Pavel Arseniev: Solidarity and Alienation among Russian Students

We remember, we preserve our faithfulness to the event.

Forty years like forty days.


Return to your classrooms:

They are fireproof.

No, a spark will not set them ablaze.

All measures have been taken,

More or less in earnest.

Just in case (of fire) we ought

To install alarms in the body, too.

For a fire in one head

Can always spread to another,

And then the whole town will go up in flames.

And this is why we need:

The qualitative isolation of individuals;

A fire alarm system;

A simple three-digit telephone number,

Which probably is also meant to remind us of our loneliness

And the impossibility of solidarity.

Return to your classrooms.

They are noise-proof and humidity-free.

They are simply made

For fruitful investigations

Of noise and humidity.

Where else but the classroom

Can we draw up isotherms and decibel scales?

Where else but the classroom

Can we draw competent conclusions about these phenomena?

Return to your classrooms.

The splendid art deco façade

Makes them proof against the confusion of the street.

They are proof against all that stupidity and vexation—

The daily murders of ethnic minorities;

Fluctuations in the price of oil;

The grumbling of the homeless;

The billy clubs of the regime—

All that “centralized postmodernism.”

Only in the classroom can the researcher’s righteous indignation

Be focused without brain drain, without leaks,

On a thick description of all violations and abuses of rights.

To send the system a silent reproach.

It is not my reproach, it is nobody’s, for none of us,

In essence, is all that indignant,

As we raise our voices merely to the muteness of reproach,

Keeping our hands busy with the expert fuck-you in our pockets.

Return to your classrooms.

They are also proof against these sorts of provocations.

In the classroom you’ll always find a wise moderator,

A responsible party

Whose broad liberal soul

(You got to understand him, too) will never go so far as

To question its own legitimacy.

You don’t want to join the fighting under the carpet,

But you leave the carpet itself intact

And the possibility that you’ll be called on it.

When you’re called, there’ll be nothing to complain about.

Return to your classrooms:

It really isn’t the month of May.

March 23, 2008

Pavel Arseniev, “A Poem of Solidarity and Alienation” (Translated by Our Swimmer)

The poem was first read in public at the (New) Street University (Saint Petersburg, Russia) on March 23, 2008. The Street University was originally conceived by graduate students at the European University in Saint Petersburg as a means to protest the mysterious closure of the university by fire inspectors. The Street University session on March 23 was the third such event, and like the previous two sessions, it featured speakers and audience members from the greater Petersburg academic and general communities. As it turned out, the European University had been reopened on March 21. In this poem, Arseniev expressed his fear that the reopening would lead to a dissolving of the ties of solidarity between EU students and their allies in Petersburg. This fear was exacerbated by reports that the city government had threatened the university with reclosure if its students continued their “street activity.” As events surrounding the “post-crisis” attempt to reform and continue the (New) Street University have shown, many of the EU students have heeded the voice of authoritative discourse that resounds in Arseniev’s poem and indeed returned to their classrooms, thus abandoning this much-needed project to build student and grassroots solidarity.

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