JUDY KRAVIS

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Thursday, 26 January 2017

Platonov's The Foundation Pit is a violent, disturbing read. The violence is embedded in the language, not in the action. Having laboured and lying down, often not getting up again, are the dominant modes. Consciousness and the state are totalitarian. There is talk of socialised property and liquidation of illiteracy. The larger the words the emptier the minds of those who try to rest, the more excruciated their grasp on what is happening to them. Humans and their being in the world are constantly threatened if not already severed.

The difference between reading Platonov and reading Kafka or Beckett is that Platonov's creatures flail and sink inside a distinct historical reality. However little the reader might know about Stalin's Russia, the fact of it is there. Post-truth. Pre-truth. During truth.

I read The Foundation Pit badly, often in the middle of the night. Perhaps you have to read it badly, in short bursts, when the reading of the night before has all but vanished, as for Platonov's creatures the day before has all but vanished, along with the day to come. This is despair, after all, Russian despair. Everything vast. And hopeless. The foundation pit is a graveyard. A collective farm is a collection of bones. Barren hens quietly groan in people's arms.

Platonov's creatures feel at home as long as they can see limits of any kind, any form of endgame, any depth of absurdity. Some of my psyche feeds on this, I have to conclude. I might sleep better for it, and even if I don't, there'll be comfort and reflection in the wakefulness, the extenuated humour.
But why, Nikita, do the fields lie there so boringly? Is there really sorrow inside the whole world—and only in ourselves that there's a five-year plan?

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