Late Soviet stagnation, Moscow. Alyosha – a writer who suffers from fits accompanied by memory loss – admits himself to a psychiatric institute for experimental treatment.
Inspired by Ivan the Terrible’s “Memorial Book of the Disgraced” and his own spiritual crisis, Alyosha has been trying to record the memories of people in his life who “died before their time, leaving nothing behind except in my memory”. In hospital, however, he changes tack and decides to dedicate his Memorial Book to the memories of the elderly patients in his ward, described to him as alumni of the early-Soviet Institute for Natural Genius. This plan, however, is hijacked by one patient who tells him a story that reaches even further back into the past of the Russian Revolution. He learns about the philosopher, Nikolai Fyodorov, who believed humanity’s greatest task was to physically resurrect its dead ancestors, and Madame de Staël who, through supernatural means, became the midwife of the Bolshevik Revolution and a lover of, among others, Fyodorov, Scriabin and Stalin.
"Before and During" makes for a fantastical and satirical retelling of Russian history, one that is rich in the philosophical and historiosophic legacy of Russian literature.