Monday, November 03, 2014

One of the most amazing people on Earth

I have a slight obsession with reviews of an unreliable biography about an obscure (at least to most Westerners) Russian countercultural dissident antihero with unpalatable politics written by a man who, if the other works of his I've read are any indication, examines the external world primarily as a means of examining himself.

According to Matt Taibi, "Edward Limonov is one of the most amazing people on Earth, the author of a few truly great books, a man who has lived a fuller life than any 10 of your most interesting friends combined."

Limonov: The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia, a fictional biography by Emmanuel Carrère.

Matt Taibi, NPR:
Carrere wonders: What could Limonov be thinking? "Does it amuse him," he writes, "the outlaw, the mad dog, to play the virtuous Democrat?" He spends the rest of the book trying to answer the question: Is this last part the act? Or was it the earlier part?

Carrere struggles with that theme throughout, and in the end toys with a horrifying surprise conclusion: Limonov is above all else a failure.
Julian Barnes, The Guardian:
The conformist loves the transgressor, the bourgeois loves the punk, the careful man the adventurer; while the Parisian intellectual (see Sartre and "Saint Genet") typically loves the intransigent despiser of all that Parisian intellectuals stand for. Some, if not all of these themes play out in Limonov. [...]

Why, then, is he interesting? Flaubert, asked to justify his interest in Nero and the Marquis de Sade, replied, "These monsters explain history to us." Limonov is not a monster, though would perhaps like to think himself one; he is a philosophical punk, a chancer, a blood-and-soil patriot who imagined himself a cleansing political force. Carrère, reflecting on his subject's escapades, decides that:

He sees himself as a hero; you might call him a scumbag; I suspend my judgment on the matter. But ... I thought to myself, his romantic, dangerous life says something. Not just about him, Limonov, not just about Russia, but about everything that's happened since the end of the second world war.
José Teodoro, National Post:
Of course a writer wants to write about a writer who, to such an extraordinary degree, writes his life into being, writing always with audacity, always for maximum drama and dynamism, always working to ensure that he’s at the nucleus of the narrative.
M.A. Orthofer, The Complete Review:
Carrère doesn't see himself in Limonov, but he sees them as kindred writing spirits, obsessed with themselves and presenting themselves in their writing. Significantly, Limonov has also lived the life that was closed to Carrère, because of his ultra-bourgeois background and limited experience. Carrère has a writer-crush on this buffoon who has 'lived' so much.
Rachel Donadio in The New York Times:
Some critics have found Limonov too flattering a portrait, though Mr. Carrère says he finds Mr. Limonov's politics unpalatable. "We are not on the same side of the barricades," he said, adding that Mr. Limonov told him, "If I were in power, I would send you to the gulag."
Michael Dirda, The Washington Post:
The book interweaves a social and political history of post-Stalinist Russia, chunks of Carrère's autobiography and a hodgepodge of reflections on art, sex, ambition, the punk aesthetic, fascism, mysticism and old age.

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