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Chapter XXIII




   Natasha felt better in the winter. She thought Kandalykin would probably fall in love with her. She decided it was time to stop fooling around and get married.

   A month passed.

   One evening in December, in a soft snow, Kandalykin arrived. He was a technician.

   "Muscles, how about those muscles!" he was saying after tea. "I'm a real man, not one of those sissified intelligentsia. My father was a porter, but I've come up in the world. Now, I can provide you with surroundings, a golden cage, you might say. You won't have to work. I have, you might say, become a man, but I need a wife I have to look after. All my comrades have wives--they're top of the line, excellent creatures."

   "I'm not a virgin." Natasha lowered her eyes modestly.

   "What's surprising," Kandalykin answered, "is that virgins have dropped out of sight the last few years. There are practically no virgins in our city. I need to set up a home on a solid footing, with nice little vases, with flowers, with portičres. I make good money. What would I do with virgin? But you have a whiff of learning, and you know how to wear a dress. I need an educated wife, so I won't be ashamed in front of my comrades. You'll set up a salon at my place. I'm an inquisitive man. We'll go traveling abroad. I've been learning English. I've bought an encyclopedia. I've hired a Frenchwoman for my son. I've got two servants. I'm not just anybody--I'm a technician."


   Misha Kovalyov didn't find anything this year. Every so often, he was a day laborer. On such days he got up six in the morning, buttoned up his charred overcoat, set out to haul bricks or smash crumbled buildings, or hauled crushed stone onto barges. Only toward the end of the year did he find a steady job, make it into a trade union, become a foreman in concrete. More and more often he thought about marriage. He started saving money. He decided to ask for Natasha's hand the first day of Easter.

   The morning of the first day, as always on this day, he pulled out the high-collared jacket with little bombshells from deep inside the dresser, took out the shoulder straps with zigzags and monograms from under a floor-board. He looked over the jacket, shook his head. He looked over the riding breeches, wondered even more. They were pretty badly moth-eaten. He took out a needle and thread. He spruced up his domain as much as he could, washed his hands in cheap eau-de-cologne. Shaking his head, he looked at his thinning hair. He buttoned up his state-issue overcoat, bought second hand, and, with a wave of his hand, went out.

   He even took a cab, and as he rode he was thinking: there he'll go again, running up the stairway. As always on this day, Natasha will open the door for him. He'll burst into the room, kiss three times. "Excuse me," he'll say, he'll throw off the overcoat, put on the spurs. Then they'll join together singing, "Oh, the chrysanthemums have long since faded." Then they'll sing "Pupsik." Then he'll say he's found a steady job, and he'll offer her his hand and heart.

   The cabbie stopped. Mikhail Kovalyov paid and quickly ran up. He knocked for a long time. Finally, her former excellency opened up. He went into the hallway, kissed the soft hand, said hello, said, "Excuse me, Evdokya Alexandrovna, just a moment." He put on the spurs, took off the overcoat, hung it up. He went into the room. The old general carefully closed the door behind him.

   Instead of saying hello, General Golubyets exclaimed, quickly getting up, "What kind of idiocy, strutting around in uniform in the seventh year of the revolution. You'll make us even more embarrassed. Don't you dare appear before me in uniform!"

   Going out, he angrily slammed the door.

   "Where's Natasha?" Kovalyov asked in dismay.

   "Natasha has gotten married," answered the dealer in the market.

   "How can I?" thought Kovalyov. "What in the world will I do now!"

   He stood and he stood.

   "You'd better go," the dealer in the market said quietly. And she raised a handkerchief to her eyes. "Ivan Abramovich is angry."

   She held out her hand.

   For a long time Misha fussed about in the half-lit hallway, almost forgetting to take off his spurs. He buttoned up the overcoat, turned up the collar, put on the soft summer hat.

   "What's left, what's left?"

   He remembered the room picked out for their life together. He remembered, the week before, getting the price on a little table, two bentwood chairs, a tattered sofa.

   He leaned against the railing. The summer hat flew down below. He went down the steps, picked it up, walked out of the building, stopped and looked at the lit-up window on an upper floor. Never, never again would he go inside there. No one will greet him tenderly, and he'll have no wife, no uniform: never again will he put it on.

   "What a terrible life," he thought.



   All night Kovalyov wanders before the dark mass of buildings of a girls' high school. The lights are all out. The city is lost in deep sleep.

   Through the deep slumber there came to Kovalyov knights and ladies.

A knight-cadet twirls his moustache and dances a mazurka. How swiftly he goes down on one knee! How the young lady whirls around him!

   The lanterns of a masked ball are aglow. Everyone's in half-masks. The women all have boutonničres. And a paper streamer coils up around the chandeliers and descends in a whirl of color.

   "How swiftly the empire fell," Kovalyov thinks. "Our fathers abdicated from us. I didn't revile the last emperor the way my father did, the way almost all the staff-officers who stayed in the city did."

   "But is he going to love her as much as I did?" He leaned his head against the school building.

   "How unhappy she is!" He was almost crying.

   And he kept on looking about the city for solace.

   And again he came back to the school and stood and sadly twirled his little hussar's moustache.


   Natasha was giving orders. The table was crammed with hors d'œuvres. There was 30° wine in crystal decanters. Glasses, bought cheap from a certain ruined family, were twinkling. Kandalykin, who was sitting in the middle, was shaded by the leaves of an enormous palm tree. Sitting around the table were Kandalykin's friends, who had a bit to drink.

   After supper, a familiar singer from the academic theater sang. A long-haired poet read verses that told about the flowers of our life--children. Then he read about free love. Then the talk went on about the latest news at the factory, about the usual waste. Then N. N. fought with M. N. and they long and stubbornly hit each other in the face. But, afterwards, they started to cry, and they made up.

   Toward morning, the long-haired poet was talking to Natasha about the need to struggle against pornography.

   "Just think," he was spouting new and original ideas, "who knows, there will soon appear among us a new Verbitskaya. And that's why censorship keeps an eye on it. Censorship here has to be strict and implacable. No pornographers whatsoever."

   "But you write about free love, don't you?" Natasha said, thoughtfully twirling a ring with a little diamond.

   The young poet started wiggling the toe of his yellow boot.

   "Freedom of love," said the poet, swelling with indignation, "that's not pornography. A woman must be free, a man likewise. Pornography--that's the description of breasts and movements, calculated for the arousal of base instincts."


Chapter XXIV




   A test mobilization had been scheduled, and many invalids thanked God for having no feet or hands, for having gone blind in one eye or having deformed fingers. Sitting in their little cigarette stalls, they watched the anxious faces of city-dwellers and thought they still had a greater chance of remaining among the living than the passersby who were still intact.

   And, at night, they went back to their families and young wives, cherishing life even more than ever.

   The possibility of war, like a will-o'-the-wisp, leaped up almost at hand. And, for the lonely heroes of my novel, a second war was terrifying, like a new death. Indeed, their spirits had been shaped in a horrible age. And, although the smell of dead bodies hadn't even reached the city, it was nevertheless inside them psychologically. And, although my heroes didn't own any property at all, they still wouldn't want to, even psychologically, as it were, head off to the grave for a second time.



Chapter XXV




   Once again it was spring. Once again the nighttime rendezvous down by the baroque, neo-Roman, neo-Greek architectural islands (buildings). The fatted trees of the Summer Garden, the young saplings on Martyrs of the Revolution Square, the little shrubs of the Catherine Public Garden, are seasonal reminders for the distracted or those bogged down by the commotion of life. Some young lady will run by, look at a sapling and say, "Why, it's spring..." and start to feel sad. Another young lady will run by, look at the saplings, and say, "Why, it's spring!" and start to feel cheerful. Or some invalid, a former colonel on a state pension, will sit for a while on a small bench and remember: "I used to play in the sand here as a child." Or: "I used to ride there in a carriage." And he'll sigh and ponder, pull out a dusty handkerchief giving off a whole series of odors--dark bread, cutlets, tobacco, soup--and blow his nose in despair.

   Or a young man from workers school, tenderly embracing a young woman from workers school, will walk by, and they'll sit next to a little old man, and the young woman will start to twitter, and the long-legged young man will start to look proudly from time to time at the crown of her head and crow. Or once again there will appear the famous biographer, Misha Kotikov. There he'll sit, on that small bench near a little shrub, and start to pinch a sprouting beard, open a notebook, lower his baby-blue eyes and start running over a list of Zaevphratsky's remaining acquaintances.


   Over the last few years, the unknown poet had gotten used to a devastated city, to lifeless streets, to a clear blue sky. He hadn't noticed that things around him were changing. He had been spending the last two years, so he thought, in the formulation and creation of reality in gigantic forms. But, little by little, anxiety was building up in his soul.

   One day he felt they had lied to him--both intoxication and the juxtaposition of words.

   And, on a bank of the Neva, with a teeming city in the background, he turned and dropped his scraps of paper.

   And, once again, tall palms began to sway.

   The unknown poet let down his facade, sensed that even the city had never been as he imagined, and quietly unveiled his subconscious.

   "No, it's still early, maybe I'm mistaken." And he slid down the street like a ghost.

   "I have to go out my mind," the unknown poet reflected, as he made his way under the rustling linden trees along the embankment of the Griboyedov Canal.

   "True, madness no longer has the fascination for me now that it had in early youth." He stopped, bent down, picked up a leaf. "I no longer see in it the highest being, but my whole life requires this, and I shall quietly go out of my mind."

   He moved on some more.

   "For this, I must annihilate the will by means of the will. I must abolish the boundary between consciousness and the subconscious. To let in the subconscious, give it a chance to swamp a radiant consciousness."

   He stopped, leaned his elbows on his walking stick with the large amethyst.

   "I'll have to break off from my very self, from my friends, from the city, from all meetings."

   Just then, Kostya Rotikov came running up to him.

   "I've been looking for you," he said. "I heard terrible news about you. I heard you'd gone out of your mind."

   "You're wrong," answered the unknown poet. "Though I'm getting there, as you can see, I'm of sound mind. But don't think I'm working on my biography. I have nothing to do with biography, it's a vain pursuit. I'm fulfilling the laws of nature. I wouldn't go out of my mind unless I wanted to. I want to--so I have to."

   A horrible night begins for me.

   Leave me alone.

   For a man has to stand alone before the gaping abyss. There mustn't be anyone present at the demise of his consciousness. Any presence is humiliating. Then, even friendship seems hostile. I have to be alone and take myself back to my childhood. Let the big house of my childhood appear to me for the last time, with its abundance of rooms in different styles. Let the lamp start shining softly on the desk. Let the city take a mask and put it on its horrible face. Let my mother once again play "A Girl's Prayer" in the evenings. After all, there's nothing horrible in this. It only shows the contrast between her girlish dreams and her real surroundings. Let there once again be in my father's study only classics, unbearable fiction writers and pseudo-scientific books--when all is said and done, that not everyone be obliged to love refinement and exert their brain.

   "But what will happen to humanism," Kostya Rotikov whispered, stroking his pointy little beard, "if you go out of your mind, if Teptyolkin gets married, if the philosopher's busy with a clerk's job, if Troitsyn starts writing about Thecla, I give up studying the baroque? We're the last humanists, we have to carry on the flames. We have nothing to do with politics, we don't govern, we've been dismissed from the government. But don't you see that our work would be learning or the arts, regardless the regime? No one can reproach us for taking up art or learning for want of something better to do. I'm sure we were born for this, and for nothing else. True, in the fifteenth, in the sixteenth centuries, humanists were creatures of the state. But, anyhow, that time has passed."

   And Kostya Rotikov turned his enormous shoulders toward the canal.

   The poplars were gently swaying. Young people walked over the Lion Footbridge to Podyachesky Street and started wandering about the city.

   "Eight years ago," the unknown poet was thinking, "I, too, was wandering about with Sergei C."

   "But now it's time," he said, "I'm going to sleep."

   But, as soon as Kostya Rotikov had disappeared, the unknown poet's face become distorted.

   "Whew," he said, "how hard it was for me pretending to be calm. He was talking about humanism, but I needed to stay alone for a while and collect my thoughts. He was cruel. I had to live my life all over again for the last time, in its most minute details."

   The unknown poet went inside his home, opened a window:

   "Hop-hop." He jumped up. "What a marvelous night."

   "Hop-hop!" Way, way off to the nearest star.


                               Flights into infinity,

                                          Dissolving in earth,

                                          Sprinkled like stars,

                                          Melting in water.


   "Keep away from me, keep away from me, not me." He jumped up.


                                Flights, like a flower, into the heedless night,

                                        Lofty lyre, circling song.

                                        At the lyre I sit and sing, like a wax flower,

                                        Over a crowd which has left.


   "A voice, apparently, from under the floor." He bent down. "Smoke, smoke, blue smoke. Is it you that's singing?" He bent over the smoke.


                              I am Philostratus, you are part of me.

                                        It's time for us to merge.


   "Who's saying that?" He sprang back.


                              Let the body walk, eat and drink--

                                        Your soul is coming to me.


   He thought he heard the sounds of rattles from an ancient Egyptian temple. He sees something walking in white, in a garland, with a hazy but beautiful face. Then he felt they were drawing his soul out of his mouth. It was agonizing and sweet. He slightly raised an eyelid and took a peek at the city spread before him. The streets were flooded with people. Porticoes were gleaming. Chariots were flying.

   "What do you know!" He got up. "Apparently, I'm waking up. I had some kind of bad dream."

   "Where are you, where are you, Apollonius!" he heard a voice say.

   "Stay here." Staggering, the unknown poet straightened up. "I'll come back soon, I need to ask for advice about the journey to Alexandria."

   He went out of the house and, shuffling in his slippers, made his way along the sidewalk.

   He kept on exchanging bows with imaginary acquaintances.

   "Ah, it's you." he said, turning toward a passerby he took for Sergei C. "How kind of you to have risen from the dead!" he wanted to say, but couldn't.

   "I no longer have command of human language," the unknown poet thought. "I'm part of the Phœnix, when it burns in the bonfire."

   He heard the music coming out of nature, plaintive as an autumn night. He heard a lament that arose in the air, and a voice.

   The unknown poet sat down on a curbstone, covered his face with his hands.

   He stood up, straightened out, looked into the distance.

   In the morning, the unknown poet was sitting on the curbstone, completely white, his head tucked into his shoulders. His senseless eyes ran from side to side. Sparrows were crying, twittering. A cat was on the prowl. A window opened, and a naked man sat on the windowsill with his back to the sun. Then other windows opened. Canaries started singing. A splash of water was heard. A hand appeared watering flowers. Two hands appeared hanging swaddling clothes. A man appeared and hurried. Another man appeared and also hurried.



Chapter XXVI


   You could have seen the unknown poet walking about a garden in a bathrobe, muttering, taking notes, jumping up, clapping his hands and running into trees. And it was evident he was doing all this with joy. Then, straightening out, he walked back and forth, and his face was beaming. Behind the bars in a booth, a guard was sitting and talking with a police officer.

   Snowdrops were blooming in the garden, and above the garden was a blue sky. The unknown poet was sitting on a bench and writing, and his hand kept striving upwards. With each day, the lines kept getting higher. Sometimes a sparrow flew down onto the bench and started to run up and look at the unknown poet with curiosity, as the pencil sped along the paper. Then the unknown poet walked to his chamber and went to sleep, and when he awoke, he grabbed his pencil like a maniac and wrote. Then a doctor would come, take his pulse, make him sit, tap him on the knees. With each day, the unknown poet's legs jumped more and more weakly under the doctor's hammer. With each day the doctor's face became more and more self-satisfied, with each day the unknown poet wrote less and less. Finally, the time came, and the unknown poet wrote nothing more.


Chapter XXVII




   Strictly speaking, the idea of the tower was inherent in all my heroes. It wasn't a specific trait of Teptyolkin. They would all gladly cloister themselves in a Petersburg tower.

   There, the unknown poet would busy himself with the augury of words. Kostya Rotikov wouldn't refuse it any more than flagrant tastelessness.

   As I write, detestable time is flying. My heroes are living in great dispersion about the face of Petersburg. They no longer see each other, confer with each other. And, even though it's spring now, an enraptured Teptyolkin doesn't walk about the park, doesn't pluck flowers, doesn't wait for his friends... His friends won't be coming to see him. He won't be getting up early in the morning, won't be reading one book today, another tomorrow.

   They're not going to say in a slumbering park that they would like to be enchanted, that they're representatives of high culture.


Chapter XXVIII




   Teptyolkin was reading folios that once excited  mankind so greatly. My God, after all, mankind has always been excited by books. And how much better new books than old ones. And someday they'll become old. And someday they'll be ridiculed. But the old books have sunshine and intellectual refinement, humorous eccentricities, boorishness and monstrous depravity. The old books have everything. But Teptyolkin saw in them only sunshine and mental elegance. For him, the depravity and boorishness were somehow obscured and turned into an incidental phenomenon, an undetachable part of the universe. For him, the universe had a single face, and for him, the Renaissance beamed from one side. For him, the Renaissance was entirely a bearer of light.

   There's Teptyolkin sitting, and flies are buzzing around him and landing on his neck and on the pages of a book. Marya Petrovna is sitting at his feet on a small bench and peeling potatoes. But aren't potatoes a plant from the Americas, and didn't Vergil banish flies from Naples?

   "Marya Petrovna," says Teptyolkin, "do you know the wonderful legend of the Phœnix of Latin poetry--Vergil--and the flies?"


   Two years had passed.

   Teptyolkin was now thirty-seven years old. He was now bald and suffering from arteriosclerosis. No longer did he like to read Ronsard, who had enriched the French language with a harvest of Greek and Latin. Nor, coming back home from work, from the Provincial Department of Public Education, and after dinner, did he sit surrounded by Petrarch and the Petrarchians and the Pleďade, nor was the gentle and learned Poliziano sitting right up close.

   Marya Petrovna would sit with Teptyolkin on his knees and kiss him on the neck and, swinging around, kiss him on the back of the head and, from time to time, squeal with glee.

   "Well, of course," Teptyolkin would philosophize, "Marya Petrovna is no Laura, but after all, I'm no Petrarch."

   In his quiet apartment (the apartment consisted of two rooms) there was a smell of monkeys (the lavatory wasn't far off) and sour cabbage (Marya Petrovna was a good housekeeper). In the windows were two year-old clusters of grapes, shriveled and paper-thin. Shining over the couple's heads was an electric light-bulb.

   Teptyolkin no longer had any thoughts about the Renaissance whatsoever. Steeped in family comfort, or in what he took for comfort, and in late-discovered physical love, he was in a certain state of lethargy that kept growing deeper all the time from contact with Marya Petrovna. You couldn't say he failed to notice Marya Petrovna's shortcomings, but he loved her the way an old widow loves the portrait of her husband, imagining the time when the one who disappeared was still her suitor. Kissing Marya Petrovna, he felt there lived inside her the beautiful dream of unattainable brotherly love and that, as soon as she started talking about this love, it came out silly.

   He had long since given up on all his hopes, renounced them as the illusions of an imbalanced youth. "Those were all infantile dreams," he sometimes told Marya Petrovna in passing.

   He now had a clean handkerchief in his pocket and a carefully washed collar around his neck. And an elegantly dressed Kandalykin often dropped in to see him and talked about the new way of life, the fact that factories were being built, that villages had not only electricity but radio, that a life was evolving more colorful than the Eiffel Tower, that in the south they were building a grain elevator, the second in the world after New York, that thousands of people were swarming about--engineers, workers, sailors, miners, longshoremen, cooperative members, carriers, foremen, watchmen, mechanics.

   Teptyolkin would say, "Let the villages shine brightly with electricity, the cows moo on model state farms, the agricultural machines work in the meadows, life evolve more colorfully than the Eiffel Tower--in the new life, there's something missing."

   "Your Plato--is an elegiac idealist," Kandalykin objected to Teptyolkin.

"Why, even your love of the woods is nothing but the interest of the feudal aristocracy which, fighting for possession of large plots of land, didn't want to lose its hunting ground," the speaker mimeographed. "You call these irreplaceable losses?" he continued. "You can restore black earth on mountains with peat deposits. You can clear blocked-up rivers. You can drain off marshlands with canals. You can plant forests. What's beyond reach for the government?"

   Marya Petrovna would pour out tea into inexpensive but nice-looking cups with muscular figures. On the way out, Kandalykin would tenderly kiss Marya Petrovna's hand with a bow and ask Teptyolkin and Marya Petrovna to drop by, spend an evening.

   Teptyolkin's heart no longer beat with gentle music. No longer did he believe, deep down inside, in the coming peace and tranquility, the approaching cooperation of peoples.



   Arm in arm with Marya Petrovna, Teptyolkin goes to the Kandalykins. They walk along October 25th Prospekt.

   They walk, the bald and the petite, and around them are government stores. If they raise their eyes--painted buildings. The foot feels the sidewalks are level.

   Kandalykin greeted the couple affectionately.

   "Well, how's it going?" He turned to Teptyolkin. "How are your lectures? Are you better off now, materially? I felt bad that a man like you was going to waste."

   "Why, he's absolutely thrilled with them," Marya Petrovna answered for Teptyolkin. "He's grateful to you. He's studying social revolutions from Egypt to our day."

   "Remember," Kandalykin paces up and down the room, "a few years ago when I came across your lecture by chance? I understood then you were an outstanding person. Even though, at the time, you were lecturing on God knows what kind of nonsense."

   "It wasn't nonsense I was lecturing on," Teptyolkin justifies himself, "it all just came out like some kind of nonsense."


   Spring didn't arrive. When one of the early country visitors or two-week residents of relaxation homes and sanatoriums set foot in a field, water oozed out from underground and splashed. The trees were disgustingly bare and, in the background, cocks were fighting, dogs were barking at passersby, and children, with a finger thrust in the mouth, were contemplating the wires.

   Teptyolkin was sad. He was walking home and thinking that, lo and behold, even a finger could have a Freudian interpretation, that lo and behold, a disgusting concept had sprung up so recently.

   If he was reading a philosophical poem, a phrase would suddenly rivet his attention, and even a favorite poem by Solovyov:

No replies long since, no need of speeches,

I strive toward you, just like a stream toward the sea,--  

took on for him a disgusting meaning.

   He felt like a pig rolling in the mud. His lips stretched out on a pipe, he stood in meditation.

   A milk-woman was returning from the city, clunking empty milk cans.

   "Sure, she'll sell them with water," he thought and stretched out his lips even harder.

   The milk-woman glanced at the lanky man with his lips stretched out in the shape of a pipe and kept going.

   The sky darkened again. A small patch of brightness disappeared. It began to drizzle.

   It was all the same to Teptyolkin. He just put on his hat and closed his eyes. "I have to go."

   "You're back." Marya Petrovna met him. "What have you been up to loafing around so long in the rain? That isn't very bright. There's a notice for you. Your book is going into a second edition."

   "The biography!" Teptyolkin exclaimed. "They print all kinds of rubbish. The worse you write, the more gladly they'll accept."

   "So, what are you griping about? If you don't want to write--don't write. No one's dragging you by the tongue," said Marya Petrovna, getting angry.

   "The age, the vile age has broken me," Teptyolkin said and suddenly shed a few tears.

   "It's like I'm living with a grandmother." Marya Petrovna jumped up. "Never-ending hysterics!"

   Teptyolkin walked around the garden. An apple tree, gnawed by goats, stood on the right, a lilac bush with miniature leaves on the left. He was walking around the garden in galoshes, pince-nez and felt hat.

   "No one wears a pince-nez now!" Marya Petrovna yelled out the window, to tease him a little. "They wear glasses now!"

   "I don't give a damn!" Teptyolkin yelled up. "I'm a man of the old world. I'll wear a pince-nez. I have nothing in common with the new garbage."

   "So, why are you walking in the rain!" came a shout from above.

   "I want to walk. I am walking. And I shall walk!" came a shout from below.



Chapter XXIX




   The Obvodny Canal brims with a peculiar ominous tranquility and a peculiar shabby picturesqueness--despite being intersected by two avenues and crossed by many bridges, even one for trains, and being faced by two stations. Nevertheless, it is a bit unlike the granite-lined canals in the center of the city. Carraway and elder and some kind of unbearable leaves climb straight out of the water and, in a slanted line, make their way up to wooden barriers. There are iron public toilets from the time of tsarism propped up on legs, but they gradually give way to heated cabins surrounded with saplings, with the same function but more cozy. Previously, the inscriptions in them were uncensored and offensive and,  from time immemorial, the walls of places with a similar purpose have been covered with underground political writings and caricatures.

   Here, some young persons take notebooks out of their pockets and scrutinize the walls and, with a quiet chuckle, log into their notebooks the "sayings of the people."

   On one fine spring day you could have seen walking along the wall beside the Obvodny Canal a young man with seven fox terriers. By the little cane with a cat's eye, by the gait, by the crumbling Cupid in his buttonhole, by the way the young man's face was beaming, each of my heroes would have recognized Kostya Rotikov.

   "My sweet little chickies," Kostya Rotikov said, stopping, "why don't you go for a run, while I copy some inscriptions." He bent down, patted Caterina Sforza a few times on her canine shoulder, shook Marie-Antoinette's little paw, crumpled Queen Victoria's ears, and told them all to behave modestly. He shut himself inside a public toilet.

   While he stood with a pencil and copied inscriptions, the little dogs were running, romping, sniffing corners of the building. Some, with their snouts scrunched up, were chewing bits of last year's grass.

   Kostya Rotikov came out, called his little dogs, tucked away the notebook and headed further on, toward the next public toilet.

   Usually he made his round and filled up his notebook on Sundays.

   Returning home, to an obscure apartment on the outskirts, he turned on the light. The little dogs were jumping around him, licking his hands, galloping up, licking his neck and each other's. But Victoria, jumping up, licked him on his lips. He lifted Victoria and kissed her on the tummy. He was practically in love with his little dogs. He thought they were tender and delicate creatures. He strictly guarded their virginity and didn't let a single male dog get near. In vain did the little dogs cry in the spring. In vain did they roll on the ground and yelp, climb up on objects. He was unyielding.

   The one who was yelping the most, he took in his hands and walked up and down the room with her and lullabied her like a little baby.

   Tonight, after coming back from their walk, his fox terriers were yelping and writhing convulsively, their mouths gaping plaintively. Only Victoria walked around calmly, that is, with a frightful calm.

   In vain did Kostya Rotikov, the notebook put away into the desk, offer them little pieces of of snow-white sugar. They yelped and looked at him plaintively.

   Then he began to yell at them.

   Once they were hit--they quieted down.

   Falling asleep with them, he started thinking about his novel.

   This red-haired lady thinks he's in love with her.

   In the morning he read over what he called the wisdom of the people. He fed the temporarily pacified little dogs, and headed off to work.

   There, under the chandeliers--the porcelain with little bouquets, the crystal with droplets, the metal with buttons and little chains--he was walking, smiling, arranging, assigning, appraising items which had been lined up for auction. There he sat in furniture with various backs and chatted with other young people who listened to him attentively. After pressing a wet sponge, he stuck labels on the figurines which had been brought to him.

   Sometimes it got boring for him. Then he would ask some young person with a reverence for his knowledge and good spirits to bring on the music.

   "Ach, mein lieber Augustine, Augustine, Augustine..." or a Viennese waltz, or "In the hills of Manchuria," or "Au Clair de Lune."

   Kostya Rotikov would listen attentively.

   In a room on the right were five drawing rooms in groups. In a room on the left--three bedrooms.

   While Kostya Rotikov, sitting in an armchair in an impossible pose, surrounded by young people, was examining items and explaining, there came into the hall a man with a yellow suitcase, in yellow boots, in spotted socks, a specialist in markets. Then a portly man with a guitar under his arm rolled in, then two young ladies dashed in and started running from item to item, then came the manager in Chechen costume.

   On Monday, April 18th, Kostantin Petrovich Rotikov came home late at night from a drinking bout with research fellows.

   Blissfully smiling, Kostya Rotikov gets undressed, lies down on a badly worn-out sofa, turns toward the wall, becomes still. He sees fifteen newly opened rooms looking out on the Neva. They're all filled with collections. It's tastelessness, which has been donated to them.

   The apartments are crowded with foreign scholars, travelers, native professors and research fellows. 

   He exchanges bows with all of them and explains.

   In his sleep, Kostya Rotikov whistles through his nose.

   There are hazy blotches, yellow, red, violet. A banquet appears.

   Kostya Rotikov sits, grey, in a circle of his admirers. They read him an address and bring telegrams.

   There's the curator of the Hermitage getting up: "Esteemed colleagues, we salute Konstantin Petrovich sub luce ćterna. It's not so easy to open up a new field in art. For this, it is necessary to be a genius." And, propping up two fingers on the table, after a pause, he continues, "When other children were usually busy with running around or being thrilled and jumping up on a platform in front of a locomotive, Konstantin Petrovich Rotikov, almost from the most tender age, already felt the restlessness of a genuine scholar. In vain did they call him to go for a walk. In vain did they command him to go for a ride in a charabanc--he was studying books of art criticism. At age seven, when they were still tying a napkin around his neck, he already knew all the paintings of the Hermitage and--by reproduction--of the Louvre and the Dresden. By age ten, he had already visited the most pre-eminent museums of Europe and, as an adult, was attending auctions.

   "And, when all this had been learned, only then did he embark on his life's work.

   "On behalf of the Hermitage staff, permit me to salute and thank you, Konstantin Petrovich, for the field of art which has been discovered and for the exhibits which have been donated in our depository."

   Then the unknown poet, who has now attained renown all over Europe, gets up. Grey hair falls onto his shoulders. Gold drachmas with heads of Helios gleam on his cuffs.

   "Our generation was not fruitless." He bows to applause. "And, at an unimaginably difficult time, we closed ranks and continued devoting ourselves to our cause. Neither diversions, nor ridicules, nor the lack of financial means has forced us to abandon our calling. In the person of Konstantin Rotikov I salute my dear comrade-in-arms and charming friend. The success we observe now would be impossible, had our generation faltered in its time."

   Everyone stands and applauds the gray friends.

   Getting up with a wine glass is a well-known public figure--Teptyolkin, a very tall old man with beautiful eyes. His head ringed with a sheen of gray hair. Tears of rapture stream down his cheeks.

   "I remember as if it were now, dear Konstantin Petrovich, a fine autumn day when we all got together in the tower, in an old tumbledown merchant's dacha..."



   Kostya Rotikov was seized with yearning. He woke up. He leaned his elbows on the pillow. He looks... snowflakes are falling, like on Christmas.

   "Winter's early," he thinks.

   "The country is terribly poor." Still, he gets up. "It has only urgent necessities now. It can't allow itself any intellectual luxury whatsoever. Let's even assume that my book would be approved by everyone. But who would be capable of publishing an enormous tome that was meant for a limited circle of readers?"

   How many years had he spent in libraries poring over little pornographic books and reproductions. How many times had he gone through sections of museums that were inaccessible to the public and studied images in marble, ivory, wax and wood... How many paintings, engravings, sketches, sculptures were squeezed into his imagination...

   Pornographic theater from the time of the Renaissance (a sub-stratum of antiquity), pornographic theater from the eighteenth century (a substratum of folklore). In this field he still had precursors, and there were corresponding works in the West. But, in the field of study of tastelessness--there was nobody. Here he was a pioneer. This was a more difficult task, with more responsibility. Here, he had to start from scratch, from the most primitive collection of material.

   On this deep blue morning, as once before, Kostya Rotikov saw the whole world with its forests, immense, despite all the tree-cutting; with its oceans of wilderness, despite the railroads; with its towering steel-concrete cities and paper cities, with its brick settlements and wooden settlements. Filing past him were races, tribes, separate clans which had survived intact. "If it's easy to define tastelessness," Kostya Rotikov thinks, standing in the middle of the room, "to define the elements of tastelessness in western European art, then how much more difficult to define them in Chinese, Japanese, and almost impossible in Negro art, so little studied, despite the enormous interest in it which has appeared in recent years. But, if you turn to the art which has been recovered by archeology, to Egyptian art, Sumero-Acadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Cretan and others, then here the question becomes even more complex and problematic."

   In the day ahead, Kostya Rotikov lost heart. His back became stooped. He experienced real torments. Suddenly he remembered that everything had changed.

   His friend, the unknown poet, drops out of sight, has moved, is nowhere to be seen, maybe has gone away.

   Teptyolkin, according to rumors, has gotten married and provided himself with a new circle of friends.

   He, Konstantin Petrovich, is now a research fellow, but this is for his private satisfaction.

   Konstantin Petrovich set out for an institute, which was situated on an embankment. He greeted the doorkeeper, Elena Stepanovna, who was sitting in an armchair next to a fireplace.

   "How are you feeling, Elena Stepanovna?" he asked.

   "I feel cold," she answered, "I feel cold."

   He went up the stairway, went into a hall. There, a janitor shook his hand and kindly led him up to a newspaper displayed on the wall.

   "They've torn you to shreds."

   And, indeed, on the wall, he saw himself sitting in a circle of professors and research fellows and, with a scholarly manner, demonstrating urinals. He went up into the library. He raised his head from a book, started looking over its contents.

  For Kostya Rotikov, the whole world was turning into tastelessness. Pictures of Carmen on a candy wrapper or a box now provided more esthetic feelings for him than paintings of the Venetian school, and little dogs on watches, sticking out their tongues from time to time, more than Faust in literature.

   And theater became rewarding, significant and interesting for him when tastelessness appeared in it. Some bare-chested woman in a dress from the time of his mother, with Doric columns in the background, dancing and strewing flowers onto dancing Cupids, no longer appealed to him as a joke. Silent movies, with strips of film spliced together, thrilled him and drove him to ecstasy with the tastelessness of their composition. Little reviews written by a visiting provincial displaying poor taste, bad grammar and brashness, made him laugh to tears, to the point of utmost and purest delight. He went to every meeting and carefully noted the tastelessness in them. He received enthusiastic letters from young people who were infected, just like him, with a passion for tastelessness. Sometimes he thought he had discovered the philosopher's stone with which one could make life interesting, full of feelings and delight. Indeed, for him, the whole world had become brilliant in the extreme, attractive in the extreme. His acquaintances were revealed for him as a yawning chasm of quirky traits, attractive in their novelty. In their ways of speaking he detected a secret tastelessness, unsuspected by them. And he now started getting letters from the provinces. Getting wind of his studies, by God knows what path, provincial youth were waking up. By now, in the backwoods, they had started collecting tastelessness to relieve their boredom.


   Together with Teptyolkin, Philostratus was getting old. For Teptyolkin, he had become a stuffy, clean-shaven, little old man with rings dangling on his fingers, the author of a courtier's novel.

   For a while longer, Teptyolkin was followed by a frail and detestable shadow. Finally, it, too, disappeared.


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