This week, Book Puke is honored to be a part of Zarina Zabrisky's virtual book tour for A Cute Tombstone! There is still time to follow the tour - follow the link on the banner below.
In Zarina Zabrisky’s A CUTE TOMBSTONE, Lyn Minkin is a Russian woman who lives in the United States, but is alerted that her mother has passed away--in Russia. Lyn, whose full name in Russian is Polina Iosifovna, must go make plans for her mother’s--and her motherland’s--death.
Below is a discussion of Zarina Zabrisky’s article "Pussy Riot: The New Face of Avant Garde" and the connection between the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin's government. The Pussy Riot artists protested the same trend that Zabrisky show in A CUTE TOMBSTONE--only three years later, when the things crystallized. Now, two years after their protest, and five years after her story was written, the nation is brainfucked to idiocy and we are just looking back at how it had happened...
SOME BACKGROUND FROM A CUTE TOMBSTONE:
The funeral of Lyn’s mother coincides with a Russian national holiday: “Dying on April 30th was a terrible idea. Every year, Russian people start drinking excessive amounts of vodka on May 1st--the former Day of Solidarity with World Proletarian, the inheritance of Soviet times--and don’t stop until May 9th--the Day of Russian Victory in World War II. One set of my grandparents died in Holocaust, another in the Leningrad Siege. I like May 9th. I don’t like the drunken stupor that tales over the whole country for ten days--May 10th is a national hangover day--but it’s our tradition. We thrive on traditions.”
It is not only mother, but motherland, that has died. Zarina Zabrisky comments on the death of Russia through Lyn’s experiences: And some traditions are falsified--the memories of non-existent, the photoshopped idols, the phantoms of faith that simply was not there… “A new, freshly painted church--peaches and cream--reminded me of a giant glazed donut. It used to be a public bathhouse in the old times.” The Soviets banned religion. They turned churches into warehouses and gyms. The Cathedral of Our Saviour Christ where the Pussy Riot had their punk prayer, used to be an open air swimming pool. It was heated and open even in freezing winters and looked like hell with all the steam and vapors coming from the water… Putin rebuilt it, along with many other churches. He knew very well that he needed more than the tradition of drinking. In place of ideology he needed blind faith.
The Autopsy Specialist in the morgue asks Lyn: “When is the church service?” She contemplates the differences in Russia, the changes that are being made to control the people: “This was the fourth time, I thought. Some things had changed. According to Karl Marx, religion was opium for people. So, in the Soviet Union, churches and warehouses became warehouses. Religion just didn’t exist.” In Russia that Lyn rediscovers, everyone is suddenly piously religious--from her ethnically Jewish uncle, a former atheist, to her childhood best friend, a fashionista and nouveau riche. The fear of God is the fear of authority. The fear of power. All that has to be done, is to assign the former KGB officer to the Patriarch of the whole Russia and--voila! Putin is god sent. Vote for Putin, or you will burn in hell.
THE CONNECTION TO PUSSY RIOT:
...society turns into a travesty. Everyone participates. Those in power stage its own elaborate absurd spectacle. According to Ekaterina Samutsevich, another Pussy Riot artist, "Putin, in need of more persuasive, transcendental guarantees of his long tenure at the pinnacle of power" uses "the aesthetic of the Orthodox religion... historically associated with the heyday of Imperial Russia, where power came not from earthly manifestations such as democratic elections and civil society, but from God Himself." Putin’s former KGB colleague Gundyayev becomes the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church and announces Putin "a gift from God." The Cathedral of Christ the Savior is now used as a "flashy backdrop for the politics of the security forces, the main source of power in Russia," along with the glass cage and barking dogs of the trial room.
The Pussy Riot artists take their turn performing their "punk prayer" in front of the same "flashy backdrop” of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Their act has a feel of parody: the element unacceptable to the Russian Orthodox officials.
Both shock and laughter shake the observer from his or her comfort zone and suddenly reveal the absurdity of religious zeal with its kneeling, maniac bowing, and pagan throws of holy fools. The illusion of sacred ritual is broken. The comfort of habit is exploded, revealing its mechanics devoid of magic.
Says Tolokonnikova: "We were looking for genuineness and simplicity and we found them in the holy foolishness of our punk performances. Passion, openness and naivety are superior to hypocrisy, cunning and a contrived decency that conceals crimes. The state’s leaders stand with saintly expressions in church but, in their deceit, their sins are far greater than ours."
Taking the translation the "punk prayer" art language a step further: The prayer is performed at the altar, banned for women in the Russian Orthodox Church. The staging is meant to draw attention to the role of women in Putin's Russia.
By covering the face and emphasizing the female body shape, Pussy Riot minimizes a woman to her gender, reduces her to genitals. Russian women have been traditionally reduced to sex objects. The Pussy Riot artists drive this role to absurdity, objectifying a woman to the extreme.
The first part of the band name highlights the concept. In the best tradition of avant-garde art, Pussy Riot creates the first shock by "slapping the face of the public taste." Speaking about sex and body parts related to sex was a taboo for generations of Soviet citizens. Breaking these taboos is highly arousing. The sexual excitement is perceived as wrong and punishable. So even saying the name of the band-- "Pussy Riot"--is punishable as it is arousing.
The symbolic "pussy" of Pussy Riot is a protesting vagina. This is the most dangerous type. In a totalitarian state, vaginas are state property. Women are food, sex and children providers. They generate and raise new human material, cannon fodder, the new fuel for the state. Slaves produce slaves. Hence a conforming woman is the foundation of a totalitarian state.
"Pussy Riot" creates a major threat. The "mother" rebels against the existing power--"fathers" of all sorts, tsars, Lenin, Stalin, Putin--the patriarchal Russian state. A non-conforming "pussy" can not be a "mother."
Zarina Zabrisky is the author of two short story collections, IRON and A CUTE TOMBSTONE (Epic Rites Press), and a novel WE, MONSTERS (Numina Press). Zabrisky's work has appeared in over thirty literary magazines and anthologies in the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, Hong Kong, and Nepal. She is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a recipient of 2013 Acker Award. Read more about the author at zarinazabrisky.com. You can purchase A CUTE TOMBSTONE here!