I, Oblomov

Reviews: FStop Magazine, photographer.ru

I, Oblomov is an ode to the novel Oblomov, written in the mid-19th century by the Russian writer Ivan Goncharov. More than 150 years later, it still remains a key to deciphering the Russian mentality, which for centuries has both perplexed and captivated foreign travelers in the region

The novel’s hero, Ilya Ilyich Oblomov, is a wealthy landowner living in St. Petersburg. He is a humane and gentle man, but above all he is passive in the extreme. Day after day, he lies on the couch, absent-mindedly receiving a stream of visitors. Lost in aimless reveries, he seems incapable of even the simplest actions; horrified at the prospect of work, he also seems to have no appetite for life beyond his sluggish routine.

Whether this is pure laziness, or a stoic wisdom, Oblomov’s strange lethargy – or “Oblomovshchina” (Oblomovism) – continues to be a powerful force in Russia today. In this book, I offer my own interpretation of this distinctly Russian phenomenon through a series of self-portraits and interior photographs taken over the course of my travels in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. As the images show, I often found myself lying down for long periods, overcome by depression, laziness, bad weather or hangover – evidence that after nine years of living in the former USSR, Oblomovshchina can also become the reality of a Japanese photographer.

“Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone…” (F. Tyutchev, 1866); perhaps no other quote captures the significance of Oblomov so well. Over time, Russia seeps into the body; even if it cannot be explained, it is powerfully felt. If a number of famous Russians, such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov, admired Oblomov, others reacted against it. Lenin, for instance, wrote that “the old Oblomov has remained [with us], and we must wash him, cleanse him, shake him and thrash him, in order to get some sense [out of him].” Nabokov, for his part, once commented: “Two Ilyiches ruined Russia” – Ilya Ilyich Oblomov and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Not even Lenin, however, was able to loosen Oblomovshchina’s grip on Russian society. Living here, I joined the ranks of countless modern Oblomovs, sleeping away the crises, living in our dreams.

All the notes to the photographs were quoted from the novel Oblomov.

Ikuru Kuwajima

Moscow, March 2017