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The Inner Immigrant

The Inner Immigrant

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The Inner Immigrant

valoraciones:
4/5 (1 clasificación)
Longitud:
301 página
4 horas
Publicado:
Jun 23, 2017
ISBN:
9781628972443
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

These essayistic short stories, penned over a thirty-year period, follow Fabian, Mihkel Mutt’s strange and self-indulgent alter ego, and his adventures in newly independent Estonia. Mutt’s stories highlight the lingering absurdities of the previous Soviet regime, at the same time taking ironic aim at the triumphs and defeats, the virtues and vices of the Estonian intelligentsia.
Publicado:
Jun 23, 2017
ISBN:
9781628972443
Formato:
Libro

Sobre el autor

Mihkel Mutt was born in Tartu, Estonia in 1953. He has authored scores of critical essays, short stories, novels, travel essays, and plays, in addition to working as the editor-in-chief of Estonia’s leading cultural weekly Sirp (1997–2005) and the literary journal Looming (2005–2016). He won the Tuglas Short Story Award in 1981 and in 2008, as well as the Cultural Endowment of Estonia’s Award for Essays in 2001 and 2015. In 2016, he was selected as one of five writers to receive an official Estonian state salary for their literary activities. The English translation of Mutt’s The Cavemen Chronicle (Dalkey Archive Press, 2015) was nominated for the Cultural Endowment of Estonia’s Award for Translated Literature.

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Vista previa del libro

The Inner Immigrant - Mihkel Mutt

2007

MY FAIR SLUM

THERE WAS JUST enough time. The hour agreed upon was just far enough into the future to get off the bus a few stops early instead of riding around, and walk directly through his dear little slum. It boosted his spirits, gave him the strength to keep living. Especially on this day, and in this mood. Fabian was unsettled by the unnatural harmony of broad, linear streets; by the sprawling squares. The glass hurt his eyes—just like the bright light it let through. The duralumin and modern building materials unnerved him with their fake optimism. Fabian liked the slum. Naturally not as a source of aesthetic pleasure, but rather because of its mindset; because of the phenomenology of the spirit that streamed forth from it. Fabian did not for one second believe that the faded, dilapidated tenement houses built at the beginning of the century were lovelier than the Estonia Theater, the new headquarters of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Estonia, or the pretty little tobacco shop on Saiakang Street in Tallinn’s Old Town. Yet urbanity as such, as the quintessence of the city, presented itself to Fabian here; not in the Old Town, which pointed too far into the past—into the simpleminded burghers’ Middle Ages, but also not in the new micro-districts (as people generally believed), since no human relationships, urban or non-urban, could develop in the isolation of its residents. However, the dense population and multi-faceted interaction right here favored those relationships in every way. And Fabian regarded the new type of human relationships precisely as the most important achievement of urban life—a new freedom, morals, and way of living.

Walking among the sun-bleached, two-to-three-story wooden houses, peeking into the somewhat filthy backyards, Fabian felt the distinct aura of urban life. He had lived in the city all his life. This was his home. In the country, Fabian felt rootless and was gripped by anguish. The country was not human; it was an alien not-I. He was glad when he got back into the city. He hated Rousseau, who called people to nature. The grounds for Fabian’s fondness at the same time remained pure of banal pleasures, since his love for the city was under no circumstances tied only to mundane and material comforts. He had spent his entire youth in a house with woodburning stoves. Heating it in winter was downright onerous (on top of that, firewood was perpetually being stolen from their stack). It was cramped and communal like a dressing room in the public baths, and it held just as many unpleasant aromas. In the middle of the yard was a well that produced bad-tasting water (being situated too close to a cesspit). Fabian certainly understood it objectively, but time and time again, he was amazed at the reactions of his acquaintances to trips to the countryside; how they would bicker and bribe, and do almost anything at work to obtain sanatorium passes to the mountains, and even to the valleys; how they would dream of a trip to the coast along a blue sea still far off in the future, and would extol the ennobling effect of nature. According to an unwritten law and under the threat of ostracism, the compulsory reaction to this was one of sentimentality and awe; long-winded speeches on rural life tended to be forcefully sacred. Upon exiting a bus that drove you out of the city, you were pretty much expected to lie down flat on the ground and kiss the dirt, wave to a lark up in the heavens, inhale deeply through your nose the smell of ammonia rising from the fields, and just frolic, frolic, frolic.

Man becomes simpler in the country. That’s right. The country is simple, the city is complicated—there’s something clear-cut about that short and sweet contrast. And given that in certain social circles simplicity was still seen as something that made a person more appealing, it was no wonder that everyone wanted to go where they could become attractive. Fabian’s film-actor friend, who had recently made it into the San Moreno Film Festival and who was seen as a member of the Moscow elite, once told him about a time he attended a multi-day party at someone’s apartment. Before leaving, the actor asked one of his steady companions: "Listen, old man—tell me: who the hell are you, anyway? The companion replied: Misha. Afterward, it turned out that he was a contender for the Nobel Prize. To this day, the actor is still elated whenever he tells the story, exclaiming, Just an exceptionally simple old man, he was! which, coming from his mouth, sounded like the highest compliment. But as Fabian saw it, the relationship between simple and complex could also be assessed differently. The country takes away much of what makes a person interesting; it robs him of his masks, complexes, and poses; forces him to be himself" against his own will. That awful, awful country living! It acts like insulin, even more so since a city slicker who has been skulking around cafés has gained a ton of weight on fatty foods. What’s there to extol, then? Fabian found that most people are depressingly simple anyway, so why simplify them even more? They should try to become a little more complex—if they can!

Fabian remembered how his first-year college class had gone to a cabin in early fall. There, they ate, drank, gambled, and danced from morning till night on both Saturday and Sunday, and started walking to the train stop around dawn on Monday morning so they’d make it to their first lecture. One boy had sat quietly by himself the entire time, observing wide-eyed what was happening. He had grown up in a village, was the son of elderly parents, and had seen very little of life, so the sordid and erotic atmosphere that takes hold on such nights was probably too unfamiliar for him to enjoy. But by the time they were on their way to catch the train, he was already considerably drunk. And so, he hopped along the railroad ties, his white-blond bangs fluttering in the breeze; his wide, plain, honest, freckled country-boy face glowing like a young and healthy god. Occasionally, he would cup his hands around his mouth and hoot loudly, making the whole forest echo back. Birds were chirping and the sun was starting to rise. Fabian was no less drunk than the boy (even more so, rather), but he couldn’t imagine feeling such freedom and naturalness, not anything anywhere near it, even if he were to have drunk ten times as much. The boy’s utter immersion in nature astounded him. Later, Fabian mused that the boy must certainly know the language of the birds and the beasts; must feed the boars and the bears from the palm of his hand. From then on, whenever he ended up in the country, he felt that people there expected the very same kind of behavior from him: that he should hoot, do cartwheels, drawl, and speak without using loanwords (and where possible, abandon articulation entirely, pointing to his mouth, shrugging, or gesturing toward his crotch instead); that he should greet the morning in a jovial mood and not lie around in bed half the day; that he should eat a lot, and consume simple but healthy foods. Fabian almost never smoked in the country. He didn’t need to. He didn’t even feel the need to, because a city slicker smoking doesn’t fit with the country landscape. How ridiculous the slender white Marlboros, Kents, or even Silvas looked against the majestic scenery of Haanja, on its undulating curves, standing on a romantic hilltop in the evening, your chest swelling, and your mind filled with thoughts of rebellion. But even less fitting was a bottle of champagne in a meadow or on a barren limestone plain; liqueur in a hayloft or beside a bale of hay. So, it was just about the same with drinking. The fact that country folk themselves did both the former and the latter didn’t count. They were them. To them, it was all natural. The men passing a bottle around in front of the village store never wiped the mouth of the bottle clean with the side of their hand. And just this morning, when Fabian had wanted to make a call, an obese old woman had been using the payphone booth before him, and when his turn finally came, he saw that the earpiece was damp from the old woman’s sweaty ear. Fabian had wiped it clean with his sleeve, and on top of that, he held the receiver away from his ear, so his friend on the other end of the line finally shouted: Can’t you hear me? Consequently, when a guy like him boozes in a village, it’s equivalent to driving to your teetotalling, respectable childhood home on your parents’ silver wedding anniversary with some random floozy in tow, or masturbating during the national anthem.

In the country, one melted into his environment; was at one with his surrounds. It was unthinkable to be two entities; there was no alternative. In the country, people behaved calmly, with dignity; they didn’t struggle or squirm, or make long and complicated life-plans like in the city. In the country, a person lives a day and says thank you for it; lives his or her little lifetime to the end, and even then doesn’t let their feathers get ruffled. In the city, everything goes differently. When Fabian entered social life four or five years earlier, he thought he saw devil-may-care types living on a grand scale everywhere; an elegant indifference about the moment to come. Bohemianism still seemed enchanting and romantic to him back then. Yet soon enough, he learned to discern something much more intriguing beneath the mask of carefreeness. It was all bluff, and each and every person had a great fear of death. Some secretly went jogging, some played handball regularly, some popped pills. And overall—if you left health out of it as well, then everyone ensured a future for himor herself; a few without keeping it secret, but most of them inconspicuously, comme il faut. Some quietly wrote dissertations, some saved up money, some became Communist Party members. Some went to church on occasion—who knows what awaits you after death. In any case, not a bad choice! Some had children. Maybe they’ll come in handy some day; maybe you can even live on in their blood!

Of course, Fabian privately acknowledged that his super-urbanist attitude was a façade to some extent. He certainly didn’t scorn pastoral life as much as he pretended to with others. Nor was he disgusted by fruits, berries, or mushrooms (organic matter in general), as he loved to claim during his exaltation of refined goods. (He had even gone fishing a couple of times.) It was all a conscious whetting of himself; the soul’s challenge to the nature that had borne him; a son’s war against his Urvater¹. Likewise, it was to throw down the gauntlet to a public opinion that preferred the latter. (Why did Voltaire passionately protest against the collapse of the countryside? was Fabian’s favorite argument for the curious crowd that often surrounded him—listeners upon whom he unleashed his thoughts with flippant superiority like stones rolling down the face of Mount Olympus.) The drowsy femininity of a midsummer midday, an elegy about golden leaves on autumn trees, a frigid snow queen imagined upon a wintry expanse, and ultimately also spring as the saddest time of the year, when the Underground Man nesting within Fabian perceives the painful contrast of how far his inner world is from the renaissance of nature—that intrigued him. Hamsters and butterflies—in addition to the privileged status of flowers, crystals, and seashells (and quite a few other things in nature)—were good enough. And yet, yet—he remembered very clearly how, having spent an entire week at a friend’s summer cabin, tanning for days on end to the point that his consciousness narrowed, he returned to the city, unlocked his complex system of door locks (Swiss, Finnish, and a padlock) with multiple keys, and lost himself in peeking at passersby through the peephole for ten minutes. While vacationing, he had dropped his glasses on an anthill and didn’t dare try fishing them out of the swarm. Fabian’s eyes had adjusted quickly, and before long he was even able to distinguish solitary birches in a copse in the distance, and individual cows in the kolkhoz’s herd. Yet what was the joy of his sight being restored next to the happiness of being able to spy on fellow citizens while remaining unnoticed himself! The eye in the door was a wonder of civilization; no less than the satellite and, in any case, much more important. All we can do is wait for someone, some national hero, to invent an ear and a hand for doors as well. (Several times upon hearing the doorbell ring, Fabian had crept up to the door in his socks, peeked at the distorted shape of the caller through the tiny opening, and then retreated just as quietly, because he hadn’t felt like engaging in social niceties at that moment. He had exercised his free will. It was his choice whether he wanted a guest in his home or not. Absolute freedom. The city air liberates—our ancestors already knew that fact. You can do anything in a city, even exact revenge unpunished. When he was jostled by a crowd of mindless passengers in the bus or someone cut in line in front of him at the store and wasn’t rebuked for it, then Fabian would burn through more electricity than he needed at home and flush the toilet a number of times unnecessarily. That was his revenge on society for its indifference.) And when he discovered also that his battery-powered desk clock was still ticking, he turned downright emotional. How much better that little timepiece was than an ordinary wall clock with its pendulum! A country clock can stop ticking—that’s no big deal; the change of the seasons and night and day is enough in the countryside, and some times of the year, you can use the sun for determining the hour. In the city, the electric motor purrs on, as if to prove that nothing falls apart there when you leave.

Loving the city properly is a very complicated task. It’s not worth seeking what you can’t be here. You don’t have to love what is marginal. Fabian had a girlfriend one time, a passionate tree hugger from the backwoods, who despised big cities with all her might, delivering incredibly clichéd justifications for doing so, such as the impossibility of maintaining your own personality, the absent calming effect of greenery, and people’s indifference and heartlessness. But since she loved Fabian deeply, his attempts to change her mind appeared to bear fruit, and six months later, the young woman claimed outright to love the city. Fabian was overjoyed to hear it. Only some time later did he ask the girl what she specifically liked about the city. The girl started to describe how beautiful and full of shade the city’s parks are, noting that you can feed the squirrels there; how incredible it is to approach the sleeping city at dawn from a distance, at the hour when the churches’ golden cupolas are gleaming in the strengthening sunlight; how birds sing their songs in the copses of the garden suburbs; how you can gather champignons from the green squares in the new residential neighborhoods. Fabian didn’t allow her to say any more.

Nevertheless, there are external similarities between the love of urban life and rural life. For example, Fabian would often go on strolls around the city, just as a fan of nature might wander across meadows or go and enjoy ancient river valleys. He would tirelessly and systematically comb through entire blocks, and although he didn’t keep count, he definitely had some decent mileage under his belt. In the end, he knew the streets even better than taxi drivers did. He had determined his favorite side streets, which he would miss and sometimes travel a much longer distance to see, even coming from the city center. He found ever more confirmation of his long-held intuition that the city’s street names are governed by order; as if a huge, peculiar configuration of dominoes had been set up there. Ash, Birch, and Oak streets ran close to one another, while another location held Tuglas, Koidula, and Eino Leino streets in store (named after prominent writers). When Weasel, Polecat, and Badger were already close at hand, you could discover Coypu or even Mink after searching carefully. If an additional street were to be drawn between Sickle and Hammer, reducing the hectarage of the plots that fell between them, then that new street could be named Blacksmith or Vises. Accordance with these rules was almost absolute. For example, Hedgehog and Belinsky, or Mole and Schopenhauer never ended up intersecting.

Fabian was well acquainted with the Old Town’s complex system of closed courtyards, where he staged chases or pursuits in his mind, and was confident that no one could capture him. Next, he planned to take on the roofs, which in certain locations stood so close to one another that it appeared as if you could get quite far along them. He knew a lot about the city in general, committing everything to memory on his raids, just as a hiker remembers the freshwater springs, primeval riverbeds, and stumps. Fabian knew which hallway was decorated with a rare ceiling ornament; on what street corner a bourgeois secret-police officer murdered a communist revolutionary by treacherously shooting him in the back; in which building the Russian Emperor’s mother-in-law stayed one night on her way to somewhere; where art-nouveau elements could be found; where the religious fellowships were located; where the medical dispensaries and the secondhand shops were situated; and finally, where the cafés were—those true citadels of urban life. You know what makes a desert beautiful. But a slum? Probably the little café that you come across on random wanderings! Fabian knew all the cafés. As soon as he moved to Tallinn, he picked up a phone book and looked up every last café, bar, and pub. By now, he had sat and observed the public in each and every one of them, enough to be able to recite in his sleep where the writers convened, where the brokers went, where German-occupation-era broads reminisced about their glory days, where lustful old men go to snack on their daily cream pies, or in which backrooms of run-down wooden houses and gazebos men met their lovers.

Fabian’s mood was improving with every street he traversed. Before he knew it, he was pretty much at his destination. Separating him from the pub was just a negligible patch of greenery. Under the trees and on the benches rested pretty young mothers wearing jeans and mohair jumpers, whiling away time in the weakening August sunshine. They were chatting, smoking, and sometimes leisurely rolling their extremely elegant, brightly colored strollers back and forth whenever the racket coming from them swelled to inhuman levels. Playing before them in a sandbox were small children, who by their very existence caused Fabian to recall one of the most famous nostalgic sighs of our time: we all come from our childhoods—from our childhoods, like from some far-off city.

1Forefather (German)

FABIAN THE STUDENT

FABIAN SLEPT IN even later than usual that morning. When he grudgingly pushed himself up to a sitting position on the edge of his bed at nearly noon (after having woken up several times earlier), opened and closed his dry mouth thirstily, and remained there staring at nothing, it was still so dim in the room that he had to turn on the light right away. It was fall once again, and the thermometer showed a mere ten degrees Celsius indoors, though that certainly could not be right. The thermometer had been lying for some time now. The clock was running slow, his electric razor chafed his neck, and the fuses blew constantly, so he couldn’t watch television and use the electric blanket at the same time. Fabian was reminded of his first mother-in-law’s words: "A house needs a man." I don’t know how to do anything, Fabian thought miserably.

Consciousness gradually returned to him, and some kind of boundary formed between the cheerlessness of dreams and the true-to-life events of the previous night. Still, it was better to leave analysis of his personal shortcomings for later—let worry wait till evening. Fabian had long ago figured out that the farther away you push your cares, the longer you can be carefree. He took the key from its hook on the wall and went outside to see whether the postman had been. It was banal. Mornings began with banality. But he reassured himself: sometimes, every cynic would like the morning mail to be an event and to bring something new and uplifting. If anything were to come at all anymore, then why not by post? What was the mail system for if not for that?

Other times, Fabian even felt as if his entire life thus far had merely been a disguised preparation for rising to some higher level, without him knowing for certain what was meant by higher—whether in terms of career, transcendence, wealth, or great passion. Fabian certainly knew that such a feeling indicated weakness, just like buying lottery tickets, but from time to time (this morning, for example), he wanted, for a moment, to forego the path of the strong and allow weakness to overpower him. On occasion, anticipation could offer amusement just like any sort of banality: like idleness, like commercial culture (on the waves of which it was so pleasant to be rocked), like reading a fashion magazine, with a dumb hit song playing in his head, holding a sweet red sherry in his hand, and a dumb—who?—at his side. But this for only a moment. Just a few days ago, Fabian had been knocking discs around a koroona² table for three hours. What a mindless game. A banal game. But he derived pleasure from it. Afterward, he read Fichte’s letters to Kant; only, he felt no pleasure from it. Instead, they put him to sleep. And yesterday, he observed—for close to a half an hour, like a snot-nosed kid—an excavator doing its job. He watched how deep it dug. Now, he was analyzing himself to see if it was possible to descend even deeper. It is, almost certainly. What had that rock-and-roller friend, Schasmin, said? Let’s drive out to my cabin for a couple of days, forage for mushrooms, walk along the beach, look for birds’ nests, heat up the sauna, light a bonfire, and hit on village girls till dawn. You won’t have to think about anything complex, (for some reason, Schasmin thought Fabian was still thinking complexly), you won’t have to exert yourself and be on your guard all the time. No one will be coveting your social position, nor will there be anybody to win over with your wisecracks; village chicks don’t get them. Let yourself relax, forget your foreign vocabulary, be yourself, allow life to flow through you.

That time, Fabian had stared intently at Schasmin for a long while and announced that he certainly wouldn’t go buddying up with a guy the likes of him. But now, it seemed even that wouldn’t be impossible. If not on the prowl, then in any event to a cabin. He wanted something great and simple. Today, he would like something that brought about a turn; that would change fate or at least give him the strength to keep living. He’d like to write on today’s page of the book of life in big, handsome letters; or if he wasn’t permitted that, then in any case to write without inkblots. Fabian remembered unhappily that he still hadn’t written himself into the building register yet, even though he’d been living there for a month and a half already. Interaction with the building administration was just more than he could handle. No doubt they would track him down themselves one of these days; they don’t let things slide.

There was only a thin evening newspaper poking out of the mailbox attached to the gate—the only publication that Fabian still subscribed to out of routine, since he read others (the obituaries, the sports items—those were something concrete, at least) in passing at work in order to force himself to hang around there, if only for fifteen minutes a day. Of course, on some out-of-the-way street in a slum with a bad reputation, in the city’s dark-blooded vein—a place people who were looking to change apartments indicated in their classified ads as anywhere but there, it didn’t pay to wait for the delivery of an

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  • (4/5)
    The Innie and the Outie."The Inner Immigrant" is a translation anthology of the short stories of prolific Estonian writer Mihkel Mutt, whose only other translated work in English to date is the novel "The Cavemen Chronicle" (2015) which was also translated by "Adam Cullen". The stories here have been selected from "Fabiani õpilane" (Fabian's Student) (1980), "Vana Fabiani Nutulaul" (Old Fabian's Lament) (1988), "Siseemigrant" (The Inner Immigrant) (2007) and "Fabian" (2015). The last one is a recent Estonian reissue on Mutt's own publishing imprint of the early Fabian stories. Including 5 books of short stories, Mutt has about 30 works to his credit, comprising novels, children's stories, essays, travel writing, memoirs and theatre. The stories "Fabian the Student" (1980) and "The Inner Immigrant" (2007) (both included here) won the Estonian Best Short Story Award named after writer Friedebert Tuglas in 1981 and 2008 respectively.Only 6 of the 13 stories in this present collection are about Mutt's alter-ego of Fabian, but they do make up 75% of the book. Fabian is "an ironic observer of life and a skeptical bohemian" per the Estonian blurb for the 2015 Estonian reissue (i.e. "irooniline eluvaatleja ja skeptiline boheemlane.").The inner monologues of the essayistic Fabian stories takes a bit of getting used to, especially as you don't really warm to the character very easily. "Old Fabian's Lament" with its richly observant details of matrimonial cohabitation was my favourite of them, especially as it had some wry humour and a nice little twist in the end.The balance of the remaining 7 short stories were more approachable, and though they do not use the Fabian alter-ego explicitly, they could easily be viewed as a continuation of that thread. My favourites were the difficulties of writing a literary colleague's "Obituary", the writer's daytrip/lecture to a not very responsive audience in "The Lady with the White Beret" and the final "Inner Immigrant."