“A Long Time Ago…”

A long time ago I used to read a great deal about various traditional societies. That is how I learned of tribes whose pre-scientific worldview makes no causal connection between childbirth and sex. They suppose that children are born for unrelated reasons. For example, when a young woman, on a full-moon night after the season of rains, swallows the seed of some special plant that is considered sacred, she is guaranteed to become pregnant soon afterwards.


Curious though such beliefs are, they are nothing compared to a much more striking phenomenon. A significant percentage of the population of a certain large Eurasian territory recognize no causal link between the quality of their everyday life and the character of their participation in the regularly held ritual activities that, by analogy with practices established in the modern world, are called “presidential elections” and “parliamentary elections.”


Translated from the Russian by Philip Nikolayev


Born in 1947, Lev Rubinstein was a major figure of Moscow Conceptualism and the unofficial Soviet art scene of the 1970s and 1980s. While working as a librarian, he began using catalogue cards to write sequential texts. He described his “note-card poems,” as a “hybrid genre” that “slides along the edges of genres and, like a small mirror, fleetingly reflects each of them, without identifying with any of them.” His work was circulated through samizdat and underground readings in the “unofficial” art scene of the sixties and seventies, finding wide publication only after the late 1980s. Now among Russia’s most well-known living poets, Rubinstein lives in Moscow and writes cultural criticism for the independent media. His books in English translation include Here I Am (Glas, 2001), Catalogue of Comedic Novelties (UDP, 2004), and Thirty-Five New Pages (UDP, 2011). In Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties (UDP, 2014), his note-card poems appear in their entirety for the first time.

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