M. P. E. Martynenko studied philosophy and translation (from English and Italian), but did not find his fit at university. He lived for a year with monks. He woke up thirteen times in intensive care after hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic comas. Once, his coma lasted for several days. He may have even communicated with transcendental beings, but for that story he now asks for money or cigarettes. Martynenko has worked as a translator, editor, voice-over actor, vegan chocolate seller, lighting cable tester, server, bartender, subtitle writer, postal worker, and night doorman for a hotel. At present, he is studying acting.

reflections on belonging

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by Lina Buividavičiūtė


Marius Martynenko review 02

Marius Povilas Elijas Martynenko is one of the most distinctive people and artists I have ever had the chance to know. Twenty-five years of his life encompass thirteen hypoglycemic comas, a number of different jobs, dropping out of university twice, a  stint on the stage, using his hypnotic voice, and shining at slam poetry competitions in Lithuania and Europe. Hunger and nudity, love and dissolution, transgenerational trauma and the joy of being, pain and pleasure, talent and borderline experiences, construction and destruction, Brahma and Shiva – all in one. And this polyphony can be heard in Martynenko’s work, with his first book being Be penkių pasaulio pradžia: tekstai malonumui sužadinti (Five Minutes to the Beginning of the World: Texts to Make You Smile). The title is important to the reception of the book, correlating with the constructed figure of the author as a philosopher of modern times. The time before a beginning is defined by quiet excitement as well as the Taoistic emptiness and fruition that comes from it. The promise of the beginning, the tabula rasa on which life is about to be imprinted. And so Martynenko’s world is created – actually, not by a build-up of tension, not by saving up for a culmination, not by distributing weight. The texts explode with a wild energy, wiping out everything in their way, usurping the reader’s consciousness – for five minutes, at least –  denying, in a way, the standard rules of construction. For every text of the book, whether it’s more or less moving, better or worse, is, despite everything, a dynamite of semantics and expression. Nothing is concealed, nothing is cut (back), and the existential pedal is pressed to the maximum extent. Strikingly rich, Martynenko’s texts erase the boundaries of what’s acceptable and intolerable in language, and what’s acceptable and intolerable in existance itself. The author chooses not to retouch the pictures of existence – neither his own, nor that of the Other, nor that of the world. This is alarming, it’s shocking, it’s cruel and drastic, and it establishes a paradigm of ugliness. In this case, the second element of the book’s title – texts for pleasure – obtains an interesting meaning. What kind of pleasure is promised by the book, the passages of which are sharp, controversial, often harsh, and shadowy? It is the pleasure brought by the cruelty of (subjective) personal and literary truth, irony, openness, and intimacy. It is voyeuristic and introspective pleasure, pleasure mixed with pain. The author himself indicates this symbiosis in his statements in the media and his disclosures in the book. The very first text from Five Minutes to the Beginning of the World – Nepripratau (Didn’t Get Used To It) – immerses the reader in borderline experiences. The world of a hospital and a patient’s life are expressed in a literary form: “I figure that today in the hospital it’s the thirteenth time that I’ve woken up from a coma. I could get used to it. On the other hand, I have woken up around eight thousand times in the morning over my whole life, and I still don’t get used to it” (p. 9-10).

Martynenko has stated that he’s best at telling his own stories. Needless to say, it’s not only that there’s plenty of autobiographical context in the book – it’s the axis of the book. When I think of this choice, I come up with several questions. To what extent is this recognizability constructable, changeable, or demonstrative? And can the arrangements of the personal event-facts be a sufficient basis for literature? Not to overlook the existence of the constructed literary subject (it’s literature nonetheless), the texts are steeped through with seemingly sincere honesty and truthfulness. Personal experiences are the book’s engine in the most positive way. Martynenko states in Five Minutes to the Beginning of the World that the author is not dead at all; on the contrary – he’s very fond of life. I can’t give an unambiguous answer to the second question. The textualisation of naked experiences is at risk of becoming a solipsistic product. On the other hand, three things are to be assessed in this particular case: the distinctiveness of the experiences (convent-mental institution-burnt-down home-thirteen comas), the reader’s voyeuristic curiosity and the generalised, more universal level. What I mean to say is that Martynenko’s subject presents the world from his own perspective, which proves his mastery of the confessional genre. On the other hand, the author presents many universal insights (the point of view of “us” is not avoided), and the confessional texts in his book turn into recognizable ones, but certainly not recognizable to everyone. They are more recognizable to those who have been faced with borderline traumatic experiences in one way or another, to philosophers of life and the absurd, shopenhauers, nietzsches, franklins, camuses and, for instance, buividavičiūtės. This philosophy of life, or simply lifelike, philosophical insights can be found in nearly every text. There are beautiful surprises (and plenty, at that), and the usual discourse is given an innovative ending: “Let’s say that an hourglass seems simpler than a mechanical clock. Furthermore, there’s a sundial. Basically, a stick in the ground would be sufficient for that. But then I realize that for a mechanism like that to work, you need the whole star” (p 17). Another idiosyncrasy of the book is the balance of poetic, essayistic, and scientific discourses. It is an interesting and distinctive choice, though I’m inclined to dismiss some of the scientific facts, perhaps to make sure that no system is about to usurp the unique genetic code of distinction, which, as it seems, is also established in the book, and that we are not about to be sacrificed to separate facts.

Martynenko’s work made me reflect on another question – where’s the boundary between self-therapy and literature? And when does self-therapy turn into literature? Now I think that what destines the birth of literature is relevance, recognizability, the quality of expression, bursting out of a solipsistic self-world and filling up with unity. Despite the honesty and openness of the texts, the author’s work with language stands out – structuring, emphasis, shadowing. I sensed that the writer is someone with a great deal of experience in philology. Another thing that Martynenko’s artistic work shares with quality literature is that it’s dialogic. This can be both subtle and extremely open, as in the text emocinis intelektas (emotional intellect), where the reader is surprised by lush hypothetical situations, each accompanied by the question – “What are you feeling?” It’s manipulative (as is the whole discourse of shocking experiences), but the persuasion is achieved. Almost every text of the book speaks to the reader on a more subtle, meta level – about the same boundaries between the normative and the marginal, between hegemonic and marginal masculinity, between the masks we wear and authenticity, about fetishes, about concealments, about (dis)beliefs, about the underlying constituents of existence, about life surrounded by a threat of non-existence, about choices, mistakes, and the body. The body is predominant in the book, for certain – open to the nerve, to the point of exhibitionism and sickness, to the apotheosis of jerking off: “Twelve years ago, when I was eleven, I first tried masturbation. The first time was tragicomic. I got so into it that I pulled off the frenulum of prepuce. There was a great deal of pleasure and a great deal of blood” (p 117). It’s interesting that, despite abundant sexual experiences, the handling of the body connotes a deconstructed body – a de-eroticized body, a body as an element of rebellion, a body as a demonstration, a body as a tool, a body as a grotesque, a body as black humor.

Another thing that I like about these texts is that the subject of the stories, despite the crude and rough language, is not merely an eccentric, a marginal or a rebel “taking a piss on the system”, taking pride in his exceptional and not-so-exceptional experiences and his crudity. In the book, there’s also sensitivity, light, and vulnerability. This combination of the harsh and the soft is often a hit and the most effective dynamite of the book. I was disarmed by užtemimas (eclipse), re-animacija (re-animation), virkštelė (umbilical cord), skylė (hole) and others. Other things that win me over are the self-irony, irony,  and the courage to demystify the sanctity (nebeišgelbėjamas [unsaveable]), sukurti žmogų: instruktažas (to create a man: instructions). The author does not force his truth on the readers, preach, or conceal the fact that he doesn’t know many answers. He’s sharing something beautiful.

In order to properly reflect this creative work and its genre, you have to consider the fact that a part of the texts were originally written for slam. That’s probably the reason why I’d regard these texts (for the most part) as poetic prose. The author told me once that, in his opinion, there’s even more poetry in these prosaic texts than in his “pure” poems. The new philosopher of life writes the live poetry of life. Surprisingly consistent poetry can get you hooked like heroine. Abstinence is hard, and in any case – since it’s so crude and emotionally brutal, even, I would suggest reading in moderation.

As mentioned before, the book is consistent with recurring motifs. Consistency and purpose are good things, as they denote a clear concept, a vision. On the other hand, what you long for by the end of the book is a breath of fresh air, an escape from the recurrence of the motifs, but not so much from the author’s voice, perhaps, as from your own nudity as a reader. I read the book in one sitting, and I was overcome, somehow, by terror – I was shaken. And yet this book is unique in the field of Lithuanian literature and a very much needed and timely one.

I remain curious and somewhat demanding – what will the author’s upcoming writings and their angles and directions be like? Even more experiences and facts? An even stronger connection of words? Even deeper meanings? I wish.

It’s a good book, Marius Povilas Elijus Martynenko. Not perfect, but this makes it even more beautiful, just as the scars we get from our battles. As I read it, I too felt a blade on my throat. That, for me, is a sign of good literature.

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