The encounter with the last Soviet avant-garde project of “factographers” (LEF) took place when my work with students -“correspondents” at this stage had already been completed, and a desire arose to view our approaches in interrelation, to verify them in terms of the exceptional experience of “factographers.” In fact, we had employed the same principle of structure: a) a communication hub, a network made up of student-“correspondents,” b) factography, c) a text that corresponded to the factography, d) an archive that organized those concepts along the same constituents, and all this in a context – related to bio-organization , bio-transformation . I think the heritage of “factographers” must be first of all considered from the point of view of usefulness . Along with bringing up and internalizing the “factographers'” experience in the process, the factor of translation becomes central. Among the accounts described below, I would like to particularly single out S. Tretyakov's Dan Si-Huan (bio-interview), of which I would like to present an excerpt. In this “ocherk” he explores the concept of bio-interview, which in its essence is a important conceptual addition to our project.
“-The members of Lef, in other words, understood factography not as a static genre, but as a mode of praxis.
-The fact is quite literally made.
-The objectivism of an indifferent documentary had no place in the interventionist practices of the factographers.
-The very etymology of the word fact, which comes from the Latin word facere -“to make” or “to do” (this derivation is also reflected in the French word le fait, the past participle of the verb faire)-bears witness to the fact's constructed nature.
-The factographers engaged not just with physical and dimensional bodies, but also with bodies of collective social knowledge and networks of communication.
-Tret'iakov demanded that every single corner of the country be scrutinized and documented by the masses of worker-correspondents.
- The ocherk is not a genre. The ocherk is a great movement. You have dozens of diverse genres there-an intersection of strata, as they say in geology. The ocherk is located at the point of contact between artistic literature and the newspaper
-The ocherk was in this regard the perfect literary analogue to the “unprecedented” snapshot, a constitutionally minor form that resisted generic classification and that, indeed, destroyed the very conditions of the discrete aesthetic medium.
- The factographers went about constructing a vast archive that was coextensive with reality itself…
- Perennially “in search of the present tense,” these projects engaged operatively in their own historical moment and expired with the passage of the reality to which these interventions corresponded ”
“-The Lef method is on the borderline between aesthetic impact and utilitarian life practice. This borderline position of Lef between “art” and “life” predetermines the very essence of the movement. Lef is not a trend in art; it's not an artistic tendency. It pops beyond the border of art into immediate life activity. And at the same time it plunges a whole range of exceptionally important skills from the sphere of art into life's construction. As Soviet frontier troops, Lef defends the unshakeable expediency of amateur practice against aesthetic bandits and smugglers. And at the same time it gives a free pass to the revolutionaries of aesthetic impact – the political refugees of art, who explode the old artistic system with its canonized army and police in an inner armed insurrection.
-Lef brings the artistic and the engineering lines of contemporary culture closer together. It's an extremely hard task. To lead these historically disconnected forms of activity to the point of crossing, to complete merging of means and methods through vestiges and extraneous features of actual reality – this is the direction of the movement. That is why Lef's diagram cannot be imagined in form of a straight line in the same row with the utilitarian life construction. Lef's activity in art gravitates in this straight line, being at each given moment actually located at different degrees of remoteness from it. The activity is headed towards this straight line as its limit. This makes clear that the static cross-section of the contemporary Lef, naturally, amounts to a very complicated curved line. However, it changes its shape very rapidly, as it's in the state of constant change with the emphasis on combination with extra-artistic practice.”
“ We do not think, that the skill of writing should be concentrated in a small group of literature specialists. On the contrary, the ability to be a writer should become the same basic cultural quality as the skill of reading. Already now we demand that each citizen be able to write a newspaper article. Our worker-reporter movement is deprofessionalization of a newspaper man. Why can't the book work be deprofessionalized? Now we're in transitional period. Carriers of interesting material frequently do not wield a skillful pen. We, literary professionals, should approach them as interviewers, as literary secretaries and help them.”
Our previous knowledge of China is like a mutilated hand. It needs to be broken first, and then inosculated again correctly. The time of literary alchemy, for which China is a mysterious and unfathomable stone in the collection of nations, has passed. Political articles and schemes present the algebra of Chinese events. Names are wiped out, people merge into amoebas of classes, and the algebraist follows the movement and voracity of the amoebas. We demand figures that have names. Today's arithmetic of China is added up by means of articles, sketches, diaries, witness accounts. We demand deep drilling. That's how an idea originated, took root and was liked – it was the idea of gnawing through the timber of new China with someone's biography, just like the timber-worm gnaws through a beam. A made-up story and a composed novel are hateful. The once honorable title of a story teller and author sounds offensive these days. The real craftsman of today - “the discoverer of new material” – shapes it carefully without distorting it. The book of “Dan Si-Hua” was written by two people. Dan Si-Hua was the raw stocker of facts, and I was the shaper. Seeing what surrounds you, seeing your life in every detail is a high-level skill. It is acquired through immense training, and the best engineers are magazine publicism and newspaper reporting. Dan Si-Hua did not have the skill (but he will have it when he has covered volumes of paper with writing). He enthusiastically welcomed my suggestion about writing an exact biography of a Chinese student. But unfortunately, the first words he uttered were: “Our family is intellectual and petty-bourgeois.” He nobly presented the splendid depths of his memory at my disposal. I dug him up as a miner, probing, exploding, chipping, sifting, elutriating.
I was alternately an investigator, confessor, data keeper, interviewer, interlocutor, psychoanalyst. I find it hard to term what I have shaped other than “interview.” But this interview covers the life of one person, that's why I am adding the prefix “bio-“ to it.
Dan Si-Hua was my student at the Russian department of Beiging National University in the pre-storm years of 1924-1925. From the blessed and wealthy solitude of his native and beloved Sichuan province, whose fruitful soil is trampled with the feet of its seventy million residents and irrigated by the upper current of Yangtze, from Sichuan that leans its back against the foothills of Tibet and the sources of giant rivers, flowing to the south to Siam and Camboja – the boy named Si-Hua reached Moscow through puffy, lazy Beijing. He paced out the pavements of Volkhonka and Ilyinka, turned over the pages of “Pravda” and rode tram N 6 once every two months to Cherkizovo, where, behind a broken down yard in a real Chinese diner they serve bamboo ears, miraculously imported to Moscow. He left Moscow for China as unnoticeably and noiselessly as he used to enter my room in Beijing, taking soft steps in his fabric shoes and carrying his cone-shaped, light, streaming robe on his protruding shoulders and bulged-in chest. He complained with a half-smile that his fellow-students - “politicians” mock at him and call him a “literator.” He dreamt about creating a newspaper, magazine, theater and movie in China. He valued these professions as highly as the art of making revolutionary speeches. The writer's pen seemed to him equal to a soldier's bayonet. He is in China now. In China – a country that is difficult and dangerous for a revolutionary. The book contains just a few chapters of a real human life. It will be interrupted by the words: to be continued. I wish for the continuation to be written by Dan Si-Hua himself.
My names is Dan Si-Hua. I am Si-Hua from the Dan family that's in Si-Chuan village Dan Tsa Jen on the Yangtse river. I was given the name Si-Hua at birth by my elder uncle – a permanently tipsy philosopher and a hapless mandarin. Si-Hua means “The peace of China”. At the same time it means “The bright flower”. “The peace of China,” “the bright flower” are strange names in our times, when China is at war. My personal name is just Hua. Si is the name of our whole generation. My sister is called Dan Si-Kuen. My boy-cousins also have the Si in their names. My father's name is Dan Ya-Pu, and his whole generation is distinguished by that name. My uncles go by that name as well – my elder uncle Dan So-Pu and my younger uncle Dan Ti-Pu. I was born in a large ancestral home of the Dan family in the days of January, when the gorgeous Yan-Tse, grown shallower and light-blue and looking unhealthily thin, runs noisily in the gorges of the steep Si-Chuan banks. Our house is a chain of yards fitted out with rooms and terraces that sculptures itself up the mountain. From the upper yards through the crowns of the trees you can see the light-blue body of the river. In Li-Tan prayer hall, tall and semi-dark, five meters to the ceiling, in the prayer cupboard, there lies the ancestral book of Chu-Pu. The book is 300 years old. The story of the Dan family is written into it. Our family is ordinary. It starts 2000 years ago with the mythical Dan-Tsi, the disciple of Confucius. It is common for Chinese families to provide themselves with noble or saint forefathers. Starting from this Dan-Tsi, the book keeps the record of forefathers only. This part is the legendary part of the book. The historical part of the book starts three hundred years ago – that's the age of the book itself. When the foreign Manchzhurian Tsin dynasty came to power, mandarin and Commander Dan Fin-U, who was loyal to the fallen Ming dynasty of China, left for Si-Chuan in voluntary exile. Si-Chuan was a semi-desert at the time. The terror of the robber gangs of Chzhan Sien Chzhun and Li Chu-Chen cleansed whole districts. Sichuan grew deserted. Only one region was able to fight off the robbers – the one that was headed by a woman-military commander. The native Sichuan language has survived in the region until now. In the rest of Sichuan the language is almost the same as in the native northern Chinese provinces of Chzhili, Shensi, Henan. The language was brought here by the settlers. There was a lot of land – anyone could take it if they wished. Dan Fin-U settled on the land with his family. The family grew into a whole village Dan Tsa-Chzhen, which is translated as “village named after Dan.” At first all the people in the village had the surname Dan and were relatives. Then some Dans, as they went broke, started moving to other places, and newcomers took their place. Even now many people in Dan Tsa-Chzhen village have the surname Dan, but for me, they are not relatives anymore. They are past the threshold of being my fifth cousins. And we consider the relatives of our sixth cousins to be strangers. I have fragmentary memories of our ancestral home in Dan Tsa-Chzhen. I was born there in 1903. Next year – I was considered to be two years old, as we, the Chinese, count the age not from birth, but starting from conception – I was taken to Sian Shi village, where I spent my childhood.
SergeyTretjakov Den Si-Hua: (Bio-interview) /fragment