A Few Words on Maria Sudayeva
Slogans is a strange, extraordinary book: it describes a universe of total war where humanity no longer exists, or rather only in traces, and where the actors — actresses, rather, since these are almost always feminine creatures who appear and utter cries of rage — seem to belong to a dominant species other than homo sapiens. It’s also extraordinary in its form: a series of instructions and slogans that describe, with the only narrative techniques being their alignment and their brutality, the chaos and suffering, the distant hopes, the apocalyptic whirlwind, the suicidal unrest of an entire planet. No explanatory prose smoothes over the collision between writers and this terrifying war; no external voice slips into the text to guide the visitor and tell him the story. No narrator, no characters, and yet a story transpires, filled with grandiose events and barely-felt emotions: an epic. It’s a magnificent fiction wholly distanced from the ordinary traditions of the novel and, if poetry didn’t have such a poor reputation nowadays, it might even be said to evoke a sort of long poem.
But this book becomes even stranger once we realise that Maria Sudayeva wrote it in two languages, French and Russian, accumulating neologisms and inextricably entwining the two idioms, with a conscious intent to refuse her images any tidy cultural anchor, and undoubtedly to affirm her disgust toward all manners of nationalism, even linguistic. Because this woman, who took her life before she could be recognized for who she was — one of the most original artists of the new, post-Soviet generation, if not the most original — was also a partisan. She was wary of a rebirth — she was certain of it — of Great Russian nationalism which would arise from the new Russia’s commercial and Mafia roots, and in opposition she maintained the principles of internationalism and radical cosmopolitan behaviour. I met her once, in a place where the Russian world was shown in an unflattering light, and it was clear that her ability to speak Russian discomfited her. She struggled to differentiate herself from her fellow citizens and (even in private) she forced herself to speak in English or in French. Slogans, created from the outset in a hybrid language, was intended to replace this stance of voluntary and extremist deculturation.
I met Maria Sudayeva in Macau, between 1991 and 1994. She wasn’t like the other Russians who at the time were coming to Guangdong Province, most of them from the Soviet Far East, to prostitute themselves in the hotels and luxurious resorts of the Portuguese colony. With her brother Ivan Sudayev, Maria Sudayeva was putting together a mutual aid network for the girls from Khabarovsk or Vladivostok hoping to escape their captors and the mafia. There was a discreet association in Vladivostok, which had already saved many of these poor souls. Because they broke with the methods and particularly the culture of the underground, the Sudayevs succeeded in staying hidden from the criminals they were fighting. Their network, in any case, hardly mattered in comparison to the millionaire criminals, who managed hundreds of sex slaves in every corner of Southeast Asia.
Maria Sudayeva loathed the Russian mafia; she frequently spoke out against the new regime and the career changes of bureaucrats and company directors, who had been gang leaders all along. Capitalism disgusted her; since her childhood in Vietnam she had associated it with injustice and war. But, even if she bore negative sentiments toward the West, her focus remained the ex-Soviet world, especially the Siberian subcontinent. According to her, the prospects enabled by the fall of the USSR were dismal: the Federation would be catastrophically mismanaged by its mediocre elite, who were criminals to the core; crime would run rampant; society would collapse and nationalisms would rage furiously; entire regions would fall into violence. She predicted inevitable and immense horrors for the former USSR. It was a horrifying view. When she lost her temper, she mixed in nightmares from her illness, a generalised collapse of humanity, an ascent of new, vile codes between people and cultures, a dictatorship by new animal species, and ultimately an unlimited extension of war. Echoes of all these can be found in Slogans. Maria Sudayeva had the courage of her convictions; with a hoarse, passionate voice, she described the chaos yet to come, perpetually succeeding in constructing powerful, sinister frescoes for the ear, in which reality foundered.
In Macau, Maria Sudayeva fell sick once again. She had been hospitalised several times since childhood for serious psychological issues, which had kept her from her studies. In 1993, she was staying with a mutual friend. I went to see her often, at least twice a week, sometimes at this friend’s, sometimes at the clinic. She showed me her notebooks of poems, which she sometimes called her ‘petites proses’. The pages were covered in exclamatory phrases, the syntax hardly varying, but which summoned up unbelievably rich images, as if drawn from a parallel universe she knew intimately and naturally had plundered. I was fascinated by the near-photographic sharpness of her visions, and by the self-assured, strange, yet successful manner she had discovered for conveying them. I should also say that I was astonished and very much discomfited to find myself sitting across from a woman whose personality corresponded so closely, so directly to those figures I brought to life in my novels: these feminine figures equally cursed, in open war against the real world, who mixed political engagement with creation… and who, despite no longer having the mental and physical strength to fight, continued a fundamental battle in writing texts, ‘petites proses’ on the margins of literary styles and conventions… As I said to her that she had all the makings of a post-exotic hero, this idea recurred from time to time during our talks. Then, one day, she encouraged me to use some of her ‘slogans’ in one of my next books. It was a generous proposal by a sister in writing. This gift, which I hesitated for a long time to accept and which she didn’t want to be made public (she refused to be named in my acknowledgments), was a grand one: it accompanied Gloria Vancouver’s nightmares in Inner Harbour.
After Maria’s suicide, Ivan Sudayev sent me the manuscript of Slogans. The work was rooted in the hopeless and surrealistic clamors I had seen in the Macanese ‘petites proses’, but she had cleaned them up and filled them out quite a bit since then. Maria Sudayeva had done much work on the style of her imprecatory sentences. Here she had freed herself of the Russian language’s heavy weight, there in contrast she celebrated its rich possibilities, playing with archaisms and audacious suffixes. But the book remained unsatisfying in her eyes; her linguistic mélange had become bewildering; the result lacked fluidity and asked too much of its readers. Several passages had ended up wholly incomprehensible. And so, before her death, she had begun a complete revision of the work to give it a monolingual tone. Her plan for the project detailed what she had to change to ‘create a single torrent’, ‘reestablish the voices, the song’, ’embellish’ and ‘unify the images’. All this was given to me by Ivan Sudayev along with the bundle of papers that constituted her manuscript. I followed these directions to decipher several sentences, to rewrite others, and to restore to the whole the force that Maria had envisioned for this book, but which she had diminished after a linguistic experiment that risked illegibility. I know that I have gone well beyond the work expected of a translator. I also know, I know intimately, that none of these interventions are a betrayal to Maria Sudayeva, and that each of these personal touches I dared to add to the original has been a close, tender, not to say nearly loving, way to pay homage to her.
— A. V.
MERCY FOR NATASHA AMAYOQ!
MERCY FOR WHAT REMAINS OF NATASHA AMAYOQ!
END THE SUFFERING OF NATASHA AMAYOQ!
FOR HER, MERCY! ONE FINAL DEATH AND NO OTHERS!
STOP HOUNDING NATASHA AMAYOQ’S REMAINS!
OFFER FROM GROUP NUMBER DVA: DISEMBODY NATASHA AMAYOQ, WE’LL LEAVE THE FOREIGN HOUSES!
FINISH NATASHA AMAYOQ! FULL SUPPORT FOR GROUP NUMBER DVA’S OFFER!
NO TO REVIVING NATASHA AMAYOQ!
THE NINTH-MOON CHRYSALIDS: SOLIDARITY WITH NATASHA AMAYOQ!
THE SLOVENLY OTTERS, THE VERY SLOVENLY GIRLS, THE EXECRABLE LADIES: SOLIDARITY WITH NATASHA AMAYOQ!
SO THAT NATASHA AMAYOQ MAY DIE: GENERAL MOBILISATION!
ONLY ONE MORE EXPERIENCE FOR NATASHA AMAYOQ!
THE ORPHANS OF THE BITTER STAR: SOLIDARITY WITH NATASHA AMAYOQ!
SOLDIER OF THE SECOND MUZZLE, BE BRAVE, KILL NATASHA AMAYOQ!
BLACKISH SOLDIERS, BE BRAVE, BRING DARKNESS UPON NATASHA AMAYOQ!
FOR NATASHA AMAYOQ, THE END OF HIDEOUS AGES!
SOLDIERS OF THE THIRD MUZZLE, HAVE MERCY, DESTROY NATASHA AMAYOQ!
NULLIFY HER INTERLOCKED NIGHTMARES! STOP EVERYTHING!
SOLEMN OFFER: AGAINST THE END OF NATASHA AMAYOQ’S SUFFERINGS, RESTITUTION OF TWELVE CITIES, RESTITUTION OF EIGHT GREAT SANCTUARIES, RESTITUTION OF FRAGRANT LANDS!
GIVE NATASHA AMAYOQ THE COUP DE GRÂCE!
ONLY ONE MORE DREAM IN NATASHA AMAYOQ’S REMAINS!
NATASHA AMAYOQ, WE ARE WITH YOU!
SUPPORT FOR SOLEMN OFFERS!
WE FIGHT SO THAT YOU MAY DIE, WE ARE WITH YOU!
SOLDIER, DON’T PROLONG HER IMMENSE DISTRESS!
SOLDIER, BE BRAVE, EMPTY NATASHA AMAYOQ’S BODY!
ONLY ONE SPARE BODY FOR NATASHA AMAYOQ! EMPTY HER BODY TO THE DREGS!
SOLDIER, REVOLT, DESTROY HER WHOLE BODY, AND THEN, NITCHEVO!
OFFICER, REVOLT, ASSASSINATE HER, BE BRAVE, DESTROY HER BODY, BE BRAVE, DESTORY HER REMAINS, AND THEN, NITCHEVO!
DESERTER OF THE SUN REGIMENT, GO FOR NATASHA AMAYOQ’S HEART WITH YOUR GRENADE!
NAKED SHAMANESSES, NAKED LITTLE SISTERS, CAST OFF YOUR FLAMES, BE REBORN, STRIKE A BLOW!
CAST OFF YOUR FLAMES, BE REBORN, STRIKE A BLOW!
BE REBORN, STRIKE A BLOW!
WITH THE GREAT-BROOD
BLUE OTTERS, WHITE OTTERS, LEOPARDS, COME WITH THE GREAT-BROOD!
DEEP BLUE CHICKIES, SUN-REGIMENT CHICKIES, STAND NOW WITH THE GREAT-BROOD!
BLACK CORMORANTS, OPAL SEAGULLS, COME WITH THE GREAT-BROOD!
WITH THE GREAT-BROOD, BLACKISH WIND NUMBER FOUR!
THE ARMY OF SEVEN SOLDIERS WITH THE GREAT-BROOD!
SABOTEUR QUEENS, EN AVANT, STRIKE A BLOW!
GRAYISH SABOTEURS, CAST OFF YOUR FLAMES, BE REBORN, STRIKE A BLOW!
LOTTE, INGRID, ANSWER!
SECTOR NINETEEN, FIND THE PROBLEM!
SECTOR SEVEN HUNDRED SEVEN, FIND THE PROBLEM!
TASSILI, KOROGHO, ANSWER!
MORE SPIDERS IN BIVOUAC FIVE!
LOTTE, DON’T LOOK AT THE LAGOONS!
LOTTE, INGRID, NOT A PEEK, SHUT YOUR EYES, STEP FORWARD, STEP BACK, STRIKE A BLOW!
ONE MORE STRANGE JELLYFISH IN LAKE LAGASH!
ONE MORE TEAR FALLEN INTO LAGASH NINETEEN-TWENTY!
Originally published in French (from a French and Russian original) as Slogans by Maria Soudaïeva, Editions de l’Olivier, 2004.
Later published in Russian as Лозунги by Мария Судаева, База, 2013.
Partially translated from the Russian by Antoine Volodine
Fully translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman
In memory of those who were killed:
This piece was selected for inclusion in the 2017 Translation Issue by Daniel Medin, a contributing editor of The White Review. He is Associate Director for the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris, and an editor for The Cahiers Series and Music & Literature.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Antoine Volodine is the the primary pseudonym of a French writer of Slavic origins, born in 1950. Volodine has published twenty books under this name, including Minor Angels, winner of the Prix Wepler and the Prix du Livre Inter; Naming the Jungle, Writers, Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, Bardo or Not Bardo, and Radiant Terminus, for which he won the Prix Médicis 2014; five books under the name of Lutz Bassmann, including We Monks and Soldiers; five children's books under the name of Elli Kronauer; and thirteen books under the name of Manuela Draeger, including three collected within In the Time of the Blue Ball. After Sudayeva’s death, he translated the Russian portions of Slogans into a definitive French text for Editions de l’Olivier in 2004, and translated a definitive Russian text for База in 2013.
Jeffrey Zuckerman is Digital Editor at Music & Literature magazine and a translator from French, most recently of Antoine Volodine’s Radiant Terminus (Open Letter, 2017). Along with serving on the 2016 jury for the PEN Translation Prize, his writing and translations have appeared in Best European Fiction, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Paris Review Daily, the New Republic, and Vice.