Daniel Kalder is the author of two of my favorite books of the 21st Century: Lost Cosmonaut: Observations of an Anti-Tourist and Strange Telescopes: Following the Apocalypse from Moscow to Siberia. His newest book, The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy, will be released on March 6, 2018.
In our Q&A, Daniel discusses some of his experiences as an anti-tourist, i.e. one whose duty is to “open up new zones of experience. In our over-explored world these must of necessity be wastelands, black holes, and grim urban blackspots: all the places which, ordinarily, people choose to avoid.“
Q1: Which foreign land that you've visited so far was the most impenetrable in your travels -- the one that had the most barriers to entry e.g. physical distance, bureaucracy, cost, etc. ?
It is well-known that when Lenin died in 1924 his brain was extracted from his skull and subsequently dissected by Soviet scientists who sought to reveal the source of his genius. Less well-known is that while his embalmers were excavating the rest of his innards they found his soul dispersed throughout his torso. This is a photograph of Lenin's soul.
On a recent visit to Istanbul I stayed in an apartment looking out on the Bosphorus. Every morning I’d get up and see the sun sparkling on the surface of the water as birds circled languidly overhead. At night it was even better, as the thumping techno from the pleasure boats and the call of the Muezzin intermingled. It was very different from my usual mode of accommodation when I travel: cheap hotels, dirt, and the lingering possibility of sudden, violent death.
In many ways it was the culmination of a quest that began years ago in my hometown of Dunfermline in Scotland. Over there, you don’t see too many balconies. It’s too windy and wet. Yet I remember one house that had a huge balcony on the second floor. I used to walk past, wishing I lived there. I didn’t care that it was useless, that if I sat up there the wind would probably pick me up and drop me in the North Sea. I only saw the ideal of open living, close to the sky.
In 1974, poet and dandy Edward Limonov left the Soviet Union to live in the United States. The bisexual, bespectacled son of a secret policeman was fond of the Ramones, fascinated by revolutionary violence, and, in his own words, a Russian punk — the antithesis of the bearded sage Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who went into exile at the same time.
This punk wrote some scandalous memoirs and became a literary celebrity in France. Then Limonov’s life changed direction radically: After fighting for the Serb side in Bosnia in the early 1990s, he returned to Russia, where he formed the neofascist National Bolshevik party, acting as a creepy, silver-haired Pied Piper figure to gangs of alienated youths. Led by Limonov, these “Natsbols” marched through Russian cities chanting “Stalin, Beria, Gulag!” while waving a flag identical to that of the Nazis — only the swastika had been swapped for a black hammer and sickle.