Laughter vs utopia


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Anatoly Korolev) - Tom Stoppard, a famous British playwright, met with journalists and his Russian fans in the news conference hall of RIA Novosti.

 Russian Youth Theatre Artistic Director Alexei Borodin and publisher Sergei Parkhomenko also took part in the conversation.

After making a thorough study of the lives of Alexander Herzen, Nikolai Ogarev, Mikhail Bakunin, and Visarion Belinsky, Russian prominent writers and thinkers, Stoppard wrote an enormous drama about them - The Coast of Utopia. Each play in the trilogy lasts for no less than three hours. It was first shown in London with great success, then in New York, where Stoppard lived while working on it, and now it will be presented in Moscow.

On the one hand, his interest in Russian history is flattering, but on the other it is alarming - our revolutionaries and idealists have long become a laughing stock all over the world. Tom Stoppard dispelled the apprehensions of the audience. He said that he was enchanted with the Russian thinkers, their acute sense of justice, temperament, and talent.

There were three major groups of questions to Stoppard that boiled down to the following: When and why did Russia become an inspiration for his trilogy? What would have happened if Herzen and others had taken power in the country instead of the Bolsheviks? How do the skeptical attitudes of such an inveterate postmodernist as Stoppard tally with idealistic sentiments of his characters?

Stoppard said that his interest in Russia had no point of departure but reflected British and Russian common craving for culture. Russia has always been a subject of close interest for British intellectuals and the public at large, and has gradually become part of the British cosmos. The Soviet Union's disintegration affected him deeply - as if a black hole took shape in history. Thinking about the reasons for the collapse of this utopia, Stoppard started writing his trilogy about the Russian thinkers.

He said that one of the most dramatic questions was how his characters would have passed the test of power. When it comes to fighting for freedom, or the freedom of speech, revolutionaries are far from terror, but whenever they take power in their hands, all forms of freedom are finished. Herzen and the others were romantics, and did not think about the evil concealed in the human nature. They believed in wisdom, and purity of ideas, and thought that justice does not require violence. Stoppard said that in his opinion, if they had taken power, the utopia would not have materialized. Belinsky wrote that despotic rule should come first in order to put the morals in order, and only after that can people be released into the kingdom of freedom.

Today, it is clear to everyone that man is a beast in many respects, and is governed by irrational forces. The Brits have become scared of freedom because of Russia's tragic experience, and guards have encircled British society. Life is beset with bans, limitations, rules and laws. Stoppard exclaimed that British society had no democracy and was totalitarian through and through (!)

In general, the playwright repeatedly expressed his discontent with Western society. Like Herzen, he is disappointed with the British chatterboxes, and like Bakunin, he is skeptical about the social structure in Germany and France. He said that emulating the EU experience was not the best choice.

Stoppard was considerate and observed that he did not consider himself an expert on Russia's history and politics. He said that least of all he wanted to write a declaration, not to mention a message to nations. He called into question his postmodernist attitudes of the past, and expressed his desire to restore the former high meaning of some ridiculed words.

Now about the two other guests: Alexei Borodin promised to stage the unique play (translated by the Ostrovsky brothers) in the beginning of the future theatre season, and Sergei Parkhomenko demonstrated several copies of The Coast of Utopia, which have just come off the press (the Inostranka Publishers). The book is already very popular with the visitors of the non-fiction book fair.

Summing up the results of the news conference, Tom Stoppard advised all those present to take things less seriously. He said, his trilogy was almost a comedy, and he was glad that it made people laugh in London and New York. He said, he hoped people in Moscow would laugh watching it, too.

Indeed, mankind is bidding farewell to its past, laughing.

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