More than a century has passed since Dostoevsky said these words about the possibility of improving the state of the entire Russian nation in the future. But what has changed in contemporary Russia? The population has almost doubled, people have become more educated, but have they become more humanized and have they become happier? Contemporary writer Alexander Potemkin tries to give the reader answers to these questions. Writing about present-day Russian reality, he shows that the world is sinful, the world is suffering, the world is sick. His protagonists are looking for a solution and salvation, while ahead is nothing but uncertainty. The moral values of the modern world have become depreciated, the ways entrepreneurs and the masters of life think up to multiply their capital have become increasingly cynical and sophisticated, anything goes, the criteria for distinguishing good and bad have become eroded, in our current free-for-all the strongest is the one who is right, and no one feels abashed about the all-pervasive permissiveness any more. Everything has changed and somehow unexpectedly. There were swindlers, money-grabbers, and whoremongers in the past, but not to such a degree, and, most important, there is a new nuance—such people are now envied, they are respected, they have even become role models.
Alexander Potemkin’s books are a blend of diverse psychological, social, and philosophical genres. The author has reconstructed a wide panorama of contemporary Russian reality. The reader is presented with a picture of the life of people from different social spectrums throughout the boundless expanses of Russia—they are students, physicians, scientists, clerks, petty businessmen, different ranks of bureaucrats living in the Russian provinces, and residents of Moscow who represent the cream of society. The author demonstrates his skills of psychological analysis as he portrays the complex and contradictory inner world of his protagonists and takes a look into the secret recesses of the human mind. All the diverse subconscious outbursts of a person obsessed by an idée fixe are expressed on the pages of Alexander Potemkin’s novels.
In the novel The Abolition of Man, successful businessman Ivan Gusyatnikov has decided to build a miniature Russian town, a “Rimushkin empire” with feudal laws but a modern system of government. He dreams of taking a look into the innermost depths of the mind, its essence, and this fills him with delight. It is extremely important that he understand what lengths of cruelty or kindness he can go to. At some point, his depraved mind forces him to stop. And this monstrous experiment, to which the main protagonist dooms unfortunate people, leads the experimenter to discomfiting thoughts, “Like primordial man,” he smirked to himself. “And how am I any different? The same concerns, the same thoughts, the same illusions. Only the social infrastructure is different!...”
Oligarch Gusyatnikov considers himself a creator, but a special kind of creator who is trying to bring man to the extreme limits of downfall and create a superman in his place who denies the postulates of Christian morality, scorns everything that people value, and denies any human traits in the individual—perfect fodder for some sort of cult.
The tragedy of modern man is that he has been unable to overcome his lowdown origin, which with its unbridled animal desires and actions could bring itself to self-destruction. And in this respect the finale of the novel is significant when one of the protagonists, Viktor Dygalo, abolishes man at the price of his own life.
Alexander Potemkin continues to develop the problem of man’s existence and his inner worldview in the story My Self. The main protagonist, Vasily Karamanov, lost his parents in early childhood. Experiencing the full brunt of humiliation and insult from a young age, Vasily Karamanov thinks about how he can improve the human race. The opposition between “they and I” is developed in the narration. Who are they? They are the entire human race. “They want everything, whereby not that one wants a car, another a fur coat, a third a lover, and a fourth a stack of money. Everyone wants everything at the same time, whereby instantly and in vast amounts. As though by magic! There you go! In order to possess all these knick-knacks, this tawdry finery, they lie, break the law, smash windows, kill each other, destroy lives, grab power, and embezzle what is not theirs!” Vasily Karamanov becomes obsessed with the idea of creating a new being. What does he need for this? He needs the experience of “going out in public.” However, all of his socialization with the world of men convincingly shows him that there is “nothing, or almost nothing, beneficial in them at all.” Our protagonist is accused of carrying out experiments on genetic change in humans. An imaginary trial is held against Vasily Karamanov. His idea of changing the genetic structure of people is aimed at eliminating the demand for material gain from the genetic structure of humans and increasing the authority of the gene of spiritual consumption. Will this program for changing the human race resonate in the minds and hearts of the trial participants? Or will the world of things and material prosperity overtake the mind of the contemporary man in the street and leave no room in his heart for the spiritual? The writer allows his readers to decide for themselves. The question remains unanswered.
A master of psychological analysis, Alexander Potemkin makes the reader look for the answers to the questions the characters in his novels ask. And usually there is no unequivocal answer, because it does not lie on the surface, but in the very deepest recesses of the human mind where the desire is born to reflect, argue, engage in self-analysis, and perhaps find the key to the secrets of the human universe. And this is what makes the writer’s novels valuable and interesting to the reader who is serious-minded and not indifferent to the world and its problems, who thinks about the future of his native earth, and about his place in the contemporary world.