The era of non-credible political analysis, unfulfilled predictions and fake news usually ends up as fodder for cultural and symbolic observations, which even if not precise, at least comfort us with the fact that their inaccuracy does not lead to lives being lost, blood being spilled and fates being altered. This, unfortunately, already becomes a small achievement in itself. However, fears break even this imaginary shield of protection – fears of great ideas, great generalizations, vast spaces, vast contexts, and metanarratives of “great” futures and pasts. Let us take shelter, for example, in the frameworks of the month of March, which has already become historic and eponymous to its double meaning in the Armenian language (Մարտ/March in Armenian also means battle).
On March 14, photographer Artyom Lurchenko’s drone captured an image of the angelic five-year-old Valerya—one of the tens of thousands Ukrainian child refugees—during a protest in Lvov. Two weeks later, the girl’s picture ended up on the cover of the world’s preeminent symbol-shaping magazine, TIME, whose editorial board had come up with “the hero of our times”—a child with the seemingly unattainable dream “to go to school on September 1”—after promptly deciding who their anti-hero was.
In that same month of March, a full-length feature film called “It’s Spring”—a new heroic tale inspired by the Four Day April War in Artsakh, but made following the recent 2020 Artsakh War—was shown in Armenian cinemas. Without a modicum of reinterpretation, six years after the mass popularity of the film “Life and Battle”, “It’s Spring” continues to regurgitate the archetype of the young man who becomes a soldier and martyr in war.
Of course, it’s difficult to question the heroism of a soldier’s death in a defensive war. However, unfortunately, our thinking continues to primarily pivot around this layer alone, without understanding if not the danger of the same martyred archetype’s idolized reproduction, then, at least, its counterproductiveness during different time periods and historical contexts, as well as in different platforms of reflection.
The fine socio-cultural line between the eternal commemoration of a martyred volunteer and the religious fixation upon the latter’s image becomes obscured in conditions of clouded visibility, making models of patriotism beyond that of the self-sacrifice unknowable or, in instances of knowing—unprocessable.
Thus, caught in the web of self-serving pathos and one-note morality, “the Hero of our times” loses their Bayronism, or what is more topical today, their Gogolism and, much more sadly, the necessary capacity of ever becoming a subject of a discourse in a philosophical sense.
The great Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin claimed that “In a narrow sense, the discourse around Thanatos always loses to the discourse around Eros in a broad sense.” The two key components of the Armenian mantra of “battle and death” are the two Bakhtinian polarities of these same discourses. Imagine that even our early ancestors, with their erotic culture wraped in death-defying fertility (see the ongoing exhibition at the History Museum on Armenia’s Hellinistic capital of Artashat), were by default closer to Bakhtin’s tenets than we are – the bleeding children of the 21st century, ignorant of the lessons taught by the bloodthirsty 20th century and continually enchanted by the chilling embrace of death pushing us against a wall in a deadend.
What is happening in that same ill-fated, seismic but also semiotic month of March in Russia? Once again the resuscitation of heroization, which, as turns out, is not part of this or that side of the discourse, but is bipolar in itself.
Danila Bagrov, the hero of the 1997 film “Brat” (Brother) by Aleksey Balabanov—the director of perhaps the most terrifying anti-Soviet film “Cargo 200”—quickly transformed from a striking figure of the liberal 1990s into a symbol of the regime in Balabanov’s 2000 sequel “Brat 2”.
Thanks to the latest historical turning points and revisionist historians, Balabanov “succeeded” in completing the trio of Russian “eternal questions” of “who is at fault?” and “what to do?” with the problem of “what constitutes power?” making it infinitely more complicated to answer Nekrasov’s two-centuries old alternative eternal proposition of “who lives well in Russia?”
In the movie, “Brat” aka Danila Bagrov replies with the half-Gandian, half-Balabanovian “Power is in the truth” expression. Truth, however, has as many polarities as Danila Bagrov’s cultural-political fate does. Thus, today, when Russia has clearly formulated for itself the solutions to the questions of “who is at fault?” and “what to do?” the words “power is in the truth” resound in the reverse order.
During the historical month of March 2022, the Word—not only allegorically, but in the most literal sense—finds itself outstretched like the Vitruvian man strung from the corners of our Armenian-Russian-Ukrainian semiotic triangle.
Like Thanatos and Eros, the ontological duality of “war or peace” has morphed into the linguisting binary of “war or special operation”, and the choice between these two terms bears ontological consequences of no less significance. Even in these desperate times of dialogue’s impossibility, canon fire and the silence of the muses—these words are not inferior in their determinism and fatedness to the other fatal examples in History’s dictionary, such as “Ain’t I a Woman?” “Iron Curtain”, “I’ll Show You Kuzka’s Mother”, “I Have a Dream”, “Artsakh is Armenia and That’s It.”
Even next to the most frightful arsenal, the Word continues to be the weapon against which no science has managed to pit an air-defense system, leaving it perennially “In the beginning” and as an “epilogue” in all times and worlds.
Meanwhile, five-year-old Valerya has spoken her word: she just dreams of going to school on September 1.
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