Gesamtkunstwerk Catfish


Seized but not confined
in the bosom of the whale

М., an atheist and marxist, hears the voices of angels. They speak in German. He sends a romantic text: Warum nicht? It gets to us by accident, and, forwarding it to each other, we are bound in a minor conspiracy. Good Friday. We’re sitting in the belly of my apartment, with its gastric decor. Sunchoke jam on the table, a marker of our shared childhood radicality; coca tea that gestures toward the fun which, forbidden today, is not really happening anyway. We’re just playing it out, innocently debauching, acting out the stagnation.

Or maybe I’ll begin with a dedication: to Anna Fish-zone, whose research vaguely sketches out the aquatic territory that I’d like to discuss here. I don’t know how to write this text. There’s no narrative; it was conceived but arrived stillborn. Its death was minor and rather solitary. In the sense that the clots of hopes spat out onto nearby surfaces will remain there to dry out, forming neither sea nor lake, neither image nor plot. It should have been the other way around. A text is conceived, in it seed flows in waves, ripening.

Imagining this tumult, you tell yourself: enough! Not a fish for miles around, no little fishy whose bosom might take you in, carry you out of the irredeemable flow. You will drown in the shame and inapplicability of your own words. Catfish dolphin whale complacent spine soft stomach vigilant whiskers will not hear your love song. The little gourds of your curses will burst in mid-air, and not even your drool will offend. At dramatic seconds, you mutter this to yourself, though, again—nothing is actually happening. You alone or with a few of us—the tepid stagnation resumes.

Like that little Soviet animal, prickly Arion, and his friend, the fidgety bourgeois-of-the-woods, we are deprived of love. We drink tea on the banks of junipered Nineveh, waiting to be judged and high. Painting our lips with the washed-out pink jam of an alien history, we play at plush decadence and thirst for a way out of the circle.

Who established this circle? Dark belly insistent whiskers dreadful spine. Papa Mama Stalin, I dream you only in nightmares—like a monstrous limit, an inevitable becoming, the rule of the preordained. Even in my waking hours, your too-solid shadow stalks me. I will get in it and drown. My mouth will open, my cock will rise, my hand will sign on the dotted line. I will acknowledge the significance of the reproduction of the present, time will pass through my body. And the little gourds of my curses will burst in the sun.

Hail Juniper! prickly like mossy paws, hairy palms. Since we were kids, we’ve been waiting for judgment, but even that won’t come, leaving us in the agony of corporeality, assigned, undeformed––hopelessly capable of fulfilling the plan. Liberation is doomed; it’s tea I want, and to play out the stagnation. And play you out, my great big demons. Clandestinely use myself up, so there’s not enough left for a single imperative process, neither bloodline nor parade. So that a few drops of my seed fall on the crimson banner of order. As a mark of stubborn obsolescence. A touch of mange. A stain of fear.

M. hears the voices of angels. And I await the voice of redemption, the hand of salvation that halts the compulsory flow of this wet carnival. All your waves and your billows are passing over me. Catfish Dolphin Whale. You open your mouth, but the only voice here is mine. Fingers sifting through the sand of these innards, I ask: Stalin Mama Papa, why did you rob me of my capacity to love. Warum nicht?—I throw in the towel, see the fish-smile. From the inside. And what if the municipal floodgates open.

Translated by Ainsley Morse, Bela Shayevich, Timmy Straw, Jason Cieply, Cathy Ciepiela, Kostya Shavolovsky

Contour, part three
Cut off the hand (The hand causeth thee)
Cut off the hand (A few words on trauma)

Igor Gulin is a Moscow-based poet, literary critic, and cultural historian.