event in a proper context. The explosionntook place in a military facility—none of the plutonium farms wherennuclear warhead material is harvested—thatnis, one of those 27 camouflagednas “civil,” industrial reactors.nThis is clear if only because Sovietnengineers know as well as anyone thatnin reactors of this kind the complexnlabyrinth of zirconium steel tubingndrastically increases the number ofncontrol points and the attendant risksnof failure. But the plutonium is, quitensimply, worth it.nI have before me an unpublishednarticle written on the subject by IgornGerashchenko, a Soviet physicist whonwas in Kiev in 1986. I dispense withnthe technical side of his analysis (refer­nSTAGEnResolutely Abstractnby David KaufmannThe avant-garde, according to thosenwho are supposed to know, has beennentering the mainstream, but the commentatorsnbusy cataloging this developmentnfor future art historians seemnto have forgotten that “avant-garde”nand “mainstream” are mutually exclusiventerms. Once our present has becomenpast, it may become clearer thatnthe greatest artists of this period are notnthe celebrated painters and playwrightsnwe hear so much about but thosenresponsible for their celebrity: thenmedia packagers and press agents, alwaysnadept at bending definitions andnabusing language to serve their ownnends.nIf the avant-garde is suddenly findingnexposure on your local TV network,nin your neighborhood mall, ornat your downtown theater, then maybenyou should question how avant-gardenring the reader to monographs likenThermal Radiation Heat Transfer bynRobert Siegel and John Howell) andncite his conclusions.nThe April 25 explosion ejected intonthe atmosphere “no less than 152 tonsnof radioachve material,” eight timesnthe mass of the Hiroshima bomb. ThenSoviets say that 31 people have died,nnot 70,000 as in Hiroshima or eightntimes that many. Yet 116,000 werenevacuated, while the average Sovietnlife expectancy is 65. It follows that ofnthe evacuees alone, over the next 14nmonths, 2,080 people died of somencauses. How many more died a “natural”ndeath under the conditions ofnforced evacuation? Here the magnitudenof the Soviet lie is a modestnVITAL SIGNSnit is anymore. It would not be the firstntime in history that the unconventionalnhas become popular.nIn a curious way, the so-called artnknown as avant-garde in recent decadesntends to be without substance fornboth those who are perpetrating it andnthose who are embracing it. Much ofnits appeal for the masses depends on itsnbeing arcane: a puzzle that only somencan solve, a religion that only somenhave discovered. It delights in exploitingncompetition: that sense of I-saw-itbefore-you-didnor I-understand-iteven-if-you-don’t.nWhile SpaldingnGray and Whoopi Goldberg and EricnBogosian all have something to offer,ntheir reputations always suggest thatnthey are newer and more different thannthey really are. The media response tontheir work seems carefully to avoidncomparison with Ruth Draper, ShellynBerman, Phyllis Diller, or LennynBruce.nAfter his mid-70’s landmark opus,nEinstein on the Beach (a collaborationnwith composer Phil Glass), and hisnongoing fiasco with six self-containednnn1:100.nRadiation levels measured by Dr.nGerashchenko in Kiev at the end ofnMay enable him to calculate it for thenaffected area as a whole. His conclusion:n15,000 dead and hundreds ofnthousands terminally ill. These figures,nAmerica’s right, left, and centernshould know, represent Soviet abilitynto sacrifice civil concerns for the sakenof military objectives. They representnresolve, not decrepitude. A milligramnof plutonium for the life of an averagenman is a good deal, and, if anything,nthe West’s inability to understand thisnis a measure of its own decrepitude.nAndrei Navrozov is poetry editor ofnChronicles.nworks collectively entitled The CIVILnWarS, Robert Wilson is probably thenpreeminent name of avant-garde performancenart. His name alone inspiresnawe. Even as the availability in Englishnthis year of Cocteau’s Diariesnreveals that perhaps this artist’s greatestngenius was for self-promotion, in Wilsonnwe can see a similar phenomenonnat work.nA perfect demonstration of the hypensurrounding Wilson occurred last yearnwhen the Pulitzer Prize committeenmade something of a fool of itself Fornthe 13th time in its 70-year history, thenPulitzer board did not elect a winnernfor drama. But the three-member subcommitteenfor Drama indeed had recommendedna single work to thenboard—one which no one anywherenhas ever seen—Wilson’s epic, ThenCIVIL WarS: A Tree Is Best MeasurednWhen It Is Down. As explained bynMichael G. Gartner, a member of thenPulitzer board, “I felt very leery ofnawarding a Pulitzer Prize, with all thenprestige it carries, to a performance nonone on the board had read or seen ornNOVEMBER 19871 53n