Live Long, Die Young

Lots of time, lots of cars,
Lots of money, so much love,
Very cold and very hot.
But now it’s freezing out,
The director Lanzmann is giving us an interview,
Without, it must be said,
Much passion.
This man was intimate with
Simone de Beauvoir
And worked alongside Sartre.

But that’s later. For now
Channel One
Is filming him en face
In the next room
And we can make out
A few scattered remarks.

His nine-hour film
About the Holocaust
Played in every
Country — 
People nodded off,
And in their dreams
They saw the horrors
And the voice of our famous guest
Faded in and faded out.

It fades in, fades out,
In the hall
The beautiful
Camilla comes and goes.
She perches on the sofa
Then she walks away.

The assistant to the cultural attaché
Of the French Embassy
Is also here. She’s the one
Who signed up me and Kolya
For this interview with Lanzmann.
She’s also beautiful and young.
A little older than us
But she looks younger.
Whereas me and Kolya,
We don’t want to look younger.
One of us is thirty-three,
The other’s thirty-four.
Not yet at the peak
Of our powers,
We’re gathering force
And preparing to strike.

We’re like Lanzmann
Who at the age of eighteen
Joined the French
Communist Party.

He joined not because
He read Marx or Lenin
But because he was asked
By his friends
In the Resistance.

We are like Lanzmann
Who cried when he learned
Of the death of Stalin.

He cried not because
He loved Stalin
But because he was
He saw Soviet
Lowering their flags to half-mast,
And thought about how
The Soviet people
Had absorbed,
During the war,
The most terrible
And frightful blows.

We are like Lanzmann
Who in 1949
Made the acquaintance
Of Sartre and Simone
De Beauvoir.

He began to work with them
On the magazine
Les Tempes modernes.
And today he is
That publication’s
Editor in chief.

We are like Lanzmann
Who in 1972
Made the film
Israel, Why,
Which, in the words
Of the online encyclopedia,
“Did not shy away from
Difficult questions.”

We discussed all our questions
In advance of the interview.
Inside us it was as if
Some keys, cold and hot,
Were rattling. It’s nearly freezing out.

Meanwhile I was thinking about how
Kolya is a rude artist.
In the sense that
There are radical artists
Everywhere you look,
But not so many
Genuinely rude artists.
The rudeness of an artist,
I thought,
Is an interesting quality.

But now Channel One is leaving,
Kolya takes off his jacket with its skulls
And sets up our cameras.
“We are the representatives of the left,” we say.
Lanzmann lowers his gaze wearily:
Now they’re going to start in about Israel.

But Kolya, having explained a bit
About his art collective,
Asks Lanzmann instead
About monumental
Art. What might it look like
Right now?”

“How should I know?”
Says Lanzmann.
“There could be no
The world is scattered. For
A monumental
Work you need
A unified sense
Of the world.”

“But you yourself
Filmed a monumental
Work. Surely you have
Some ideas on this score?”

“I didn’t think about
That. I’m an artist,
Understand? I don’t
Think in such
Categories. What are you,
Your task is
The Revolution.
Why are you asking
Me about

We’re the ones asking the questions

We’re the ones asking the questions

                       are the ones
                                                 asking the questions.
In the iron air
Of Moscow.
Edelman, Markelov,
Pechersky are with us.
Medvedev the Bear Jew and Jeff
“The Snowman” Monson — 
That’s what they call us
Around town.

“In what capacity
Did you make that film — 
As a Frenchman, a Jew,
An intellectual?
Or as a member
Of the Resistance?”

“I repeat,
I wanted    ...    ”


“Does the term
The ‘Holocaust Industry’
Mean anything to you?”

“What’s that?”
Asks Lanzmann.
(I warned Kolya
That Lanzmann wouldn’t
Or would pretend
Not to understand
What that means.)

“The Holocaust Industry
Usually means
The use of the memory
Of the destruction of the Jews
During World War II
To legitimate, in part,
The State of Israel.”

The translator starts
To worry.
She suspects us
Of anti-Semitism.

But we are like Lanzmann
Who came
                             to Moscow
To do this strange interview,
Without revealing his secrets.
He won’t talk,
He’s hard as a rock,
This man whose youth
Is reflected
In our cocky

Lanzmann himself has conducted
Many interviews:
With Franz Suchomel,
The SS Unterscharführer,
With  Jan Karski,
And others.
He knows very well
How to walk
His subjects
Into this or that
Or experience,
All while leveraging
His moral authority.
And here, gradually,
In the words of this master
Of the interview,
We begin to detect
The artistic position
Which we so oppose.
“I, you know, just
Slapped together this
I was interested
In the human aspect.
As for ideas
And theories
That’s not my bag.”


Of course, many artists
Take this stand.
They don’t interest us at all.
But Lanzmann, on the one hand,
Enjoys this status
As an artist who works with
Emotions, memories,
His own and other people’s
Experiences, that is, more with
Emotions than with documents.
On the other hand, he knew
Full well that his film
Would be received
As a political proclamation,
That it would quickly occupy the heart
Of intellectual and socio-
Political debates.
To work on people’s feelings,
As an artist, while at the same time
Refusing to engage in rational
Explanations, of the sort
Demanded of intellectuals — really
This is the same stuff as using the
“Incomprehensibility” of Hitler
Or the destruction of the Jews
As a form of political argument — 
And this is the shameful
Hypocrisy of our friend Lanzmann.

How to save himself
From this disgrace
The old man Lanzmann
Does not know.
But we know, and we’ll tell:
You need to speak about Israel
You need to speak about Israel
In this is the key to immortality
This is the burning wound
And it is Lanzmann who understands this
He knows that politics is the wound
On the body of history.
An unnecessary, unwanted wound
That will not heal.

To refuse to forget politics
To refuse to tear Israel
From one’s heart — 
Because politics is
Always here,
And Palestine is a bloody wound that says:
Politics is
Always here.
You can’t hide from it
At the supermarket,
You can’t run from it
With beautiful words.
And old man Lanzmann
Understands this,
He knows that
Politics is the wound
On the body of history.
In its inability to process its own
A rejection of politics
Leads to senility.

(Only later would I find
This passage
In an interview Lanzmann gave
To Der Spiegel:

Spiegel: You write
That the Israeli military doctor
Who gave you a check-up
Before you flew in a fighter plane
Said you could live
Until a hundred and twenty.
Are you worried about
Death right now,
At your age?

Lanzmann: I have no age.
I constantly think
Of death, including
My own.
At the same time
This remains totally
Unreal. As I said
Earlier, only life
Has any meaning.)


“Does the term
The ‘Holocaust Industry’
Mean anything to you?”

“I don’t want
To talk
About Israel.
I repeat:
You are thinking
In abstract

“Yes, but your film
Became the center
Of intellectual
Debate — 
About the uniqueness
Of the Holocaust,
About the supposed
Of the Poles. Many
Thought that your movie
Made the Poles out
To be

“Israel exists
Under impossible
Its army must be judged
According to different measures.
The Israeli Merkava tank
Was created
In impossible conditions.
Israeli tank officers
Love their Merkavas,
They are obliged
To have them always
At the ready.
And you, instead of
Building up
Should try harder
To create artistic works ...    
An artist has his own
Way of seeing.”

And so on.

The director is tired.
It’s time for a rest.
“Communists? I know your path.
First, revolution; then firing squads.”

A warning from the attaché — 
Our time
Is almost up.
This will be
Our last question
And our judgment of the gray
Old man
Will be simple.
He has just one moment left
To die young.

But what did the fog of those eyes
Vague sentence fragments,
A dry, unpleasant refusal?


“Hang in there, boys.
Be strong just one more time.

Communists never surrender.”

Translated from the Russian