Literary Scandal and Political Imagination: A.Prokhanov and his “Mr. Hexogen”

After the works of C.Lefort and C.Castoriadis the statement that literature no less than politics can be interpreted as the sphere of the “imaginary institution of society” and transmitter of the fundamental political distinctions does not seem to need a broad explanation. However, the practical conclusions out of this thesis regarding the political analysis of literature and aesthetic choice of a writer from the standpoint of its political attitudes are not that obvious. The generalized idea on the author’s political preferences is surely not enough in this case. Guided by the modern culturological research studies, grasping the ideology of one or another work requires not only studying its literary construction as such, but also methods of distribution as well as perception of this work by different groups of readers. In this article we would like to offer an approach that combines elements of the political analysis with the methods of the text analysis elaborated by the theorists and sociologists of literature. The material for our research will be the novel by A.Prokhanov Mr. Hexogen.

The case of Mr. Hexogen is interesting not only because its author is politically engaged or because the display of the Russian politics plays an important role in it. The publication of the novel became the turning point in Prokhanov’s career who has become today a profound media person and entered the literary-political establishment. Briefly, this success story comes down to the following. Written in 2001 by one of the leader of the “patriotic” movement, this novel was unexpectedly rejected by the publishing house Nash Sovremennik and was published as a supplement to the newspapers Zavtra and Sovetskaya Rossiya with a circulation of 100 thousand copies. One year later its new version was published by the publishing house Ad Marginem earlier specializing on the intellectual literature. Moreover, the cover of the book by the writer — “patriot” was decorated with the skull of the leader of the world proletariat. Not only writers and journalists of various ideological and aesthetic orientation appeared to be involved in the vehement debate on the novel, but also different editions both specialized (e.g., Den Literatury and the magazine Znamya) as well as the non-specialized ones (in particular, Kommersant and Playboy). As a result, in 2002 the novel by Prokhanov was awarded “The national bestseller” prize.

In the 2000s the works by Prokhanov, both new and reedited ones, became entrenched within the literary market. They are being edited not only by the publishing houses that claim for the alternative status such as Ad Marginem or Ultrakultura, but also by such leaders of the national book industry as Eksmo that created for Prokhanov a special series Posledniy soldat imperii [The Last Soldier of the Empire]. The significant moment was the emergence in 2007 of the many-page biography of the writer created by the “glamourous” critic L.Danilkin1 Danilkin 2007.1. Prokhanov’s boisterous activity as a journalist and political expert also brought him an official recognition: the presentation of his book took place in the Russian Cultural Fund and in February 2008 the newspaper Zavtra published the congratulation to Prokhanov on his 70th jubilee signed by Putin2 Onthetiesof Prokhanov with V.Surkov (first deputy of the head of the presidential administration, known as the main ideologist of actual Russian political regime) and their reflection in the novel “Teplohod ‘Joseph Brodsky’” [Motor Ship “Joseph Brodsky”] see Kukulin 2008: 336—338.2.

All these manifestations of the author’s public recognition are due to the abundant politically incorrect (xenophobic, above all anti-Semite) statements and declarations in his books thereby becoming usual and normal. However, as the observers note, with Prokhanov’s ascend to the establishment the degree of his anti-Semitism substantially decreased3 See Ibid.: 257— 339; Timofeeva 2008.3.

In this article we will not focus on Prokhanov’s anti-Semitism since it seems hardly plausible to view it as a continuous ideological position (at least because he is the proponent of the imperial idea that can not be consistently combined with anti-Semitism), and it would be wrong to restrict the novel’s political thrust to it. In our view, it is much more important to systematically analyze the novel by Prokhanov as a form of the ideological search and see how it deals with the identification of the value gaps and what it suggests they should be filled with. It is exactly that makes “Mr. Hexogen” sort of a symptom reflecting the special features of the public consciousness and political culture in the 2000s repeatedly emphasized by the analysts such as the sacralization of power and focus on the key player, simulation and mediatization of politics, deficit of the public debates and social-critical reflexion, vague and obscure political positions and aspiration to construct a cohesive ideology that turns out to be the eclectic combination of the already existing ideologems of the various origins4 This statement might be supported by the reference to the impressive list of works, out of which we will cite only one that rather clearly confirms the mentioned thesis: Kaspe I., Kaspe S. 2006.4. In this connection, the problems of “the Soviet” gain a special importance becoming in this situation the most significant ideological resource and orienting point. Consequently, we will be interested not only in how Prokhanov’s symbolic activity as an editor in chief of the newspaper Zavtra is embodied in the literary construction, but also how this construction is evaluated by the representatives of different interpretative communities.


The provocative character of Mr. Hexogen is caused not only by the flamboyant political incorrectness and the way the novel was promoted within the literary field, but also by its attitude towards the current political situation. The novel by Prokhanov has a clear documentary background that refers to the end of Yeltsin’s ruling and Putin’s ascend to power5 It is worth mentioning that other pseudo-documentary works, e.g. “Russkoe solntse” [Russian Sun] by A.Karaulov (M., 2001) never gained such success.5. However, the literary gist of the novel is full of various grotesque images and episodes that add the phantasmagoric character to the depicted events. The image of the intelligent agencies that ultimately determine the development of the political process is also contradictory. If at the beginning of the novel the former agents of the Committee for State Secretary and today the participants of the plan “Swahili” championed the restoration of the USSR (what entirely meets the readers expectations, at least regarding Prokhanov’s sympathies), then they disrobed as the agents of the New World Order, the establishment of which also has a religious, mystical sense. The critical pathos of the novel seems to be targeted against the oligarchs who struggled for the influence over Yeltsin among which Zaretsky and Astros stand out (Berezovsky and Gusinsky, correspondingly) and media glitterati swirling around them. At the same time, the fact that the culmination of the novel i.e. the bombings of the houses in Moscow and Volgodonsk is explained by the activity of the KGB and the promotion of Mr. Hexogen made by Nezavisimaya Gazeta paved the ground for assumptions that it was Berezovsky behind it6 Zolotonosov 2002; Chuprinin 2002. However, compare the statement by Prokhanov and V.Chikin against the book by A.Litvinenko and Yu.Felshtinsky where the version of the FSB’s engagement in the bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk is explained (Prokhanov, Chikin 2001).6. The opinion that Mr Hexogen is no more than the project of the critics created aiming the literary scandal was also expressed7 For more comprehensive treatment of the relations between Prokhanov and Berezovsky and the publishing house “Ad Marginem” see Danilkin 2007.7.

However, we will endeavor to analyze the specific literariness of the text and not follow the novel’s philosophy and search for the underhand intrigues in its history.

The “patriotic novel” by Prokhanov is based on one of the dominating in 1990s formulas of the mass literature that is the formula of the novel-thriller with the motives of the KGB’s activity, missions and secret agents being inherent in it, but receiving a specific interpretation. In principle, the perception of the novel-thriller, as B.Dubin notices, is determined by the fact that “the anthropology of the individual initiative and personal responsibility” is played out in it. The mechanism of the reader’s identification with the hero is built on the fact that being autonomous and excluded from any relationships imposed upon him, the hero under the conditions of uncertainty and threat is searching for the purport of the individual existence in the form of the “challenging action”8 Dubin 2001: 220— 221.8.

However, the role of the protagonist “Mr. Hexogen” Viktor Alekseevich Beloseltsev despite his obvious “makings” of a thriller hero (the former intelligence operator, retired general of the KGB) is directly the opposite one. Being the proponent of justice and staying in the thick of the events, he always finds himself at the vanguard of someone else’s action9 See on this Timofeeva 2008: 349—354.9 being the tool for the realization of other people plans. Called upon the participation — in the name of abolishing the compradorian political regime — in the project Swahili, Beloseltsev already during the first “operation” realized the ethically dubious character of his associates’ activity and nevertheless, continues to fulfill the tasks, even after the bombings in Moscow (Operation Hexogen) put up by Grechishnikov, the main coordinator of the project Swahili. The scene of the bombings that is the culmination typical of a thriller plot — the key battle between the hero and his main opponent — also appears to be the high point of the hero’s powerlessness: tied to the iron chimney on the roof of the building in Pechatniki he was assigned a part of the passive witness of the Apocalypses. “I will leave you here and go away, — says Grechishnikov to him. — ...From this moment you are no longer Viktor Andreevich Beloseltsev in Pechatniki, but St. John the Evangelist on the Island of Patmos”10 Both here and later on the excerpts of the novel are cited from the edition Prokhanov 2002.10. However, the most spectacular thing is that after a while Grechishnikov with his comrades just as if nothing has happened are looking for Beloseltsev who has just recovered, and the latter, however, with mumbling some lamentations although only “to himself” — obediently follows them to participate in the implementation of another part of the project.

The distinguishing feature of Mr. Hexogen is that these events do not encourage the hero to act independently and stand for his own decision, but at the same time do not help him to realize the principal impossibility of the action. As B.Dubin points out, “the hero’s triumph is the question of his selfcontrol, self-possession, absolute and rigorous following his identity, his destiny of the hero; the “technique” ranging from special devices and super-weapon to the muscles and wrestling art only symbolically reflects the deepness of the self-concentration, the completeness of the immersion into oneself and liberation of one’s own “nature”. However, the ambivalent essence of the protagonist’s opponents is known to him as well as to the readers who view the situation through his lens”11 See Dubin 2001: 229—230.11. Beloseltsev’s inability to determine the situation for himself is expressed in his inability of self-control: he is dreaming, recalling sentimental episodes and losing his consciousness for several times during the action. Beloseltsev is absolutely paranoid about the openness to contact that is functionally necessary for the protagonist of such narrative: from time to time he is suffering from persecution mania. As a result, the hero focuses on the retention of an “inner capsule”, in which his true and significant “spiritual experience” is being materialized12 It is curious that it is no one else but Grechishnikov who permanently reminds the reader of the importance of the spiritual experience of Beloseltsev.12:

“Even recently he was still half asleep by the evil spell, with his heart exempted, his soul taken out, with the bead of the innermost light blown out and vanished. Suddenly, out of some depths, under the black asphalt and ashes a lush sprout of life broke through, a tiny fiery bead of air came out... He lived again, thought again and acted. He was still alone, deeply engulfed into the enemy’s background, without the connection with the Center. But his war continued. He could not tell when and under which circumstances “The Project Swahili” would fail. But its collapse was predestined. The project was extremely powerful. The intelligent agencies of the world worked for it, the world resources nurtured it, the most powerful and audacious minds of the world served it. But Beloseltsev, lonesome and weak, immured into the thick of the project, protected by the hawk-eyed guards, being under the endless control of the enemies, had a presentiment for the crash of “Swahili”. It was Beloseltsev himself who was that limit beyond which “Swahili” would not step. It will stop helplessly in front of the bead of the light, which like a lightning bug lingers in the soul. It embodied immortality, supernal loveliness, an opportunity of all-time miracle. Turning time back. Salvation of the family and beloved”.

Thus, despite all the declarations about the intelligent operator experience, neither the concentration of the hero nor his reflexion become the source of the reader understanding of what is going on. The combination of the documentary plot and inability of the main hero to commit an action adds an element of a purposeless repetition.

Beloseltsev as the plot is developing rather listens than talks. Thanks to what the project “Swahili” participants who are let into the essence of current events tell him, we are learning about the secret springs that dictate the development of the story. This knowledge from the beginning created bias against the political scene that is drawn in the novel as being absolutely cynical, breeding various excesses and leaving no opportunities for any positive self-realization. The mass media appears to be one of the most important structural elements of its representation: we are observing the images of the media people who if not being directly named, then possess the unequivocal pseudonyms that might indicate sort of a “conspiracy” with the reader (“Mayor”, “Daughter”, “Prime-Minister”, “Prosecutor” etc.), or obtain the recognizable characteristic. However, it is not just the “TV politics” of ceremonies and banquets alien to the viewer. The presence of the hero adds to it the specific permeability that is close to the sincerity of the “reality show”13 About the genre of the reality show, which, by the way, emerged on the Russian TV in the same 2001, see Zverev 2004. Prohkhanov’s descriptions have mostly in common with the commemorable show “Okna” [Windows].13. “Beloseltsev experienced torturing astonishment, painful incomprehension: why was he led to this hall and why was he made the witness of the intimate meeting? He, a stranger, was shown the underhand side of the power where onlookers do not penetrate. He was allowed to take a look at the court scene with its single shot costing the earth”. The participants of this show are always busy articulating their malicious intentions14 For more details see Ryklin 2003.14 that rather correspond to what is imposed on the respective media persons by the patriotic editions and, in particular, by Prokhanov himself in the editorials of the newspaper Zavtra15 Compare with the promotion in the novel of the concept of family being crucial for the political discourse of the end of the 1990s (see Orlova 2004).15. The oligarch Zaretsky, for instance, in his long speech at the reception in the Kremlin in all details and with taste describes the wrack of the empire that was performed by “them” who are easily recognizable for the reader: “We deprived the people of their country, they’ve given it away without a battle, and we broke it into pieces, as a chocolate bar, we are eating its sweet pieces one by one. We deprived engineers and workers of their wonderful plants where they were producing atomic reactors and cosmic ships and made them produce plastic bottles for Pepsi-cola etc.”

At the same time, the look of the main hero who seeing “TV politics” himself and determining its grotesqueness is of great importance for the reader’s perception of the political scene. The depictions of the media people made through the lens of Beloseltsev are full of zoomorphic metaphors as well as descriptions of various body mutations and excesses16 See Romanova s.a. The stylistic of these depictions unconsciously reminds of the illustrations in the newspaper “Zavtra”, in particular, “epical cartoons” that are often placed on the first page of the edition.16. Moreover, Prokhanov’s metaphor often loses its figurativeness being employed literally. “Zaretsky began to lose his lines, forms and color, was plumping like a jelly and vibrating like a giant floating jelly-fish”. “When the father was healthy and strong, they were groveling at him, were kissing his night shoe. I remember how the Mayor came to congratulate daddy on the New Year eve. Our niece stayed by us, she was just a small kid... The Mayor fell to his knees and began to act out a dog, he barked and bit daddy’s pants with his teeth... Dad, you know his jokes, in order to jollify the kid, threw a beef bone to the floor, and what you would think, the Mayor started to crunch it like a dog!..” In other words, the “clairvoyant” look of Beloseltsev appears to be sort of a projector of the metaphors obtaining the form of reality.

In this sense, the episode of the conversation with Grechishnikov on the Vorobievy Gory where he opens Beloseltsev’s eyes to what is happening is mostly illustrative. Bending an ear to Grechishnikov, “Beloseltsev was watching Moscow, its rose-white, flesh-colour tones, in which one could catch the breath of life... Among the white fogs and blue running shadows the Ostankinskaya needle was shining finely, well-honed, as an end of a syringe. The poisonous ampoule has been already injected. The tiny fountain of beads is sparkling into the sky. The punctured arm with twisted veins is ready. The red rubber tube is running into the flabby skin. The sharp is sticking into the blue-black vein; the yellowy dissolution is slowly flowing inside. The worn-out, exhausted face of the druggy, with his blue whites of the eyes like a moon was stolen over by madness. The big, shaggy face of Svanidze with red lips, rose moist canines is cachinnating”. Being the attribute of the witness, the look also plays a substantial role in the grotesque transformations of the reality filling the text of the novel: “With his clairvoyant look Beloseltsev found out that underneath the expensive fabric of the suit the analyst’s body lacked nipples, navel, and genitalia. He has no scalp. Neither there is any living human skin. It is all placed into the thick black case as a mobile phone with the laced firm stitches along the arms and legs, ribs and groin embracing the crotch and going up along the back”.

In the novel the grotesque media-reality “overcovers” the “real” horrors (the description of the theater of the Chechen military operations, the story of a refugee woman etc.), which thereby perform an exceptionally “ornamental” function. Drawing attention to this peculiarity of the novel, Timofeeva interprets it from the psychoanalytical viewpoint: “It is indicative that he (Beloseltsev. — B.S.) observes being at the safe distance, and the catastrophic scene usually fascinates him, hypnotizes. Regarding these descriptions, the author provides them in abundance, obviously relishing them. The salt and instantaneity of the episode and its unbearableness expose the author’s joy, provoke the reader’s joy, and disclose joy of the hero. Neither by death nor by blood — but rather by the scene of the sublime”17 Timofeeva 2003: 205 (compare Zolotonosov 2002; Turkina, Mazin 2002). This begs the analogy with the impact of the blockbuster (see Podoroga 2006: 276).17. Another manifestation of this hypostasis of the media-reality might be the fact that media technologies are depicted by Prokhanov as a magic tool in its full sense18 See descriptions of the electronic Khazaria or the TV Empire of Astros (Prokhanov 2002: 107—111, 160— 173).18. The fantasmagorie of the events adds to the sentimental memories and dreams that the hero is always falling into.

It is clear that in such situation the opportunities of any reflexion, both ideological and ethical, are close to null. Although Prokhanov talks about Beloseltsev’s “journeys” to the “red sense” and “white sense”, in essence there is no confrontation of the ideological positions in this “patriotic” novel. Despite plenty of denunciations and (self) exposures nothing positive or even certain in the axiological sense can emerge. It is true that sometimes Beloseltsev tries to ethically evaluate the actions of his comrades for whom the goal justifies the means, but as already mentioned these evaluations did not make him act. Even anti-Semitism and xenophobia never turned into the clear ideological program. These discourses, of course, obtained reality emerging in the consciousness and inner speech of the main hero, but they also as the saying goes “insolently” can be put into the mouth of the negative heroes. Kopeyko, one of the participants of the conspiracy “Swahili” and bodyguard of the oligarch Zaretsky, for example, becomes (after the overthrow of his Jewish patron) an ardent anti-Semite19 On the transformations of antiSemitism by Prokhanov see Timofeeva 2008: 360—367.19. The fact that phraseologically the “patriotic” statements are very often built on the negative definitions generated by the dominating liberal discourse is also rather illustrative in terms of the ideological ambiguity and dependence on the mass media. Beloseltsev, e.g., watching the Caucasians in the market place, as the author writes, is having a “feeling of desecrated chauvinism”20 Prokhanov 2002: 167.20 for them. At the same time, it is worth noting that anti-Semitism and xenophobia are confirmed by the background characteristics of a number of important scenes of the narrative21 For instance, the description of the cooperation between the oligarchs and the Chechens.21, which is the back side of its ethical underdevelopment.

Due to the lack of the “challenging action” that normally exposes to a reader the identity of a thriller’s hero as well as the ideological reflexion, the identification of Beloseltsev is determined through his attitude towards the holder of power. Lured by the political intrigue beyond his control, Beloseltsev sort of pointed at the “true” hero of the story — the Elect, whose ascend to power constitutes the essence of all the “operations” described in the novel. The Elect is kind of alter ego of Beloseltsev: the descriptions always emphasize his obscurity, mysteriousness, and therefore being of different nature vis-à-vis others. “Beloseltsev tries to catch the Elect’s faint gesture, his throwaway word in order to guess what the future will be like. He was happy that the Elect being among the enemies never exposed himself. He stayed unknown to them. He was tucked in the cloud that protected him. If the fearful pupils of the Prime-Minister, Zaretsky’s eyes looking suspiciously and keenly, or cow-eyed foggy look of the Daughter, or gimlet-eye of the Artist disclosed his secret, he would be threatened with the immediate death. Beloseltsev adored his patience and calmness. He stopped looking at him so that not to expose him with his steadfast gaze. And again he was taking a look at him little by little in order to conceive the essence of a person whom he had already started to serve, sworn an oath of loyalty and for whom he will voluntarily die if necessary”. However, at the end of the novel this character mysteriously vanishes leaving only colorful splashes and emptiness.

As an alternative to the whole media-performance there is the “people prophet” Nikolai Nikolaevich in the novel. He and his surrounding are depicted as the “oasis of humanity”. The “delirious speeches” of the people prophet also sound differently — markedly folkloristic, filled with witticisms as well as various images and symbols obtaining the mystical sense (“The Russian Paradise”, “Serpent”, “Garden” etc.). However, these speeches are different only in the stylistic terms since Nikolai Nikolaevich as well as the participants of the project “Swahili” foresee the advent of the Elect, thereby confirming the skeleton of the novel’s plot.

The model of the (self)identification of the hero and the reader that is used in Prokhanov’s novel can be characterized by the notion “Soviet”. In the first place, “the Soviet” is the image of integrity, which Beloseltsev seeks to identify himself with. This integrity “is represented” in two forms: first, in the form of the pantheon of the Soviet heroes and symbols, second, in the form of the pictures describing the greatness of the Russian (=imperial) statehood combined with the technological might22 All of this alludes to the ideological constructions of the late Stalinist period. On Prokhanov’s literary genealogy see Talant 2003.22.

As regards the “Soviet pantheon”, it is not just reproduced to the fullest extent including the forefront as well as the middle-ground players and also with new names filling its ranks. The reproduction of this pantheon sort of mirrored the mechanism of forming the Soviet ideological language. As G.Orlova shrewdly noticed in her analysis of the rhetoric strategies in the newspaper Zavtra, “the restoring technique (of the Soviet — B.S.) is grounded of the archeology of ideology — extraction of the latent religious codes that constitute the core of the Soviet symbols to the surface. Left radicals add to the concealed metaphors of the Soviet language acuteness of the real... “the temple under the open sky — The Red Square”, “the altar of belief — Mausoleum”, “the talisman of the mysterious Red civilization — Lenin’s body”, the pronounced equality of the New and Lenin’s testaments etc... The reverse inversion i.e. the return to the communist attitudes and values of the initial Christian twist allows for the description of the symbolic (it is as such in the text. — B.S.) capital of bolshevism in the notions of the eternal, permanent, mystical”23 Orlova 2003.23. “When a serpent moves the Russian stone, then the world will be gone... I do not want to be someone else, but God orders... The Russian stone is too heavy... Golgotha is made of it... Christ lies under the Russian stone, comrade Stalin, Alexander Matrosov... Only children can deal with the Russian stone... All the Russian people are kids, and who their mother is, you should understand on your own... The arrow of the world is flying against the sun, whereas the Russian arrow is flying towards the sun... The river of the world is flowing downhill, while the Russian one uphill... God gave us soil so that we rebuild it with our hands and kisses... Christ will come to Russia and kiss everyone in the eyes, only then we will see Paradise... Do you know Krasnaya Presnya? There is general Makashov... Trust him... He stood up against the heebs and this is why he was killed...” It is important that the Soviet often overshadows the religious as such. Here one can cite the examples of the contradiction of the holy graves of A.Matrosov and Z.Kosmodemyanskaya with the “ingenuine” burials of the Tsar’s remains as well as Beloseltsev’s complaints about returning to Dimitrov street its former name — Yakimanka that was given to it in honor of Blessed Virgin’s parents Anne and Joachim24 Some patriotic critic (see, i.e., Orlov 2001) reproach the author for the underestimation of the religious.24.

The symbols of the “Soviet” differ in their extent of sacralization. The most sacred is the one connected to the main event of the epoch, the Great Patriotic War25 For more details see Gudkov 2004.25. If Stalin, Zhukov, war heroes are depicted absolutely within the canonical framework, Lenin can already become a subject to the aesthetical experiment. The “people prophet” talks about him as a mythological defender of Moscow from the serpent, but Beloseltsev went to Mausoleum in the search for the “red sense” and found there the decayed remains of the leader. Lenin’s body described by Prokhanov in details and in the naturalistic manner typical to the author symbolizes for Beloseltsev the nostalgic memory about the irrevocable great epoch. “Beloseltsev understood that the great epoch had been irrevocably gone being separated from the other history like a solar prominence. In this epoch that has already ended he, Beloseltsev, himself came to an end, in his strongest, and best manifestations. His love, devotion as well as the highest sense of the existence burned in this secret prominence flied out of the hiding depths of the Universe and being embodied in the person, whose dead disgusting flesh hanged over the enameled bathtub pressing the twisted dirty towels”. All the more so, R.Zemlyachka, R.Luxemburg, L.Kaganovich etc. not going through the “fifth circle” can be any moment excluded out of the “canon”.

The speeches of the destroyers of Russia, the representatives of the dark forces being concerned with the destruction and plunder of the country became of no less importance in stressing the greatness of the “Soviet”. The substantial function of these speeches is to outline the symbolic abundance similar to that material abundance which in its literal sense is used by the representatives of glitterati. The inability of the identification through anything else but the discourse of power within the novel’s reality makes the pleasure noticed by O.Timofeeva inevitable i.e. the pleasure from the catastrophe, from experiencing the cohesiveness through the descriptions of its destruction that reach Beloseltsev’s ear (are being exposed to his look).

In its turn, the world of politics and media that the authors of such descriptions belong to are subjects to the active negative sacralization. “The downward structuring of the evil’s instances, superstitious avoidance of the true names, appeal to the unverbalized fears, rhetoric from Johann represent only some tactical methods of filling the infernal political metaphors with reality, — G.Orlova underlines. — If in the Soviet version of demonism the political agents obtained the metaphysical status, the modern left-radical variant of the negative sacralization allows to turn metaphysical substances into the political agents”26 Orlova 2003.26. The grotesque images of the public figures are full of the reified metaphors of wickedness and infernality that is often depicted through the images of reptilians, amphibians etc. Moreover, in contrast to the Soviet canon of the political demonology infernality in this case does not require realistic support since it alludes to the metaphysical evil and world backstage, which in this isolated space i.e. Russia in the novel (there are no foreigners in the book, and only telephone wires lead to the West) can not be unambiguously and clearly identified. The status of one or another instance of the world evil in the author’s or the hero’s words are determined exclusively through the discursive specificity of the moment.

To be fair, it is worth noting that the personal, colored in the elegiac tones Soviet past of the intelligence agent Beloseltsev that he is nostalgically going through and getting his memories from is presented in the novel. This past linked to the hero’s participation in the local conflicts on the other continents include love, confrontation with the American intelligence operator Macvillen and even the sense of guilt that is ultimately exploited by the KGB associates mobilizing Beloseltsev.


The novel by Prokhanov could be successful only provided that the balance between the “mass” and “intellectual”, “right” and “left” changed. The novel provoked dissonant evaluations with the debate occurring between the “patriots” and “liberals” as well as and of no less intensively within the “liberal” and patriotic camps. Neither a lot of liberals nor some “patriotic” critics accepted Mr. Hexogen27 On the evaluations of “Mr. Hexogen” by the “patriotic” critics see Danilkin 2007; Ogryzko 2005.27. Those who did not just welcome its edition, but like B.Bondarenko attached to it the same importance as to The Young Guard and How the Steel Was Tempered had to make up explanations that would justify in the reader’s eyes the ambiguity of the novels’ literary construction as well as its promotion.

The edition of the novel in the publishing house Ad Marginem is interpreted by Bondarenko as the “sudden breakthrough of the red — not straight, head-on, where they were not expected, but through the rotten Sivash, being in the opaque water up to a chin. Of course, one had to slurp the rotten water. The sinister skull on the cover is a well-thought-out revenge for the breakthrough”28 Bondarenko 2002: 3.28. He argues that such a breakthrough became possible due to the fact that Prokhanov approved himself not only as a politician and reporter, but also as an artist and created the patriotic work measuring up to the “classic literature” in the form of the prophetic metaphoric novel rather than in the form of the “simple stories about the people’s grief” or “supreme power’s crime stories and science fiction”. At the same time, the positive message of Mr. Hexogen is still as in the old (in the Soviet?) days simple: “This whole parade of metaphors, bestiary of the political monsters, the whole set of the outstanding conspiracy and detective schemes, all the jactitations and reflections of the suffering hero ultimately come down to the simple motto that over all these years appeared to be retained: serve your state. And you will be right... The novel inspires all of those who did not leave their motherland in hour of need... to desire to live and win”. It is interesting that Bondarenko also positively evaluates the motive of repetition that intensifies the feeling of the contrivedness of the events that is stressed in the novel’s structure by dividing the actions into the “operations”: “One myth is being replaced with another in the book as well as in life itself, but Russia is destined to live further... the mystery of the Russian life is going on”. “The inability to wake up” appears to be the prerequisite for the supreme truth29 Bondarenko 2002: 4.29.

The critic D.Olshansky with his famous scandalous formulation of the modern literature’s task such as “Constructing. Snubbing. Staying put.” who declared his transition to the “patriotic” camp sees the similar message of the novel. “Constructing implies by any means encouraging spread of the edificatory ideas targeted against the liberal arrogance. Snubbing means paying strict attention to the phenomena that are repugnant to the writer’s and person’s consciousness. Staying put means accepting power in its different forms and manifestations with dignity, not insisting on the evil individualism. In other words, comprehending the order”30 See Olshansky 2002. Curiously enough, that along with such understandings there is the interpretation of the novel an anti-etatist work (see Fefelov 2001).30.

The “intellectuals” evaluating the novel most often refer to its aesthetic uniqueness. However, the “energetics” i.e. the most popular qualification of the novel’s “artistism” that distinguishes it from the “boring”, “anemic” and “dull” liberal literature is interpreted differently. Some critics attach Mr. Hexogen to the frontier literature being on equal terms with the Western “left” psychedelic prose by E.Burroughs and H.Thompson as well as the works of the Russian postmodernists (above all, V.Sorokin, V.Pelevin and P.Pepperstein)31 See, e.g., Danilkin 2002.31. The other, on the contrary, see the advantage of the novel in the denial of any aesthetics, intentional tastelessness, violation of the moral and aesthetic norms that is what sends us to something beyond literature i.e. reality32 See Kultura 2002.32. From their perspective, the specific “reality” of the novel corresponds neither to the described range of the events nor to any political-ideological message. The critic Zotov views it in the following way: “...The political beliefs of the author are of any importance only because they spoil the aesthetics of the novel... Prokhanov’s texts represent the facts of the Russian language rather than political proclamations that are the same whether they are in Chinese, Swahili, or Russian. However, who else’s among the today’s “titans of writing” descriptions of the reality are developing from the “inner image” i.e. literary technique that practically disappeared from the Russian literature after Lomonosov and Radishchev?!”33 Zotov 2002.33 This reality is identified as an “experience”, “feeling of the history” related to the “Soviet” and as R.Barthes puts it to its “imperiality”. The USSR might have been 100% evil and tasteless empire, — L.Danilkin notices, — but the “Soviet” was not 100% marasmic as it is usually referred to now; the empire and the discourse related to it possessed passion, might and will to victory. No one except for Prokhanov adequately in the linguistic terms stated this missile-nuclear Soviet tastelessness and served it in 2001 as the living, biting one. The rightful word, it is worth being exhibited in the Museum of the Modern Art”34 Danilkin 2002 (see also Kultura 2002; Trofimenkov 2002; Kurabye, Adobova 2002; Romer 2005). Here the desire to downplay the political implications of Prokhanov’s novel and present it as a aesthetically fine phenomenon.34. This rehabilitation of the “Soviet” is the basis for the literary biography of Prokhanov and determines the twist of the new literary project of the publishing house Ad Marginem — the series Atlantida that covers samples of the Stalinist period mass literature.

Therefore, the success story of Mr. Hexogen is symptomatic in its ambivalence, both literary and political one35 The success story of Prokhanov’s novel corresponds to the whole range of important processes in the literary life in the end of the 1990s — the beginning of the 2000s (the rapid increase in the role of PR and grants’ institute, the ascent of marginals, the efficiency of the scandalous strategy etc.). For more details see Dubin 2004.35. It is probably the first patriotic novel that was legitimized within the modern postmodernist literature. Interestingly enough, in his latest interview Prokhanov himself included the postmodern authors in his genealogy. “The achievement of our postmodernists, in the first place Sorokin and Pelevin lies in the fact that they managed to cast a net over the crumbling Universe. They did not reach synthesis, but they prevented debris from flying off. They managed to gather these debris and chips in their texts. This is the foundation that the next generation of artists and thinkers can work on; practically nothing is lost”36 See Prokhanov s.a.36.

Undoubtedly there is no postmodernist reflexion in Prokhanov’s novel since it claims to be experimental and to provide an opportunity of the control over the formations of the ideological preferences. The radicalization of literature that manifested in the success of the novel by Prokhanov appeared to be the simulation of its critical function. Instead of the reflexion vis-à-vis the formula of the mass genre, TV “picture”, nostalgia about the “Soviet”, their sacralization and metaphorization take place. The metaphoric nature of Mr. Hexogen, which reveals the dependence of literature on TV (it is the recognizability of the media persons and the clip speedy metaphoric transformations that create the “psychedelic” effect) and leaves the reader with nothing else but the role of the passive observer of the events inside that is permanently being exposed, is the destruction of the narrative structure. This “hostage syndrome” sublimates into the attempts of the self-identification through the search for an enemy37 Compare the psychoanalytic interpretation of this episode in M.Ryklin’s work (Ryklin 2003: 287—309).37. It is indicative that the creator of the novel easily found his niche in the public space that is so maliciously described in the book. In this sense, the obscure image of the hero over time is increasingly compensated by the clarity of the position of Prokhanov himself who being a media person claims to carry out the function of the social critic. Moreover, it is rather obvious that in practice it is expressed in the convergence with the ideological mainstream.

The readiness to accept within literature the discourse produced by the newspaper Zavtra can be regarded as the reaction towards the phenomenon of the “mockery” typical of the cultural situation in the 1990s, the ironic reduction of the meaningful symbols. In the situation of the intensive development of the mass communications space mockery is becoming the strategy of the intellectuals claiming for the leadership38 See Dubin 2001.38. The interest in Prokhanov’s novel is linked to the attempt to distance from the liberal conjuncture — in some cases from the literary (I.Zotov or L.Pirogov), in other — from the political one (for example, D.Olshansky or A.Ivanov). In this aspect, Mr. Hexogen is comparable to other works of the beginning of the 2000s e.g. with A.Balabanov’s movies Brother-1 and Brother-2, which, however, have rather clear (and in some respects rather reflexive) narrative structure39 Comp. Trofimenkov 2003.39.

We suppose that the chauvinist discourse performs a somewhat different function in the novel in contrast to the editorials of the newspaper Zavtra where it is used with the purpose of the “direct articulation” of the people anger. The politically incorrect statements do not perform the program’s function here, but rather become the expression of a ‘new realism” and “new genuineness” with “pochvennost” (return to soil) being transformed not only into political, but also aesthetic characteristic. Their background painting dictates the peculiar type of “our”, “non-reflexive”, “authentic” sociality. It is no accidence that during the promotion of the novel some critical reviews tended to deny even the literary reflexion, for instance, the conception of the “postintellectualism” by L.Pirogov. The “politically incorrect vigor” of the aesthetics of Mr. Hexogen, according to the critics who sympathize with him, links it — “beyond” the liberal literary process — to the to the same extent politically incorrect tradition of the “true”, in the first place, Russian literature40 See e.g. Kunitsyn 2002; Danilkin 2002. In the context of what has been said all the references to the Russian literary tradition such as, for instance, the wanderer’s verge that at the end of the novel Beloseltsev is left with is only nominal. On the provocative character of the “new sincerity” in connection with another bright cultural phenomenon of the beginning of the 2000s see Kaspe, Smurova 2002.40.

From the perspective of the described strategy of distancing it is symptomatic that the “fueilleton imperialism” of Prokhanov41 The question on the correlation of Prokhanov’s novel with the conservative shift of the mass literature requires a separate analysis. On this shift regarding science fiction see e.g. Volodikhin, s.a.41 returns the displaced “Soviet” (“right”, “conservative” etc. — in this case all these definitions are inevitably tentative) as a combination of the sacralized and tabooed. In this narrative full of pathos the left, conservative, nationalist and sometimes even liberal positions are combined42 See Lenin 2002.42. At the same time, this narrative is also “loaded” with the background of political incorrectness, which is acknowledged by the critics to be the important component of the “energetics” of Prokhanov’s writing that they emphasize. Within the context of the descriptions of the establishment’s life in combination with exotics being inherent in Beloseltsev’s memories and visions the “Soviet” as an object of nostalgia is becoming the image of the symbolic abundance that is designed to provoke reaction of the reader who was driven by the mass media into the state of the “cold shock”. Thus, creating the point of the departure from the negative image of the 1990s, Prokhanov’s novel significantly anticipates new political aesthetics of the state patriotism, in which there is practically no room for the politics as the sphere of the society’s “adequate application”43 For more details on this aesthetics see Zvereva 2006.43.


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