Sunday, 2 September 2012

Pussy Riot's Punk Prayer

Like many around the world, I followed developments in the Pussy Riot trial with a mixture of solidarity with the three members of the collective involved and resignation to the inevitable guilty verdict and subsequent sentencing. The clarity of thought, sustained dignity and fearlessness displayed by Nadya Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich throughout were never less than inspiring.

The specific trial of the three women and their specific act by the specific national court is of course significant in itself - and its outcome an outrage. But if we extend what Tolokonnikova said in her testimony of 8 August - part of three extraordinary texts which, I believe, will gain in importance as time passes, but which are also hugely relevant now: "It is not really three PUSSY RIOT vocalists who are on trial here. If that were the case, then what happened here would have no significance. On trial here is the state system of the Russian Federation" - we can link it to the growing global chain of protests against exploitative systems of power. Alyokhina's assertion that "talking about Putin, we do not mean Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin himself, but Putin the System" gives us further licence to enlarge the scope of their protest. The Occupy movement is an obvious point of reference in the west, while, without wishing to equalise their gravities or remove their specificities, to this thread we can also attach names and locations like the Indignados, Neda, Tahrir Square, Ai-Weiwei and Syntagma, as well as last year's 'riots' in London and other English cities, and many other smaller, meaning lesser known, outbreaks of dissent around the world - each of which forms part of the same type of response to what Noam Chomsky describes, even though he refers specifically to the United States, as "thirty years of class war" (Occupy, Zucotti Park Press, 2012).

All these incidents and their consequences are taken up as stories and imbued with standardised, recognisable narratives by traditional media outlets, and as opportunities by political figures for their own reasons and agendas - championed or dismissed by each as and when it suits them. I cut out and kept a condescending editorial in The Irish Times from 4 October 2011, early on in the life of Occupy, overlooking, patronising, or mocking its organisational principles and methods, the events leading to its existence as well as its goals ("the purpose is to protest against ... it seems, anything you're having yourself") and generally dismissing it ("The movement is unlikely to shake America, or even last") - before, in their rather inflexible world-view the editors were able to understand what was happening. Do you, Mr Jones, indeed.

The camps may be gone, but the spirit that spawned Occupy is taking root. And the form it manifests itself in is mutating. Inherent in the 'Punk Prayer' episode is the role of poetry, art and performance as political dissent - and an understanding of their nature as such. It's really impossible to ignore: Alyokhina's reference in her testimony to having Pussy Riot's art dismissed in court as "so-called", and her recalling of the same term being applied to Brodsky's poetry during his own trial, brings this sharply into focus. Tolokonnikova's citing of the Oberiu poets as inspiration returns us to nearly a century ago and the emergence of Dadaism in several metropolitan centres in Europe and the US.

New absurdist and situationist tendencies in poetry and art are providing again some the most potent weapons against the systemic erosion of freedoms and dignity in our everyday dealings with 'the system', wherever that may be and whatever form it may take. They're also indication that some poets and artists stand 'ahead of the guard' in resisting the totalisation of thought and behaviour in the drive of the 1 per cent somewhere or other to dominate the rest. We must add internationalism too: because while each instance of such acts of resistance is local to a certain extent, these tendencies reflect their causes in borrowing methods and inspiration from each other and showing no respect to boundaries, whether natural or artificial.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I wouldn't strike a contrast with dadaism in the context of Pussy Riot. Actually in the perspective of the St. Petersburg and Moscow laws, I think that it's more nihilistic than absurd.

Thats an imo -