Platform. Gujerat, India. 1995. Platinum-palladium print. 8×10 inches
I read Andrei Platonov’s short novel ‘Dzhan‘ last Summer, almost a year ago, and it still haunts me. The story could be considered, rightly, as one about emancipation and survival (in much the same way as with the Book of Exodus). There is more in this story, and thus the haunting. As with Exodus, Dzhan also touches on the matter of self and community, on self and space, and ultimately I believe, on self and the sublime (I am inclined to substitute this last with ‘God’).
I am not going to write an essay about Dzhan (which means ‘soul’ in an archaic form of Turkish) – I have many learned and far more eloquent friends who may add to my ramble with comments below – but I do want to the above image to be considered as a visualization of the story.
Last night, my friend Mark Preslar (who teaches Russian Studies at Sewanee, and is himself a visionary and something of a polymath) and I were talking about the limits of existing, in this case when the mind is transferred to a synthetic body, and I began to consider the slightly alarming notion that god (not God) had something to do with these limits. Is it possible that our evolutionary trajectory favored (or made us more susceptible to) ‘belief’. Belief is, after all related to social behavior and many would argue that evolution of the human gene is biased towards social survival. Extrapolating from this possibility, it does not seem too far a reach to say that any consideration of ‘self’ (including the solipsistic attitudes) then leads one to believe in greater and greater magnitudes of order of which self is one part, ultimately arriving at God. Again, as with Dzhan, I don’t want to get wrangled up in this possibility per se (I know it is rough-cut and a logical wormhole). The more interesting matter is one of evolution. What if, in order to emancipate our selves from our spaces, we need to also relinquish this social/belief/god ‘gene’? What if it is the next evolutionary jump? And that is why Dzhan haunts me – I think the story is about a profound transformation that goes beyond being and doing good and evil, or abiding by the golden rule, or behaving ethically. That transformation may be about putting god in its place, somewhere in the genetic past, obsolete. As we do with ancestral shrines.
I scrambled for Dzhan after reading John Berger’s Afterword to this edition:
Soul: And Other Stories
Andrey Platonov (Author), Robert Chandler (Translator, Introduction), Olga Meerson (Translator), John Berger (Afterword)
An excellent version of Exodus, recommended to me by another friend and great teacher, David Gutterman, is The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter