Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Octobriana

Another scan from my youth. The Nation, May 13, 1972.

Salted underground?

PETER SADECKY: Octobriana and the Russian Underground. Tom Stacey. $12.45.

PETER SADECKY declares that Octobriana was written and drawn by the Russian underground. Octobriana is a selection of anti-Soviet comic strips purportedly done by the Political Progressive Pornography group, a Russia-wide organisation of pornopoliticians devoted to attacking the state apparatus somewhere below its soft underbelly, presented with some explanatory matter by Sadecky. Octobriana herself is a heroine or anti-heroine who combines rather awkwardly deviltry and benevolence. She is built on more-than Playboy lines and drawn rather in the style of Barbarella, though with none of the latter's wit. The strip is in fact unimaginative in the extreme, boring, and in no way pornographic. It is also wildly expensive. In view of the lack of any other merits the price can only be justified if the book does give us an authentic glimpse of life in the Soviet underground.

This is, unfortunately, more than dubious. It is certainly true that, as Sadecky says, the U.S.S.R. is a very prim society, much of the intellectual life of the nation goes on underground in samizhdat, and the young are reacting to the corruption of socialist ideals they see around them by wallowing in any fragment of western decadence that they can get their hands on. It is also true that in putting forward any of these propositions it would be unwise to place too much stress on the evidence of Octobriana.

Peter Sadecky claims to have run into the P.P.P. in Kiev in 1961, worked with them on and off for the next six years, and smuggled their work out of the country at the end of that time at great personal risk. A rather more convincing theory would have it that the entire thing was cobbled up in Prague and that Octobriana has never seen Mother Russia in her life. Its authenticity rests at present' entirely on Sadecky's word; not one of the countless numbers of suppressed Russians who are claimed to follow her adventures have spoken up. Even A. Anatoli, Anatoli
Kuznetsov before he defected, does not claim in his generally approving introduction to have met any member of the P.P.P. or to have seen their work. These negative points might not be very significant - Sadecky would certainly say that nobody could be prepared to admit membership in an illegal organisation simply to settle the doubts of western sceptics -- except that Sadecky has provided almost no evidence that can be checked. He did not, he said, wish to make the task of the security police any easier, an explanation that rings a little false next to several photos of the Kiev group in which faces are only very imperfectly obscured under small strips of black Truth-style.

The German magazine "Stern" did manage to investigate Sadecky's explanation of how he smuggled the Octobriana drawings out of Russia, and it appears to be false. Two Prague artists called Konecry and Burian have claimed that they were the authors of the drawings that Sadecky later adapted to make the strip. They could be lying, or it could be a Soviet plant, but the question would be difficult to resolve; Sadecky says he destroyed the originals shortly after arriving in the west.

Failure to answer such questions as these satisfactorily meant that Sadecky did not really make the bonanza he was hoping for. Octobriana was turned down by "Playboy" and "The Observer". No German publisher would touch it. "As soon as we heard that pertinent information was being withheld, we got cold feet," one said. Sadecky took two years to find a publisher in England.

It is not as if Octobriana carried much conviction in itself. Proposed members of the P.P.P. must first commit some crime and be photographed in the act, we are told. After this clearance they are allowed to join in the orgies. The whole thing sounds a cross between a wet dream and cold war. In the Soviet Union today pornography has political overtones - granted. So do bluejeans, pop records, and vodka. To suggest that politics has pornographic overtones is something else, and Sadecky hasn't made his case.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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