The Anthropocene: Platonov and the Tragedy of the Commons

One should keep one’s head down and not revel in life: our time is better and more serious than blissful enjoyment. Anyone who revels in it will certainly be caught and perish…
………..– Andrey Platonov, On the First Socialist Tragedy

McKenzie Wark in his latest work Molecular Red: A Theory for the Anthropocene tells us that the Anthropocene is a “catalog of the reasons why the ever-expanding commodifcation of everything is on a collision course with planetary limits”.1 Of all the authors he explicates it is Andrey Platonov as Wark reminds us who has a masterful intuition of what the Anthropocene future is going to be like. (Wark, p. 31) He’ll provide a short story of Platonov’s On the First Socialist Tragedy (translated by Tony Wood) as an opening toward a series of meditations of the impact of humans in the era of the Anthropocene. The Guardian talking of Robert Chandler’s translation of The Foundation Pit would say of Platonov that Stalin called him scum. Sholokov, Gorky, Pasternak, and Bulgakov all thought he was the bee’s knees. But when Andrey Platonov died in poverty, misery and obscurity in 1951, no one would have predicted that within half a century he would be a contender for the title as Russia’s greatest 20th-century prose stylist.

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Reading Andrey Platonov


An essay by Andrey Platonov in McKenzie Wark’s new book Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene awakened my attention. Of course Platonov is barely known to most of us in the West, his works having been suppressed or censored during his own life. Yet, now many of his works from The Foundation Pit to collections of his stories have slowly been surfacing through editions by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler and their cohorts. Someday I really want to write a critical work on many of these Russian novelists, short story authors, poets, essayists, etc. So much that has been left out of our modernists histories if we forget this other tradition.

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