Leonid S. Sukhorukov: The Tree of Knowledge grows stronger from weatherbeaten seeds

23.12.2009 | Serhiy Petukhov, Olesya Ostafieva

A world-renowned writer, journalist and businessman, Leonid Semenovich Sukhorukov is a graduate of the Kyiv National Shevchenko University and is also a professor at the university. He was a scientist at the Glushkov Institute of Cybernetics, was one of the creators and music editors on the first disco programme on Ukrainian TV featuring Alla Pugacheva, Sofia Rotaru, Yuriy Antonov, Mashina Vremeni. He has composed music for films and plays and is a contributor to Pravda, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and was a staff journalist of the magazine Krokodil (Crocodile), which for many years was the most influential satirical publication in the Soviet Union. Today, without any exaggeration, you can be considered the patriarch of contemporary aphoristics. Your aphorisms have been translated into a dozen languages. Even Barack Obama quoted you on his website during the election campaign and continued to do so when he was elected President of the USA.

What is your formula for an aphorism?

LS: An aphorism is a one-line novel.

Has an aphoristic turn of mind been an obstacle for you in your life? You know clever people are not always popular.

LS: I have to admit that at times even a wide outlook turns out to be a narrow place. But you know, the wise learn from life. Fools just gather experience.

Do you know the aphorism Modesty is a great virtue?

LS: Not true of all men and not always, although Modesty is the shortest route to obscurity. But once famous, you can afford to become modest. (laughs)

Can you quote the aphorism used on Barack Obamas website?

Money is evil... and the less we have the more evil it becomes.

Could it be that people often quote somebody elses thoughts and aphorisms because they are afraid to seem narrow-minded?

Somebodys good aphorism quoted in the right place and at the right time emphasizes the erudition of the person who quotes and strengthens his own thoughts or speech. The fool learns only from his experience; the wise learn from it as well. A wise person always relies on universal knowledge.

Why do you compose aphorisms?

To create an aphorism brings as much joy as creating in any other genre music, poems, novels, particularly if you feel that it is vitally important for people. Our destiny is to leave a valuable and worthwhile legacy for our descendants.

Not all music, poems, novels and aphorisms can leave such a trace?

LS: I agree and this particularly applies to the amateur creation of aphorisms. Over 55 years of work (I composed my first aphorism at the age of 10), I have collected hundreds of thousands of such literary raw materials for hundreds of raw books People might think that there is nothing difficult in composing a sentence of three to five words. Is it really easy? Writing is easy - until you become a professional.

So it turns out that a thought that comes to mind is only raw material to be worked on?

LS: It is important always to work with everything that comes to our mind. Manna from heaven rarely comes to us. Raw material comes more often. I have also spilled a lot of rubbish onto the Internet. But there are moments of truth: The less we love a woman, the more women we love.) is a classic example of an aphorism that came into my mind (not without the involvement of Pushkin) in its final version. However, an outburst of creativity (even if it seems brilliant at the time) can seem ridiculous to you after five or ten minutes. Our task is to retrieve a true diamond from a large amount of waste material, which, if necessary, should be professionally polished, not books full of hot air sprinkled with the odd gem. History will naturally filter out only the best, but it will take a long time. Today, there is a real shortage of old sharp-tongued editors!

Where does aphoristic raw material come from?

LS: Where do we all come from and where are we all going? None of us has been to Heaven while on Earth, but each of us knows all about it. The situation is the same with everything that is not subject to traditional logic. Some things can be controlled and some not. I take a pen in my hand and put it back on the table everything is under control. But when a thought comes into my mind that cannot be associated with what I am doing, I cannot control it. Our brain works constantly and is perhaps in continuous contact with the experimentalists that created this world.

With whom?

LS: Well, somebody created us after all. I remember once in the early morning I experienced a burst of energy and thoughts came into my mind one after the other but without, as physicists say, interferences and diffractions. In a few hours I wrote over 300 aphorisms at the dictation of Heaven. When I read them in the morning, however, some were totally absurd, although seventy were fit for publication. There followed a purely literary process of eliminating the mistakes caused by bad reception from Heaven

You are the first author from the former Soviet Union to have his own book of selected aphorisms published in English (All About Everything, UK, 2005) in the West. Publication of the book was accompanied by big presentations in the Ukrainian Embassy in London with famous guests in attendance and also at Harrods in London at the invitation of and with the personal participation of its owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, Count Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky and other famous guests. Which of your publications you are most proud of?

LS: Thank you. At different periods of my life, different publications made me proud. In the Soviet Union, I was proud of publications on the page 16 of Literaturnaya Gazeta (Literature Newspaper), Crocodile, Perets (Pepper), Literaturnaya Ukraina (Literary Ukraine) there was a very strict and professional selection of the materials there. My friends and I were amused when aphorisms signed by me appeared for the first time on the front page of Pravda , the main media organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In 1998, I was quoted along with world stars by the largest in the American magazine Readers Digest (English and later Hungarian version) next to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I was also quoted in some American books.

Can you try to compose an impromptu aphorism right now, for example on the topic of crisis?

LS: I will try, though I prefer to get a prompting from the skies. Todays global economy crisis is a result of the substitution of Marxs formula product money product with money money money.

What do you think about the coming presidential elections?

LS: Presidents come and go while people continue with their old problems. It is foolish to count on a president to keep everybody warm with a huge blanket. In a number of candidates election programs, my old aphorism is indirectly quoted now: It is easier for Ukraine to turn itself into a New Europe, than for Europe to turn Ukraine into a new France. We need a president who would be able to finally make Fate turn its face favourably towards Ukraine.

What do you wish for Ukrainians in 2010 considering that the year is expected to be quite tough?

LS: I wish wisdom and luck. Wisdom is the meeting point of doubt and certainty. And The Tree of Knowledge grows stronger from weatherbeaten seeds.

I hope that luck will come to us with a slogan: May each twist and turn of our destiny be a zigzag of luck!

A short glossary of aphorisms by Leonid S. Sukhorukov

Automobiles move us towards immobility.
Sickness can be a healthy reaction
to an unhealthy way of life.
Enlighten the path of others darkness lights
its own way.
Stupidity is the wisdom of the fool.
Democracy opens mouths but cant feed them.
If cooks ran the country, we would stew
in our own juice.
Life is the distance between dreams and reality.
An ethical foreign policy means helping them up after youve knocked them down.
Some married couples only double
their loneliness.
Everyone of us is a genius, but not necessarily
in the right epoch.
Animals eat each other out of hunger: humans
are eaten up with hatred.
Thinking is the hardest thing to do while marching.
If you dont believe in the resurrection of the dead, look at politicians seeking re-election.
Education is the scientific exchange of ignorance.
Politicians are all the same. They promise reforms then reform their promises.

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