Do you hear meDrama  broadcast in 1983 by World Service BBC

Written by ©Igor Pomerantsev

 Translated and adapted for radio by Frank Williams

 Directed by Martin Williamson


The play describes the first working day of a young KGB Lieutenant, Volodya, recently recruited by the security organs from theInstitute of Foreign Languages. When he was a student, Volodya provided his services to the KGB by informing on lecturers and his fellow students.

His training officer is a Major, Valery Pavlovich, aged about 50. The Major is also a graduate of the Institute of Foreign Languages; he graduated in the fifties, at the time of Krushchev's 'Thaw', and took part in the rehabilitation of the victims of Stalin's purges. The Major is responsible for keeping an eye on literary and artisitc Moscow. He is not unsophisticated in his tastes. He is a devotee of the Theatre of the Absurd and is a connoisseur of unofficial Soviet literature, of which he has extensive knowledge, thanks to bugging and other tricks of the secret policeman's trade.

The Major begins Volodya's training by introducing him to his latest case - an attempt to pressurise a well-established translator and writer, Sergey Gorelsky, into collaborating with the KGB via his mistress, Nina, a young research student. The Major puts on a tape of Nina and Gorelsky's conversations for Volodya to listen to. It transpires that the Major, who is not without a sense of humour, has made a carefully edited version of these conversations and in the Major's editing the influence of the western avant-garde is readily apparent. On the tape, Nina and Gorelsky talk about what is most important in their lives: love, creative work, children, parents, heroism, Moscow literary life. The playing of the tape is interrupted by the Major's comments and explanations to Volodya.

At the end of the day, the Major and Volodya go off to an encounter with Nina, who has been summonsed to a militia station on the pretext of checking her Moscow residence permit. Volodya confronts Nina with a suggestion that she collaborate with the KGB. Volodya and the Major then return to their office to listen to what Nina will tell Gorelsky.

Gorelsky, who is aware he is bugged, directly addresses the listening KGB men and reminds them of past services rendered.

'Do You Hear Me?' portrays the function of the KGB in Soviet society in a more subtle and ambivalent way than usual. This is no dramatic clash between Black and White, Good and Evil, Heroic Dissidents and the Villainous KGB. Everybody here occupies a grey area, as does the vast mass of the Soviet people; everybody is compromised.


NOTE: Where there is a line of <<<<<<< across the script, it denotes one of the places where the tape has been edited, and the dialogue does not, therefore, flow naturally.                                   


VALERY: (BY DOOR) Aha. So you got here before me.
(APPROACHES) I do apologise - Boris Terentyevich kept me a moment. In actual fact, it was you we were talking about, Volodya. You don't mind if I call you Volodya?
VOLODYA: Mind? Of course not, Comrade Major.

VALERY: So, you've just finished your degree? What did you write your dissertation on?
VOLODYA:"Legal proceedings In The Novels of Charles Dickens.”
VALERY: 'Bleak House', eh? And who was your supervisor?
VOLODYA: Chebotaryova.
VALERY: Lyuda? Lyudmilla Alekseyevna? Good Lord, she and I graduated together, how many years ago now? .....I dread to think. I remember the Foreign Lit. Oral -Dobuzhinskaya was the examiner - we were standing outside the door and Lyuda says: "That old maid scares the daylights out of me." The door flies open and Dobuzhinskaya - she must have packed it in long before your time - Dobuzhinskaya pokes her head out and says in her smarmy way: "Old I may be, but a maid I'm not." (LAUGHS) I can laugh now, but at the time my heart was in my mouth. Well, we thought, we may as well write this one off. We don't have a chance in hell.....Those were good times... The boys reading their poems on Mayakovsky Square... The Yves Montand tour.......
VALERY: Don't tell me you've never heard of Yves Montand? He was for us what that group is for you....er, you know the one.....er.....Punk Floyd.
VOLODYA: Pink Floyd?
VALERY: That's the one........(IN FRENCH) Pardon,   pardon.Well now, Boris Terentyevich has been telling me that a couple of weeks from now you'll be in Minsk... at our training college......
VOLODYA: That's what they tell me.
VALERY: Which means you're with me to have a good look round, get a feel of what we're about....Three weeks is a bit on the short side, of course....But then you won't have time to get bogged down in routine... like me....sitting over the Grundig days at a time.... listening to tapes.. And believe me, a lot of the conversations we record aren't worth listening to.. somebody's got to do it though..You can see for yourself, sedentary sort of life.....grown quite a paunch.

I don't suppose you'd believe I was once the All-Union Universities' trampoline champion..... I rose high you know.....
Made the All-Union top six, I did.
(TONE CHANGING ABRUPTLY) Speaking.. Yes, Comrade Colonel......Understood, Boris Terentyevich.  Will do. Right away. 
You'll have to excuse me, Volodya.
I'll switch the tape on for you so you can hear what it's all about, and we'll talk when I get back. I shan't be long. Just press this button with Start on. (MOVING TO DOOR) Don't be shy. Make yourself at home.(FX: DOOR OPENS/CLOSES/PAUSE)
I lay down across her with my face in her breasts and my hand on her. We lay there without moving. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side.
I lay down across her with my face in her breasts and my hand on her. We lay there without moving, But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side.


SERGEY:....sent me an invitation. After all, I had translated one of them. A woman writer. And now this chance came along....but I didn't take it up....
NINA: Why ever not? Because of her, or because of her writing?
SERGEY: Oh no. As a matter of fact, her prose is all right. Black-and-white cinema. It's as if the English - not the ones who were born in India or Africa, but back home - never noticed that language has other shades....of colour...But the effect can be pleasing....Open a book and there you are, black-and-white cinema, like when you were little...It's very touching....
NINA: But why didn't you go to the reception? 
SERGEY: There was no  time....
VALERY:(BY DOOR) Well, not too dull I hope?
VOLODYA: Funny sort of a conversation on that tape...First there was some Englishman talking....some kind of erotic stuff....The same thing, over and over....
VALERY: Come, come, Volodya. You should know the classics. Samuel Beckett. 'Krapp's Last Tape'. Who taught the foreign literature course? Dzhaparidze?  He knows his Beckett. Even published an article about him: "Danger! Seductive Belladonna"..... And Sergey Yuryevich Gorelsky - he was the one waxing lyrical about colour in language - Gorelsky was given the Beckett tape by Jean-Paul Sartre. Personally. As a gift. Twenty-odd years ago. Along with tapes of his own plays. Well, we know it's not terribly modest just to make a present of yourself. That's what sort of a person our Sergey Gorelsky is. On first-name terms with Nobel Prize-winners. Or haven't you heard of him either, Volodya?
VOLODYA: (TIMIDLY) Of course I've heard of him. I even read a collection of his translations - 'Poetic America'.
VALERY: (PAUSE) How far did you get with the tape?
VOLODYA:There was a question. A woman...(UNCERTAINLY) ...or a girl....
VALERY: Nina. Nina Mikhailovna.
VOLODYA: She was asking him why he hadn't gone to some reception or other.
VALERY: Not "some reception or other", Volodya, but the reception given by Soviet writers for the delegation of English writers. At the Writers' Union. It was reported in the papers. A year ago.


Take a look.
What a headline, eh! "They Use the Russians to Scare Us". And that's his picture.....the chap who said it....David...David...You must have read him... Working-class origins, nice lad... Make a film star, or a television personality at the very least.
VOLODYA: (DOUBTFULLY) Did he really say that? "They Use the Russians to Scare Us"?
VALERY: Word for word.....I heard him say it with my own ears. I was there, at the Press Centre. It was Boris Terentyevich, by the way, who was running the show. Speaking as representative of the Friendship Society. It was Boris Terentyevich who put this David chap up to it. Before handing over to 'our English guest', he let slip a self-critical observation about us still not knowing enough about the West and that ignorance begets fear. So, our David decides he's not to be outdone by Boris Terentyevich in the self-criticism stakes. After all, he is a free writer from a free country and he simply has to take a swipe at his own government....Boris Terentyevich got his colonel's pips for that little wheeze.....He used to sit here, at this desk....in this actual office....So, where was it you stopped?
VOLODYA: The question....
VALERY: By the way, Volodya, why, do you think, Gorelsky didn't want to go to the Writers' Union for that reception?
VOLODYA: Who knows? .....Maybe because there weren't any real stars, like Sartre....
VALERY: But this was a delegation from England! They don't go kow-towing to intellectual giants and moral authorities over there. There it's every man for himself. Not like your French herd..... Right, Volodya, back to our friends.


NINA: But why didn't you go to the reception?
SERGEY: There was no time. I had a deadline for delivering a manuscript. The publishers were jumpy. And there were still one or two things I had to straighten out with experts - it was Durrell I was translating.
NINA: Lawrence?
SERGEY: Come off it.. Gerald, of course.. The animal kingdom's safer.. No ideas... Right, then.. Come on, Nina, let's have a look at what you've brought there.....
VALERY: He's lying, of course. Time had nothing to do with it. But you're not right, either, if you think he looks down on second-rank writers....Do you smoke?


Kent. American..
VOLODYA: No thank-you, Comrade Major.
VALERY: As you like, but I'll have one.


He didn't go because he didn't want to have to write a report afterwards. For us. About what the foreigners told him over drinks:
VOLODYA: But you bug people's conversations, tape them..
VALERY: Volodya, my dear boy, of course we tape everything. But we're not after any old tittle-tattle. And what are they going to say that's of any interest? That they've created a Frankenstein and it's backfired on them? They always lay into the Americans. For being so vulgar. In actual fact, though, they're just jealous. Of their royalties. Just say the word and they'd be there like a shot. What do we need the Brits for? They're pathetic.. But we do need Gorelsky. We need him to write a report and sign it. And date it.
VOLODYA: But why Gorelsky? It's not as though he's a dissident. Keeps his head well down...
VALERY: My dear Volodya! We've no call to start building cases against people. The heavies from Operations can take care of the loud-mouths and the loonies. We don't need cases, we need people. We want him to be ours. We want to help him become ours. You were helping us out in that line yourself when you were a student, weren't you? The one difference being that you only had a faculty, while we've got half of Moscow. Poetic, literary and theatrical Moscow... Yes, but to make a person ours, you have to know him even better than he knows himself.. All about him, too.. Even love him.. in a sense.. take me, I love Gorelsky.. not that it's reciprocated. For the moment.. Now, Boris Terentyevich has lent me your file.


Let's take something at random.....somebody you.... doesn't matter. (READING) "Keen on sport, though not in training himself....."
VOLODYA: That's old hat, that stuff! Back in my second year.
VALERY: (STILL READING) "Likes beer, When under the influence talks about football. No other interests." (ANIMATEDLY) You can add something new if you like.
VOLODYA: Just like that?
VALERY: Well then, I'll put something in. Here, Volodya, listen to what it says about you: (WITHOUT EMOTION) "Polite, may even be obsequious at times. Prefers to listen. In my presence always starts by talking about sport. Fond of beer. Often arranges his rendezvous in bars. Will even stand a round."
VOLODYA: (PAUSE) And to think....
VALERY: Come on, fire away!


SERGEY: ....what've you brought there. Who do you want to  offer   the translation to?
NINA: Don't know yet. Iam only a beginner, after all. It might  be completely hopeless. That's why I brought it to show  you.


SERGEY: (READING)   "A  letter  from France nestled in the top drawer of  the chest."  Hmmm. Let's have a look at the original English, Nina my dear.
Oh dear! (LAUGHS)
NINA: (HURT) It isn't supposed to be funny, Sergey Yuryevich.
SERGEY: (STILL LAUGHING) I'm sorry, but oh dear Lord!
It's not your fault. How are you supposed toknow what a French letter is in English!? (LAUGHS)
VALERY: This is their first meeting. Eleven months ago. Since then they've been meeting every Thursday. She's writing a doctorate. Just a bit older than you. A husband and child.

It gets more interesting as it goes on. I'll find a place for you and leave you to it.
I have to write a piece for our wall newspaper. For Security Services Day. You must have seen it, down on the ground floor - a dirty great sheet hanging on the wall... A joy in store for you, too.
There! (MOVING TO FAR CORNER OF OFFICE) You just keep listening. Don't mind me.

SERGEY: Well, so what is creativity?....Or what is it to be a creative person? It's bafflement. It's a readiness for anything. It's not knowing the truth. A person who can determine what is true is not an artist. Because, on the contrary, an artist waits for the truth to jump out at him, to wave and shout 'Here I am'....You  can't  grab  hold of   truth by the ears and force it. (PAUSE) You  can, of  course. But  nothing  will ever come of it.... Except  violence.


NINA: Tosha really examines me when I'm undressing. He's interested in everything. He hasn't got anything like that. And he watches his granny. The first morning after we came he told her, ever so proud, "My mummy's titties are bigger than yours." (PAUSE) And do you wish my breasts were smaller? Perhaps I should have an operation? (PAUSE) Mould you kiss me more then? (PAUSE) Why don't you kiss me every single moment? (PAUSE) Later it'll be for 'later', and not for 'now'. (PAUSE) You'll never catch up. It's not like skipping lectures. (PAUSE) You've lost enough years as it is. (PAUSE) Why didn't you find me when I was still young?


SERGEY: I keep on not meeting myself. (PAUSE) I make a date.....and don't show up. Or show up and don't recognise myself. (PAUSE) I see myself from the outside - elegant, artistic, debonair -whereas in actual fact I'm overweight and ponderous. (PAUSE) That's a real non-meeting with yourself. And because I don't feel my body, I'm forever crashing into things. (PAUSE) The most humiliating is when for no reason you suddenly smash your knee against.... the table you're sitting at. I could weep with humiliation.


NINA: I dreamt of leaving home from when I was tiny. (PAUSE) You remember those old recruiting posters for workers? "The Building-Sites of Siberia Need You!" Or "Young Communists! Together He Can Transform Central Asia Into A Blossoming Garden!" But I was scared to go there. You know how I can't stand cold or heat. In my last year at school I really fancied working in the Crimea. I reckoned the sea was bound to be close. I didn't know there were these huge dusty steppes.... an alien, Tartar country.... Russians never take to it. Either they hit the bottle or go out of their minds....The postershad pictures of snub-nosed girls in head-scarves and felt boots. (PAUSE) I went home, tied on a scarf, put on my father's old jacket and looked at myself in the mirror, in profile, like in the posters.

SERGEY: I'm older, unfortunately.
And it certainly doesn't mean I'm wiser. (PAUSE) It'sa myth, older but wiser. Don't you believe it. Old men are petty, intolerant and cantankerous. Out of weakness. Only strength can permit itself wisdom. The weaker a person, the more he feels unsure of himself, the more he needs his victories. At every step. Right, I've found the best bench in the park. Right, this beer - this particular beer - is the best. (PAUSE) Then you begin to believe you've got life beaten, that you're doing everything right, that your taste is impeccable.
We, and whether this is a triumphor a tragedy you decide, we were born in a country which always wins. (PAUSE) In my books it's a tragedy.  (PAUSE) If we were strong we could take the odd defeat. (PAUSE) It's exactly the same with people. Everybody chooses a hierarchy for himself which’ll give him a place on the top rung. The bourgeois hierarchy is money, the aristocrat's is blood, and the craftsman's his craft. When people are completely devoid of anything, then race, nationality, country and continent come into play. (PAUSE) The less talent a man has, the more depersonalised his hierarchy. To be certain that along with his circle, his group, his stratum, he will stand out above the rest. (PAUSE)
I've been hearing people say, ever since I was quite small, that our leaders always used to be real personalities, unlike the last lot. I stumbled across their speeches when I was in my teens. They were utterly dreary, practically illiterate. (PAUSE) How could people get so carried away about them?....Empty, absolutely empty, except the lust for power. (PAUSE) Power is contagious. All people my age were infected. This craving for power - and it's the dissidents I'm talking about now - they call a sense of duty, or of responsibility. Oh Lord, if only everybody thought of himself, himself personally, and was responsible just for himself, then life in general would be much improved as well. (PAUSE)And if you've no talent for anything, and you've no power either, the culprits aren't far to seek: the country, the regime, the age, the civilisation. You know, "in a different century, or in a different country I'd....." (PAUSE) I don't know whether you've noticed, but it's the fanatics, the true heirs of the Medieval mind, who inour time have turned out to be the champions of the ideals of the Enlightenment: freedom, equality and justice, while the great grandchildren, in both a spiritual and a genealogical sense, of the Enlightenment - these slaves to knowledge are busy promoting Medievalism. (PAUSE) Everything's all back to front.
So when my contemporaries - yours haven't begun to square accounts yet - start saying something's good or bad, watch out. They're talking about themselves. Their assessment of anything or anybody is a self-assessment. (PAUSE) Forgive me sounding old and world-weary. I am, after all, a contemporary of my contemporaries.


NINA: I find myself physically repulsive right now. Because I came straight from the station. Sticky, as though I've absorbed all the fumes. When you kissed me, did your lips feel me sticky? (PAUSE) Fumes and sweat mixed. I left Tosha with the old folks. (SIGHS) Do you have any cigarettes?
SERGEY: Mmm.   Here......
NINA: Thanks.   Simply  heaven.....They managed  to keep things up   to  start  with, but the last three days it was open war, real blood  and guts. (PAUSE)  Mum started it. It's not a proper way to live, she says, my marriage up the creek and it's all my fault. My husband's simply an angel. And my clothes are in terrible taste and my hairstyle's an outrage. Do you, she asks, deliberately set out to look a fright?
I held out quite a while, but when she started on at me about Tosha, I cracked. Mum knows where to hit me. "What kind of a mother are you?! If I went to court, they'd give me custody of Tosha in two seconds flat!" (PAUSE) Tosha caught a cold the day before. Well, that was my fault, of course. (PAUSE) I burst into tears, got my things together and began packing. Mum was in tears as well. She was yelling at me, "My blood pressure's right up because of you....You’ll be the death of me! What a sixtieth birthday present from my daughter!" (PAUSE)
And then Dad chips in, though he wasn't looking at me while he said it: "I always said she was heartless, that as far as she was concerned her parents were her worst enemies." And do you think it's easy for me to hit back?....They are my parents! (PAUSE)My mother always did have that streak: a profound lack of respect for every single thing on this earth. So it never cost her anything to humiliate herself.... in front of absolutely anybody. According to her, every last person - at least before I didn't count -was either an idiot, a bastard or a crook. I used to see it all when I was little and feel that if Mum could be that way with other people, she might be like that with me one day. (PAUSE) She got her way in the end. (PAUSE) I left Tosha with them. He was desperate to be with me, cried, I could hardly bear it. (PAUSE) But if I hadn't let them have their way, they'd never have forgiven me.. They' ve nobody in. the world except their grandson.. ! had to bribe Tosha: a table hockey set when he comes home. He calmed down, but then he got really ill, and his illness is a replica of my relationship mith my parents. (PAUSE) They're happy now. Nanny him, cosset him, they're nice now, all concern and devotion. Not like their ungrateful daughter! (PAUSE) And I pity them......


SERGEY: I'm a cautious man. (PAUSE) Innately so. But I everlastingly find myself in situations where I have to act boldly. Against my will. Since I was a boy. I was seven..Iwent skiingout of town - we were living right out in the provinces at the time - and I lost my sense of direction, struggled up the wrong hill, pushed off and whoosh!I was on an army ski-jump... I nearly died when I tookoff....The boys at school thought I was a real hero...It's horrid being a hero....Then when I was at University I fell in love with a lecturer... There was a scandal and she had to resign...But nobody ever knew her main thing. Nor did I to start with. She was sexually insatiable. And I'd never been with a woman before...I didn't know what frigid, normal or insatiable was....I suffered, I was wiped out.... Later, she married an African and went off with him to Guinea. Whenever she wrote, she always said the same thing in her letters, over and over: about the buzzards circling in the sky over Conakry. They have buzzards like we have pigeons. She had a thing about buzzards. Ever since then I've always said 'no'. I have no wish to be a hero.
NINA: What about me?
SERGEY: What about  you?
NINA: What am I? ....Normal, frigid, insatiable?
SERGEY: You....you're lovely.



NINA: We always talk, but Tosha says everything in mime.. He playacts Paris and Achilles. Paris crawls, stalking, he hauls back his bow-string, but Tosha's Achilles already. He walks slowly, very slowly, his heel poised in the air a split second.Tosha's torn three ways- he's Paris and the arrow and Achilles...And now Mum's come in and told him how his Grandad died - I didn't take him to the funeral, you see. He was cycling through the park and suddenly collapsed and died. From a massive coronary. (PAUSE) Tosha thought it was great. Now he plays being a cyclist, rides round the flat, looking from side to side, clicking his tongue - he gets horses and bikes mixed up. And then he just drops, carefully mind, so he doesn't hurt himself. I laugh like a drain. I mean it really is a funny way to go.



SERGEY: What's  that  line of poetry?   "A rebel and so, a despot."   (PAUSE) The dissidents arerebels.
NINA: It's theKGB that decides who's a dissident.
SERGEY: Come off it! All those  groups, committees, commissions...
NINA: Some rebellion! All they do is demand their constitutional rights. What they are is petitioners.
SERGEY: (SCORNFULLY) They write their petitions when they're here.   They write their petitions over there in theWest. And live on hand-outs.
NINA: Some do, some don't. And you think we're not living on hand-outs here? Say a publisher turns you down, huh?.....And there's a whole lot more dissidents been sent East, to the camps, than to the West.
SERGEY: They knew what they were letting themselves in for....
VALERY: Try asking him to say all that on the radio. He'd refuse, you know. (IRONICALLY) Wouldn't want to sully his good name..... But what do you reckon, Volodya? What is it about dissidents that makes Gorelsky dislike them?
VOLODYA: Maybe it's because he's gutless?
VALERY: There's something in that… And if somebody has got guts, Gorelsky won't forgive him...jealous. He wants fame, yet at the same time he shies away from it… Because fame imposes obligations.... He's accumulated all sorts of bits and pieces inside himself....enough for a hundred interviews... He's ambitious, you know, but giving an interview's scary, so he....Well, you listen.
SERGEY: (HEATEDLY) That's the price they pay for three lines in Le Monde or Time magazine....There's nothing lower than the interview. Interrogation under torture.
NINA: I don't know. (ACIDLY) I suppose you've had plenty of experience.
SERGEY: What's  experiencegot to do with it? Just a head on my   shoulders!
NINA:  "My head is wild with weeping'


NINA: When I'm with you I feel my life's my own. Before I always belonged to somebody: my parents, my friends, the University, my son.. But now I have a life of my own.. And I don't want to lose it. These days I'm frankly bored when I'm not in this room.... And when I'm with company there's somebody else does the talking for me. I nod my head, throw in the odd 'how fascinating' or 'you don't say’... There was a timewhen I'd have nearly scratched a person's eyes out for saying something stupid or in bad taste.. Now I just smile. Like water off a duck's back... Love is when you see and hear things differently.


SERGEY: You know, even when he's translating a poet who's only moderately good, he makes him sound like a genius. So he should stick to just translating geniuses .. Because ... Well, just look at his own poems. They're a dictionary of the Russian language. Not compiled in alphabetical order, but by the way the words call across, go ' cooee' to each other. 'Samurai', then next to it 'samovar'. So the samovar has that sort of slanty look, while the samurai is red hot, bubbling away ... There' s an immediate shift in the meaning of the words when they elbow each other like that. Or what about 'crimson' and 'contagion'? It's true, isn't it? What other colour could 'contagion' be? That's what it means to be a great poet: to organise, to systematize if you like, the national language, but in your own way, like nobody's ever done it before... I'm sorry, I'm putting it terribly clumsily


NINA: ....myhusband had an affair with her, oh ages ago, before I came on the scene. So I dug literally everything about her out of him. I even know what sort of a vagina she has. Petty and narrow. She's never had a baby.... Like a tunnel
You'd die of fright in it. It's only mine fits you like a glove....! really dread the thought of my husband making love to me. I can't bear it even once a month...I can feel the night coming nearer and nearer....Straight in, dry.... it hurts so much... physically. Just a kind of dry rasping.. mechanical... friction .. I walk around like an invalid for the whole of the next week....


SERGEY: ....yes,and that reception, you remember, a year ago, at the Writers' Union, you were surprised when I cried off sick.... that English woman novelist was saying that the Soviet writer lives a lot better than his English counterpart. (PAUSE) In a sense, it's true.
Took her round to visit a couple of them. Nice flats. Books published regularly....Don't depend on actual sales for their money. Covered in awards and glory.....Well, how is that Englishwoman to know that all these prize-winners are no more than deputising as writers? The government knows every country must have a literature.And so it won't have too much bother from writers, it fills literary vacancies with apparatchiks. The apparatchiks write, they're published, and nobody buys their books... So, in theory writers there are, in plenty. In actual fact, there's hardly one....Not everybody here understands that, let alone an Englishwoman!
VALERY: (OVER TAPE, FROM CORNER) I'd give my right arm for it to be that way.....
Gorelsky's got a point there...but....that's life. Put a decent man into the Writers' Union...and there you go! Five or ten years later he blossoms out into a real talent. Who would have thought it
VOLODYA: What's wrong with that? Aren't writers supposed to have talent?
VALERY: But it's a writer's talent dictates what he writes. End of story, he's out of control...Gorelsky might be clever, but...his trouble is he generalises...But carry on.
SERGEY: Only fools never generalise ..and only cowardscling to  generalisations.
Out of panic. Out of despair.So as to reinforce their beliefs and boost their courage, cowards pontificate: "Frenchmen are like this, Germans are like that, such and such are the best red wines, women like this kind of man..." But genuine pleasure comes with the one-off, the thing that can never be duplicated, before or after.... A metaphor is a one-off generalisation...which is why it's irresistible... And I don't love you because you're the kind of woman men love... but because you're you.


NINA: I shan't leave my husband, because you'll dump me then. You'll be scared you have to do something, make some sort of decision. You only let me come into your world as a visitor. To stay a while and then leave... and your loveis cautious, circumspect. As if you're treading on thin ice...You're simply incapable of lovinguncircumspectly.. And I can't blame you for that.It's stupid to go blaming somebody who's colour­blind for not being able to see colours.. Allyou love is words. You cherish them, cosset them.. You might do the same with me. Why don't you say something? Do you hear me?


SERGEY: It makes me sick, literally sick, to think that right now there's a man locked up in Lefortovo jail and I know his name.
It was good when Stalin was around.... There were scores of people inside, hundreds and hundreds of them, and nobody knew their names.... Except their nearest and dearest. So they all blended into one great mush... These days, though, you hear a name on the radio through the jamming... and you know millions are listening as well as you....And when you walk down the street, you know that everybody knows that name...And....we can have no respect for each other....And what we stay silent about binds us together more than words...
But a name, that signifies a human being. And however much I despise the dissidents, I feel sick, it makes me heave.... It's so rotten and contemptible.... And that goes for the heroes they choose, too.


NINA: Instead of taking it out on you, I take it out on other  people. I'm  scared   to vent  my spite on you directly...Ibumped into an old  school-friend in the street the other day, we hadn't seen  each  other in five  years.... Where did you put the matches? There  was a box here just a minute ago! Ah, here it is.... .Sorry.
Well, she starts telling me she's  married now, has been for   three years, and everything's roses and they're in clover.....   They do it every night. Every night, can you imagine?
I listened not saying anything, but I was so busy looking daggers at her that after about ten minutes or so she started moaning about life, about losing her independence and her self-reliance, about being a slave to sexand love crushing individuality.... By  the end she'd decided she and her husband were going to sleep in separate beds....And I'd said nothing, mind you, just looked into her frightened little eyes....But if the truth be known...what wouldn't I give to be with you every night.
Maybe I wrecked her whole life....so much bitchiness and spite pent up inside me.. I won't ever get like my mother, surely?


SERGEY: It's impossible to go into the Writers' Union restaurant any more....It always was a nest of vipers....But these days you don't see a single face that looks remotely human... Beating their breasts. In their old age, they've suddenly discovered they're Russians. It's like inventing the bicycle all over again and going out to shout it out from the rooftops....It might just wash in the third world.... Truly. A first generation of intellectuals over the moon about being able to say "we" when they're talking about themselves.... But here! Ivans... rediscovering their roots....a thousand years after the event.It's because they've had pens stuffed into their paws....While as for the people who were born with a pen in their hands, they're to be beaten into the ground... Gang up on everybody who isn't one of 'us'. A while back people used to whisper the word 'yid', now they don't care who hears....Abkhaz, Kyrgyz, Georgians, it's all the same to them - dagos. Full-stop. It makes me puke, all this pseudo-Russianness, with Orthodoxy thrown in...What they're about has absolutely nothing to do with either nationality or religion, it's purely social, they're pushing for the top....And they've no idea where the top is.


NINA: On Saturday the woman next door left herdaughter, Vera, with us. Sweet little thing.Six, I suppose. We played mummies and daddies.Both she and my Tosha so want to stay little,the thought of growing up's so scary....Theyuse baby-talk all the time....Gooo-gooo,coochy-coo.....Vera undid my blouse and startedsucking my nipples....Very sexy....And thenshe burst into tears and started saying overand over:'I'm frightened to be buried all alone underthe ground.... 'Tosha says to her:'I'm not frightened, but I don't want to be buried.Vera just wouldn't be comforted:'I'd be all on my own if I was buried underthe ground.'Like an idiot I asked her whatshe was talking about? So as not to just sitthere. And her answer was so wise, philosophicalreally. She even stopped crying:'Nothing.'
Then she said, in tears again now:'I don't want to die on my own.I’d be frightened.'
I played the grown-up. I tried to reassure her:'You won't die on your own. Nobody's ever ontheir own.'
That made Tosha cross; he really protested:'It's not true. Sometimes people are on theirown, all on their own. If you got lost in theforest, you'd die on your own. And when Grandaddied in the park, he was on his own. Except hedid have his bike. '
Then Vera said:'I want to be buried with my Mummy and Daddyand my brother.'
We started playing mummies and daddies again.Vera bit my nipple and then felt sorry. She stroked my hair. And when her mother came back, I began telling her in a jokey sort of waywhat we'd been talking about and Vera burstinto tears. Not because she was scared, butbecause I'd told on her. And I felt so good,so warm and  tingly inside when I was doing it...
Does that happen to you as well.Oram I theonly one who could be so beastly?


SERGEY: Doesn't it strike you that Achilles and Patrocles had a  homosexual relationship? You read carefully the way Achilles mourns Patrocles. That's the way you mourn a lover....And Achilles doesn't compare his friend with an eagle or a lion, he compares him to a young girl. And when Antillochus brings the news of Patrocles' death, Achilles has what we would now call hysterics. A nervous breakdown.. He tears his hair, rolls on the ground, rubs ashes over his body. He grieves more than if he'd been told of the death of his father or son.... With these heroes there's forever some misunderstanding, something left unsaid, something half hidden.....Their emotional outbursts, their motives, even their acts of heroism are always somehow ambiguous... . Move over, can't you, for God's sake! I'm right on the edge.......


NINA: It surprises me even, but there are times when I'm happy without you. Yesterday the Dean addressed the entire Faculty. Lecturers and students. In the Main Hall. When you've got to address everybody, though, what can you say except idiocies, especially if you're the Dean. I could feel the euphoria coming over me stronger and stronger.... .Well for a start, why was life so generous and magnanimous towards me that I'm never obliged to spout such stupid nonsense.... I went bright red. I was quite carried away... I didn't feel the slightest bit sorry for the Dean. After all, it wasn't as though he was going to lose any sleep over it......


SERGEY: These kisses…
....just here, between your upper lip and yourleft eye......
Let's pretend they're the Kurile Islands....No objections?.....
SERGEY: Aha.You do object.... Because .... they're disputed territory.... Japan has claims on them and you're afraid I'll cede them back.....


NINA: The very first time, we put two chairs together, here and here.....facing opposite ways, with the arms touching. Then we sat down.... Because the chairs were side by side, our cheeks touched. Out of the corner of my eye I could see how deep the wrinkles on your face were and I was almost trembling with shock, because there'd never been anyone so old in my life before.... and the kisses started out slowly from opposite directions.... like two trains.....


SERGEY: Here, listen, this is what I wrote today. (READING WITH RESTRAINT, DEADPAN) "He brought several skeins of different coloured wools into class and wove, wound, tangled everybody up. They laughed till they cried. The wool was springy. It was warm to lie in. The fibres didn't cut into either arms or legs. It was even possible to move about, the whole body in one, in little hops, a few centimetres to the right, then to the left. It was funny when they collided, accidentally poking their lips at each other.Their lips were springy, too, downy. They vowed never to disentangle themselves. At first the head tried to resolve the situation quietly. The teachers were armed with scissors and razor-blades. But no sooner werethe knots and loops cut through, they immediately knit together again, stronger than before. They had to be spoon-fed. Eventually everybody knew. The school was surrounded, the paras called in. But even specially-trained hatchet men couldn't take the wool. Eventually moths were released into the classroom at night. When they woke up,there wasn't a thread left. The moths had even eaten their clothes. So they were handed over to their parents bare."
VALERY: You see, Volodya, you and I are the only people in the entire country to know that....Gorelsky is one of - no, the best writer alive in Russia today. Even he doesn't suspect it.
VOLODYA: But he's surely not the only talented writer to keep his stuff hidden away?
VALERY: I know all these invisible Moscow writers, forever scribbling and squirrelling stuff away in their desk-drawers, I know every man-Jack of them, I could..... give lectures on their work at the University.... I could reveal some major new talents! And were the Chairman of the Committee for State Security ever to decide to launch a literary prize....the Marconi Prize it ought to be called.... then they should make me chairman of the jury...give me the casting vote. And I would make sure the first Marconi Prize would go to that finest of Russian prose-writers, Sergey Gorelsky! No, posterity will think well of us.... In fifty or maybe a hundred years or so from now, no serious collector will feel his library's complete without this recording of the authentic voice of Sergey Gorelsky.
NINA: I'll be a bit late next Thursday. I have to call in at the Passport Desk at the local militia station.... What's this? Where did you get wine like this from?
This   is my  first   taste  of  French  wine  ever.
Ah, a letter. ...
Can  I?  (READING)  'My  dear Sergey.... '  You sure I can?  It's not from a lady-friend?
(READING) 'I'm using this opportunity to pass on to you a letter and a bottle. Do you still have that same warmth you used to? Are all the old crowdstill together? And are you still in love the way you were ten years ago? I'm very much afraid not.We have psychoanalysts over here in Paris instead of friends. But is that worse? Breaking with your analyst is a lot less of a wrench than breaking with a friend. I have the feeling that when we were born we knew what we were letting ourselves in for, i.e. that we consciously chose this kind of life. And because we knew, we can't pin the blame on anybody else. This melancholy note is not the result of disillusionment with life here. Disillusionment comes from harbouring illusions. But when I left, I was smirking in anticipation, contemptuous almost. How else could I have survived except by being totallyself-reliant? But put somebody else in my shoes, and he might have fallen under the spell of that journey, Moscow to Vienna, Vienna to Paris....' 
Pour me another one. Either this is wonderfulwine or the fact that it's French is making melight-headed....
Thanks.. . .(READING) 'Alas! Can you remember us both laughing at a film where the hero, an Italian, decided to go home, he's either in Austria or Switzerland. He buys a train ticket, gets into a compartment, sees and hears his fellow-Italians, their faces, their accordions, and.....flees in horror. They wouldn't sell me a ticket for the train back to Moscow, not that I would take one if I was offered. There was a phrase in that famous dissident essay....It used to make me wince when I was still in Moscow.
"We cannot permit all these Sartres...." and so forth. It wasn't so much the bit about Sartre (though to be honest I was never much of a Sartrian) that used to rile me, as those words - "we cannot permit", the fact that a sentiment like that could enter anybody's head. These days our people are at best trying to teach the world what is the real state of affairs, but on the whole they make accusations. The entire world is in their debt. I don't know whether it's more of a case of megalomania or of an inferiority complex. To put it in a nutshell, as a nation we are damned. We cannot cope with the present, so we take to pontificating about the future. We lack a common place, workaday life, hence this hysterical existential drive. We only produce prophets and the result is inflated quantities of prophecies. A person who isn't hysterical is, we believe, either a philistine or a bourgeois. We have ceased to think in the first person singular (viz. this letter). Or never knew how to. Our geniuses-in-exile insist on playing games of suicide chess, polemicising over such fraudulent antimonies as 'East and West'. Andnot the way Kipling had in mind. Once you start polemicising you risk becoming the stylistic clone of your  opponent. Thank God, I've found a quiet little bolt-hole for my semiotics at the Sorbonne, spend my pay on good wine and try to manoeuvre -sometimes unsuccessfully - between the irresistible young ladies among my graduate students. Believe it or not, but it seems to me this is the only decent way out, if there is a way out at all for us. Your ever-loving - well, you-know-who.' 


VALERY: The opportunity for bringing in that letter to Gorelsky was a French journalist, as it happens. Practically a Communist....Well, how did you.... like all that?
VOLODYA: In what sense?
VALERY: (SHARPLY) Listen here, who taught you Western literature?
VOLODYA: Dzhaparidze.
VALERY: Right, name me some contemporary Western playwrights.
VOLODYA: (AFTER A PAUSE) Well.....Bernard Shaw.
VALERY: Huh. Perhaps you'll come up with Sheridan next? This, this Dzhaparidze's a moron, a degenerate! He let Tolin give him the slip in Copenhagen right from under his nose, let him get away through a toilet window. And we only let him out to keep tabs on Tolin! So Dzhaparidze....Well, the next morning he saw the headlines: Lenin Prizewinner Tolin Seeks Political Asylum.....That was the first he knew....What grade did he give you?
VOLODYA: Alpha plus.
VALERY: That Dzhaparidze should stay on top of his Caucasian mountain and come down once a year for salt! ....Well now, the fact that Gorelsky and Nina Mikhailovna appear to be talking at cross-purposes is my fault....or to my credit. I edited the tape myself. For the love of it. I left only the most important parts in, for you to get a feel of what kind of people they are..... Otherwise....you might be here for years... listening to coughs and sniffles, and the draughts.....So the compilation is mine.... They won't teach you anything like this in Minsk....Don't be angry....! got hot under the collar....because of Bernard Shaw...there's some more to come....on the tape. I'll leave you to yourself here....not for long....I have to see Boris Terentyevich.


VALERY:  "He studies them, moved by the play, two extremes, though moulded of the same clay.... In the younger lay concealed...a future hero.... the elder was a rebel and so......a despot."


VALERY:  May I, Comrade Colonel?
BORIS: (OFF) Of course, Valery Pavlovich. Please sit down.


VALERY: (PENSIVELY) It strikes me....young people are not as...romantic as our generation....Altogether too rational, too logical.....You remember how it was when we first started.
VALERY: Hardly more than boys, and we had old men wanting to kiss our hands....My voice always used to tremble whenever I had to say: "Allow me to present you your certificate of rehabilitation..." Then I used to add off my own bat: "The former leadership committed serious errors, but we believe you will not bear a grudge towards your Motherland." ....And all the time I would be thinking how to stop myself bursting into tears....Yes...So I'm sending the new lad, Volodya, to the Passport Desk today... We've called Nina Mikhailovna in for a check on her identity papers and residence permit.....So, let him meet her, make her an offer....After all, I've got to write a report on him for our college in Minsk. ....Let him show us what he's made of....She's a tough nut, but he ought to be able to make her see things our way....After all, there's the child, her lover, her ambition to be a translator, her thesis coming up....If she doesn't, she doesn't. She'll tell Gorelsky, that's fine. No harm in him knowing we still value him and haven't forgotten him..... If she doesn't tell him, that's fine as well. If she wants to make her own life a misery, let her. Well, and if she does agree... to help us.....we'll....help her... Just as important, though, is seeing how well Volodya performs. He's a bundle of nerves right now. It'll be his debut.The first time he's had to say, (GLOATING) "I am a State Security Officer". I can just see the look of contempt on her face.... That's something he'll have to get used to....No. Times were better when we started.....(STANDING UP) May I go?
BORIS: Errr......Valery Pavlovich....one question....almost a personal one, really. What made you....nominate yourself chairman of the jury?
VALERY: You heard?
BORIS: Hardly modest....I read manuscripts, too, you know....and I don't always concur with your choice. Or do you consider your taste to be perfect? ..... Gorelsky's a talented man....but he lacks a real oeuvre....a system, perhaps....
VALERY: (SARCASTICALLY)   Very flattered, I'm sure.
BORIS: In what sense?
VALERY: Well, by the fact you spend valuable time listening to me blethering on.
BORIS: I assure you, Valery Pavlovich, listening in to the conversations in your office is always rewarding, and I mean that most sincerely.
VALERY: I really don't know why I should be so fascinating.....
BORIS: I'm human, too, you know...And I share the same weakness as you...Literature.....Whenever I listen to you....from a distance.. I'm always either disputing or agreeing with what you're saying.. Well, anyway, the jury will be meeting soon and they'll decide.



 VALERY: (AT DOOR)   Volodya, what's the matter?


You're sweating like a pig....You could have switched it off, you know, or spooled forward.
VOLODYA: I did spool on, but....
VALERY: (LAUGHS) I'm sorry. I have a confession to make. It was my little joke. I apologise, it was in poor taste. I edited together all their.. magic moments.... And you'd decided Gorelsky must be some sort of sexual Superman? Relax....He's no better than you or me...Right, now, I've just got to get a couple of things set up for this afternoon. So, one call to Transport and one to Technical Services.

(INTO PHONE) Semyonich?  It's me. Have a car for me at  1600... No, not far. Sretenka.. Good. Bye.
(INTO PHONE) Shura? Valery Pavlovich here. Could you do me a huge favour? Could you fix up a direct feed from Gorelsky's flat over my office loudspeaker for this evening, so I can hear it live?... You can? Good.. As well as the usual recording, yes. From 1800...Yes, I will be.

Right, Volodya, let's grab some lunch. I'll treat you. By the way, you have an appointment today with Gorelsky's girlfriend, Nina, at  1630. The residence permit desk at the local militia station. The excuse is a document check. In reality, we want her to be ours. Her 'collaboration' would be useful. I'll be in the next room, just in case. Take this blue folder. All the gen on Nina Mikhailovna. I'll tell you what's what over lunch. And after it's all over.....if you've no objections, we'll come back -we're here for love, not money, remember - and listen to what kind of impression you made on her. No objections? (MOVING TO WINDOW) Let me open the window a minute, it's all fugged up in here.

I'll just put the ashtray on the papers so they don't all blow away....
Right, let's go, eh?


SERGEY: Now then, Colonel. Do you hear me? Or Major. Or Captain. Or whatever rank you are who deals with me.
Perhaps I'm only big enough for a Lieutenant. But.... you're human, too, aren't you....That's right. You're an officer, a KGB officer, but you're a human being first and foremost.
Can I talk to you like a human being? That's something I want.. to ask you. (PAUSE) I could have bargained with you before. I had the means. If you're a Major, you'll know....but if you're only a Lieutenant, I'll remind you. That time they put the two writers on trial,  the trial which started everything....(PAUSE) At that time I did more than just refuse to sign the collective letter in their defence....and my justification for refusing will stand me in good stead for a good while; "the collective is coercion." (PAUSE) You know I was buying you off. You are the only ones who do know. A man with my reputation....a man who had never joined the official chorus....and he refuses?! Everybody thought I'd be the first to sign. I killed stone dead any inclination to sign those protests in a thousand, maybe even tens of thousands of people! I was asserting the right to be individual. You of all people know that if one hundred out of one hundred million people sign, that's individualism. You can deal with each one of them individually.. If a hundred Parisians sign a petition, that's a collective; if a hundred Muscovites.....you pick them off like new-born babes.
One by one by one.....Right, so at that time the whole of Moscow went round saying: "The collective is coercion!' That's even truer today. But I am the God of the dumb, of all those who have sworn themselves to silence. Listen here. You do hear me, don't you? Or do you consider the services I have rendered to be inferior to yours? Yes? Then you're a blithering idiot!.. So.. l have something to ask you… Leave her alone. Do you hear me?

Leave her alone........




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19.10.2020 Online an der digitalen Frankfurter Buchmesse teilgenommen. Begegnungen von einst an der Bar des Frankfurter Hofs wurden durch einen "Virtuellen Absacker" in die Gegenwart gezogen.

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