Over at Underneath the Bunker I have just re-published my famous ‘riposte’ to accusations made regarding my relationship with the late Russian writer Yevgeny Nonik. In an attempt to give a fair hearing to all concerned, I here reproduce the original incriminating letters. The first came from Howard St.John, and went like so:
Sir, – Not for the first time in connection with this literary journal, I fear I have caught the scent of a pestilent rodent. There is something distinctly piscine going on here – and the seeds of doubt are sprouting upon my troubled brow. Excuse me for being so distrustful, but following Georgy Riecke’s appraisal of the Russian (but British-based) ‘writer’ Yevgeny Nonik, I am compelled to speak my mind.
Is Yevgeny Nonik for real? Riecke sprays so many ‘assurances’ in his reader’s direction that one suspects him to be very aware of the unsteady ground on which he stands. He has published his work, and yet claims never to have seen Nonik; doing business only with an anonymous ‘young nurse’. This in itself is cause for concern: the last time I heard of a married literary editor making transactions with a young nurse we had a messy divorce suit on our hands. But there is reason to suppose that Riecke’s nurse is – like Nonik himself – either no nurse at all (i.e. this is the writer of ‘molasses pry with wantonness’) or is entirely fictional (i.e. the writer is Riecke himself). Either of these possibilities seems to me to be far more likely than that of a mentally insane man – about which we know practically nothing – producing all of this work as an ‘asylum assignment’.
All in all, I struggle to find any reasons why I should believe in Nonik’s existence; my doubts only amplified by a curious detail at the end of Riecke’s article in which he mention the ‘writer’s family’. Up to this point, all the talk has been of the patient and the nurse; yet here we suddenly have the appearance of a family, none of whom are named, nor their part in their controversial circumstances of Nonik’s publication explained. Needless to say, clarification is required on this point. Before this arrives, perhaps we ought to reflect on an interesting detail regarding the titles of Nonik’s first book: i.e. its use of the word ‘molasses’.
Highly favoured by Nonik, this is also a word much used by Riecke (within his website the latter insists that the ‘molasses of contemporary culture’ drip upon people’s faces). It turns out that this is but one of many similarities between Riecke and Nonik’s prose style and choice of vocabulary – which also includes frequent references to squirrels, as well as a plethora of ambiguous metaphors. While the evidence is not yet concrete, it is beginning to bare the mark of authenticity: much unlike the work of Yevgeny Nonik, for whom Riecke makes so many claims of sincerity that one wonders whether he can only be insincere.
Yours in anticipation of a swindle,
HOWARD ST.JOHN, London
The second letter came soon afterwards, from Mrs (or should that be ‘Miss’?) Glenda Harstein:
Sir, – May I be the first to heartily embrace the well-constructed bile of Mr St.John (below) whose dedication to the cause of truth undoubtedly brings out the best in him. He wonders: is Yevgeny Nonik a cardboard cutout behind which the sturdy frame of Georgy Riecke cowers like a fattened farm animal on a Sunday morning? This same question has been tossed hither and thither around our own drawing room, with few voices falling in favour of the ‘esteemed editor’. As he notes, the parallels between Nonik and Riecke’s prose are more than frequent, especially in the line of metaphors and similes. One may be excused, for instance, in thinking that the lines ‘clouds gathering like pensioners at the post-office’ were taken from one of Riecke’s stodgy-pudding-like reviews. On the contrary, they appear in the opening line of Yevgeny Nonik’s ‘subtle carnivores’. I ask: is there space in this world for two abusers of the oblique metaphor? There need not be – Nonik and Riecke are one and the same: ‘subtle carnivores’ being nothing more in the end than a repository of all those quaint metaphors and clumsy theories that Riecke has failed to slip into his other articles. Experimental literature? Excremental more like. The attempt to hide the work’s faults behind the claim that the writer is ‘insane’ strikes me as vulgar if anything. One is tempted to wonder what the hell Riecke is up to, until one remembers that Nonik is being published by Riecke’s own publishing house, Upside-Down-Then-Backwards, which by my estimation currently publishes at the rate of two books every year. Either it has high standards, or zero submissions. I don’t need to tell you where I stand on this. The guillotine is being wiped clean as we speak…
GLENDA HARSTEIN, Professor of Postmodernism, Hampstead University
There were, I seem to recall, no letters of support.