Friday, October 21, 2005

Email sent to AS on his article about the end of gay culture:

Thanks for your thoughtful essay. I'm a straight, 39 year-old guy who learned a lot from it. An interesting parallel struck me: I'm a Russian-speaker and studied at a Soviet literary institute in 1986, before Gorbachev’s reforms had taken hold, and was exposed through friends to the vibrant samizdat culture of the time. Marvelous works that could never have passed the official sensors for publication, such as Venedikt Yerofeyev’s Moskva-Petushki, passed from hand to hand and were copied in pen or typed. An elderly lady I met held informal art showings in her apartment, including modernist religious paintings. Young people would head with a few hours' notice to the woods outside the outer ring of Moscow to hear impromptu acoustic concerts by underground bands. There was a stratum of Soviet bohemenians who were far more cultured and literate than their counterparts in the West, who survived through menial day jobs in archives or museums, and lived semi-secret lives of creativity and expression. In the late 1980s, this subculture very temporarily exploded into the mainstream, as glasnost allowed publication of long-banned works and everyone on the subway would be simultaneously reading the most recently released, previously unavailable work of Bulgakov or Solzhenitsyn.

In the (relative) freedom of the Yeltsin and Putin era, that subculture died, and indeed Russian culture seems to have temporarily gone sterile (with a few bright exceptions, such as the novelist Viktor Pelevin). No sane person would want a return of the Soviets, but there is no denying that something moving and beautiful has been lost. I even wonder if a certain kind of creativity flowers best in captivity, like a plant that can only grow in a confined space. And here's a question for you: As gay people suffer less from isolation and oppression, will they lead less often in creative expression?