Lev Karakhan: «It seems to me that love is openness, inner insecurity»
Vladimir Legoyda
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- Once you said: “If you wake me up at night, probably, I will tell you, I like arthouse cinema most of all”. I won’t ask you about arthouse films, but is it the same for you in literature? What does it mean “arthouse literature”?

- Good question!

- Finally!

- I’m not sure if I can give a direct answer…because the whole literature is arthouse. 

- Really?

- I think so, except for “run-of-the-mill” fiction, or “pulp fiction”, as Tarantino called it and did it quite aptly. In fact, it was not him who invented this concept, but it was him who introduced and mainstreamed it.  In literature, the author’s ideas appear to be more concentrated, because everything we see in literature is sheer author’s perception. In cinematography, there are many more external factors, which don’t depend on the director. Here I mean not only the ideas that he gets during filming. Wajda once said that film director is by 50% a corporal whose job is to organize the whole filming process. Actually, it is his personality that lets everything organize itself, and that is crucial, because if a director turns into a corporal, he is no longer a director. 

- Right. 

- Some directors can organize the whole process by just being present at the location. In such situations the crew will say: “The man knows his job”. And that’s a great phrase, which is only said when the director is trusted. Only then the ball starts rolling. It takes a whole bunch of various factors and artistic efforts, and when they all are accumulated into an “artistic unity” with a view to represent the auteur’s ideas, that’s auteur cinema. But if those elements are insensibly piled up, that’s already mainstream cinema, although distinctions between genres sometimes may be unclear. There are concepts, which appeared at the confluence of genres, such as art-mainstream, for instance. In fact, nowadays genre cinema has been a source of concepts for the modern mindset and also for auteur cinema as well. Auteur films very often are genre films. 

- You keep turning back to cinema, but I wanted to talk about literature. 

- In literature there’s no need for that “corporal”, no need to organize anything or anyone. You just sit one-on-one with a sheet of paper, and whatever you write, you get the representation of yourself, of course if you don’t let stereotypes in. But if you do, that is pulp fiction, some kind of staple commodity. I won’t even call it belles-lettres, because there are some even in Tolstoy’s novels. But if you are alone with only a sheet of paper in front of you, that is definitely arthouse. 

- So, the Soviet movie D’Artagnan and Three Musketeers is not arthouse, but the novel by Dumas is?

- I think Dumas did let a lot of literature stereotypes typical for that time in, so I think that’s something intersectional. 

- Some kind of mainstream arthouse?

- Yes, like that. Art-mainstream. 

- There’s a great saying that art is all about love. Or about no love. 

- Love, despite being so beautiful in its meaning, is such an abused concept. Even when I hear that God loves us, I don’t understand what it means and what kind of love it is. Recently I’ve read Self-Knowledge: An Essay in Autobiography by Berdyaev. The book is an existential and religious experience. Having rejected the shallow conceptualization of the modern world, Berdyaev turns to concepts of creation and love which are supposed to represent the existential essence. But again, I can’t understand what kind of love and creation are these. Maybe they are something we should run away from to the edge of an abyss and jump into it without any rubber ropes. Anyway, these are conceptional images for me and I start to figure out the meaning of some abused concepts through other ones. 

In my vision, love is openness and inner vulnerability. In my youth I invented the notion of “translucent armor”, that we all are wearing.   

- We’ve been wearing it since Adam and Eve. 

- Yes, we first put it on by putting on clothes. The image of “armor”, came in the Middle ages with real armor, such deep protection. But we don’t understand that the armor is translucent, so we are afraid to take it off. But if we break free from them – that means love and openness. Love between a man and a woman is openness in its essence, including sexual experience, which is nothing else but openness – you are not afraid to take off all your clothes and armor and get back to Adam’s state. 

It’s very often that we don’t understand that God is extremely open to us all the time. Although, we can’t reach him, we can’t break free from our armor. Openness can be met only by openness, but as long as we meet it with stereotypes in mind, armor doesn’t let us even reach out a hand. 

- But why is it translucent?

- Because everybody around can see it and certainly God. 

- Not because one can see through it, but because you…

- We think we are under protection, but from the outside it turns out that we are not, and anyone able to think even a little, can see that this “armor” is not protection at all and people can see you through it. And only such a radical misconception of what a person really is makes a person see his or her armor as something individual, the essence of this person, a pomp, (because a knight's armor is pretty much a pomp) a parsuna, because parsuna comes from the word person or persona, like persona grata. It’s something solemn and appealing regardless of what that person is like inside. Actually, this is how parsunas of 16th and 17th centuries can be characterized. Why the technique of icon painting is used in painting secular portraits? To add some significance to something that may lack it. It’s ridiculous to use the technique in which Trinity was painted, in painting a portrait of Ivan the Terrible — is seems to be inappropriate, but nevertheless it happens. So, I think, parsuna is exactly that armor we are wearing. I hope during our conversation we’ve managed to break free from it, at least to some extent. 

- But the idea of our Parsuna is different: we speak about something timeless, think for instance of that phenomenon with technique. But you know, there’s something else I wanted to ask. You put it very appropriately about vulnerability, but I think that any idea of love, be it in culture or in everyday life, embraces everything but vulnerability. 

- Definitely. 

- There may be even something associated with the Christian concept of sacrifice. Somebody may say that a sacrifice is related to vulnerability, but it’s not exactly right. It may have some emotion, but not so much vulnerability. There’s almost no openness in it. 

- Sacrifice very often can pompous as well. 

- Yes, that reminds of Alyosha Karamazov – it’s easier for him to give his life away than to live day by day. 

- Exactly. We’ve talked about patience, but what is patience? It’s some amount of time. Even that patience when you are enduring pain. When we go to the doctor we usually ask: “Will it take long? Will it hurt?”. “No, it’s just a little injection” – he would reply. We get ready to bite on the bullet, but we don’t have to. It’s all the same in life. Comprehension is connected with endurance and patience. There’s a film Waking Life by an American director Richard Linklater. It has a lot of philosophical reflections, some of them are empty, but it’s OK. And among them there was an apt thought – historical time that we’ve been given is a fearful temptation, almost unholy, and if we are unable to withstand it or make an effort to give response, namely patience and endurance, it suppresses and devours us. 

- Very interesting. You see patience as opposition to historical time? 

- Of course. That’s something inside us, that opposes the continuity we’ve been immersed into. The world is an instant and an eternity at the same time. 

- Something that love as openness is impossible without. 

- Sure. 

- Here the circle closes. 

- Just like a prayer of The Optina Elders, that is read in a circle. 

- Exactly. 

- A circle of virtue, I should say. 

- I really don’t want to end our conversation, but unfortunately, we have little “historical time” left, so my final question I would like to ask you is about a phrase in Sergei Fudel’s memoir: “We, skeptical believers, have a secret idea: it’s good in church, of course, but what about Dickens, Rafael, Pushkin or Chopin? It seems that one cannot take them to church with you”. Can one keep all those books and works of art if he or she lives an entire life in church? Sergei Durylin once told me: “One cannot keep Pushin and Macarius of Egypt on the same book shelf”. So, my question is: to keep or not to keep? 

- Well, you know, this formula…

- This silly formula! 

- “To be or not to be” – sounds like a verdict. However, I think, the whole idea of our today’s talk is that we should give not verdicts, but room for development. If we use this formula, we limit that room for moving. 

- In which direction? 

- I think, we should let this formula rest. Let it be a reason just to move. 

- I hope you haven’t prepared this in advance. 

- Of course, no. 

- Thank you very much, Mr Karakhan! Despite all debates about parsunas, we’ll keep on painting them. See you this day next week!