, music.

As with The Burn and Moscow-Petushki, in It's Me, Eddie, some of the most significant events of the novel transpire in liminal locales. As we have noted, Edichka, like most of his Soviet émigré acquaintances, lives in a hotel. They reside in the United States, but they remain unassimilated, peripheral, without an established domicile, or in the philosophical sense in which the term has been employed previously, «dwelling». Edichka's two homosexual encounters occur on «thresholds». The narrator meets Chris at night in a sandlot (Edichka suggests that it is a children's playground!). The narrator describes this scene, the most taboo-breaking of the novel, against the backdrop of «normal» evening activities in the city—footfalls on nearby sidewalks. Edichka in every way «crosses over» (переступает) the frontier of the acceptable. Two unknown men of different races (Chris is black) engage in sexual acts, recounted in detail, out-of-doors, in the midst of a heavily populated urban area. Chris's attitude toward Edichka at first is belligerant and agressive (Edichka hopes that he is a criminal [преступник]); but later, the stranger is nurturing and tender.8 The scene abounds with reversals and novel «combinations». Both the «players'» and the (tolerant) readers' reactions are ambivalent. Edichka's second homosexual encounter is likewise associated with other liminal elements—Johnny is also black, a vagrant, and they retire to the hallway of a New York apartment building.

Within the context of aberrant discourse, which lays bare the inherent liminality of the aesthetic text, we are prepared for the portrayal of an isolated (liminal) narrating subject who relates in an idiosyncratic and iconoclastic fashion to the object of the narration. However, the concept of liminality itself comprehends a social-psychological phenomenon—a segment of society engages in «unprescribed» behavior that tests systems of social organization and (socially) prescribed psychological perceptions. The narrators of The Burn and Venichka Erofeev are only several participants in a well-attended carnival where inebriated «revelers» mock (or simply escape) the status quo and experiment with alternate modes of being. Even the schizophrenic student narrator of School for Fools recognizes kindred spirits in his geography teacher Norvegov or the legendary Sender of Wind. In It's Me, Eddie, it becomes apparent, sooner or later, that Edichka's aberrant discourse is more than an expression of his social liminality as a «free» post-Stalinist Russian poet and Soviet émigré. Although the result may be the same—Edichka's deviant discourse calls into question the literary canon and the reality it represents—this narrator speaks from a threshold where he sits, psychologically, all alone. For Edichka, the narrated object as such has basically disappeared. He may once have been interested, like Aksyonov's, Erofeev's, and Sokolov's heroes, in creating novel cosmologies (the end result of liminal activities, including aberrant discourse). However, the trauma of losing all connection to the world-as-known: homeland (and the affirmation that at least some segment of that society provided) and loved ones, leads to total psychological breakdown. For the most part, outside of his own tormented psyche, the world as object has ceased to exist—his relation to it is expressed as destructive impulses. Edichka's total self-absorption and exhibitionism provide ample reason to diagnose his utter aloneness as the condition of quintessential psycho-sociological exemption. The psychoanalyst would term his malady psychopathological narcissism.9

Edichka's psychological breakdown has been «diagnosed» as narcissistic more than once in the critical literature.10 That is to say that the narrator exhibits numerous behaviors that characterize the Freudian (post-Nietzschean) account of secondary or abnormal narcissism. According to the Freudian theory of personality (or sexual development), the child's first love object is itself (an act of self-preservation). In most individuals, libidinal interest is transferred eventually to the mother or care-giver. Secondary narcissism results when the libido remains focused on the self (perpetual primary narcissism) or when, as a result of a psychic trauma, the libido is withdrawn from the external sexual object and becomes directed onto the ego (Freud, «On Narcissism: An Introduction» 106). Freud does admit, however, that some measure of narcissism remains, even in the healthy adult, as a vestige of the original mechanism of self-preservation. Heinz Kohut develops further this notion of healthy narcissism and suggests, in his more recent psychoanalytic interpretation, that the perpetuation of the early-childhood state of self-love may not be pathological. The prejudice against this type of narcissism may derive from the altruistic value system of Western civilization (Kohut, «Forms and Transformations of Narcissism» 427). Kohut observes that narcissistic energy, harnessed by the ego, often fuels the creative personality:

Nevertheless, I believe that the creative person's relation to his work has less in common with the expanded narcissism of motherhood than with the still unrestricted narcissism of early childhood…

The creative individual, whether in art or science, is less psychologically separated from his surroundings than the noncreative one; the «I-you» barrier is not as clearly defined. The intensity of the creative person's awareness of the relevant aspects of his surroundings is akin to the detailed self-perceptions of the schizoid and the childlike…11 («Forms and Transformations» 447)

Kohut was joined (in the sixties) in this process of redefining narcissism by Paul Zweig, who chronicled «The West's millennia-long fascination with Narcissus: deploring his inhuman solitude, admiring him as a figure of fulfillment and transcendence» (The Heresy of Self-Love viii). Zweig observed that from the second to the nineteenth centuries, narcissism was related to the heroic—the narcissist's solitary self-inspection leading to spiritual perfection, and, eventually, to reintegration into society. In Lawrence Thornton's study of twentieth-century narcissism and the modern novel, he contends that in the wake of Nietzsche's revolutionary ideas, the subversive aspect of narcissism came to predominate in clinical and theoretical treatments (especially Freudian), and in the literary reflection of that orientation in human personality: «the hero-poet has become an anarchist whose self-realization demands apocalypse» (Unbodied Hope 26). According to Thornton, in Western art and literature through the Romantic era, the image of «healthy» narcissism dominates, but in the modern era, we find more representations of «abnormal» (secondary) narcissism.

In It's Me, Eddie, Edichka describes himself as the archetypal creative personality whose narcissism evolves, under trauma, into a more pathological condition. His interests exemplify Kohut's account of creative activity as a transformation of narcissism: «In creative work, narcissistic energies are employed that have been changed into a form to which I referred earlier as idealizing libido, i.e., the elaboration of the specific point on the developmental road from narcissism toward object love at which an object (in the sense of social psychology) is cathected with narcissistic libido and thus included in the context of the self» («Forms and Transformations» 446-447). Thus for the creative individual, to love one's creations is to love one's self. Edichka leaves no doubt that he considers himself an exceptionally talented poet: «And who cares that I am one of Russia's greatest living poets, that I am writhing in agony as I live out my heroic fate» (129/135). He identifies with the tragic vulnerability («butterfly of a poet's heart») of the Futurist poet Mayakovsky, and he wonders at how fate has linked him with that «other great poet's» former love interests—Lily Brik in Moscow and, in the United States, the émigrée Tatiana Glickerman (i.e., Yakovleva).12 in fact, Edichka proclaimed his own reknown even before emigrating (as did Limonov) with the publication of the «poem in prose» We Are the National Hero (Мы национальный герой; the «royal we» referring to the lyric voice alone). The narrator's self-praise is more than pure bombast. He recounts his rise to fame in Moscow's literary underground without ever having been published officially—he typed and distributed collections of his poetry himself, financing the undertaking by working as a tailor (a detail from Limonov's own biography). If creative ambition is a sign of transformed narcissism, Edichka had, at least before his emigration, narcissistic energy to spare.

The narrator reveals other narcissistic traits not associated with his literary calling that he manifested both in the Soviet Union and, in an exaggerated form, after emigrating. He admits to an inordinate interest in clothing and other exhibitionist tendencies. With this predilection, Edichka identifies himself with the tradition of the literary dandy. Ann Shukman provides a semiotic interpretation of this narcissistic behavior in Lotman's characterization of dandyism as emphasizing «the arbitrariness of the relationship between signified and signifier» («Taboos, Splits, and Signifiers: Limonov's Èto ya—Èdichka» 8). As we have observed before, «sign play», in which the dandy, for one, engages, defines the liminal. Edichka characterizes his foppish liminal behavior as intentionally reminiscent of the exempt atmosphere of the carnival and of his adolescence (ontogenetic time out) in Kharkov:

I have a weakness for eccentric circus clothes. Although I cannot afford much of anything because of my extreme poverty, still, all my shirts are lace, one of my blazers is lilac velvet, and the white suit is a beauty, my pride and joy. My shoes always have very high heels, I even own some pink ones, and I buy them where all the blacks buy theirs, in the two best stores on Broadway, at the corner of Forty-fifth and the corner of Forty-sixth, lovely little far-out shops where it's all high heels and all provocative and preposterous to squares. I want even my shoes to be a festival. (71/76-77)

Edichka proves exhibitionistic and liminal in more than dress. He enjoys shocking the elderly ladies in a restaurant where he and Raymond, his initiator into the homosexual milieau, have met for lunch. Edichka «looks the part», wearing a black scarf around his neck, and he allows Raymond to stroke his hand: «As a poet I enjoyed shocking these weathered [продубленных жизнью] old ladies. I love attention of any sort. I was in my element» (54/59). Edichka's desire to dress provocatively and to flaunt his sexual preference reflects his acceptance and even celebration of his iconoclasm: «I was an impossible person even there, in the country that gave birth to Bakunin; here my nonconformism [невхождение в систему] is merely more colorful, more shrill, and takes more loathsome forms» (192/197).

We have discussed, particularly with reference so far to The Burn, the significance of adolescence as ontogenetic time out—a liminal period of overstepping boundaries that is experienced by all. Whether as a result of his creative personality, narcissism, or both, Edichka relates that he took exceptional liberties during his own adolescence. He in fact broke laws (переступал законы) and committed crimes (преступления).13 Overwhelmed by rage in response to the humiliation of his situation in emigration, Edichka is drawn to criminals (perhaps Chris, his other homosexual lover Johnny, and potentially, the Workers' Party), criminal activities, or the intimations or imitations of such by adolescents:

The young blacks and nonblacks on Forty-second Street reminded me of my neighborhood, my dance pavilion, my friends, hoodlums, gangsters, and thieves. I use these words with no nuance of condemnation, none. Besides, most of that Kharkov crowd by the dance pavilion and most of this Forty-second Street crowd consisted not of hoodlums and gangsters, of course, but of normal teenagers, boys and girls at a transitional age who wanted to fuck around showing off. In Russia they were called blatnye, toughs. They were not real criminals, but their manners, behavior, habits, and dress aped the manners, behavior, habits, and dress of real criminals. It was the same here. (161/165-66)

Edichka encourages a Freudian interpretation of his provocative behavior when he describes himself as childlike:

There's one good thing about my life. Measuring it against my childhood, I see that I haven't fucking betrayed it, my dear and mythically distant childhood. All children are extremists. I have remained an extremist, have not become a grown-up. To this day I am a pilgrim, I have not sold myself, have not betrayed my soul, that's why I suffer such torments. (230/248)

According to Freud, in the earliest narcissistic stage of personality development, the child has not yet become differentiated psychically from the environment (and has not yet transferred libidinal energy onto an external love object). Edichka recognizes the child's separateness from experiential reality and interprets his own abidance in this state (or regression to it) as a moral choice. Edichka responds to the negative Freudian interpretation of narcissistic disassociation with a social-psychological rationale for his psychic immaturity. Even in the Soviet Union, Edichka displayed narcissistic tendencies, but these are better explained outside the strict dogma of Freudian psychology. It is immaterial to our discussion whether or not the narrator as a child failed to progress beyond narcissistic self-love to select his mother as an external love-object.14 More important, from childhood he resisted socialization (whether in response to society's rejection of him or his own disdain to «affiliate»). Edichka took psychic refuge in the time out of psychological immaturity. He exempted himself from the world as such as did the alcoholics or other victims of psychological stagnation or regression in our other aberrant discourses. Only after the trauma of emigration did Edichka's narcissism develop to pathological proportions.

Book Three of The Burn is introduced with an epigraph from Khodasevich, and the rhythmic dream originates from an American convenience store—emigration must be included among the Victim's possible implied futures. Yet Limonov's novel is the only one among these programmatic post-Stalinist fictions that emanates solely from this literally homeless condition. All of the narrators have chosen social exemption or time out (the special-student narrator of School for Fools may not have chosen his schizophrenia, but he relishes the liberation of perception that accompanies, or even determines, the disease). Whether «under the influence» or in a state of psychological regression, our «heroes» reject their «context». Yet Edichka's self-determined time out, which he pursued in Moscow's literary underground, resulted in taboo-breaking aberrant discourse only after he abandoned Soviet society physically and permanently. When Edichka emigrated, he finally escaped the artistic restrictions that affected him even as a member of the literary counter-culture. But he also lost the emotional support of a subculture that was essential to his retaining psychological equilibirium.

The environment is crucially important to the narcissist. It is the arena in which narcissistic-exhibitionist tensions can be discharged. If these ambitions are thwarted, as they may be if the environment is altered, «the adult ego will tend to vacillate between an irrational overestimation of the self and feelings of inferiority» (Kohut, «Forms and Transformations» 438). In his study on narcissism in the modern novel, Thornton cites numerous great works of fiction in which the heroes and heroines lose not only their selfesteem but also their reason for being when their imaginative environment no longer functions (Madame Bovary, The Awakening, Lord Jim, The Great Gatsby). On the significance of milieu, Thornton quotes Michael Balint's judgment that narcissists «are desperately dependent on their environment, and their narcissism can be preserved only on the condition that their environment is willing, or can be forced, to look after them» (Unbodied Hope 40). Alterations in the environment that frustrate ambitions and deprive the narcissist of affirmation and nurturing adversely affect the non-pathological condition of narcissism in equilibrium.

Edichka provides sufficient proof of his narcissistic tendencies even before emigration. In the isolation of voluntary exile, his breakdown into «narcissistic mortification» is preordained. Living alone on the outside of a new culture, bereft of audience, wife, and friends, Edichka experiences a degree of liminality for which he was not prepared. In the Soviet Union, the creative artist was compelled to reject the politicized social structure, but the poet or writer remained revered, and if not published, still read. Liminality in the United States offers Edichka no advantage—here the poet is not revered, and even if writing in English, hardly read. He has lost his public and a source of admiration and sustenance for his self-image. To those losses, we can add Elena's rejection, financial impoverishment, and with a limited understanding of English, the virtual loss of speech. Unlike his compatriots in The Burn and Moscow-Petushki, who abuse alcohol to obliterate Soviet reality, Edichka now shuns American culture—yet another unbearable reality—in his own way. On many occasions he too drinks to oblivion, but his primary defense and refuge from abject physical and emotional exile (emigration and his wife's betrayal) is actually another form of exile. That is the psychic isolation of pathological narcissism.15

Narcissistic Rage

Edichka prefers exemption from a society he finds intellectually and ethically «bankrupt». He distances himself from most Soviet émigrés because he considers them all passive and subservient. He identifies with the alienated and disenfranchised (and invests them with laudable qualities simply by virtue of their status as «victims»).16 However, he continually seeks involvement, even in the most peripheral way, with the source of his greatest insult—his ex-wife Elena. Edichka chronicles the numerous disappointments of émigré life, but by his own admission, nothing was as devastating as Elena's betrayal: «someone else's cock destroyed my «I can do anything!» I was powerless against the loss of love, and chaos» (119/125). There can be no doubt that this event was responsible for destabilizing the narrator's narcissism in equilibrium, a condition that Kohut refers to as «narcissistic rage».

Kohut describes narcissistic rage as the «fight component of the fight-flight reaction with which biological organisms respond to attack… the narcissistically vulnerable individual responds to actual (or anticipated) narcissistic injury either with shamefaced withdrawal (flight) or with narcissistic rage (fight)» («Thoughts on Narcissism and Narcissistic Rage» 636-37). Edichka's willingness to accept any humiliation to keep Elena from leaving strikes the reader as anything but aggressive, but we must recall that while he suffered the indignity of his wife's blatant adultery, Edichka contemplated simultaneously both her rape and murder. The narrator's obsessive behavior even after Elena's departure corresponds to Kohut's characterization of narcissistic rage: «the need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means, and a deeply anchored, unrelenting compulsion in the pursuit of all these aims, which gives no rest to those who have suffered a narcissistic injury» (637-38).

Certainly Edichka's purchase of handcuffs (that turn out to be a toy) and preparation of a rope for the rape/murder, along with an attempt to strangle Elena (to which he alludes now and then in the narrative) or to set fire to the apartment building of Elena's lesbian lover Suzanna, exhaust the narrator's truly violent or potentially violent responses to his wife's injustice.17 His subsequent reactions are less life-threatening and vengeful, but reflect a similar degree of compulsion that diminishes only a little over the time span of the novel (approximately six months). We are told of the exhibit of Elena's personal effects, «Memorial to Saint Elena», which Edichka organizes in his room and to which he invites compassionate friends. Edichka feels compelled to visit the apartment of Elena's artist lover in order to find proof of the latter's superficiality and the shallowness of his art. Even in the last chapter «The New Elena», after Edichka has apparently resigned himself to their separation, he steals a glance at her diary. He still searches for the answer to his «why»—why Elena has rejected him.

A further manifestation of Edichka's obsession with the «narcissistic injury» and his desire for vengeance is his need to find Elena changed and damaged—a traitor to her art. In Edichka's opinion, she has no talent for modeling. Even though Elena was considered a poet in Moscow, her writing in her diary he describes as murky, incoherent, and egotistical. He alludes to her philistine origin: «a silly stringy child from Moscow's privileged Frunze Embankment» (121/127), which accounts for her behavior: «Physical, material life, that was the only thing she understood. She didn't give a damn about the values of civilization, history, religion, morals. She hardly knew of them» (131-32/137). Edichka implies that everything that was extraordinary about Elena was merely a function of her relationship with him.18 Edichka comes to the realization that the «Americanized» Elena does not deserve his love, and that, in fact, no woman is worthy of a man's adoration.

Despite Edichka's conviction that he is innately homosexual,19 he describes his newly realized preference for men over women as a means to escape further exploitation: «They're panhandlers and parasites by nature, in everything from intimate relations to the economics of the normal joint household in society. I can't live with them anymore. The main thing is, I can't service them—take the intitiative, make the first move. What I need now is someone to service me—caress, kiss, want me—rather than wanting and being ingratiating myself. Only from men can I get all this» (44/49). His subsequent relationships with women seem to be motivated by a desire to avenge himself—they are often mildly sadistic. Edichka derives pleasure from shocking the plebian Sonia when he flaunts his continued «friendship» with his wife's lovers (male and female) and his own homosexual adventures. His exploitation of her sexual inhibitions are torturous. Edichka humiliates the «schiz» Roseanne by seducing her friend in full view of the other guests at Roseanne's Independence Day party.20 Later he states that by exciting Roseanne sexually, with no desire on his part, he is actually rejecting her. He labels their intercourse «a most perfect wrong thing» (совершенейшее не то).

Whether the reader abides by a Freudian interpretation of narcissism or not, Edichka's sexual relationships after his wife's rejection impress even the most tolerant reader as somehow pathological. In fact, they account for a large proportion of the inappropriateness (aberrance) of this discourse. In the Freudian sense, these encounters are «objectless»—the narrator's lovers exist for him not as individuals, but as reflections of his wounded psyche or as conduits or targets for his rage. Yet Edichka's psychic isolation and seeming misogyny are intermittently undermined by anironic moments. Shopping with Roseanne for her Independence Day party or strolling after dinner with Sonia, Edichka feels privileged and grateful to these women for a few moments of tranquility and community. Edichka occasionally overcomes his rage, and then he reveals an almost naive trust in the power of human connectedness.

Edichka's other relationships are marked by the same ambivalence. He rejects the Soviet émigré community: «I had not turned to the Russians because they had nothing to give me… I knew the Russians in minute detail and was repelled by their inadequacy here… I did not want to submit to the unjust system of this world. But the Russians almost all submitted, they accepted this world order» (86/92). As for the Americans, he despises their «immoral» society: «I scorn you. Not all of you, but many. Because you lead dull lives, sell yourselves into the slavery of work, because of your vulgar plaid pants, because you make money and have never seen the world. You're shit!» (5/9). Although such a tenor pervades the novel, Edichka contradicts every one of these sentiments. He meets Carol in March, at a time when he is obsessed with Elena's unfaithfulness. At work as a busboy at the Hilton, Edichka, at the thought of Elena, would become distracted and almost physically ill. Nevertheless, he is very soon attracted to this «revolutionary»: «I had some sexual hopes for Carol, as for every person at that time. Despite her sex, I found her agreeable for some reason» (96/102). Even though Carol does not encourage Edichka's interest, within a matter of hours, he comes to view her as his future lover: «I was already thinking of her as my beloved; such is my nature… I had even thought how I would dress her—and now this» (97/103). Edichka affirms his need for social intercourse of any kind: «What I want is to live with Chris and have Carol there too, and others as well, all together. And I want the free and equal people living with me to love me and caress me; I wouldn't be so terribly lonely, a lonely animal» (101/106). And later: «I rarely get invited anywhere, but I so love company» (103/109). Edichka admits at one point that his animosity toward society, both Soviet and American, does not result from what is inherent in the systems; it is a reaction against their rejection of him: «I deduced my love for world revolution naturally from my own personal tragedy—a tragedy in which both countries were involved, both the USSR and America, in which civilization was to blame. This civilization did not acknowledge me, it ignored my labor, it denied me my legitimate place in the sun, it destroyed my love..». (93/99). That Edichka displays pathological narcissistic traits cannot be denied, but we must also recognize the ambivalence of this often utterly isolated and inwardly focused subject. The narrator's voice is genuinely liminal, balancing on the border between cynical disengagement and resurgent aspirations.

Although Edichka generally shuns «civilized» society, he remains preoccupied with his former milieu. His grief is generally expressed in terms of indignation. He rarely finds himself at fault—the guilty are those who have rejected him. At the center of the circle of blame stands Elena. She is the source of Edichka's most serious psychic injury and the catalyst to his rage. But Edichka generalizes beyond the major players (Elena and her lovers, the Editor of Русское дело [in actuality, the New York Russian daily New Russian Word] who has offended him, etc.) to women in general, corruptive American society, and finally, simply, boors (серые) and philistines (обыватели)—those who do not share Edichka's «philosophy» of life.21 And Edichka not only lays the blame; he punishes as well. To a certain extent the reader, whether American or Russian, has colluded with the systems that have persecuted the poet and corrupted Elena. Edichka seeks not only to inform and explain, but also to avenge. His contempt for the conventions of acceptable discourse, and especially of acceptable literature, at the very least disquiets. More often it offends.

Edichka has his way with discourse, but not primarily in order to create new meanings or modes of perceiving, as we find in the other aberrant discourses. Edichka is still in the destructive mode, decimating received methods of symbolization. In this way, This is Me, Eddie is a more primitive or ground-breaking work, a prelude to the possibilities of aberrant discourse.

Edichka's «Bad Writing»22

Incredibly perhaps, in comparison to the other aberrant discourses we are considering, It's Me, Eddie is more conventional than not. Limonov's prose, lucid and mimetic, does not deviate from the expected with respect to the «realistic» representation of empirical reality (its ideational component) or its coherence (its status as a text). Although we will deal with the most aberrant discourse last—that of School for Fools—we have already examined representations of alcoholic delirium and other flights of fancy that challenge to a greater extent the ability of discourse to communicate. We cannot «fault» Limonov's novel as incoherent or even as illogical—the fictional world of It's Me, Eddie reflects a marginal realm of experience that remains entirely possible. The novel disturbs in a most straightforward fashion. Limonov, through Edichka, assaults the basic conventions of literary discourse, which in Russian, reflect a much more «traditional» culture than in the West. Thus, despite the novel's realism and lucidity, the reading public, and in particular less sophisticated readers, might adjudge Limonov's work the most «deviant». It is, after all, the interpersonal component of discourse that reflects most directly the pragmatic variables of human communication. Illogical and incoherent discourse tends to confound—it often simply fails and no communication is achieved (hence the inaccessibility for many of such novels as The Burn and School for Fools). Except for the Russian reader who might have difficulty with the numerous English barbarisms, It's Me, Eddie requires no other linguistic «decoding». Rather, the explicit message incites the reader to various emotions—offense, embarrassment, anger, etc. Although it may be argued that Limonov's aberrant discourse is too «cheap» or crude, the author displays considerable imagination when assaulting the conventions of discourse. The novel is a veritable «primer» of gaffes on the interpersonal level of discourse. As easy as it may be to transgress the rules of polite literary discourse, Limonov exhibits in this a particular mastery and effectiveness.

The Obscene

In the course of the preceding explication of It's Me, Eddie, we have had cause to mention, if not demonstrate, some of the improprieties of Limonov's text, with respect to both representation and expression. Most conspicuous in this regard are scenes of unrivaled sexual explicitness and a discourse laden with obscenities (мат). Edichka recounts the physiological intricacies of more or less imaginative sex acts—between himself and Elena, with other lovers (male and female), and between (or among) Elena and her lovers (male and female). Prohibitions against sex and «bad» language survived the secularization of Russian literature, and although nineteenth-century prudery gave way to cautious forays into this territory in the modernist period, they were eventually cut short by the conservative forces of socialist realism.23 Even in the unofficial press, it was not the custom. Pornography, until very recently, was a rare find. Although many of the post-Stalinist writers advocated a more natural approach to the depiction of sex in literature (Aksyonov is always mentioned among these), their efforts pale, at least in terms of detail, in comparison to It's Me, Eddie.24 When it comes to the use, in literature, of obscene words and phrases, It's Me, Eddie is even more extraordinary. The novel does not represent a later development in post-Stalinist literature (as may be the case with the novel's sexually explicit scenes). Here Limonov is in Russian literature's uncharted territory.25 The impetus to portray what is «natural», as concerns lexical vulgarities related to sex, did not inform post-Stalinist experimentation. For one thing, even outside literature, billingsgate in general is a less common phenomenon among educated Russians. Women rarely speak thus, even during adolescence when it would be most expected. Despite the greater possibilities in the highly inflected Russian language for «creative» derivations on the most popular expletive among those related to sex, such a register, among the educated, is less socially acceptable. Within limits, the faithful depiction of human sexuality could be interpreted as an attack on provincialism or prudishness in Russian literature. But in terms of both histoire (narrative as story) and récit (narrative as discourse), Edichka goes too far.

In It's Me, Eddie, the narrator is not intent on testing the boundaries of (Russian) literature. This neo-Formalist concern characterized Limonov's—thus, no doubt Edichka's—poetry before emigration.26 Edichka seeks not to revolutionize literature, but to abolish it (a post-modern undertaking that Edichka's aberrant discourse serves only equivocally). Edichka betrays the trust between reader and narrator—their interpersonal relationship—just as he himself has been betrayed. He deprives his art from providing either aesthetic pleasure (dulce) or, in any customary way, edification (utile). Edicha's (Limonov's) love scenes are not liberating, but in the most fundamental sense, illicit. The «shock factor» results not so much from the depiction of homosexual intercourse (theoretically, this would be enlightened), but from the transgression of other «laws». Edichka's indelicate treatment of human sexual behavior qualifies as inappropriate even in Western literature. But what is more, these scenes offend because they are exploitive and exhibitionist. These encounters often occur in public places—Edichka with Chris in the sandlot, with Johnny in the hallway, with Sonia on a New York street, with Lily at the Independence Day party. Edichka encourages and even forces onto liminal locales the most private of human behaviors. The impetus to these actions, it would seem, is rarely sexual. The narrator's liasons with street people (perhaps criminals) of the same sex but of a different race constitute an anarchic, liminal, sign-breaking and (new) signmaking activity. Despite the occasional nurturing they provide him, Edichka exploits his lovers in order, actually, to reject the social order and those who represent it.27 By breaking the «ground rules» of the most intimate of human relationships, he repudiates, symbolically, all human structures or signs.

We have observed that in comparison to the other aberrant discourses under study, Limonov's is the more initiatory. Edichka rejects reality as given and seeks to destroy the established order and accepted signs. He does not, as do the narrators of the other works, conceive novel cosmologies—his suggestions for a new world order, including the relationship between the sexes (as discussed in n. 21) have all been heard before. Nor does Edichka experiment (as do the narrators of The Burn and School for Fools) with the linguistic systems that provide textual coherence. That is, with one possible exception. Although Edichka seems to be devoted here to destroying the aesthetic text, he displays some creativity in the production and employment of Russian obscenities. Edichka avails himself of the greater inflectional potential of Russian to create, at times, a complex tapestry of the grivois (гривуазное). Because of the predominantly interpersonal (expressive, rather than experiential) nature of obscene cursing, these derivations cannot be classified with the verbal inventions of Aksyonov's or Sokolov's novels. They do not serve the ideational metafunction of language to create new meanings. They subvert. Their purpose is to reject, denounce, destroy—even if in an idiosyncratic (and creative) fashion. Edichka considers one of his «exhortations» particularly suitable: «Иди ты на хуй!» (fuck off). This expletive conveys the ostensibly venemous tone of the narrative. Yet, just as Edichka's recurrent declarations of the power of love defy his impulse toward cynicism, so even his scurrilousness carries ambivalent meanings. Edichka's favorite variant of his most common expletive, which in Russian makes mention of the male sex organ, emphasizes the association between his discourse and the liminal expressions Bakhtin referred to as billingsgate and the language of the marketplace.28

Bakhtin dealt with the more strictly scatological discourse of Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel, noting its ambivalent nature:

This gesture [slinging of excrement and drenching in urine] and the words that accompany it are based on a literal debasement in terms of the topography of the body, that is, a reference to the bodily lower stratum, the zone of the genital organs. This signifies destruction, a grave for the one who is debased. But such debasing is not only a bodily grave but also the area of the genital organs, the fertilizing and generating stratum. Therefore, in the images of urine and excrement is preserved the essential link with birth, fertility, renewal, welfare. (Rabelais and His World 148)

The native speaker of Russian might find it difficult to acknowledge the life-affirming power of obscenities.29 As Boris Uspenskii explains, in East Slavic culture such expressions are associated with the pagan, and are therefore anti-Christian. He cites numerous sources that claim that «shameful speech» is heathen, satanic, or an insult against the Mother of God, one's own mother, and Mother Earth. This characteristically pagan triumverate of the «sacred» in these passages (the three mothers) indicates that although the pagan roots of Russian culture may have been forgotten, their influence on sign systems remains—Slavic Christians decried pagan obscenities as blasphemy against the pagan deities! In Slavonic paganism, as Uspenskii states, «the use of obscene language is represented in a wide variety of agricultural, nuptual, etc. rituals… that is, in ceremonies connected with fertility» («On the Origin of Russian Obscenities» 296). Although the regenerative power of obscenities may be sublimated or dormant in contemporary standard Russian, Edichka appears to have released it, or at least recognized its possiblity, in his irreverent liminal sign- and word-play.

It seems that Edichka senses intuitively the ambivalent nature of his obscenities. We should recall that although he admits he is psychologically impaired and that in the United States, he has taken to considerable cursing (Здесь я стал много ругаться), he finds nothing perverted in his language or his actions. For him, such behavior is subsumed within the realm of the natural. What he finds truly unnatural can be expressed in the most acceptable language. He singles out, for example, the common American expression «That's your problem» as conveying the ultimate in perversion and indecency—the American's way of avoiding contact with a human being in need. Edichka reminds us that the most «acceptable» locution can be far more deadly, life-negating, and «aberrant» than any obscenity.


Almost equally as offensive as the obscene words and deeds in It's Me, Eddie, at least to the Russian reader, are the copious barbarisms—lexical and syntactic borrowings from English. These have been classified according to one set of criteria in the appendices to Ann Shukman's article, cited above («Taboos, Splits, and Signifies»). What one finds in the novel, if we attempt an even simpler typology, is the transliteration of English words (which then may or may not be assimilated into the Russian grammatical system) or English syntactical constructions. Some of the many examples of the former category: тайп-рикордер (tape recorder), сейлсвумен (saleswoman), руммэйт (roommate), паблик лайбрери (public library), байсентениал селебрейшан (bicentennial celebration)—all unassimilated; or конгресс пульпы и пейпера (pulp and paper congress), в подъезд фешенебельного модэлэйженси (at the entrance to a fashionable model agency), минутный рис (minute rice)—grammatically assimilated. Some examples of syntactic barbarisms: я делаю деньги (I make money), английский класс (English class), взять собвей (take the subway). Occasionally, Edichka transliterates entire phrases of English and, in effect, constructs Americanisms that are both lexically and syntactically inappropriate: «тэйкит изи бэби» (take it easy, baby) or итис о кей (it is okay). In producing a hybrid text of this sort, Edichka fails to meet the stylistic norm of the Russian literary language. Furthermore, he addresses a limited audience of those Americans who know Russian, émigrés in America, or the relatively small number of Russian speakers «back home» who are well familiar with American culture. Edichka has rendered his exposé of the American émigré experience less accessible to those whom, in his own opinion, it might help most—citizens of the (former) Soviet Union who contemplate emigrating to the States. The «bilingualism» of It's Me, Eddie accounts in part for the novel's stylistic inappropriateness (as do the obscenities addressed above). Yet Edichka's «creolized» English bears significance for other issues as well.

In theory, Russian speech in emigration becomes ever more «liberated», gradually shedding the imprint of Soviet official language and bureaucratese. The «bastardization» of the Russian language by Soviet political and bureaucratic jargon was a by-product of the Revolution that was vehemently lamented by the post-revolutionary «first wave» of Russian émigrés. We have discussed, in the chapter on Moscow-Petushki, how Soviet official language actually even limits the language's ability to signify. However, as Limonov demonstrates, émigré Russian is in return assaulted and adulterated by another «foreign» element—contemporary American English.30

In the novel, Edichka mimics the émigrés' mélange of English and Russian. He draws attention to their hybrid speech in support of his argument that émigrés are no better off, no freer, in the United States. Just as it was in the Soviet Union, their discourse in the States is being dominated by those (words) in power. This is only one more way in which Edichka calls into question the émigré's loyalty to the new homeland (as we know, he rejects nationalism of any sort).

When relating his hotel manager Mrs. Rogoff's disapproval of his sandals and bare feet, Edichka preserves the émigrée woman's grammatical errors and mispronunciation: «Iu laik khippi. Rashen khippi» (8/12). The humor is not victimless. Ann Shukman points out that by faithfully mimicking barbarisms and mispronunciations, Edichka mocks not only the characters but also the Russian émigré («Taboos, Splits, and Signifiers» 10). He mocks himself as well—he is equally honest, and critical, in conveying his own flawed speech, or that of his beloved Elena.

It is interesting, however, that despite Edichka's strong anti-American sentiments, he is curiously lenient when it comes to atrocities committed by Americans against the Russian language. Only once does Edichka take offence—when Roseanne, at an intimate moment, stresses the verb «came» (кончил) on the second syllable rather than the first. Otherwise he depicts his American friends, whether quoted directly or projected through Edichka's voice, as speaking virtually flawless colloquial Russian.

With his barbarisms, Edichka wreaks havoc on the Russian language. But at the same time, he ridicules himself and other émigrés for violating English. In this we can find evidence of further ambivalence in Edichka's relationship to his new world—and his new word. While Edichka is repulsed by the American expression «That's your problem», he relates to the English language itself with relative respect. He is, after all, a poet. Edichka grants that his émigré friend «John» (Ivan) is enviably fluent in English, but he privately scorns John's frequent errors in grammar and pronunciation. Edichka is determined to master English and studies diligently. In the midst of his misery, he gets some degree of enjoyment from his English class. Edichka may employ barbarisms to do violence to the Russian literary language or to humiliate the Russian émigré, but he also appreciates these new words and phrases as the most effective means to represent his American experience. He may even delight in them and wish simply to «exhibit» his new medium.

Desecrating the «Sacred»

Thus far we have focused primarily on Edichka's «bad writing» in terms of inappropriate expressions. However, it became apparent, in our discussion of the obscene in This is Me, Eddie, that the narrator violated norms not only in the way he spoke, but also with respect to the subject of his discourse. Even if Edichka had employed clinical terminology rather than vulgarities, his «naturalism» in depicting human sexuality would still be deemed inappropriate to the literary language. Edichka's discourse proves inappropriate, and therefore aberrant, in yet another category. There are some topics that he treats that are not, like «unnatural» sex acts, inherently taboo, and he discusses them in a discourse that is not, as with obscenities or barbarisms, inherently inappropriate. Edichka's discourse at times proves deviant because it relates inappropriately to the topic of discourse. The situations most often concern subjects that have taken on, for a certain population, what Mircea Eliade terms «cryptoreligious» significance (see chapter 3). That is, (again in Eliade's terminology), aspects of profane (as opposed to sacred) experience become sacrilized. When Edichka relates in a profane manner to the cryptoreligious in Soviet-émigré or Western society, he desecrates the «sacred». This constitutes another form of aberrant discourse.

As mentioned earlier, Edichka holds the spiritual leaders of the dissident movement of the sixties and seventies, Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, personally responsible for misrepresenting the Western world, in particular the United States. Their motivation—pride and an interest in self-promotion. He (as did Limonov) expresses these convictions in print in an open letter entitled «Disappointment», published in the émigré as well as the Soviet press. As is the case with Edichka's more obvious «obscenities», he commits a more serious transgression when he not only speaks the unspeakable, but prints it and disseminates it. It amounts to heresy to accuse Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn—secular saints among freedom-loving peoples—of willful deception. As we might expect, Edichka does not stop at a printable editorial. He denigrates Solzhenitsyn with the obscene as well. Edichka recounts (with a good many obscene expressions to boot) how he and Elena had intercourse while watching Solzhenitsyn speak on television: «We fucked during Solzhenitsyn, of course, out of sheer mischief» (153/157). Edichka knows what he is about, that his «sacrilege» offends most émigré or some American readers as much as, if not more than, the most vulgar of obscenities.

On account of the quantity and nature of Edichka's obscene subject matter and expressions, It's Me, Eddie fails interpersonally for all «civilized» readers. However, we have seen that the narrator singles out segments of his audience for more specialized «mistreatment». Edichka depicts the Soviet émigré community as monolithically passive, politically naive, and at least linguistically, if not otherwise, incompetent. He denies them the empathy he would appropriately feel for his «own». Edichka exhibits more tolerance for his American subjects in their efforts to master his own native tongue, but he otherwise shows little respect for his «hosts» and «saviors»—as the American public is often idealized in the immigrant or would-be immigrant mentality. Early in the novel, when he is in fact most hostile, Edichka addresses his American reader and flaunts his ingratitude:

I am on welfare. I live at your expense, you pay taxes and I don't do a fucking thing… I don't plan to look for work, I want to receive your money to the end of my days… I wince at your belly laugh in the movie theater and wrinkle my nose. You don't like me? You don't want to pay?.. Then why did you invite me, entice me here from Russia, along with a horde of Jews? Present your complaints to your own propaganda, it's too effective. That's what's emptying your pockets, not I. (4-5/8-9)

The narrator's remarks strike the reader as all the more impudent and insulting because they are conveyed in direct discourse. Some of Edichka's subsequent comments work to offset this hostility (e.g., that he too yearns sometimes for the «slavery» of the American dream—a white house under the trees, a clean little smiling American wife…), but only temporarily. He eventually returns, as he does in the final pages of the narrative, to his original obscene belligerance: ««Fuck you, cocksucking bastards! You can all go straight to hell!» I whispered» (264/281). Edichka has come to lower his voice, but he has not made his peace with America.

It's Me, Eddie might be compared with an example from film of a more comic and less brutal, although equally rare, «true story» of the Soviet émigré's plight. In Paul Mazursky's Moscow on the Hudson, the hero Volodia loses his émigrée lover to her dream of a «successful American». He then loses his family, symbolically, in the death of his grandfather (his kindred spirit). Finally, at the nadir of his despair, Volodia is mugged by a pair of young hoodlums. While being attacked, he yells out, «I am a Russian». Like Edichka, he later proclaims his anguish even more publicly—in a New York diner. Volodia meets with no sympathy. One customer; it turns out, another Soviet émigré, suggests that he return to Russia to stand in line for stale bread. The scene ends with all the customers, all immigrants from various countries, taking turns reciting excerpts from the «Declaration of Independence». They stop at the right to happiness. The waitress repeats «happiness» and makes of it a refrain. However, as in It's Me, Eddie, the film refuses to buy completely into the stereotype. Although Volodia wins back his love, the final message of the film is that the right to pursue happiness does not ensure its attainment. Volodia's final comment on immigration is «It's a strange country». Although he is free to pursue his dream of becoming a successful jazz musician, we see Volodia in the final scene playing his saxophone for donations on a public square (an appropriately liminal locale!). In the most general terms, what distinguishes Mazursky's treatment of this theme from Limonov's is that the former depicts an honest, and therefore at times unflattering, view of the American-immigrant experience in an entirely acceptable fashion. Limonov delivers an irrational, therefore «inappropriate», response inappropriately.

Edichka responds inappropriately to his culture and to his present environment. As an immigrant, he is ungrateful. As a Russian or Soviet, he is disloyal to his fellow émigrés. He is also sacrilegious. In a scene that borders on parody, the drunken Edichka comes to in a New York temple. He confesses that he used to swoon at the sight of his father's pistol; then describes how he shocked those sitting by him by praying to a Solingen knife he had stuck into the footrest:

«I'm not planning to kill anyone, Mssrs. Jews or Catholics or Protestants, I'm just madly in love with weapons, and I have no temple of my own where I can pray to the Great Knife or the Great Revolver. No, so that's why I pray to him here», I thought. Then I went into a sort of delirium, several times tore the knife from the board and kissed it, then stuck it back into the footrest. (73/79)

We might overlook Edichka's attempt to goad a Freudian (and obscene) interpretation of his actions—all this swooning over his father's «weapon» and kissing of his own knife. On this basis alone, the passage can offend. Yet the imagery is so overdone that the effect is near comic mock-Freudian, and it demands our attention. Nonetheless, the anarchistic and sacrilegious import of the scene prevails. The reader empathizes with the appalled congregation. Into a sacrilized space of love, peace, and order, Edichka has brought an instrument of (at the very least) aggression, destruction, and chaos. His profanation of the truly sacred might constitute for some his greatest «sin».


As we have observed, Edichka violates the norms of representation and expression. He admits the obscene, and even acceptable subject matter he addresses obscenely. He deforms the literary language with billingsgate and barbarisms. In the spirit of the Russian Futurists, he encourages épatage, directed against Americans and, in his opinion, gullible (neo-bourgeois) Soviet émigrés. The text, although lucid and logical, deviates intentionally from the interpersonal conventions of discourse. Edichka intends, whether through inappropriate word or attitude, to alienate at some point every possible reader. The ending of the novel, which mirrors the beginning, finds Edichka sitting on the balcony of this hotel room cursing all; that is, all «others». The final passages of the epilogue imply a post-modern eternal return—a despairing situation without hope of resolution. On the other hand, as was indicated above, there is ample evidence in the novel of Edichka's psychic healing and increasing desire to sympathize with his environment.

As mentioned previously, in the second half of the novel, Edichka makes peace with New York, and in the chapter «I Make Money», he describes the first job he manages to hold down in emigration—working for his friend's moving company.31 There is further evidence that despite all, Edichka has opted for life and «resurrection». When he meets the three-year-old daughter of a Bulgarian émigré, he is touched by her purity and tenderness. This is all the more significant since, as he admits, before his tragedy, he never noticed children. On more than one occasion, he laments not having a child to love and care for. Whether that child would be a product of his relationship with Elena or not, his desire to have a child signals his commitment to a life force perpetuated by human love.

Cited above were numerous examples of Edichka's ambivalence, his vacillation between love and rage, self-assurance and inferiority, compassion and intolerance, beauty and the beast. Yet the greatest proof that Edichka is moderating toward the end of the novel comes in statements he makes himself. Although we expect Edichka to subvert his own discourse as well, some of his comments impress as generally applicable and incontravertible. When he thinks that Johnny has arranged for him to be mugged, he quickly forgives the vagrant, explaining «I can't stay angry very long» (166/170). Within six months, Edichka has forgiven Elena also. We can expect in due time a general amnesty. In the last chapter Edichka says, in the same vein, «Love is above personal insult» (255/237). Even in the epilogue, where Edichka ponders joining a terrorist organization and ends his narrative muttering the typical abuses, he mourns his lost idyll of a home and family. Even though the narrator continually undermines his own expressions of forgiveness and pleas for redemptive love, we sense that Edichka is offering a way out of his cynical dead end. Edichka's anger is dissipating—in general he curses less as the narrative progresses, and he is beginning to live and love again. The epilogue, with its regressive vituperative tone, seems unnaturally appended to the novel. Edichka (or Limonov) was attempting to convey, through the narrative's architectonics, a post-modern futility. Yet Edichka's episodic, but ever stronger, professions of faith in love and forgiveness make of this seeming closed circle, in spatio-temporal terms, the spiral of the modern. Edichka is making slow but steady progress toward «spiraling out» of his cynicism. Also in the tradition of the modern, we do not know how or when Edichka will overcome his destructive impulses. What is important is that we know it is possible.

Although the overriding tone is offensive, It's Me, Eddie celebrates the human capacity for love, and over the course of six months to a year, Edichka is ready again to love and work. His goal is to destroy old sign systems—in a new order, love and art will flourish. The other novels suggest such new orders. Edichka serves a prefatory function. He attempts to bring down all idols, including the word. Love and «true» (Edichka's) art, indefatigible, survive and await a new «home».

Notes to Chapter 4

1 Edward Limonov, It's Me, Eddie (New York: Random House, 1983) is the English translation of Eduard Limonov's Это я—Эдичка (New York: Index Publishers, 1982), although it does not include the chapter «Леопольд Сенгор и Бенжамен» (Leopold Senghor and Benjamin). All citations from the novel will be followed by page-number references first to the English translation and then to the original. Where necessary, I have altered the translation or supplied my own. A more accurate translation of the title would be This is Me, Eddie, which does not imply, as the other translation does, a preceding inquiry of «Who is it?» and better presages the narrator's absorption with self.

2 Although all the aberrant discourses we are examining focus on their relationship to what is real, It's Me, Eddie does this to a different end than the other novels. In Limonov's novel, the identification of the narrator with the author functions as a traditional realistic device that contributes verisimilitude and authority. In the other novels, the implication of identity or close relationship between the narrator and the author (in School for Fools, between the narrator and the implied author) has the opposite effect. In these novels, the fantastic nature of the world as presented, which renders unreliable the claim to authenticity that the text's relationship with the author or author-persona suggests, foregrounds the inherent fictionality of the work of art (and by implication, perhaps, of the world as perceived). A near preoccupation with the process of artistic creation and its relation to «God's» creation has characterized literature of a modernist (or post-modernist) persuasion (cf. e.g., John Fletcher and Malcolm Bradbury, «The Introverted Novel»).

3 As might be expected, in the Soviet period, It's Me, Eddie was generally condemned as pornography by traditionalists in newspaper reviews—in the émigré press, e.g., in «Protest A. Glezera» (A. Glezer's Protest, Русская мысль) or in Moscow's Литературная газета (Pochivalov, «Человек на дне»). Nonetheless many critics recognized the significance of Limonov's novel (if from varying perspectives) quite early on. See Vail and Genis, «Литературные мечтания» (Literary Reveries); Gross, «Шрамы российского одиссея» (Scars of the Soviet Odyssey) and the series of articles devoted to the novel in Двадцать два, 8 (1979) and Ковчег, 5 (1980).

4 Alexander Zholkovsky sees in the characterization of Edichka as a megalomaniac with literary and political pretensions a farcical variant of the mythologeme in Russian literature of the «Poet/Tsar» («Графоманство как прием: Лебядкин, Хлебников, Лимонов и другие» 585).

5 Edichka and Limonov are one and the same for Kornilova, («Последний романтик Эдичка»), Voronel («Под сенью синтетического вибратора или «Таракан от детства'»), and Kron, («Про бабочку поэтиного сердца»). This identification is cautioned against in Binder («Крик одиночества») and Bokov («Нарцисс на асфальте Нью-Йорка»).

6 In «О нарцистическом тексте (диахрония и психоанализ)» (On the Narcissistic Text [Diachronism and Psychoanalysis]), Igor Smirnov states that narcissism in literature, which he characterizes (here and elsewhere) in both philosophical and psychoanalytical terminology, renders the text, in Bakhtinian terms, monologic (22). Such a conclusion follows from a purely Bakhtinian understanding (as opposed to some pronouncements of the Bakhtin circle in papers published by Voloshinov) of pathological «discourse» or psychopathology (see Gerald Pirog, «The Bakhtin Circle's Freud: From Positivism to Hermeneutics»). At issue is whether, as Smirnov claims, It's Me, Eddie is a valid example of a narcissistic literary text. In fact, Edichka's narcissism fluctuates from being in and out of equilibrium—the text is not consistently narcissistic. The narrator often refers to his «disease» and describes himself as «sick with love». He observes in the latter half of the novel, in the chapter «Roseanne», that his condition has improved, that he is now «wiser» and «more normal». Most revealing, he states: «[I] had recently been compelled to think so much—I knew that my whole life had been a search for love, at times an unconscious search, at times a conscious one» (177-78/180). In fact, much of Limonov's novel is the representation of that «thinking»—an internal dialogue that often resembles a psychoanalytic interview.

7 Limonov's work has been classified as post-modern by Smirnov (Limonov's is the narcissistic variant—the other being schizoid post-modernism, «Непознаваемый субъект» 135-37) and Matich («Unoffical Russian Fiction and Its Politics» 119), and Limonov himself concedes that if he must choose a label, he is a post-modernist. As concerns It's Me, Eddie at least, although one of Edichka's masks is certainly post-modern, a number of his words and deeds work against such an interpretation. This was noted also by Ann Shukman in her 1983 article, «Taboos, Splits, Signifiers: Limonov's Èto ya Èdichka», where she claimed that the post-modern had not yet appeared in general in Russian literature. Most significant, Edichka has faith in the redemptive power of love, and of the poetic word—a situation we will be investigating in more detail.

8 Edichka's interest in transgression and criminals is only one of the subtextual references to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Edichka comments, with reference to a potential homosexual encounter (a taboo act), that he was not able this time to «kill his old woman» (R209). During an attack of conscience over his humiliating treatment of the Jewish émigrée Sonia (who could be taken for a prostitute), Edichka reprimands himself—he is a disgusting, fastidious aesthete who, actually, should love and pity all who are unfortunate. Edichka undergoes no lasting transformation, but his faith in the necessity and power of love is genuine. He is not attempting to undermine or «deconstruct» Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky's work does not need Limonov to reveal its polymorphism). Despite Edichka's stated contempt for the «canon», his relationship to it is, in the spirit of the modern, ambivalent. He resents the literary establishment's rejection of his own work, but in times of despair, Edichka is comforted by verbal art (he quotes Pushkin, Vvedenskii, Blok, Esenin, Kuzmin, Eliot, Apollinaire).

9 Among other psychopathologies, psychological withdrawal or exemption from society also characterizes schizophrenia—a malady from which the narrator suffers in our final aberrant discourse, School for Fools. However, narcissism can be viewed as the ultimately liminal psychological disorder because it responds to the ontological question of the relationship between subject and object. The narcissist seemingly willfully chooses the «I» over the «other» or «you».

10 See Bokov, «Нарцисс на асфальте Нью-Йорка», Smirnov, «О нарцистическом тексте [диахрония и психоанализ]», Shukman, «Taboos, Splits, and Signifiers: Limonov's Èto ya—Èdichka», Matich, «The Moral Immoralist», and Zholkovsky, «Влюбленно-бледные нарциссы—о времени и о себе» (Love-Pale Narcissuses—on Time and Themselves).

11 Kohut describes a condition where the individual, while extraordinarily receptive to the environment, is capable at the same time of disregarding external reality—the object. This condition characterizes the creative experience, childhood, and particular psychopathologies (schizophrenia and narcissism). We might add to these exempt states the chemical alteration of consciousness (e.g., with alcohol). It is worth noting that the aberrant discourses under study all emanate from one or more of these liminal situations. All the novels exemplify, and often even discuss, the role of literature in sign production, in creating novel combinations of signifier and signified. In addition, the narrators all abide in «time out», whether under the influence of alcohol or suffering a form of psychological regression.

12 Limonov has acknowledged the influence of the Futurist Khlebnikov's poetry on his own (see «Несколько мыслей по поводу Хлебникова»). And in general, Limonov's poetry resonates with Futurist attempts to reflect the reality of spoken Russian while experimenting with various aspects of the linguistic code. Specific intertextual ties have been cited (among others) between the novel and Mayakovsky's «Cloud in Trousers» (Облако в штанах) and «The Backbone Flute» (Флейта позвоночник) (Matich, «The Moral Immoralist» 535). Edichka seems equally preoccupied with the Futurist pose, perfected in Mayakovsky, of the brash Soviet hero who is eventually betrayed, if in Edichka's own émigré redaction. Arvid Kron parallels the personas and fates of the these two poets with reference to Mayakovsky's poem «Take That» (Нате). As one of the epigraphs to his article, he cites two stanzas from the poem: «All of you, with boots or without, have trampled the butterfly (бабочка) of a poet's heart» («Про бабочку поэтиного сердца» 89). Mayakovsky's poetization of his own vulnerability appears, slightly amended, as the subtitle of this chapter. Surely Edichka shares with Mayakovsky that fragile, fluttering, poet's heart. But by his own admission, he lacks the rugged masculinity that counterpointed Mayakovsky's poetic sensibility. Edichka claims to be ruled by his feminine instincts—he is, no offense intended, the «babochka» (etymologically, «little woman») incarnate. Edichka's attitude toward Mayakovsky exemplifies his ambivalent (and antipost-modern) attitudes. He admires Mayakovsky as a provocateur, assaulting the literary canon. But with his emulation of Mayakovsky and of Futurist works and his penchant for intertextual allusions, Edichka no longer rejects, but actually pays homage to the Russian classics.

13 The symptoms of what we may term, in Edichka's case, a «syndrome» of adolescent liminality, criminality, creativity, and narcissism are interrelated linguistically in Russian by words and phrases (some noted here) based on переступить (to step/cross over) and преступник (criminal), and преступление (crime). Since Dostoevsky's time, lexical «play» on these terms in Russian literature always signals a subtextual tie to Crime and Punishment (see n. 8).

14 Nonetheless, Igor Smirnov finds proof of the failed symbiosis of mother and child in Edichka's fear of being separated from women and his desire that they should nurture («mother») him («О нарцистическом тексте» 35).

15 Edichka's binges are narrated and not dramatized, which is one reason why we do not encounter alcoholic halucination or delirium. On the other hand, we should not underestimate the narrator's avowed capacity for alcohol, which could provide for his continued relative lucidity.

16 Edichka's inability to distinguish between the narrating subject and the narrated object can account also for his generalizations of the object—he admits no distinction between the Soviet Union and the United States, the KGB and the CIA, or one Soviet émigré and another (Smirnov, «О нарцистическом тексте» 29) (see n. 11).

17 This is not the first time Edichka has reacted violently to a lover's betrayal (a narcissistic injury). He recounts that as an adolescent, he beat his girlfriend Sveta for dancing with someone else, and on another occasion, slashed her with a knife. He refers to his affair with Sveta as «a rehearsal for Elena» (репетиция Елены).

18 Edichka not only «identifies» with Lena's better art (what she wrote before abandoning him), but describes her physically as almost a clone of himself. Like Edichka, she has a boyish body—lanky and flat-chested. He refers to her as «my sister», «my little sister» (36/41). Edichka considers his wife virtually a part of himself. This may be further evidence of the Freudian theory of narcissism (see n. 9)—Edichka's attachment may be a manifestation of his own self-love.

19 Freud suggested an association between narcissism and homosexuality, if in the context of the outmoded diagnosis of homosexuality as a psychological aberration («On Narcissism: An Introduction» 4).

20 Edichka provides an interpretation of the slang term «schiz» (шиз) that echoes a notion, familiar since the Greeks, that is pursued, for example, by Freud, Lillian Feder (in Madness in Literature; see chap. 1, p. 19), and Foucault (in Madness and Civilization, 125-126). They all hold that some types of psychopathology are associated with creativity in its broadest sense; that is, as sign-producing (liminal) activity. Edichka states: «I was raised in the cult of madness. «Schiz», abbreviated from schizophrenia, was the name we gave eccentrics, and it was considered praise, the highest rating a person could have… To say that a man was normal was to insult him… How did the surrealist cult of madness come to us, the boys and girls of the Russian provinces? Via art, of course» (171/175).

21 Edichka never presents a cohesive philosophy of social organization. However, he labels his sporadic proposals «crazy». He considers highly «radical» such ideas as the social and biological integration of all races to put an end to nationalism, true economic equality for all (accompanied by the abolition of the relationship between work and money), or his justification of violent actions on the part of exploited minorities. These hardly constitute outrageous convictions and cannot be included, despite Edichka's own opinion, among his taboo-breaking pronouncements.

22 The notion of «bad writing» or mauvism as it was applied to writers such as Aksyonov and Kataev we might employ also to characterize Edichka's discourse. The works of the Soviet mauvists of the sixties flouted some of the prescriptions of socialist realism. Their experimentations with form, fantasy, and the grotesque produced a literature of the periphery, not easily accessible to the masses, but not (apparently) so politically suspect that they would be denied publication. Relieved of the threat of political censorship, Edichka must go to greater extremes to protest the ills of both Soviet and American societies. He takes on the persona, even moreso than did the Soviet mauvists, of the (Futurist) «bad boy», whose «bad» writing will offend even in the West. (Limonov came up against censorship nonetheless. American publishers found his norm-breaking discourse commercially risky, and the author was compelled to pursue greater possibilities for publication in France.)

23 Nineteenth-century Russian literature includes nonetheless a rich heritage of ribald works written by the most illustrious poets «for the drawer» (e.g., Pushkin's «Gavriliada» and «Tsar Nikita and His Forty Daughters» or Lermontov's «Cadet Poems»). However, sex was customarily treated, even in these works, by skillful innuendo. By the modern pre-Soviet period, taboo themes were addressed more openly, although they remained outside the canon, e.g., Kuzmin (the idol of Edichka's adolescence) gave poetic expression to homosexuality.

24 Although greater «openness» in the literary treatment of sexuality helped to define the post-Stalin, but pre-glasnost, period, the most daring of these works (obviously The Burn and It's Me, Eddie, but also, for example, Yurii Mamleev's stories of violence and sexual eccentricities and various works in Kuzminskii's infamous collection The Blue Lagoon) remained publishable only in the West or samizdat.

25 Before the fall of the Soviet Union, other contemporary writers who achieved instant notoriety for their obscene discourse were published only in the West. For example, in «Nikolai Nikolaevich», Yuz Aleshkovskii presented an even stronger facsimile of labor-camp idiom than was introduced into Russian literature by Solzhenitsyn in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962). Various writers who expressed candid sexuality contributed their works to private publishing endeavors such as Metropol and The Blue Lagoon. As an act of independence in the post-Soviet period, there has been a rush to publish that which can offend. The likes of Vladimir Sorokin and Igor Yarkevich now at least vie with Limonov in the area of inappropriateness.

26 «Thus Khlebnikov represents a part, if not the height, of a total cultural upheaval—a breaking out of the canon and surfacing of the «bad,» troublesome, disloyal, disorganized, and destabilizing word of a persona (персонаж). In poetry, akin to Khlebnikov and continuing his work are Mayakovsky and in part Esenin (hooligans), Zabolotskii and the members of Oberiu (absurdists), Limonov (nedouchka and narcissist)» (Zholkovsky, «Графоманство как прием: Лебядкин, Хлебников и другие» 579).

27 Ann Shukman has taken a more tolerant view of Edichka's relationships, describing them as conveying the novel's «curious innocence» («Taboos, Splits, and Signifiers» 2). Certainly there is no sexual violence. However, although Edichka's sexual acts are often playful, and occasionally poignant, he is motivated primarily by vengeance—as he admits, he wants to «use» as he feels he himself has been used. Edichka's relationships are characterized by an admixture of tenderness and exploitation, which corresponds to his own innate ambivalence.

28 American experience in the sixties and early seventies attests to the connection between billingsgate and liminality. The American counter-culture shared Edichka's favored expletive.

29 Nonetheless, Edward Brown recognized the significance of Edichka's favorite «family» of obscenities, and draws attention to its progenerative power in his selection of a euphemism: «The linguistic pivot upon which the action of Limonov's novel turns is a seemingly endless inflection of the vulgar word for the male organ of generation [italics mine—C.S.] (khuj of course)» («Russian Literature beyond the Pale» 382).

30 In «Unofficial Russian Fiction and Its Politics», Olga Matich recognized the consequent «contamination» of the Russian language in the «free world»: «It is, in fact, ironic that the de-Sovietization of Russian seems to be associated with its deformation in a foreign environment» (120).

31 Although Edichka takes offence early on in the novel at being expected to engage in menial labor (черная работа), he expresses moral outrage at the fact that Elena, Kiril, and his crazy émigré friend Sasha Zhigulin try to avoid working—Edichka prides himself on being a good worker, in and out of bed.

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