On Udaff.com

I’ll tell you a story, children
Live lousy fucking in the world.
My head hurts a hangover
And in a pocket nor spear, fucked,
Pass the bottle fucking empty
Only them, of course, is not enough.
I fucking, fucking, do not,
I would only hangover
And then all the shit, shit,
And on the wall, fucked, smudge …
This proverb – not a fairy tale,
Tale will be ahead fucking:

This is the beginning of the earliest extant post published in the “Creatives” section of the Russian website Udaff.com, the title translated by Google Translate as “Lewd tale about global catastrophe” (“Непристойная сказка про мировую катастрофу”). Udaff.com describes itself as a repository of counter culture literature. It’s named after the site’s administrator, Udav (Udaff being a faux anglicisation), who posts new works almost every day in categories including News, Creatives (fiction and poetry), Controversy, Book Reviews and many others. The Creatives section, with over 50,000 entries since the site launched in 2000, is the most popular, featuring poetry and fiction that ranges widely in length and content, but is generally short and often serialized.

There is little available information about the site in English. I learned of the site while reading an essay by Olga Goriunova, a Russian digital art and culture scholar, and have been reading stories on the site using Google Translate. The garbled, awkward texts rendered by Google Translate reflect the dominant themes Goriunova describes: intoxication, sex, violence and nihilism. Some writers appropriate genre forms like fairytales, spy stories or even the bildungsroman, while many stories are simply pornographic. Most—even the fairy tales—use profane language, a hybrid of Internet slang called Padonki and the Russian mat language. Mat, which has existed since the middle ages and is used in works by Pushkin, Chekhov and Dostoevsky, is a language constructed almost entirely out of four words: “dick”, “whore”, “cunt” and “fuck”. Although censored in the national media, mat has become more and more popular and more mainstream since the 1980s in part because of the Internet.

I was led to Udaff.com by a description of mat, in Goriunova’s work Art Platforms and Cultural Production on the Internet:

Vladimir Rudnev discusses the situation in which one can have a fully valid utterance, compiled solely of the derivatives of one word, huī (dick), in his introduction to the first volume of the Dictionary of Russian Mat by Alexander Plucer-Sarno, which is solely dedicated to the aforementioned word: ‘Every inanimate object can be denoted as “huīovina.” . . . Every abstract noun can be denoted by the derivatives of the word “huī.” . . . Every quality or characteristic can be denoted as an adjective. . . . The verbs “huīarit’” and “huīachit’” have a universal pro- nominal meaning . . . similar to that of the verb “to do.’’’ Huī can also denote an animate creature, a man.

I wasn’t at all disappointed by the frequency and mutability of the word “dick” in these stories, but the vocabulary of Udaff.com seems to expand from there, intoducing Padonki terms and terms from it’s own thematic lexicon. It’s probably worth mentioning here that I’m a serious fan of potty language. One of my favorite games when I was a kid, probably seven or eight, was to read Berenstain Bears books with a friend and replace random words with bad works like “fuck” and “butt”. My sense of humor hasn’t matured much since then, so the idea of a language completely derived from bad words was exciting.

The language on Udaff.com isn’t just word “dick” over and over again. There appears to be some ambiguity in the translation of profanities. I had “Lewd tale about global catastrophe” translated by a Russian-speaker, who translated the word “dick” 15 times, while in Google’s version, “dick” appears 18 times. The first two lines of “Part II. Story” in the Google translation are “If all the dicks in the world / remade in a huge dick”, while the translator’s version reads, “If everything on the fucking earth / was formed into a huge dick.” This difference hinges on the fact that хуй translates to “dick” but is also a non-specific swear, akin to the way English speakers use “fuck.”

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I found the story “Lettuce green slippers” (“Салатовые тапочки”) posted in 2006 by the user Bad Truth, after clicking on the Random Creative link, where “dick” appears four times in Google Translate (and once in the comments, as I found searching the page—one commenter had the username “Slowly turned into a dick”) while in the translator’s version, “dick” is translated as “fucking”. In Google Translate, it first appears in the third paragraph: “His wife looked at him as a hit. Moreover, thinks that every heresy cities, so more and slippers bought myself some radioactive. Asks the hell you dick light green slippers?” The translator’s version makes a lot more sense: “His wife glanced at him as if he had just been hit over the head. Not only, she thought, is he talking nonsense, but also he bought himself some kind of radioactive slippers. She asked him, what the fuck do you need lettuce colored slippers for?” Relative to most of the stories I read on Udaff.com, “Lettuce green slippers” is inoffensive and conventional. It starts with the purchase of green slippers, by the protagonist Vanya, who then leaves his wife and is fired from his job for refusing to throw away the “apocalypse colored” slippers that would, according to his boss, “force even the smallest bug and bacteria to blink.” The story climaxes with a fight between Vanya and his mother after which Vanya ends up drunk on the street, meets a bum who is actually the manifestation of the Russian mythological god Triglav, and resolves in a punchline: the bum/Triglav asks “What the fuck do you need with lettuce colored slippers?” It’s at once a pretty dumb joke and a somewhat trite meditation on individuality, which seems to be the place many of these writers are operating in, somewhere between crass humor and dorm room philosophy.

I was reading Goriunova’s book to prepare for a lecture on Internet art. She writes about Udaff.com in the context of Internet art platforms, remarking on the power of the phenomenon of what she terms “male lit”: stories written for the enjoyment of men, possibly related to “…brutalism, where figures like Charles Bukowski’s ‘renegade hero,’ a sexually active, antisocial, and alcoholic single man crosses roads with lad culture and punk.” To Goriunova, Udaff.com is remarkable not due to any of its individual stories, but as a mass cultural production from an Internet community that has developed its own internal rules and conventions. Udaff is administered and curated by one man, though there are frequent contributors and user comments that help create and sustain the voice of Udaff.com. Goriunova’s work focuses more on the site itself as a representation of a subculture, “an artistic trend on the basis of the networked resource.” Her treatment of the body of Udaff.com’s text echos Kenneth Goldsmith’s concept of the materiality of language discussed in his Uncreative Writing, in which he describes the mass of text existing on the Internet as a work of culture often separated from the meaning of its contents, an interpretation that values quantity over quality and repetition over novelty. My own mangling of the Udaff texts by machine translation might even have been a productive way to pursue some of the digital media–based techniques Goldsmith advocates to “modernize” poetry. The unintended absurdity of machine manipulation is a big part of what makes these stories fun to read. At the same time, much of the profanity has a dark quality that forces me to wonder about Udaff.com’s authors intentions.

Goriunova describes the popularity of Udaff.com as branching from the success of Fuck.ru, the web version of the IRC (internet relay chat) system #flex, which became popular in the late 90s because they did not censor “the swearing language mat.” The kreativ genre was popularized on Fuck.ru and led to at least one writer receiving actual mainstream literary recognition in Russia. Fans of Fuck.ru made there own sites when the website eventually stopped posting new stories. Udaff.com became the most popular of those spinoffs, possibly because it was less elitist than its predecessor, and went on to develop its own particular style and themes. Goriunova theorizes that the average user of Udaff.com is a middle class man with an office job, possibly educated during the Soviet era to be part of a cultural elite made up of specialized academics trained for professions that no longer existed after 1991. As far as I know there have been no Udaff.com contributors to cross over into mainstream recognition, and my sense is that these authors are writing more for one another and internal recognition within the site. The way the stories are structured, with links to earlier episodes and pleas for comments, are similar to fan fiction sites than online literary journals. The entertainment value, especially for someone like me—an outsider in an extreme sense, unable to even read the language without Google Translate, a tool that didn’t exist ten years ago and that renders the original meaning with many errors—smacks of condescension. The stories are strange and often hilarious, but only in this somewhat ironic reading, and it’s impossible for me to gauge how the authors themselves are employing irony, if at all.

Udaff.com positions itself as a place for work to be published without censorship, and so aligns itself, in spirit, with counter culture movements of the past that have been repressed or censored by the mainstream. But, as Goriunova discusses in her essays, the supposed counter culture values of the website are actually a reflection of mainstream conservative values. As the Wikipedia article on Udaff.com states (one that boasts four separate banners describing issues with the reliability of the content): “Although technically anything can be posted on the site, it is pre-moderated by its creator, so boring or homosexual-sympathetic stories most likely will end up in ‘/dev/null’.” I actually haven’t encountered many stories that are explicitly homophobic, but many of the stories I encountered were misogynistic or otherwise offensive. And yet, the pervasive use of profanity, even in the tamest stories, is compelling, perhaps due to the volume of stories and what it implies about the huge community of writers producing Internet fiction. I’m not sure I’m willing to call Udaff.com an art platform, or refer to the activities of its members as literary production, but I understand the Goriunova’s motivation to examine it more closely. It may not be art, but it’s strangely familiar.

Some recent Creatives on Udaff.com, translated by Google:

  • “Economy of Ukraine (obituary)” by Hello from the psychiatric hospital corpsmen
  • “Hard to Be God” by Twilight Zone
  • “And the fuck? Part II” by Brother II
  • “ALIENATION-2 Chapter 4 – Return to ‘Elektrosetremont’ part of 10” by Alex Pervov
  • “Let others you drunk …” by Bob Cluj
  • “Fuck the bitch” by Ferocious Hamster

Google Translate ignores grammar in rendering its translations, using statistical analysis and machine learning to create translations based on previously analyzed text, using Google’s access to a large amount of text in many languages. Ungrammatical translations are exacerbated in translations of Russian to English, because Russian differs from English grammar in its lack of articles, different verb forms and fluidity of word order. What I can get from Udaff.com translations is limited to broad strokes of themes, imagery and characters. Nonetheless, the story’s lofty settings alone are evocative of reminiscent of works by Solzhenitsyn or Dostoevsky—dystopian labor camps, apocalyptic landscapes. Many stories have titles like “Life” or “Philosophy.” Stories about hangovers, vomit and violent rages have a weight of seriousness that contrasts with the absurdity of the Google Translations and the foul language they render. The general philosophy of a Udaff writer seems to be anti-establishment but conservative, anti-feminist and nihilistic, and to an outsider like me they come across as paranoid reactionaries.

One of those stories with the title “Philosophy”, ends: “What’s the point? Why do we multiply? Why in huge quantities give birth to such of their own kind? So Without horseradish he lives, sleeps without sex, without vodka drink … Now all of life – a solid meal, all philosophy … science …” The writer, username PossaLvAnal, writes exclusively in verse and tends to address big ideas like “Love”: “Whores must love / for their kindness, / For that they allow / for compensation, but still love the beauty, / And it is always inspiring.” And “Status”: “Dull graze there cunts. suck? suck ass? just do not give, Hen, yeah here was booze, And the club yesterday, this bald goats, said I was a lesbian.”

To call it the Russian 4chan isn’t exactly right, though there are similarities in tone and content. 4chan is a subculture of mostly teenagers sharing digital files of pornography, anime, television shows, comics, etc. Udaff.com considers itself a publishing platform and is written mostly by educated adults (according to statistics in Goriunova’s “‘Male Literature’ of Udaff.com and Other Networked Artistic Practices of the Cultural Resistance” from 2005). Other than a few banner ads (typically for porn sites), Udaff.com operates almost exclusively with text.

The language barrier makes it particularly difficult to understand the humor of Udaff.com. Some stories seem like they intend to be humorous—lines like “All those who are fated to find the light is born with cunts / I congratulate you on this day came in the spring!” published this spring by the popular user soba4ki, who posts almost weekly, come to mind. Or this line, “No, this is it I’ve stole an instruction from the stethoscope, said the bearded evil gynecologist and slapped Sidorova on wrinkled blue ass” from “As Inspector Sidorov saved Earth,” post in 2009. The stories tend to have a more nihilistic and self-serious tone, something like this passage from a story called “Grave”: “I drank a little bit and got the machine. Stand, smoke. Good master. So they say so, says. One man died. He in our factory worked for many years. Relatives were asked to help dig the grave.” Or this from the ending of a story called “In the backyard”:

Thoughts on farewell kiss I did not have. Under the curious glances subservient – still unusual in Natco had a client – with loathing I crossed carryout and went outside. ‘s what it is – a dream come true! And for this pathetic whore I once naively hoarding treasured [three ruble note] in agony? Raced his legs due to someone else to look back as she pisses in sheds? With heartbeat at night imagining that there in her underwear? Cum on her smelly toilets? So what? I do not know, do not know what it is now, but I felt cheated and frustrated. Ah, if known then, if only to know …

In “Humor – Technology – Gender,” Friedrich Block writes that contemporary media art tends toward a sense of humor, while “art which lacks a sense of humor frequently seems to be rigid and suspected of ideology.” Udaff.com exhibits both of these qualities. It’s this contradiction that is responsible for the complexity of the site as a cultural artifact. This is complicated by the fact that neither Olga Goriunova nor I are the intended audience for these stories. The things that I find funny or strange usually are presumably not the intended meaning of the stories. Based on the comments on each story, the community of Udaff.com can be supportive of some writers but tends more towards insulting. Whether these writers are writing for one another or to publish their work and perhaps be read by a wide audience or discovered by a mainstream outlet is impossible to discern. It’s difficult to separate stories with something like literary ambition from others written purely for the entertainment of the community.

Those stories have a feeling of one-upmanship in pushing boundaries of taste and morality. I read a story about a young girl who uses various vegetables to widen her vagina in order to prepare for having sex with a seventh grader. It’s 228 words long when translated by Google. (And the vegetables are just the beginning.) The writer, called SIROTA, who has written more than 100 stories, has some consistent themes across his work. The work is divisive, even on Udaff.com—some commenters call SIROTA a pedophile and trash the writing. This kind of work shows that Udaff.com’s moderator is true to his word in that the site doesn’t censor writers based on explicit content, but nor does it publish everything it receives, implying that the work it does accept has some merit.

There’s no way to read 50,000 works of fiction,but Udaff.com has a convenient “random” button to peruse Creatives. Here’s a work from 2005 called “For what?”:

Standing here in the midst of this [exhausted] crowd rushing past me into the maelstrom of everyday life, I ask myself: What am I doing among these [dickwad] willing to substitute his ass under the long ends of different varieties, which they call their desires? Why should I see you every day? What should I do to you are dead? Qualitatively are dead, and all the polls. weekend But the situation is changing with the exact opposite. Now I [tear about] around those who prefer to lie in bed on Friday at eight o’clock, stupidly [promoting oneself] entire evening in the TV and woke up at eight o’clock Saturday [dicking about] to the country to stand there all weekend for cancer questionable crop of cucumbers and tomatoes with eggplant. Go by dick.

There are also pull quotes on the Udaff.com site from featured (or possibly random articles) that often have little gems:

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Last Winter, I submitted a few stories to Udaff.com. The first one was a couple of paragraphs from a short story I wrote that takes place in the future, and has a little flashback about a pig. The only thing that it has in common with a Udaff.com story is its fairy tale quality. I cut the flashback out of my longer piece, changed a few sentences to make it feel like its own thing, threw it in Google Translate, copied the Russian text into an email and sent it to Udaff.com’s moderator. I received this response:

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I spent more time on the second story, a story about a man suffering from irrational anxiety about shitting his pants, meeting a woman with a fetish for men who shit their pants. It was the grossest thing I could commit to writing. Again:

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I have no idea what Udav thought of these submissions or what they read like in Google’s Russian version. I’m sure it’s obvious to him that I do not actually know Russian, but I wonder how quickly he realized I’m not a real “skumbag” as the members of the site call themselves.

I also emailed Udav some questions about the site, which he has yet to answer. I had questions about various statistics—he only provides basic hit counts and views, but I was curious to see more detailed information, specifically the amount of time users spent on individual pages. I asked him some questions—who his favorite authors were, if he liked specific Russian writers, including my favorites like Daniil Kharms and Alexander Vvedensky—but he never responded to anything other than my story submissions. Why would I want to participate in a community that literally speaks a different language? There was something exciting about it—perhaps related to assuming a new identity on this site, much in the way the actual users are doing. Even if read in the original language, these kinds of Internet communities are difficult to understand because of the mass of contributors and the confusion of intention and sincerity. To evaluate it the way one would a work of literature or art doesn’t really make sense, but how much of that feeling is wrapped up in the work itself and its status as a subculture? The mainstream has a way of treating subcultures that undermines the validity of individual works that become associated with the subculture, viewing each story and profanity as a small part of a singular phenomenon. It would be impossible to analyze all of the works individually, so it becomes impossible to analyze any one work on its own. The work’s style is completely wrapped up in the context of Udaff.com itself.

The translator told me that the story-poem “Lewd tale about global catastrophe” was more difficult to translate than “Lettuce green slippers.” The poem uses a lot of slang and idioms that would be nonsensical in English. That’s part of what’s so great about the Google Translated versions: the literal version of the stories reveal something about the attitude and absurdity of their creators, even if they render the linguistic meaning of the content unrecognizable. Seeing her version of that poem allowed me to understand just how much I was missing while reading these stories, and how in general the literature of Udaff.com is particular to the writers and readers of that site, to the extent that even other Russian readers and speakers would have trouble understanding it. Here is the end of the poem, with Google Translate on the left and the human translation on the right:

 

Tale fucking come here –
the villain
All huyami ZADOLBALI
and drowned in a barrel of feces,
A good, fair,
give all a pack of bucks,
New Volvo with Mercedes
and chic blonde,
AND it is in the last frame
sucks throughout the program,
on a seat in the back,
How to be a happy-Ende,
And for that our tale
Ten receive Oscars.
Copyright everyone wants happiness,
Fuck you in the mouth and a scalpel in the ass!
the story here will start –
Anti-heros
Fuck up all the dicks
and will drown in barrels of feces,
while the good, and fair ones
give to all rolls of bills,
new Volvos and Mercedes
and a stellar blonde,
and she’s in the last frame
giving head with the whole routine,
in the backseat,
as it should be in a happy-ending,
and for that our story
receives ten Oscars.
the author wishes everyone happiness,
a dick in your mouth and a scalpel in the ass!

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Translation Credit:
“Lewd tale about global catastrophe” and “Lettuce-green slippers” translated by Miriam Simun.

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Owen Roberts is an artist and educator.  His website is theeatingmachine.com.