Say you are killing yourself in the name of the Russian intelligentsia, and you will die
like a hero. That one shot will awaken the sleeping conscience of this country ... Your name will become a household word. Your death will be the topic of the day. Your picture will be in all the papers ... The Russian intelligentsia will gather about your coffin. The cream of the nation carry you through the streets.
Nikolai Robertovich Erdman's play The Suicide, written in 1928, satirises the contemporary preoccupation with suicide as a political message. Citizen Podsekalnikov is an ordinary man, out of work and demoralised by having to live off his wife. But when his suicide plans become known, people flock to his apartment, begging him to kill himself in their name - in the name of the intelligentsia, of 'social aliens', of the clergy. Initially, Podsekalnikov doesn't have a political motive, but he catches on quickly:
I am about to die. Who is to blame? Our leaders, dear comrades, they are the ones. Go to one of our dear leaders and ask him: what have you done for Podsekalnikov? He won't answer you that question, comrades, because he doesn't even know that there is a Podsekalnikov in the Soviet Union.
LRB 17 February 2011 | PDF Download