1960s Generation Yields No Place for the New

It's better to be a young June bug than an old bird of paradise.

-- Mark Twain

I'll begin with the conclusion: Russian culture is presented on television and in the press, both here and abroad, by one and the same people. These people number about 50. New artists find that penetrating this restricted circle of famous people is not at all simple. Russians do not know those who are outside it -- not by sight or by name.

Here is an amusing example. When British Council officials came to the House of Architects in Moscow last December to award the Nobel Booker Prize for literature, it was interesting to observe the quiet panic on the part of television reporters. None of them knew by face the finalists in the contest -- Georgy Vladimov, Oleg Pavlov and Yevgeny Fyodorov. The television correspondents did not know whom to shoot in the motley and noisy crowds that were gathered around the tables in the banquet hall. Television cameras were idle.

And then the chairman of the jury opened the envelope and solemnly announced the laureate: Georgy Vladimov. He was sitting not far from me. As he was slowly getting up from the table, a panic began to set in among the reporters. Whom to point the camera at? How to recognize the face of the laureate among so many important guests?

The situation was saved by the poet Andrei Voznesensky. He was the first to approach the table of the winner and hug the small, unprepossessing man in big glasses.

And who among us does not know Voznesensky?

Aha! The reporters gave a sigh of relief. There's the laureate. The guy in glasses. The table was then surrounded by a crowd of television cameramen and photographers. The next day, the entire country would see how the famous poet embraced the modest, unknown person in an old jacket.

No one took pictures of the other two Booker finalists. Therefore, no one knows how the young Popov and the older Fyodorov look.

This curious scene led me to some sad thoughts. We Russians see everywhere the same faces and hear the same names. If we are speaking about actors, then it is usually Valentin Gaft or Alexander Shirvindt, Rolan Bykov or Zinovy Gerdt. When it comes to writers who are interviewed on television, then it is usually either Voznesensky or Andrei Bitov or Vladimir Voinovich. If it is a question of an interview with a theater or film director, then the choice is also not very wide: Nikita Mikhailkov, Mark Zakharov and perhaps Roman Viktyuk.There is no doubt that all the people mentioned above are most remarkable, talented and worthy artists. But it is not a question of their talent. Rather, what is in question is the faulty and sluggish system of renewing and rejuvenating culture. Can the situation be considered truly normal when only the death of one famous figure opens the way for another, lesser known, one?

Ten years ago, when I brought my first manuscript to a well-respected publishing house, a rather well-known woman editor hinted to me over a cup of coffee in the cafeteria that I was indecently young for such an honorable house. Well, yes ... But at that time, I was 35 years old -- old enough to be the head of a family. The age of a young-looking bird of paradise, but in no way of a young June bug.

Needless to say, they did not publish my book.

If we look at the problem of fathers and sons a bit more closely, then we shall see that a paradoxical situation has arisen in which the so-called shestidesyatnik, or 1960s generation dominates all spheres of art. These are people who were young during the liberal period under Khrushchev. Today, they are all over 60.

Again, I certainly do not want to take anything away from their gifts, but it should be recognized that the circulatory system of our culture is somewhat clotted.

In Russia, no one considers it a shame when a ballet dancer who has reached a venerable age appears on stage and is able to dance only with his arms or on occasion graciously bob up and down. There is nothing disgraceful about a singer who performs even though his voice is no longer full and has lost its beauty of tone. It is not without reason that foreign critics have written maliciously about our stars who go on tour. It has been said with irony that our ballet technique has aged, that there were swan-bureaucrats on stage, that the iron jaws of a singer have long since failed him.

In essence, Russia stubbornly holds to a special form of cultural gerontocracy in the arts. The relationship between generations in the arts absurdly reflects our recent past, when all authority was concentrated in the hands of the party gerontocracy in the Politburo.

Today in Moscow and in the provinces, there are practically no directors of theaters who are younger than 50 years old. Neither in the capital nor the provinces are there any magazine or newspaper editors who are younger than 40.

But, perhaps, what is most distressing about the relation between the eternally youthful fathers and the already aging sons in the arts is the lack of any kind of blessings on the part of the fathers on the sons' new careers. It is impossible to imagine today a gesture like that of the poet Vasily Zhukovsky who dedicated his portrait to the young Alexander Pushkin: "To my victorious pupil from his vanquished teacher!" What a thing for the renowned poet to write to the rather insolent youth, who had just recently finished his studies at the lyc?e and written the poem "Ruslan and Lyudmilla."

Take another example from this century. The young poet Marina Tsvetayeva, 16, had just published her first collection of poems, "Evening Album," using her own money. And soon after there appeared on her doorstep the legendary poet Maksimiliyan Voloshin with flowers for the student.

I shall bring my argument to a close here. I turn on the television for some amusement. Well! There's a brand new television program on Russian TV, "Saturday Evening with ..." Of course, the guest on the show is the popular and famous figure, Rolan Bykov. Thank goodness he's still alive and healthy. I watch the program with pleasure. Then I take out the last issue of the literary magazine "Other Shores." The journal has a small circulation and is meant for readers of classical literature. I read an intelligent interview with the shestidesyatnik writer Andrei Bitov. Then I turn on the radio to listen to music over a cup of coffee. Radio 101. There is the rich and easily recognized voice from the past of Valentin Gaft: Radio 101 is a fine thing!

There's no doubt about it. Of course, it's even a very fine thing.

Anatoly Korolyov is a writer whose most recent novel,"Eron," will appear in French translation this fall. He contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.