Alexander Viazmensky

Svet v labirintakh (Light in Labyrinths)
Literary sketches.

1990, 97 p., ISBN 0-916201-08-2; $3

Drawings by Yri Brusovani

The first book of artistic poignant prose by the prominent St. Petersburg artist. Excerpts published without M.I.P. permission in Leningrad periodical Literator, 1992, N4, February, p. 6 (the Organ of the Writers' Union)


Mikhail Kuzmin's "introductory words" to the collection Svet v Labirintakh seem most bizarre at first.

Kuzmin recounts a dream in which he visits the art-strewn sixth-floor apartment of Aleksandr Viazmensky in Leningrad. His dream persona does not rouse the also sleeping Viazmensky, but he leaves the latter an invitation to an open-air showing of Viazmensky's art which he has arranged without the writer-artists knowledge in a Karelian forest. On the top of a homegrown mushroom on Viazmensky's windowsill he notices a message, written with a felt-tip pen," "Time streams into the aroma of fall like the warmth of a table lamp." Later on in Kuzmin's dream he gets a telephone call from Viazmensky, who whispers to him the "grandiose news" that an album of his art, entitled "Times of the Year and Eternity, Is to be published "in the forest" by the publishing house "Bream for Three and a Half a Kilo. An art critic "in a red mushroom hat," Viazmensky says, has already pronounced the album "the most ecologically pure in the world."

As Kuzmin's dream fades, he finds a letter from Viazmensky enclosed in the pages of a book by Jorge Luis Borges. In the letter Viazmensky muses on the "close relationship" of poetry and logic. On this strange note the dream ends, and Kuzmin records it with the thought that he really "hadn't thought up a thing, hadn't even written a foreword to Aleksandr Viazmensky's book." Kuzmin' s assertion that he did not really write a foreword to the collection is at least partially belied by the contents and also by the accompanying illustrations by Yuri Brusovani.

Viazmensky's short prose musings are divided into three groups, just as Kuzmin's dream is divided into three scenes. The last group is entitled "Night Wanderings" and is composed entirely of recounted dreams. Brusovani's nine sketches strongly evoke dream images (or perhaps mushroom-induced hallucinations, taking our clue from Kuzmin's dream foreword), and they too fall into three groups of three, two of which are black-white negatives of each other.

The first group of Viazmensky's musings centers on defining his identity, his place among others and amidst nature, which plays the strong role Kuzmin's dream indicated. The range here is wide. The author dwells a bit on his own "small stature," writing that "In growth I'm only a bit taller than the number 3." He defines "three eternities (again three) of space, time, and "scale," meaning that one world's molecules are another world's stars in a vast scheme of concentric universes indicating the necessary existence of that "fourth eternity &endash; God." "Nature is usually, he writes, an escape from all sorts of bothers, among which are women." From a "beloved woman," however, even nature is no escape.

The second set of musings is entitled "The Unseen before My Eyes." Here Viazmensky describes the "relief of mankind." There are human swamps...hills... and mountains," but in the topographical scheme of things the mountains most frequently spring up in proximity one to the other." The title work, "Light in the Labyrinths," is a questioning about the guiding force operating in the awesome neural complexity of the human brain. Of the final group's dreams the most striking is the one called "Shootings," in which Viazmensky takes on the identities of the executed victims of "the times of the revolution." As he is shot in one identity and dies, he blends into another identity, then another, and another, and all are executed at the orders of "one faceless individual." At last, in the identity of a "White Army general," he screams at the executioner, "Are you the people?" As the shots ring out, he awakens, thinking that he almost died for real. Indeed, "almost real" in the Borges mode is a phrase that well describes Viazmensky's fascinating collection of musings, its illustrations, and its metacommentary introduction.

Lee B. Croft

Arizona State University