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Continuation of the big interview with transhumanist and romantic punk poet Alexander Delfinov. Methods of undermining the giant gut of authoritarianism, global apocalypse, inclusive migration, Russian and not so much literature – in the second part of the interview “Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow”’.

– Do you think literature can influence the political situation? Or, as one Belarusian poet said, “only the strength of the army matters”?

 – Here we should separate the spheres of activity. Of course, no poetry can be compared to the army neither in a good nor in a bad sense. Combat tasks are solved by combat means – what do poetry concerts have to do with it? We will not capture the Kremlin with our poetry, not poets, but “Jewish infantry” (as in one of my poems). 

But there is not only a theater of war – there is also a semantic field, a struggle for meanings. Art has the magical power of non-linear influence. And some people, despite their weaknesses, possible shortsightedness and even lack of sleep, understand everything correctly in practice. 

Alexander Delfinov, photo from the hero’s personal archive

One (but not the only and not the most important) of the tasks of poetry is to support spiritually, to be a glimmer of hope in a hopeless longing.

I know this. I remember, after the invasion began, I started to actively write anti-war counter-Russian poems (I had done it before, but not so placard-like and direct as since 2022) – then I unexpectedly received a lot of responses from Ukrainians. And more than from Russians. People said to me: “My mom was reading your poems to her friends in the Mykolayiv bomb shelter”. It’s like… I was in Mykolaiv during the Soviet era. I wrote a poem about Mykolaiv. But to write to me from Mykolaiv – I didn’t expect that. 

Such things, of course, do not leave you indifferent, and you reevaluate your actions, thinking: “Yeah. This is how it works, and I didn’t even know I was doing it!”

At the same time, poetry and literature should not be overestimated: today it is not as important a medium as it was 100 years ago. Today’s major figures in the cultural space are not poets, but rappers and singers engaged in a more mainstream art form.

And yet the people who come to my concert (even if it is 300, even 100, even 50 people) – they are here. They come, they listen, they read from other countries – and it works. And always unexpectedly. From some city where I’ve never been, suddenly I get a message: “Fifteen years ago I was given your book…” 

It works according to Kharms: “Life conquers death in a way unknown to science”. And while in reality death defeats life in a way known to science, I would say poetry can defeat depression and disillusionment. I guess science can deal with these phenomena – and it does know how to deal with them (especially depression, I’m not sure about disappointment). But poetry also has a method.

– How long will it last in Russia?

– First it is worth naming what we are dealing with. This is a violation of all laws and human rights, a war of aggression (which will probably escalate), the destruction of the ecology. This is a multi-level process. It operates both inside the territory called the Russian Federation and outside its borders. It is very likely that the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel on October 7 was coordinated by Russian intelligence services, among others. 

The regime, no matter how we stigmatise it, analyse it, or study its rotten essence, is resilient and demonstrates high organisational ability. It is capable of creating militaristic narratives that boggle the human brain. It has a war industry, can effectively suppress civil resistance with violence, and can overcome economic problems. One of the most important trends in liberal thought is in question: the concept of “with whom we trade, with whom we do not fight” no longer works.

This ideologised machine of violence is able to maintain power, stability, and use market mechanisms to fuel its destructive activities even in the face of economic sanctions and unfavourable conditions. And this is yet to be realised: we are facing a new reality that poses a threat to the free world and the world order in general. How long will this continue? Russia is not alone in blowing soot from the Kremlin stars – it is an axis joined by Iran with its farting Shaheds. They will destroy homes until someone makes it so they just don’t fly.

While we are sitting in Europe talking about the deconstruction of Moscovia, in Tatarstan Moscovia is constructing a factory of these farting Shaheds. And so far we seem to have no other effective methods to realise our ideas and stop the construction of the factory in Tatarstan, except for the drones of the AFU. So Putin’s order to attack Ukraine is part of a more global attempt to reorganise the world order in the interests of authoritarian regimes: theocratic authoritarian Iranian, post-communist Chinese formation…. Note that such structures gravitate towards each other.

Alexander Delfinov, photo from the hero’s personal archive

Although I cannot predict their fall, there is one important paradox: all authoritarian regimes are strong exactly until they fall. And the erosion can be rapid.

On the one hand, this terrible militaristic giant intestine stretching along the northern limits of Eurasia can for a long time exude poison and smoke for the whole world. On the other hand, it may suddenly burst and cease to exist. But we have to do something about it. What? Continue to analyse it, look for new allies and ways to undermine this intestine, rethink our activities, admit mistakes, remake, improve ourselves – and, in the end, there will be a synergy effect. I think there can be unexpected alliances between different camps and conglomerations that seemed unthinkable yesterday.

I think the free world is quite capable of responding. Putin hasn’t won anyone yet – but he hasn’t lost. In short, we just have to realise that f****d up is going global. Putinism threatens everyone anywhere in the world: behind its idea is a global attempt to reorganise the world, which requires a global response. Thus, I believe the right thing to do is to act locally and think globally.

 – How do you write in migration? And in general, is your poetry tied to a place, to familiar landscapes and motifs?

 – I’ve been living in Germany for almost a quarter of a century, and I don’t really understand what a familiar landscape is. For me, it’s a Berlin street. As one of the actual Russophone authors, I have already formed myself here. “Open Poetry Lab” also began in Germany. I realised that I was not a Russian or even a Russian poet long before all these events. Yes, although I write in Russian, culturally I am not Russian. I am a European, Berlin-based poet who writes in Russian. So for me the question of “how to write in migration” is something from the 20th century, when an emigrant found himself in a completely alien cultural environment. 

Today, thanks to the Internet, you can find an audience anywhere in the world. Diaspora as a closed bubble does not exist. Yes, fugitives from the Russian Empire in Germany lived in a bubble in the 20s of the last century: they published Russian-language newspapers, organised performances in the Russian-language theatre – but for Germans (and Europeans in general) this did not exist, emigrants were then for them some kind of undeserving beggars. Now there is mutual interest, and there are a lot of creative groups from various countries in Europe. In Berlin, for example, there is a great deal of institutional support for poets and writers in general – for example, a competitive scholarship for Berlin authors and authors writing in a foreign language. In general, Germany is very cool in terms of supporting non-commercial literature. 

In short, today the world is much more open to integration. And yes, the integration of the Russian-speaking poet Delfinov into German culture has not exactly taken place: there are problems. But nobody says that everything should be conflict-free and exclusively against the backdrop of unicorns pooping rainbows.

Alexander Delfinov, photo from the hero’s personal archive

I have never felt detached from my homeland. Or this “when will I see my native birches again” – what the f**k are birches? The birches are right there, growing not far away. Of course, I don’t exclude that “familiar landscapes” may be relevant for someone – but this person lives in the paradigm of the 20th century, not otherwise.

– Tell us about Berlin’s slam venues. How has the scene changed? 

– Over the last 10-15 years, the local slam scene has grown a lot and tends to transit towards standup. That is, today it’s still poetry slam, but some artists’ performances are indistinguishable from standup – by the way, many of those who made a name in poetry slam became famous German stand-up comedians or cabaretists. In general, it is said that poetry slam has turned into a factory for the production of personnel for standup.

In my opinion, the poetry slam scene in Germany has somewhat degenerated. For example, on the eve of the pandemic, there were a couple of high-profile scandals in the German slam scene related to me too: female poets participating in slams accused one of the organisers of sexualised violence. I think this is an indicator of the crisis: originally poetry slam was a kind of non-hierarchical environment, a space of equals. But a new hierarchy has emerged with serious distortions and problems. So today I don’t have much to do with the German poetry-slam scene (although I don’t give up that background). On the other hand, various trends of performance poetry and various poetry slams live very well in various European countries, and in Germany poetry readings and concerts gather quite a large audience.

– What is the situation with the Russian literary scene?

– Because of the Russian Federation’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Russian-language literary scene is in crisis. Yes, the crisis happened even earlier, but due to recent events, it has taken on the scale of a catastrophe. All forms of Russian-language literary activity were divided into “before” and “after” February 24, 2022. On the one hand, cultural figures found themselves faced with the need to formulate their attitude to the war – this is how the split occurred and Z-literature appeared. 

On the other hand, there was a need to reconsider the functioning of Russian language and literature in relation to the cultures and languages of the non-Russian peoples of Russia. We have a common poetry project with the poet Dinara Rasuleva from Tatarstan. However, it is not very active at the moment – Dinara is working more on her feminist and decolonial literary projects.

In general, the poetry of “small peoples of Russia” is a very interesting question. Here the opinions of those who write in Russian are divided: some say that it is an important problem, while others demonstrate an imperial complex and say that this is all “Russian literature”. How do you relate to Russia at all? You write in Russian – and this automatically means for Ukrainians the language of the aggressor, despite the fact that there are still Russian-speaking writers and poets in Ukraine itself. 

So there is no black and white here, there are many aspects. We need to rethink all this, to work on our own mistakes. Opposition to Ruscism and authoritarian ideology should be as active as support for Ukraine can be.