At 50, Victor Pelevin creates myths for the new Russia
Victor Pelevin, the guru of the Russian reading public, turned 50 on November 22nd, which offers us a chance to ruminate on his creative influence. Recently, one of Russia’s online communities voted Pelevin Russia’s No. 1 intellectual.
For two decades now, his work has been a beacon of light on the cultural life of a country whose history is difficult and whose socio-economic situation is far from ideal.
Creating the myths and legends of the new Russia, Pelevin mixes the Strugatsky brothers with Stanislav Lem and marinates them in Jorge Luis Borges.
This turns out to be a winning combination for works of the fantastical satirical genre, books that are deep, poisonous, funny and endlessly inventive, revealing, explaining and commentating on the reality we read about in the newspapers.
Pelevin captures the plight of contemporary Russia in all its color and intricacy, and what’s more, he manages to do this without resorting to historical chronicles or savage ridicule of topical events.
Pelevin places current events in an abstract, metaphysical realm, evoking ancient philosophy and theology, so that the plots of his novels are played out against an overarching universal perspective, where references to a specific reality cease to be so important.
His novels are based on a single philosophical principle: according to this, our world is just a series of artificial constructions, in which we humans are doomed to forever wander around blindly, searching in vain for the ‘real’ reality.
None of these worlds are true, but neither can they be called false, at least not while people believe in them. So each version of the world only exists in our hearts and minds, and we cannot recognize the psychological reality as false.
So Pelevin’s masterpiece “Chapayev and Pustota,” (called “Buddha’s Little Finger” in English) also known as Russia’s first Zen-Buddhist novel, is based on the indivisible nature of real and projected reality.
The author manages to successfully create these mirages by varying the scale and structure of the fictional lens – the ‘window’ – through which the heroes (and therefore the readers) see the world.