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In 2006, a leading Moscow publisher issued Texts Published Without the Permission of the Author, comprised of the works of a well-known Russian poet. Rather than a lawsuit, the book resulted in a literary symposium, accompanied by a debate about the nature of copyright and, finally, the first translation of Kirill Medvedev’s works into English. In December 2012, It’s No Good: poems/essays/actions—a compilation of the thirty-seven-year-old poet-activist’s work—was published, indeed, technically without the permission of the author, by n+1 and Ugly Duckling Presse.
Medvedev, a controversial figure in the contemporary Russian poetry scene, stopped publishing in 2003. He would continue to release poetry, essays, and calls to political action on his Web site, LiveJournal, and Facebook page. But he renounced all rights to his own work. “I have no copyright to my texts,” he wrote in Manifesto on Copyright, “and cannot have any such right.” He became more deeply involved in leftist activism. Some thought him washed up, a has-been, even crazy. Others were angered by what they deemed a gimmick.
Critical of the post-Soviet liberal intelligentsia, makers of the culture who came to dominate an increasingly booming nineties Russia, Medvedev—who was born in Moscow in 1975—and his work issue directly from the tradition he critiques; his father was a well-known post-Soviet journalist. A decisive moment of separation might be found in his abdication of the most basic literary right. Read More
Each Sunday, we would walk down Lexington together, the conversation taking the tempo of our steps: slow, meditative, purposeful. She’d always be in immediate need of a coffee, so we would head for our café. The one on Seventy-something, a fifteen-minute walk from her place. We would never spend too much time in her apartment beforehand. I would go up to get her, maybe sit in her kitchen for five minutes while she got her things together, keys jangling, and we’d leave. I would try to take in the walls of books, visually inhaling the pillows collected over years and continents, and those curtains—thick buttery beige, like icing. Framed photographs from the seventies—the nuclear family—lining the bookcases, soaked in that sunny filter of the era, then sun-soaked again by the morning light.
At the café, we’d speak of her writing, about what she was working on, what movies we’d each recently seen and if they were any good. If we’d spotted any celebrities downtown, we would share what they’d been wearing and she would tell me her dreams. We would sometimes order two scoops of vanilla ice cream to share, and she’d urge me to finish the last bite. If conversation lagged, I might tell her I felt a West Coast phase coming on.
She would read my writing and tell me what was good and what wasn’t (she’d never say anything like she “saw great potential” in me—nothing like that, nothing that might threaten eyes to roll). She’d advise me as a professional equal and as a child, which is exactly how I would feel sitting across from her, two times her size and one-third her age, her books overstuffing my backpack.
“You don’t think in terms of suddenly making it,” she would tell me, remembering when Play It as It Lays first came out. “You think you have some stable talent that will show no matter what you’re writing, and if it doesn’t seem to be getting across to the audience once, you can’t imagine that moment when it suddenly will.” I would nod. “Gradually,” she’d add, “gradually you gain that confidence.”
She wouldn’t always be nice to me. She might be in a foul mood and take it out on me a bit, but then she would always be fair. That’s how I’d know she was taking me seriously. I would be aware then, I wouldn’t have to wait until I was older to recognize, that this acknowledgment, this leveling, was more valuable than anything else.
Her secrets would be my secrets, and mine hers—in so much as people share their secrets. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, she’d say knowingly, eyeing the stacks of journals overflowing my lap, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss. I would shrug and scribble a note or two.
I’d learn her way of being, how she took up space. How she liked her eggs, where she’d sniff after words and what that meant, which was her favorite linen dress. And I’d learn to sketch maps of her intellectual processes. I suppose she would learn mine as well. She had many friends, of course, so it wouldn’t be like I was giving her something to do. She would meet with me for some other reason, one that would never be entirely clear to me. Years later, I would still wonder.
One day in late March, I took some pictures of the crowds of protesters in Union Square, newly arrived from Zuccotti Park. The week before, more than seventy protesters had been arrested, and the Union Square encampment evicted in a fashion many Occupiers described as gratuitously violent. Ramarley Graham had been killed about a month before, and the racially-charged practice of stop-and-frisk was asserting itself into mainstream consciousness. Trayvon Martin was now a household name. And since the previous August, one revelation after another had surfaced about the NYPD’s secret Muslim surveillance program. So people gathered on March 24.
Tall, glittery women milled about with signs that proclaimed SOCIAL JUSTICE IS FABULOUS!, at one point posing for a picture with veteran progressives whose cardboard sign read PROTESTING IS NOT A CRIME IT IS A RIGHT!. One man held a white square above his head with red Chinese characters and their English translation in black: PROTECT HUMAN RIGHTS. PEACE FREEDOM DEMOCRACY. A LONG WAY TO GO. A young guy pontificated, a lit, dripping, handmade candle his microphone. A “naughty policewoman” balanced on the toes of her ice skates, legs angled and baton in hand, her sign saying something about police wiping their collective ass with the Constitution. Former Police Captain Ray Lewis promoted the documentary Inside Job, while the Hare Krishnas, gathered in the square as usual, sang and danced in full force.
These pictures, I didn’t realize at the time, would be lost. Innocent of their fate, I took photographs that day as most people do, with the idea that this was not a test.
Thirty minutes after leaving Union Square, I arrived at the Jewish Museum, where “The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936–1951” was on view for its last day in New York City. (The exhibit is currently at the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, set to travel to San Francisco and West Palm Beach.) And while the sparse grandeur of Museum Mile was in contrast to the teeming crowd of Union Square, the trajectory felt logical. Read More