Artyom Zhilyakov (trans. James Manteith)

The Emperor Suite. “Weatherburg”

Published in: 30. On the Way

Artyom Zhilyakov is a musician, a huckster, an instructor at Tomsk Imperial University, a cook and a muddle in one person whose face is around to see.


Keys to the Emperor Suites


“But I was much so much older then,
I’m younger than that now.”
— Bob Dylan


So let’s start from the beginning. The excerpt offered for reading is called “Weatherburg” and is the third part of a series of stories under the general title “Promo-Assistant Producer from the West Coast of Siberia.” For a plunge into the world depicted here, I suggest referring to the book’s preface.
“This brochure, compiled from short novellas called Imperial Suites, references the title of the Rolling Stones song “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man.” The observations and sketches here can thus be attributed to an imperceptible but irreplaceable person. He’s the manager who provides a stage for musical action, a setlist for a performance, or advertising for a tour. He is always near and on hand, with his own take on events, and on top of everything else he plays a little, helping out the group with arrangements. Three suites, recorded in a small studio on the west coast of Siberia, are now finally orchestrated and brought to your attention.”
Clearly, the very name “Promo-Assistant Producer from the West Coast of Siberia” contains a willful paradox, since western Siberia has no “coast,” although scientists say the sea it possessed thousands of years ago will return after more thousands of years. Another point associates Russian geography with the American West Coast of California and, accordingly, with the Rolling Stones song.
That is, the title already contains a key to the times and spaces united in the narrative, a key to the composition. It’s the 60s and the 21st century, a span extending far beyond the Urals into the fabulous wilds where there is a border between Europe and Asia, a huge continent that opens the Emperor Suite “Weatherburg.”
“Weatherburg” is both a polemic with the classics about a secular Russian capital, and it is the problem of Russian expanses. Here buffoons and Russian hucksters are invisibly present, with their dialect — hence the colloquial manner of narration. The cultural coding in the text, the encryption of contexts and plots, should come as no surprise.
“Weatherburg” also raises questions of local history, which now requires reflection. And finally, “Weatherburg” sounds like the rock and roll of the book title itself. We’re used to thinking this way. If Mick Jagger once said that “rock and roll is a way of life,” one might add that “rock and roll is obvious.”

Postmodernism can be viewed as a transhistorical phenomenon, i.e. invariably arising in an era of crisis.

It would also be appropriate to mention Vyacheslav Ivanov, one of the theorists of Russian symbolism, since symbolism causes text-generation, adherence to tradition; in other words, the “Russian question” requires self-expression. This means a new experience in the cognition of metaphorical reality, a new sound. Thus the book contains both the Beatles and the “Russian” ear, an understanding of music in our national discourse.
A second point of view, on the nature of postmodernism, is that postmodernism can be regarded as a transhistorical phenomenon, i.e. invariably arising in an era of crisis; in this case, a culture is born with the typological parameters of postmodernism as a universal factor in overcoming the crisis. This transhistorical nature of “Weatherburg” has a historical, temporal perspective and projection. One recalls Jorge Luis Borges and the analysis of a nonexistent novel in his “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim.” In “Weatherburg” this appears as calligraphy and a draft of a novel. Hence the attempt to keep a chronicle.
The musical basis of the book is the suite, but I would like it to be blues — the most democratic form in art. And here a provocative phrase could resound: “In the beginning there was blues, and everything was blues.” Because for us they’re convenient and understandable — the word about music and the musicality of the word. To the title of Bob Dylan’s song “Queen Jane” is appended “Approximately.” Which might signify a sketch, an unfinished drawing, marginal notes. And also that there are spaces and dots in the text. That is, the musicality of Dylan in “Weatherburg” is heard through the continuation of the line, without any apparent obvious rhyme.
And, finally, an artistic device in “Weatherburg” — the design of the text in the form of a mosaic, a fresco; one has to “work the puzzle.” A Russian word, krasochki, would also describe the kind of parable, the storytelling in “Weatherburg.” What results is not even blues but miniatures where alchemical nature establishes a sense connection to images. Where a mixture, a salty brine, provides the means to achieve what we sometimes stand so much in need of, plausibility.


— Artyom Zhilyakov

Written on Christmas Day, January 2020 

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