To remember them all. Maria Stepanova of memory, the right to immortality and potatoes with onions

Maria Stepanova believes that we are suffocating from the excess of information, admits that he wrote his book “Memory stick” out of pure selfishness, and argues that there is nothing like cold boiled potatoes with onions

Yuri Volodarsky – 27.02.18 139215900

As a poet Stepanova known since the beginning of the two thousandth. Now she has nine books of poetry, the award of Andrei Bely (2005), Foundations of Hubert Burda young lyrics the best of Eastern Europe (2006), “Moscow account” (2006, and 2009, Large) and other prestigious awards. In 2007, Stepanova headed In 2012, after the change of course of the publication team Stepanova in full force left the office. Then was created the first in Russia Internet project, financed entirely by crowdfunding.

In 2017 Stepanov wrote the first major book of prose. She has no clear genre definitions: memories of close and distant relatives, and exciting stories looking for more information about these people, and philosophical essays on various aspects of memory. According to the apt remark of the critic Anna Narinsky, the book Stepanova “story are the adventures of the author”. Focus spoke with the writer about how all this happened to her and what resulted.


poet, novelist, essayist, a former chief editor of the online publication since 2012 the chief editor of the project Lives in Moscow


Maria Stepanova wrote the book “Memory of memory” which almost has no analogues not only in Russian but also in world literature

I think a better name for your book — “Memory of memory” is to not think. At what stage of the book it appeared and did somehow on its content?

— You know, I really started writing at ten or eleven years. Not literally the book, of course, but I was going to write some kind of comprehensive text about family history, where would be collected all mentioned saved everything. Of course, I then had only a few pages. I thought that this notebook has long disappeared, but when he began to disassemble the family archive, before you do book, found, among other things, and her thin one, twelve pages, three pennies. Then, of course, was neither this name nor any. But I always knew that I have the text to write will have.

As far as your initial idea coincided with the end result?

— I am very far removed from the first thought. Maybe because too long I was living with him, not really doing anything, and he managed to deform, swell, become overgrown with barnacles and algae. When I started working on the book, I meant that, you know, linear narrative — a story of search and finding. Go there, go here, find out, describe. It seemed to me then that a large part of the hiatus and failures that have been family history will be easy to fill in accurate knowledge; but it turned out that the story is mostly from hiatus and is neither to find nor to make up for really anything.

Moreover, the book that I conceived as a monument to native, came in a sense, the text of the unconscious. Well, along the way, she, owner, ate (or rather, forced to work for themselves) a number of other stories that began to interest me seems to be by themselves, and only then I understood that this, and this, and this is also ways to deal with the past, to talk about him. I live inside the structure, where everything is somehow connected and rhymed in the world, consisting of many answers to a single question.

Reading your book, I noted a funny thing: in Soviet times, our festive family meals had the same salads: Russian salad, beetroot, cheese. One may ask the same set. They do not through the TV was introduced how did it happen that the whole country, from Vladivostok to Brest, were preparing one and the same?

Maria Stepanova: “Who will touch thousands of digital photos that remain from each of us? To whom they are addressed? What fate will await these deposits ownerless images of fifty to seventy years later? From the excess of information.”

Yes, it’s scary and interesting similarities and discrepancies: indeed, among this “same”, between mandatory programs and then came across the recipes that come from nowhere, from the same old life, prababushkin that ran far back. Were all the salads, the “Napoleon” cake, cake “Potato”, something else that was cooked all around, but someone has preserved an ancient way of cooking stuffed pike, for example. Already pike was caught only in a fairy tale about Emelya, but in the unlikely event of such fish recipe was ready. And there was other food, Ferial, the usual, but with the memory of a different world and a different life.

I really love, since childhood, a very simple thing — it was called home “potatoes with onion”, it was done hastily sometimes my mom. No sophistry, the name is consistent with the content: cold boiled potatoes, onion, salt, vinegar, very fragrant sunflower (in the house said “lean”, is also in the old) oil. Black bread is still good all to eat. Is food limit, beyond poverty, some forever sunken villages and towns. Prepare this when you have nothing to eat: “Eat the ture, Jasenica, milk yet.” Nothing tastes better, I don’t know.

Three years before “Memory” in Germany was largely similar to her book “Maybe Esther” the former inhabitant of Kiev Katya Petrovskaya, which you probably know is her name is mentioned in your Acknowledgments. Have you read this book? Somehow it correlated?

— This is a great book. I read it in English translation too late, most of the “Memory stick” was already written; but even before that we had to meet Katya, and my book owes much to our conversations.

By the way, that’s one amazing coincidence. In my book there is an episode which begins with an important story for me, is associated with distrust of memory and its promises: coming to the city, where once lived your family find the right house, worry on the threshold of this incredible sense of recognition — all come true, you found her, you’re home. And then, a day or a week later, it turns out that it was the wrong address, and the house and garden were strangers, getting to know deceived.

So, almost the same story is in “Maybe Esther”! Same: search, luck, discovery, and suddenly a wrong number, someone’s bug which is crashing all newly created design. With me and Kate was one and the same. It seems to me incredible and at the same time surprisingly logical: like the story about the return, all attempts to restore anything I can not end this way. Ridiculous joke that at once puts you (and your hope for unity with the past): nobody will come back.

This really is one of the most impressive stories of the book — about how you immediately recognized the house in Saratov grandfather, and then it turned out that you gave incorrect address. Maybe the truth is actually not important, important only that we experience feelings?

“Now I know what a hopeless task: to remember. And that there is somehow nothing sweeter than to remember”

— Hmm, it would be nice to agree, but it in fact means two things. That memory will easily force us to accept any deception for the sake of the illusion of continuity, continuity, context. And that memory, with its unreliability and subjectivity — the natural enemy of a story that at least tries to be an exact science, to tell the truth. I think so. But it doesn’t change anything: today in a dispute memory the history memory is winning, and it’s not always happy. For example, the memory of the grandeur, which appealed to the election campaign trump has in mind something never existed, the reality of Hollywood movies and glossy magazines of the fifties. Nevertheless, there were many who want the greatness back.

Feeling downright insists that facts are not important, and truth is relative. Here, for example, the recent story surrounding the film “Matilda” — an example of such selective memories and hurt feelings. How pervasive is this new right of memory and how many people are willing to sacrifice the truth for some of the next greater good, a little scary.

Not every family documentary prose has artistic value. Thanks to that personal story becomes a public interest? What’s important is the talent, the resonance over time, the involvement of the characters to the fateful events of the era?

— It seems to me that in a world where we now found ourselves, no matter almost nothing except these most personal stories. Criteria interesting shift to the right in the eyes like all of a sudden realized that the old world is sinking, sank, and rushed into the water to pull out what have to — wine barrels, buoys, boards with the inscription “Titanic.” Where we are talking about the past, suddenly became uninteresting; or is it just me?

I was always tormented, and excites the idea of two mutually exclusive needs, it is equally inherent in each of us. Have a passion for choice, to establish hierarchies, to competitive ladder, where the best the enemy of the good. And have the same natural desire for justice — the idea that to be saved, to remain in eternal memory shall all, without reservation or exception. That the right to immortality has each.

Perhaps the task of the modern prose — at least to try to reconcile these things: find a way to remember all, without exception, talk about the member and featureless so that it is repeatedly found himself the only one, like no other. As it is on actual fact.

You write that he wanted “to erect a monument to these people to make sure that they are not dissolved unquoted and pupananny”. Don’t you think this altruism is the proportion of selfishness? It’s not some people, and your family, and talking about their lives, you first erect a monument to himself.

Maria Stepanova: “there is Always hope for a random person, that someone will find at a flea market a picture and suddenly some miracle will see it is not a mustache, uniform, sleeves-puff, and you”

— Yes is not present there is no altruism here, you! Pure selfishness, and not even because of any book, anyway, let inferior, but a monument to the author, but simply because after all these years the main thing I wanted was to get rid of its heroes and its mission. Overgrow once the gap, to do what I (not them — they want to believe, don’t care that I’m here to talk about them) promised to bury their dead, in short.

When years put in mind the enormous puzzle naughty, to compare versions, read all that is written about the places (Kherson, Nizhny Novgorod, Montpellier, Bezhetsk) and those years (the nineties, tenth, twentieth), drag a suitcase with so much extra knowledge that most likely will never use, really want to get already to the final point. It seems that from there begins the freedom, can finally walk on my own. I really have not managed yet: I’m still reading, notice distinguish first what is relevant to memory. However, now this practice really has no practical effect, only sentimental.

“The office says, but there is no one to read.” The phrase you refers to photographs in family albums, to selfies in social networks that are not important to anyone except their owners. But the word in this case, better image? Not did you feel the same “office”? Or is it the fact of publication of the book?

— Felt of course! And continue. I have no particular hopes to look at the available options of man-made monuments – they are almost all very short-lived, and it is verbal in the first place. On the other hand, there is always hope for a random person, that someone will find at a flea market a picture and suddenly some miracle will see it is not a mustache, uniform, sleeves-puff, and you, the only combination of traits. Or choose from dozens of memoirs and publications, house books, journal articles everything about the forgotten poet — and he’ll stay in the light a little more and a little more, yet light enough. There is a wonderful project, “Itasca library”, which makes Alexander Sobolev, is exactly that: human history that had gone into the darkness, into the thick of a common destiny, do not distinguish any faces, no names, suddenly become visible, seen.

You don’t by chance remember “the Phaedrus”, a dialogue in which Plato argued against writing, arguing that it substitutes for true wisdom. Don’t you think that complaining about the tremendous amount of information now, you are in some measure likened to Plato and opposed to progress?

— You remember, George, this story about Mandelstam — as he is in three years, that is, the age heard the word “progress” and began to laugh wildly. I do not believe in a linear progress in the progressive movement of humanity from good to better, and certainly this case is not about human nature. We have little time, even less effort by what appears to us superfluous, we, as Pushkin said, lazy and incurious. Therefore, it is not clear who is a huge vaults where mankind defers the information for later, on demand.

“In a world where we now found ourselves, no matter almost nothing except these most personal stories”

Who will touch thousands of digital photos that remain from each of us? To whom they are addressed? What fate will await these deposits ownerless images of fifty to seventy years later? It is like plastic bags, which do not know how to die does not go into the soil, as cloth or paper. From the excess of information can suffocate.

You pay a lot of attention to the Jewish theme. How painful is it for you? Do you feel like Pasternak, a stranger, an impostor in Russian culture?

— An impostor? No, not feel I have other pain lines are connected to the past, not the present. I feel fear, shame, guilt, feel a painful inability to help those people then. I think it often happens. People go into archival work, as in a monastery, in solidarity with the victims of the Disaster, the people of besieged Leningrad, prisoners. In a sense, it is a way to get up close with the dead, to share their fate; I was horrified and delighted to think of anyone who has done and is doing. And I say carefully, that seems to be now gradually beginning to emerge timid, the first sense of solidarity with the dead, understanding that death does not deprive a person the right to our respect and protection.

You write about childhood “secrets”, meanwhile, is the title image of Oksana Zabuzhko’s novel “Museum of abandoned secrets”, one of the key texts of modern Ukrainian literature. Zabuzhko contends that in this game, the children imitated the instillation of icons, hidden from the Bolsheviks — how true you think this version?

You know, I can’t neither confirm, nor deny; my urban child, this game is not associated neither with fear, nor danger, nor with icons. Its charm was in the secret: the secret could only exist under the ground, under a layer of glass, two steps from asphalt paths; without this, all he turned in a poor set of ingredients: foil, wrappers, broken glass. And so it was all at once: the Golden treasure of Tutankhamen, the cave of Ali Baba, the cave of “Mowgli”, where in the darkness Shine with all the neglected jewel. Was a holiday, pure and unconditional. Maybe that’s why I’m feeling sucking horror read many years later that the earthen hole where I was hiding from the pogroms in the South of Ukraine, also called little secrets: sekreten.

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If you can say that now I understand about the memory more than the beginning of the book?

— More — unlikely. But now I know very well that it is a hopeless task: to remember. And that there is somehow nothing sweeter than to remember.

Photo: Dmitry Belyakov