152 days At Sea

Personal updates and humble recommendations

Dear wanderer,

Time to wrap up all the work done last month and share some links.

Few important updates before we start…

Firstly, as all of you know or could have guessed, I’m Russian but the name you see here isn’t really Russian, which might spark some reasonable curiosity. Some of you know already my real name, so after calling myself “John” for my own reasons for almost half a year, I want to be closer to the real one.

So, my name is Ivan.

Etymologically these are the same names, feel free to use both. I just want it to be a bit more personal. I am going to keep my Twitter handle for a while to avoid any confusion. Thanks to Zach for his recent essay which nudged me to finally do it. I might write about my experience of using a pseudonym in the nearest future.

Secondly, this e-mail is combined with ‘Links’. And I want to change ‘Links’ completely. Sometimes I read novels all week and don’t have enough new shorter form things to share (and I don’t want to send emails without a good reason). Plus, I believe, hunting for something specifically for sharing it later is a bad approach that will hurt the quality of things I’m sending to you.

I love and truly enjoy writing long letters and updates like this one, not being locked by formats or schedules. It’s liberating, more organic and less content-ish (kind of). I love spontaneity and want to keep and perhaps increase the amount of it.

I will keep sending e-mails with recommendations and things I find interesting – sometimes they will be weekly, sometimes fortnightly, sometimes combined with monthly digests like today. I hope it’s better for all of us (I really do).

The Lifeboat is always on a journey into the unknown. Things change.

And, by the way, it’s 88 of us in the Lifeboat but there’s still plenty of space! Thank you, everyone, for all your comments and e-mails, I am always happy to read all of them.

If you enjoy my work, please consider sharing it with your friends. Rowing together is easier. Trust me.

Share The Lifeboat

Anyway, I digress from the main topic.

In today’s issue, expect a lot of things written or made by Russians (not everything). What a coincidence, right? I was surprised when I sat back after drafting this. But let me know what you think about it. I have an unfair advantage in finding “good Russian stuff”, so, perhaps, I should exploit it? Who knows.


Quick digest

Essays I wrote and published:

And all the links I shared:

  • Links №1. A few short stories, positional scarcity and Netflix for nested films.

  • Links №2. Why we live in the most influential time in human history, and some ideas on futurism.

  • Links №3. Essays and short stories – on language, screenwriting, and talking horses.

  • Links №4. NFTs and the Soaring Twenties, Charlie Kaufman, Leonard Cohen.

A couple of short things

Joseph Brodsky’s Nobel lecture. It is the most fascinating thing I read in the last few years and will be recommending everyone to read it. I don’t want to quote it. Just read, you will see what I mean.

To give a bit more context, Brodsky is a modern Russian poet and essayist who was expelled from the Soviet Union and migrated to the US. In 1987, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature. His Nobel lecture is a great insight into his work and art and definitely can make your evening better.

And a short fragment from Brodsky’s interview (in English) where he talks about parents:


Anton Chekhov’s short story Two Newspapermen.

The story is about a cynical side of journalism – writing solely for financial gain and trying to make news and hype from everything.

Two Newspapermen has a brilliant first sentence which both introduces the main character and tells the whole story if you pay attention to every word:

Rybkin, an employee at the newspaper “A Sneeze On All Your Head!”, a corpulent flabby man, dumped and dull, was standing in the middle of his hotel room, glancing lovingly now and then at the ceiling, from which a hook, meant for a lamp, protruded.

Now you know who is Rybkin (by the way, it’s a surname that roughly translates as something in between fish-man or possessive of the word fish, which is an important detail), where he is (a hotel room, not even his own house), what’s going on (he is looking at the hook). It sets up the story and immediately drives you in. Is Rybkin going to hang himself? The best thing is you can learn the answer in five minutes. The story is short.

I didn’t manage to find it in English as a text available to read online. But guess what I did. Yes, I translated it for you (after struggling for half a day and listening to some audiobook versions I could find). Here’s a nifty button you can click and read the story.

Two Newspapermen

I hope you enjoy it.

More literature

After Thomas J Bevan’s essay on One True Sentence, I started ‘hunting’ for first sentences and story openings, at least paying more attention to them. I have already mentioned a great opening of Two Newspapermen above, but here’s one more I found interesting, from a novella by Andrei Platonov, The Innermost Man.

Thomas Pukhov was not gifted with sensitivity: he cut boiled sausage on his wife's coffin, as he was hungry due to the absence of the hostess.

That’s such an intriguing first sentence that tells, probably, everything you need to know about the main character, Thomas Pukhov.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a translation of The Innermost Man (which was the reason for writing this whole recommendation section) I could link here (maybe I should make it myself one day, haha), but NYBR published many of other Platonov’s stories. You can go for Soul and Other Stories – all of them are great and highly recommended.

I already recommended The Foundation Pit, another Platonov’s work, in one of the previous issues and mentioned that Platonov’s prose is a great example of highly stylistic prose. His language is unique as he deliberately complicates descriptions making us, readers, pay attention to every word.

For example, how Platonov starts The Foundation Pit:

On the day when he reached the thirtieth year of his personal life Voshchev was discharged from the small machine factory where he had earned the means of his existence. The dismissal notice stated that he was being separated from his job because of his increasing loss of powers and tendency to stop and think amidst the general flow of work.

I can’t guarantee the same “style” and “form” feelings in the English version. It depends on the translation. Joseph Brodsky, who claimed Platonov as one of the greatest Russian writers of the 20th century, said that his prose is untranslatable and “…fortunate is the country in which translations of Platonov are forbidden, where there is no language that befits the language of Platonov”. However, if you are brave enough, any edition where Robert Chandler is listed as a translator seems like a good way to go. He translated The Foundation Pit multiple times, as he mentioned in his interview.

Two films

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), directed by James Foley, written by David Mamet. If you ask me to describe it in one sentence, I would say “Great actors arguing with each other for 1.5 hours”, which, to be honest, would be enough for me to start watching it. The film is based on Mamet’s play about behind the scenes of one real estate agency, relationships and competition between colleagues, their ways of work and some shady machinations.

Beanpole (2019), directed by Kantemir Balagov, written by Kantemir Balagov and Aleksandr Terekhov. Through beautiful cinematography (it really is), the film tells the story of two women after WW2, traumas, attempts to adapt to new life and how the war continues even after we say it has ended.

Music

One jazzy album by Avishai Cohen (thanks to my brother for this great discovery):

And a video:


That’s all I wanted to share today. Thanks for making it to the end.

Have a great weekend,

Ivan

P.S. A weekly essay is gonna be in your inbox early next week. It’s taking more time for research and ‘looking things up’ this time. I hope it’s gonna be good. Cheers.