Artists and War
Open Letter to Ray Bradbury
Manuscript received 1 September 1999.
Dear Ray Bradbury!
I hope you will excuse me for troubling you. For many years I have wanted to express to you in writing my admiration of your creative work and to tell you what you mean to me and others of my compatriots, my friends and like-minded persons.
I familiarized myself with your books as a young man. This was the bright period of the early 1960s, when the so-called thaw came to the USSR, after the cold and grim Stalin times. I tried to write you many times, after publication in Russian of each new book of yours (I have a special "Bradburian" shelf in my library).
But it was practically impossible to correspond with the West in Soviet times, the more so as I was an employee of the Aircraft Engineering Institute, not of a knitted-goods factory. The Cold War dictated its laws. . . . I tried to contact you, after many efforts to find your address, in the early "Perestroika" years, but apparently our postal service worked badly at those times.
You and I have been colleague-neighbors in the list of editors of Leonardo journal for several years. Many years have passed since I was first delighted with your books, and my youth is far away. The third millennium is dawning in my windows. The world has changed drastically since the 1960s. The Iron Curtain has fallen with thunder, this being very nice! But this fall had bad after-effects for us: walls fell too.
We, Russians, have long ago ceased arguing about who to blame for "Perestroika" and the falling walls: Gorbachev, CIA, masons, KGB. It is clear only that new, unexpected times are in store even for Europe and the U.S.A., as it goes about "Perestroika," i.e. altering, the whole planet. And when our common friend Roger Malina recently sent me e-mail inviting me to take part in discussing "Artists and War," I associated this in a strange way with my long-standing desire to write to you, to try to get your answer to the question worrying me since my first acquaintance with your books.
And I hope you will not be offended with the fact that my letter is an open one. I would like to share my admiration with Leonardo readers. So, let us return in a time machine to the early 1960s . . . Each of your new books--Little Strawberry Window, Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine, R Is for Rocket--was an event, a discovery for us. Sometimes I even had the desire to learn some of your stories by heart, as poems, because they were not prose, more precisely they were wonderful prose, shining the inner, warm and tender light of poetry. It should be especially emphasized that you were lucky with your Soviet translators: N. Gal and E. Kabalevskaya preserved and delivered in their Russian versions the finest nuances of your language and style with love and anxiousness. Living an "interdisciplinary" life, I met representatives from art, from science and from technology. And everywhere--in the flats of my engineer acquaintances, when developing aircraft and cosmonautic equipment, in the hostels of military pilots, or in the studios of kinetic artists--the indispensable element in all of the libraries was your books. Maybe it was my destiny to communicate only with members of the Bradbury Order. . . . However, the press runs of your books were such that every citizen of the USSR was apparently able to buy them .
Jokes apart, you became for us a kind of plenipotentiary representative of the unknown America, being reliably hidden from us with the Iron Curtain by our powers. The short and simple warning shown on this product: "Dangerous! Sharks of capitalism! Enemy No. 1." And you, Ray Bradbury, did not resemble a shark or an enemy, so you became--as unbelievable as it is--the most Soviet among American writers. What is more, you seemed, to me for example, a guest from the "bright future," toward which our great country had been moving confidently in those times, as we believed.
I understand now what attracted us in your fantasy books: the defense of personal rights of freedom, of individuality; contempt for spiritual egalitarianism, being the aim of the powers that be and of the mob, who choke themselves on their irrepressible desire to paint all in one color. Upon reading your novel Fahrenheit 451 and learning that you had no TV set in your house, I became involuntarily your spontaneous follower. And it was only recently, on the occasion of my 50th birthday, that I allowed myself to accept as a gift this "diabolic invention." . . . The severe pathos of each story from the Martian Chronicles made my skin creep: others have the right to be others, even if they are incomprehensible to us and we dislike them for this reason. We were impressed with the cold rage of astronaut Spender, member of the fourth expedition to Mars, who killed his reckless colleague, filling the alien silence with ugly, drunken cries and throwing empty cans and bottles into the proud Martian channels. And, certainly, the best, in my opinion, is your story about the animation of the dying Thomas Wulf: it is a genuine anthem to creativity! No, your best story is "Little Blue Pyramid," that wonderful parable about the human love of children! But the better story is . . . Stop, I reject selecting the best story because all your stories are the "better." My friends and I had been dreaming of filming your staggering story "It Will Be Tender Rain" for many years, until somebody realized the idea in the genre of science-fiction animation, the result being, alas, silly and stupid. By the way, several of our non-commercial TV stations showed the American serial film Ray Bradbury's Theater some years ago. The film is of good quality, but nevertheless cannot compare with the textual original! It is impossible to film poetry . . . that is why I have finally written my own short philosophical fantasy "Space Dandelion," as a token of my admiration for your creativity, and so to say, visualized it as a series of photos of abstract oscillograms, dedicating the work to you .
And now here is my question, more precisely my little bewilderment, little affront from those days of my youth: How is it that you, being so much "our" writer, never let representatives of other planets know that "our" country is also on Earth? How was it possible not to note the huge red spot on the geographical map of our planet? Excuse me, but you know, even A.C. Clarke did not forget about its existence. . . .
I understood and understand now that my question was and is a rhetorical one and needs no answer. You recall only occasionally other countries in your numerous splendid works (and there were, for example, only mirages of Rome and Paris in the story "O, Wonderful (Marvelous) Wonder"). [End Page 25] It is clear that America is the symbol of our native home, of the whole Earth, and that Douglas Spolding is her typical and favorite son for you. He is typical, very close to me also, but not solely so, if we talk about the whole planet. (The below is addressed not so much to you as to all your compatriots.)
It is especially urgent to understand this now, with red Russia having fallen to its knees under the burden of heavy weapons and unexecutable promises and crawling--devastated by its own "communist-capitalists," and mere thieves--on all fours in front of the International Monetary Fund, begging for loans, which will be plundered again in a moment. It is a sin and a shame in the face of the world. But this is not my true concern here (because we will get rid of our thieves someday ourselves).
My true concern is the unexpected disappearance of world polarization. Integrating world society would seem to be an admirable aim for the course of civilization's development, and it would seem to be high time to achieve this aim. But it was this aim that Chingizkhan had already dreamed about, as it turns out . Being an enlightened governor, he was depressed with the state of permanent wars between peoples. How could one end them? The recipe was simple: it is necessary to unify all countries! But what if somebody does not wish to unify? In this case the recipe is even simpler: one should . . . send Stealth bombers against these countries! I dare to hope that you have very little desire to see your Douglas Spolding at the controls of a B-2, leveling from safe distances mere colors on a map by means of "humane," highly precise weapons. I can confess without any apologies that I would not vote, for example, to organize one integrated Earth-country, beginning on 1 January 2001, and make the whole planet . . . America. I would not agree, even knowing that Ray Bradbury lives in America. Because I know that not only Bradbury lives in the U.S.A. I am not sure that even the U.K. or France would be lucky to become one more star of the American flag. There is no special joy in such a situation for Russia either. It is certainly humiliating for our huge country, rich with natural deposits and bright brains, to have an annual budget now equal, if one converts it into "exchange currency" (dollars), to the budget of one city, even if that city might be New York! But it is more humiliating when the first MacDonald's is solemnly opened (hurrah!) in the center of an ancient capital of the country, where silently, without any fanfare, libraries and kindergartens are being closed. And this great "festival" of civilization, as unbelievable as it is, was visited by heads of our state! Where are you, Spender? I would like to go away with you to the Martian mountains . . .
However, to hell with any politics! It is not our profession, is it, Ray Bradbury, and what is more, Leonardo is not a publication suitable for analyzing politics. And on the whole it would be better to agree with a very wise joke of composer Franz Liszt: "I am not fond of speaking about politics because I don't have in my possession an army of 200,000 soldiers" (or, in modern parlance: no Tomahawk missiles, neutron bombs, SS-20s, MIG-31 fighters, etc.). I would like to discuss a different problem: that of spirit, culture, art. For example, foreign--basically American--films have flooded our Russian screens within the last 10 years. We have seen various things. Much was good, new, clever, unusual, with brilliant camera work and special effects; but, unfortunately, much also was evidently bad, commercial, dirty, grey, beggarly--this confirming, alas, my old humorous prognosis . But, let us spare time and not make judgments--they are beside the point. So too is the fact that I clearly understood, for example, how it is probably lonely and difficult for you to live and work in such "Hollywood" environments. The main thing is that many of our films, even ordinary ones of the previous Soviet epoch, are still worth seeing against this mixed background. And the reasoning is not based in nostalgia for youth or Bolshevism.
It turns out simply that we, in the USSR, in twentieth-century Russia, had formed our own view of the world, our own aesthetics. And despite Stalin and the KGB, normal and great art has been created, though certainly with negative aspects and, sometimes, silly things too. I again avoid making judgments about whether it is better or worse than that in the U.K., France or Italy, for example.
The art exists and it is different from that in the West! But, while we know Western art rather fundamentally, down to the endless bubble-gum serial Santa Barbara, knowledge about our art is very poor and one-sided in the West. I think this is not right! The world is multidirectional, multicolored; it has millions of different eyes, fates, histories. I hope the time will come when this mentality changes and the Cold War leaves our souls also. And for example, the same America will be watching and researching, with attention and natural interest, our old films made in the twentieth century, our literature, our culture--all the more since this will never be repeated. Imagine that your whole life you wrote about the distant, unknown red planet Mars. But it turns out that Mars was in your neighborhood, just on the other side of our globe. . . .
And that's all, the letter is finished. I look out my window and see empty tin cans and Coca-Cola bottles, idly floating and bunching against each other, a grey translucent sky, in slow, shallow channel waters.
Leonardo International Co-Editor
Academy of Sciences of Tatarstan
K. Marx Str., 10
References and Notes
1. I guess that you did not know about some of these editions, and surely did not get royalties for any of them. It was simply a tradition in those times, featuring evident advantages of socialism.
2. B. Galeyev, "Space Dandelion (Dedicated to Ray Bradbury)," Photographya No. 3-4 (1992), pp. 28-29 (in Russian).
3. E. Khara-Davan, "Chingizkhan as Military Leader and His Heritage," Idel, No. 6-12 (1993) (in Russian).
4. B. Galeyev, "Ars electronica in the International and Soviet Versions," Leonardo 24, No. 4, 475-482 (1991).