THE PO-MO PUTIN: He’s not such a bad guy when you get to know what he really is –By Tom McBride

by Tom McBride

The Po-Mo Putin

The alleged war criminal isn’t so bad once you see what he really is.

     Vladimir Putin would not like Post-Modernism, a trend from the decadent intellectual salons of France that quickly spread like a domineering blob to the rest of Europe and North America. He would see its slippery relativism as perilously consistent with non-binary-sexual preferences and other germs that America and the European Union wish to smuggle into the Motherland and that might be lurking, even now, in Nazi Kiev.

     He would not like this sort of thing. It is unclear whether or not he knows what it is. Less mysterious is what he would think of it.

     But can he do without it? Can he stop confronting it even as he might denounce it? A considered answer to these questions illuminates what Putin is and what post-modernism is.

     The selves of the Russian Federation’s supreme leader are not legion but they are several.

     He is a mystic. He would embody the Russian soul, ineffable but not altogether imprecise. It is allergic to a longing for material things. It prefers the afterlife to saunas. It is what gave hope to the peasants. It was the mist on the steppes that hinted at something better than the ruined crop of wheat. Their hovel was a Cross to bear, but it was better than all the glittering corrupt cities combined. It was why they had been put on earth to toil and perhaps be shot. Life was nasty, but it was short. It was not superstition but nature to think it would end in ceaseless ease. Devils lurked in some villages and even some dachas. They could be dealt with if need be by collective force. Miracles were a matter of course, even if you didn’t actually see one. For Putin, any loss of such priorities is a tragedy. It robs life of virtue and enchantment; salve for despair; a reason to live; an occasion for hardening of body and soul alike, not only to resist Germans at Leningrad but homosexuals in Minsk, if they dared to show themselves. It is a travesty of history for anyone to prefer silver and gold to the unvarnished local church, or to disassociate church from Russia, or even to think that the Holy Spirit can come from some anarchistic Son as opposed to a Dear Leader Father God (which bears an uncanny resemblance to Vlad himself).

      The supreme leader of Russia is a gangster. He is a capo. Everyone in the corporate gang is given his monopoly over goods, services, and commodities. They are to run their corner of the market and like their gains. He only asks in exchange that they leave him alone to run the Motherland.

     We are only getting started, so let us pause to ask, “Is Putin, the spiritualist and gangster, the mystic who enables luxury yachts and plenty of girls, a hypocrite?” No. He is not, and we will turn this paragon of cultural alliances into a post-modernist before we are done. Even if he hates it, he cannot do without it, and he could even thank us for so indicating. It will turn him into a creative author, so to speak, and let him of the hook with the International Court of Criminal Justice.

     Let us proceed.

     The supreme leader is a student of history; you might say, even, a historian. And what a historian, too! While most benighted students of history might think World War II (in Russia, the Great Patriotic War) is over, Putin knows better. Twenty-seven million Russians (technically, Soviets, but never mind) died on the way to Berlin, and there the matter was settled forever: Russia would never again be threatened on its long eastern flank. But the West broke its word: tore down the wall, bore free market temptations, spread the illusion of individual liberty, sold meaninglessness of merchandise. It seeks to choke Mother Russia with the encirclements of NATO and EU alike. World War II is not over but is just starting, and once again Putin’s fellow countrymen are obliged to defeat the New Nazis, starting with the ones in Odessa and Kiev. Just when some think Nazis have been beaten, they pop up again; such as the burden of being a great country in perpetual struggle for survival against the pandemics of the Enlightenment. For Putin the historian, the past is not over; it’s not even past.

     And then there is the arch-conservative supreme leader. This is he who knows that nothing new or odd works. There are old verities of worship and patriotism. No individual life has any meaning beyond its absorption into a great cause. Humans were not meant to live on the basis of unique choices but in the foundations of   gargantuan efforts. There and there alone is found any personal glory. Yet modernity is everywhere trying to erode eternal values, and here is where masculine strength alone can protect and serve.

     We must add to our inventory of selves the great karate master; the bare-shirted man on the motorcycle.

     There is also the great actor on the world stage, who longs, not for himself but for the Motherland, to graduate from historic pest to global Leviathan; not just the poisoner of traitors in the West or a force of interference in (already sham) Western elections; but he who annexed Crimea and the liberator of the Ukraine. Putin seeks not to be one who pulls strings but one who strides in public gaze.

      Here again the old bugbears of hypocrisy and insincerity and inconsistency raise their repellent heads.  And here again we must offer him a po-mo Putin rescue plan. How can the man who is the rustic mystic live in opulent palaces? How can the devout Russian Orthodox head a state crime syndicate? How can he who thinks tradition should grow organically from the maternal soil support the coercion of a security state with a nation conveniently attached? How can a man who reveres a territorial mother embrace the hyper-masculinity of the karate court? How can he equate neo-liberal free markets with Nazism—who is the fascist here?

     The post-modernist answer is that there is no conflict among any of these selves. Walt Whitman was no post-mod, but he anticipated it when he wrote “I contain multitudes.” He meant a transcendental pantheism living within himself. But for Putin it is not that but rather the creative juxtaposition of multiple texts. Putin lives not in himself but in these texts: mob boss, traditionalist, ingenious historian, world leader, karate man, religious mystic. He thinks he has a newly-great Russian state when in fact he presides over a post-modernist one—check that, the post-modernist textual state presides over him. He does not produce these texts, not really, but rather he only inhabits them. They predated him and will be around long after he is biologically and politically gone. Just as our genes survive us gene-carriers, so will Putin’s memes survive him. It is they who will actually win the siege of Leningrad or, for that matter, Kiev.

     We have accordingly filched Putin from the jaws of hypocrisy; we have thrown him the life line of Post-modernism. This robs him of individual power but delivers him from charges of evil and vice. It gets even better. If he and we live in a Matrix of pre-ordained texts then all the deaths of the current war on both sides are meaningless—just part of a textual simulacrum. Yes, they will not be returning to their families except in a bier, but in the end, this is just a movie with infinite re-runs, long after Putin lies in his own bier, where he may get a grand state funeral—just another long-ago-inherited text.

     When Oxford University wished to give post-modernist Jacques Derrida an honorary degree, there were protests from some dons. These were dismissed: Why protest against a scholar who merely affirms what we all know-that language is infinitely indecisive? Perhaps they were thinking of the larger extrapolation: the capacity of post-modernism to dissolve virtue, vice, and consequence.

     Roland Barthes wrote a celebrated essay about the dominance of collective texts over the individual author. He called it “The Death of the Author.” Today let us affirm “The Death of the Authoritarian.” Yet somehow he continues to kill.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *