Monday, December 5, 2016
A mission doomed to failure: Platonov's Soul
Platonov's Soul continues to be a surprising and intriguing book. The protagonist, Chatagaev - turns out he's a young economist, not an engineer - is sent to a very remote region in what I think is Turkmenistan, the land of his birth, with the vague mission of bringing to the people of this desert land the prosperity of the Soviet state and the image of "Uncle Joe" Stalin. Obviously these are two missions doomed to failure. As Chatagaev approaches the land of his birth he increasingly senses how the people have virtually no knowledge about their government and no need to have any knowledge; they are just peasants and desert herdsmen living from day to day and completely indifferent to anything happening in Moscow - days or weeks away by train and light years away by comprehension. Ch embarks on a 14-day overland journey to get to his assigned area; he has vague recollections and memories of the land of his childhood, mainly remembering his mother sending him away with almost no provisions and hoping he would make it to some kind of civilization and to a possibly better life (which he did). Along the way he meets a Sufi mystic - who actually claims to recognize Ch - and they travel together, leading a nearly emaciated camel that Ch came across and nursed to health. But they have little food or sustenance among them. One night they camp out near a cave, and in the morning Ch wakes to see the camel dead - and the Sufi gorging on its inner organs. He joins. It's intentionally unclear whether the camel died and the Sufi harvested the innards or whether the Sufi killed the camel - part of his mystical sense that all life is one, that eating another for sustenance keeps the same balance of life in place. They continue on - and we suspect Ch will be transformed by his mission to his homeland in unforeseeable ways and no doubt ways that did not find him favor with the Soviet authorities of the 30s.