Zembla, No. 9, Winter 2005
The obscure book I’d like to tell you about is Eduard Limonov’s autobiographical work, It’s me, Eddie (or, in Russian, Eto ia – Edichka). Limonov was the enfant terrible of Russian letters in the late ’70s and ’80s, an identity he openly welcomed. His purposeful, vigorous and flamboyant assault both on Mother Russia’s sacrosanct literary canon and her moral consensus makes even Michel Houellebecq seem rather tame, even – would you believe – conservative.
His rebellious attitude was unequivocal: ‘I think vicious thoughts about the whole of my loathsome native Russian literature, which has been largely responsible for my life. Dull green bastards, Chekhov languishing in boredom, his eternal students, people who don’t know how to get themselves going, who vegetate through this life, they lurk in these pages like diaphanous husks…’ And though I might be a great admirer of Chekhov, I must confess, it is this spirit of fiery, precocious rebellion – Limonov’s desire to shake things up – which so fascinated me when I first picked up It’s me, Eddie.
Too much literature, it seems, is driven by compromise, earnestness and decency, and sometimes a figure like Limonov is needed to produce a book which (in the words of Kafka) acts as ‘an ice-ax to break the sea frozen within us’. Eddie is at the point of despair, living in a filthy, cheap room in a squalid New York hotel and working as a busboy in The Hilton, where he has to serve ‘grey-haired and middle-aged’ bureacrats in suits ‘who had arrived from the provinces for a trade convention’ and who command more respect and authority than a man of words, feelings and reflections (like a poet such as himself). He also despairs with his wife Elena, a ‘tear-stained’ , ‘provincial’ and ‘typical Russian, throwing herself headlong into the very thick of life without reflection’ who has succumbed to the ‘marijuana, underworld, jargon, cocaine, the constant “fuckin’ mother” after every word, the bars, the sex accessories of New York and America’. Here is a man who wears his loneliness and deprivation on his sleeve – he is perhaps a typical Russian anti-hero in this repect – and is not afraid to tell his readers exactly how he feels. Thus, one minute he tells them he aspires to ‘love selflessly … extraordinarily, powerfully’; the next he tells them, ‘Fuck you, you cocksucking bastards! You can all go straight to hell!’
Love and hate can co-exist for Limonov, and his writing is a powerful act of self-affirmation. He must be admired for this, for battling against accepted standards of taste. His staunch nationalism is perhaps less admirable, but Limonov is not so much a destructive political figure as a constructively rebellious literary one.