Conspiratorial Realism: On Vladimir Sorokin, Victor Pelevin, and Russia’s Post-Postmodern Turn


Maya Vinokour in the LA Review of Books:

NEARLY 30 YEARS after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian writers continue to channel the “Red Century” into vicious satire, bizarre fantasy, and dark prophecy. Just in time for the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution, two major post-Soviet authors — Vladimir Sorokin and Victor Pelevin — have come out with new novels: Manaraga (Sorokin) and The Lamp of Methuselah, or the Cheka’s Final Battle with the Freemasons (Pelevin). Although both novels exhibit the postmodern stylistic flourishes that made their authors famous, they temper the skepticism toward metanarratives that is one of postmodernism’s defining features. Indeed, both Sorokin and Pelevin embed their dystopian visions in that quintessential form of metanarrative: the conspiracy theory.

This post-postmodern turn in Russian fiction reflects recent cultural developments both inside and outside of Russia. Far from hastening the final collapse of narrative, social-media-fueled information overload and the discrediting of traditional sources of authority have given it new life. After decades of fragmentation, emotional detachment, and winking irony, conventional storytelling is back with a vengeance. It’s in your YouTube vlogs, inspiring you to follow the lives of internet strangers with earnest enthusiasm. It’s in your fiction, getting you to suspend your disbelief and feel something real for a change. And, of course, it’s in your politics, lurking behind every newly influential Breitbart headline.

In accordance with this trend, Sorokin and Pelevin center their novels on the life and death of all kinds of stories, from literary canons to state ideologies.

More here.