Pure Negation

Gregory Afinogenov in The Nation (illustration by Lily Qian):

As the Soviet Union was collapsing in 1991, the emerging Russian writer Vladimir Sorokin attended a literary conference in Munich. At the conference dinner, he raised a toast to Stalin—not as the victor of World War II or the hero of Soviet industrialization, but as “the creator of the repressive mechanism thanks to which I was able to succeed as a writer.”

Sorokin has always been the consummate troll, and it would be easy to write this episode off as an attempt to tweak the sensibilities of his Western colleagues. Yet in this case he was quite sincere. The regime he loathed had provided him a framework within which to operate, a system of tropes and signifiers he’d made it his mission to subvert. His reputation as an author—already considerable in avant-garde circles, though not yet the massive literary celebrity he would come to enjoy—rested on his mastery of Soviet ideological language but also the ruthlessness with which he undermined it. Their Four Hearts, written in 1991 and now released in Max Lawton’s lively translation by Dalkey Archive Press, represents the culmination of this literary project.

More here.