‘An optimist never fails to delight me. What gorgeous creatures. They really do represent tragedy in its purest form. To imagine that one loves life! What a perfectly wonderful delusion; what a beautiful misunderstanding. What a joke! Oh yes: an optimist is always better than a half-hearted pessimist. One ought to go the whole hog, even when one is disastrously wrong.’ (Pyetr Turgidovsky)
There are many pleasures one can get from reading Pyetr Turgidovsky, not least the realisation that, however depressed you are, you will never have so little faith in humankind as he. I took to the garden this morning and buried myself in a sandpit before re-reading the closing chapters of Turgidovky’s most recent work, Delicious Air of Life (or the Ugly God-damned Wife). Here I encountered a previously forgotten passage in which a character called Alexsei castigates a character called Yuriy for his ‘tiresome allegiance to mere melancholia’. Yuriy, it turns out, is a fan of films by Swedish melancholy-monger Ingmar Bergman. Alexsei, it turns out, is not.
‘These charlatans drive a weasel up my arse,’ he complains, charmingly. ‘They only take it so far, you see. They show that life is miserable; they remind us that death is near; they explore the innate selfishness and ultimate incompatibility of human beings, only to relent at the last minute with some airy-fairy nonsense about how life is ninety-eight percent tragedy, but every now and again one has an interesting conversation with someone on a sunny day which almost makes it worth while. Almost makes it worth while! Nonsense. Such moments, if they ever occur, make nothing worthwhile. In fact, they make everything all the more tragic. Heed not this soft-headed approach; this ruinous two percent of life-making delightfulness. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that one sweet sunset makes fifty years of pain worth living. It simply doesn’t’.
Lovely stuff, representing Turgidovsky at his miserable best. Also a timely reminder of this year’s most interesting literary discovery: Turgidovsky juvenalia. Okay, so there’s a fair amount of dross to be found amongst Turgidovsky’s early, unpublished work. But there are gems too. Incompatible (a poem, of sorts) is probably not one of them, though it deserves a mention nevertheless. After all, it can only interest us to know that the ‘ultimate incompatibility of human beings’ (as mentioned above) has been a Turgidovskian motif right from the beginning. Or can it? I suppose we might expect a teenager to think himself essentially incapable of forging any kind of human relationship – and in this sense, Incompatible is no more than typical. ‘I am incompatible with my family. I am incompatible with my friends. I am incompatible with the girl I passed on the street the other day. I am…’ – so on and so forth. Relatively uninspiring, and unsurprising stuff. Still, it does show a remarkable consistently, reminding us of Turgidovsky’s admirable refusal to cast off teenage angst – to enter the adult world with all his scars intact, unhealed, and bleeding profusely over all the pages of his pleasantly unpleasant novels.