The Investigator is Tired
ROSSIISKAYA GAZETA – APRIL 26TH, 2013
In his novel Red Light, Maxim Kantor promises the ruin of a civilization of inequality that has been caught embezzling
It is better to pull apart Maxim Kantor’s enormous novel beginning with its larger ideas. Otherwise, the reviewer will be suspected of participating in the conspiracy of mediocrity created by the creative community, which, according to Kantor, is against serious conversation.
Kantor established his anger at mediocrity in 2006 when his first novel, Drawing Textbook, which is just as voluminous, was published. It was followed by books of plays, stories, journalistic articles and columns in smart glossy magazines. Devoted readers recognized stars of the au courant culture who were described by Kantor under unflattering names. The critics argued among themselves. Some said that Maxim Kantor summed up the entire 20th century, and others said that he hated people.
The novel Red Light is in a position to restart these prior disputes. The combination of the candor of an essayist and rakish exaggeration, an attempt at epic poetry and the fault-finding quality of a columnist, historiosophical guesswork and images from propaganda posters are akin to a battle between hot chocolate and ice cream. The contrast between his tenderness toward Christ and irritation toward his colleagues in the art world in Kantor’s book is as stark as the proximity of comfort and bombing in the global civilization he has denounced.
Its in its place, the author has chosen a feast of an elite spirit and the defilement of intellectual fashions. Leading representatives of business and culture gather together at a reception at the French ambassador’s house, where they unexpectedly meet an investigator. This ties together the main intrigues of the novel. The killer of the chauffeur of a successful gallery owner is being sought, just like how in history, those who are responsible for the deaths of millions in international and localized wars in Europe are also being sought.
Our global civilization of symbolic values and numbers that are not worth thinking about is held onto, according to Kantor, due to falsified historical memory. Intellectuals have lost their taste for the search for truth. The community of rukopozhatniye (people with whom the Russian liberal opposition are willing to shake hands) have let themselves fall to such a low level that they might associate with figures who are unpopular and even discrediting to their cause. The criminal investigator and the “old soldier” Nazi stand for historical truth in the novel. Thanks to them, the novel progresses little fact by little fact, like food from countries of the third world in a European supermarket.
Kantor unleashes lists on his opponents that contain dangerous parallels. Was Lenin a German spy? The German military and American business backed up Hitler, and for Stalin, Russian revolutionaries did the same... This undermining of vertical history encourages the reader to shift his area of focus. Kantor convinces us that one colonel, private or generalissimo cannot answer for the international significance of a catastrophe. Even one ideology cannot do so.
In response to the “minimum” deduced from the past century in conventional terms accepted by society, which is that “revolution is evil, Stalin was a tyrant and socialism is a dead end,” Kantor proposes his own series of truths: an open society consists of closed corporations, liberals comply with harsh bargains, civilization needs barbarians and democracy ends in war. In practice, Europe’s values spin around due to their opposition to one another, and thus they are nothing more than social conformity that helps them to come to agreements during bargaining.
Eroding the spirit of this mutually-beneficial conformity, Kantor broaches the border of fully-formed culture. Just as the novel includes the magic of Stalin’s Asian grin, it is also ossifies the hand of the Red Army soldier, a captain and a marauder who has been chopped in half. This is how the author’s understanding is divided between the beaten-up Meyerhold and the “tired investigator.”
Kantor himself, forcing his biased questioning, resembles the tired investigator. In one interview, he lamented that writers attribute the words and views of a character to him. But who in the text constantly utters the phrase “That is not so” in reference to Stalin’s bloody love of power? Separating the position of the author from the opinions of his character is all the more difficult, since Kantor often uses the right of the author to omniscience.
Red Light is a novel written totalitarian-style, in which the author’s opponents are not given a chance to exonerate themselves.
Effectively abandoning his contemporaries and their conjectures, Kantor forces himself into the “red light.” The ideal of equality that is illuminated for him is one that has never been manifested in the history of Europe. The final note of the novel is a challenge. Red light is associated with “danger,” and also means that everything is still waiting to be implemented. Kantor frightens us with the danger of the collapse of our embezzled civilization of inequality, without noting that red light is robbing him in the same way.
Certainly, there will be hunters who will compare Kantor’s novel with Pelevin’s Batman Apollo, recently published and similar to his. Pelevin, a postmodern futurist, also holds a conversation about societal derogation, but it leads him to the question of inescapable earthly suffering that only ends with the transition to a different condition of existence. In contrast, Kantor wants to be a logical realist and locks himself to misery and to matter. But outside the light of a different state of being, Christ’s preaching is reduced to counting the privileges of scribes and Pharisees, and human equality is equality in death. This equality of despair, in the face of which only ignorant people and activities that are “equal in size” to “troubles and death” are akin to “mending” shirts.
In Kantor’s novel, creative work is “unequal in size” to misfortune and death; it is smaller than they are. But Christ, on whom Kantor’s analogy of equality is based on, is also not equal in size to misfortune and death, because he defeated them. The novel Red Light does not have enough of this energy of ignoring adversity, this light of the Resurrection.
The preaching of complicity in adversity in Kantor’s novel reinforces hatred for those who were happy, while the buffoonish expression of the void in Pelevin’s novel releases him from focusing on grievances. And this is a serious blunder of Maxim Kantor’s in his duel with contemporary art.