Interview, photo: Ljubov Dzuzhynska

Glib Buriak – associate professor at the Ukrainian-American Concordia University

Share the most useless information that you know.
I know all the MVP NBA championships since the 50s, as well as the results of the finals and semi-finals of the Champions League, the names of the winners of the Golden Ball. All that information relating to sports. I have no idea why I need it, but for some reason, I remember it all. Very rarely do they ask this at “What? Where? When?“. I remember the best motion pictures of the year, the winners of the Oscars. What year were you born, Lena?

Who got the Oscar in 1991?

No, “The Godfather” is the 70s. But good try. In 1991 it was “Dances with Wolves”, and in 1992 – “Silence of the Lambs”. But it came out on the screen in 1991, so you were born when the best film was “Silence of the Lambs”. And in 1982  it was “Gandhi”. And there is lots more useless information in my head.

Do you know any useless information about the animal world?
I think everyone knows about the walrus penis, which is actually a bone. A giraffe at birth falls from the height of one and a half meters. Elephants sleep standing up. A pig has an orgasm lasting 30 minutes, but it does not feel pleasure from it.
For example, I know that, until the 17th century, male and female genitals were not considered as separate in medical treatises. As in, they were considered one body. And only from the 17th century, it was decided that these were different organs and that they should be treated differently. And the ancient Greeks had no division between men and women, such as ours, binary. They had two scales – “hot man” and “cold man”. Women were “cold” and men were “hot.” And intermediate states: “cold men”, “hot women”. And the heat was an indicator of civilization. Therefore, what the Greeks called Gymnasiums etymologically is a place where you are taught to be “naked.” I was so impressed, and I still think about it.

In which film, book, or cartoon reality would you like to live in?
Lots. Star Wars, of course. But it should be a city or place in the air, like in Star Wars or Howl’s Moving Castle. That’s super beautiful. “Blade Runner” seems to be a disgusting and a bad reality, but the classic “Blade Runner” by Ridley Scott was so beautiful. Therefore, there too. I also like “Avatar” very much. I even burst into tears on the moment when they flew into the garden of flying stones. It was insanely beautiful. In general, it is desirable for something to fly in the sky, a location that you can walk on. In terms of cartoons – Miyazaki, cyberpunk. Also a country of Fantasy in the children’s film “The Endless Story”. It was wonderful. I revised it, and I don’t want to go there anymore, it turned out to be such crap. But during my childhood, it seemed wonderful.

You love comic books. What kind of hero would you be? What superpower would you have?
Sandman with the Spider Jerusalem pistol [note: a shot from a gun relaxes the guts of the one whom the bullet hits – the target shits himself]. The coolest comic I read is “Sandman”. And the coolest hero – Spider Jerusalem from “Transmetropolitan”. He is a journalist, so he needs this power of looking for all the shit around and he finds it in people. Therefore, it seems to me that this is a very relevant superpower. Of the Marvel or DC comics, the only one I like is Batman, but this is the only superhero without an actual superpower.

Wealth as a superpower.
Tony Stark was also wealthy. But his superpower is a nuclear reactor in his chest.

Yes, but if he weren’t smart and rich then he’d have nothing.
By the way, Jordan Peterson describes the problems of Superman and why Superman lost his popularity and why the comic got rewritten. He was simply too cool, too strong, everything was too good for him and it really pushed people away. When you solve problems with the help of superpowers – this is a very bad step in literature. Like the sorts of “Piano in the bushes”, “God from the car”, “superpower of the hero”. Maybe in “Avengers: Endgame” something new will be shown to us. They will include this Captain Marvel, who is supposedly the most powerful hero in the universe. Maybe some cool superpowers will appear. Well, it will just be boring if she arrives, explodes everything and revives everyone. Batman would never do that. Therefore, Batman is interesting, and all the others are not.

Speaking of superheroes, what advice would you give to the president of our country?
Which one? The current one or the future one? My answer is boring and not funny. I’d advise one to leave with dignity, as possible as it is. To gather himself, step over the greed, deceit and so on, and try to stay in history beautifully. I would advise the second one to learn a lot and keep learning, to try to do something. It is somehow sad when a person has a low level. It’s not even about his height that we don’t laugh at. This is not about the number of unread books. This is about the ability to cope with stress. He says that he is ready for live broadcasting, and then you watch it and he is so unprepared, he is nervous, acts crazy, and hangs up the phone. This is unacceptable. If you cannot stand it now, then how will you endure 5 years, nonstop. You should have thick skin for something like this. Either you go crazy, or you rise above all. Look at the amount of shit thrown at Obama or Clinton. And all is fine, they now give lectures.

What is your favorite conspiracy theory?
Anatidafobiya is a phobia of the fact that somewhere in the world there is a duck that is watching you. This is a phobia/duck conspiracy theory against us.

The existence of what would you like to cancel?
Madonna. I think she messed up music. Madonna is the first musician who managed to become super popular without musical talent. She opened Pandora’s box. And after that, everything started: non-attractive people stopped singing, people without talent started singing.

What is the wisest thing you’ve ever heard?
Wise and not pretentious or just wise? Wise things are usually so pretentious. The wisest thing I’ve ever heard was, “don’t waste time on people who don’t value it.” That I do not do. A wise and not a pompous thing, ”obesity and hunger are 2 major problems of society”. This really explains human nature.

What’s the dumbest?
That people don’t change. Such nonsense. They change constantly. Everyone. Maybe not straight away, but we all grow and change. For some reason, everyone clings to some kind of past decision, action, and then they claim that in 1993 he cheated on a test, therefore, he is still a liar. Well, and Labkovsky’s books are also very silly. They’re a low point. Another very stupid thing I find is the message that says that people should live for the sake of happiness. “We must live happily,” or “we must strive for happiness” is a great folly. Who even decided that? Probably coaches with their workshops on happiness. Because I firmly believe that you need to live a life as full as possible, you need to seek a rich and interesting life, and this does not mean that you should be happy while doing so.

What is wrong with the modern world?
I just think that the world is always equally wrong. I once read a book by Lukian – an ancient Greek writer-satirist. He wildly condemned Alexander of Macedon, because he betrayed the ideals of his father Philip of Macedon, who is a true and real Greek, and Alexander is an empty place and a youngster. And you would think that our modern culture (plus or minus) is built on Alexander the Great, but at one point in time, he was despised and considered a worthless youth. Therefore, I think that everything is in order in the world, yet dissatisfied people are always present and they will always be. On the one hand, these people make changes Therefore, the world is all good and will be just as good. Or you can say that everything is bad and will be just as bad. It’s a constant movement. And I like it.

If you had the opportunity to go back in time with the knowledge that you have now and change something, what would you change and where would you go?
I’d return to my high school graduation when I was dating this one girl. I had a bottle of Baileys and during the entire graduation, I kept giving her drinks. We were 16 years old. As a result, she got terribly drunk the poor thing. The next day we went to a cottage, where I had the chance of getting lucky, but she did not go, because she felt sick. In general, I would like to return to this prom and cut down the Baileys consumption.

And if more globally?
I would’ve returned in 1993 and made an argument for Kravchuk to come to an agreement with Chernovol. We had a strong historical turn when Kravchuk appointed Prime Minister Kuchma and gave him extraordinary powers, and we actually fell into such a pit. From a country with the potential like Germany, we are now a country with the potential of Moldova. And this turnaround was during the reign of Leonid Danilovich Kuchma, with all these red directors, corruption, and all that swamp. And all because Kravchuk did not want to cooperate with the former communist Chernovol. He basically said: “I’m not sharing a table with this communist”. Kravchuk had to look for at least some support and he found it among these Dnepropetrovsk directors. I could return with the macroeconomic calculations of Ukraine from 1993 to 2019 and show Vyacheslav Chernovol “look where you are pushing it all”. And we would have a chance to build the Czech Republic here, or even Germany, we could build some astronomical country. I believe that this was a turning point – when they couldn’t agree. Well, 1999, my graduation, was still a bummer. I was young.

So 1999 or 1993?

What modern trend irritates you the most?
They all do. But maybe they are no longer modern. What are the current trends?

For example, from the area that you work in.
I am enraged by the democratization of education. Education is not a democracy. A student is an unhappy person. Just put up with it and learn. As soon as students begin to look for happiness in education and want to claim their rights, the education ends and the party and pastime begins.

Tell a funny or embarrassing situation from your teaching practice. For example, the note you’ve published, “Why I don’t sleep with female students”.
Well, there you have it. I wrote this article and did not think that a lot of people would read it. Then I left the Institute of International Relations for several years and when I returned, I taught several more courses. After the exams, one student wrote to me: “Gleb, thank you for the course. It was very interesting and informative. You know, we were looking forward to you teaching us after reading that article. And during your lectures, we were really wondering whether you were really that guy who didn’t sleep with the students”. But they admitted it to me after taking the exam. It was a good group, very pleasant students. I enjoyed working with them. The subject was absolutely superfluous – “Economic diplomacy”. It was also pleasant to hear that you read the subject interestingly, especially with a course name as stupid as that.
I avoid embarrassing situations. I don’t really have them. There were unpleasant situations associated with teachers. Funny ?! I had a colleague Vladimir Sergeyevich Morozov in my department who loves basketball and so do I. We had a bet that I would score the ball from above. I wasn’t a boy anymore and I wasn’t as good at jumping or running anymore. At that time I was 32 years old. So I began to train hard. Trained the jump. Trained for a week, two,  three. I was ready to score and then I twisted my neck. Couldn’t walk for a couple of weeks. I was all right eventually and everyone was alive and well. But it seems to me it was a very stupid idea, to make a bet at 32 that you could score the ball from above. I read a couple of lectures for Vladimir Sergeyevich, but he still trolls me. It was a matter of principle. Am I old or not old?! – Old.

If you could ask for anything and the answer would be “yes,” what would you ask for?
Chernovol in 1993. I want artificial intelligence to be kind and for it to win. Or, like in “Love, Death & Robots”, there was a great episode about yogurt’s smart bacteria. So I’d ask for the smart bacteria of yogurt to win, stay here, and to kindly and rightly rule us. Since we can’t do it on our own.

What question would you like to know the answer to?
I would like to know the general theory of physics, but nobody knows it. At the macro and at the micro level. To be able to explain everything.

What degree would you like to get apart from the ones you have?
I already have a degree. I don’t think that this is expressed in a scientific degree. I would like to teach at the Massachusetts University of Technology. Not even to teach, but to do research there. Also Stanford. Or in some advanced technological universities. But not just to teach, but I’d like them to collaborate with Ukrainian institutions. It seems to me that MIT and KPI are made for each other.

What should everyone try at least once in life?
Get scared to death: really to get scared in a way that it would be so terrifying that you would acknowledge that it doesn’t get worse than that.

Did you experience this?
Well yes. Feeling one’s own bottom. With memes, for example. Let’s say, you understand that this meme is your lowest point bottom, and there is no place further. I love black humor. The only jokes that are not funny to me are jokes about the famine. I am a believer and jokes about religion to me are ok, because it seems to me that God is kind and positive and he laughs at it all. If he gave us the Internet with memes, then he understood what he was doing. At the same time, jokes about apartheid and the Holocaust are sometimes funny to me. Therefore, when around Jews, I try not to joke about the Holocaust.

What would your inner void look like?
How I visualize it to myself – I’m some kind of bum, all abandoned, on the street in a cardboard box. But this is not a psychological bottom, but simply its expression. I think that I already had a period of intensified depression and it passed. I don’t even think that it was depression, but simply a period of growing up. Everyone goes through that: when you are afraid to try something, to give up something, and to move on. You get scared, you cross the obstacle and move on. Then everything happens easier and you stop being afraid. Like in boxing, at first it’s scary that you will get punched. It’s terribly scary. Because you think that your body is a temple that is inviolable. Every cut, every bruise upsets you very much. And then they punch you in the face and it turns out that you are not made of glass. In life, I think, it’s the same story. You are afraid and then it happens and nothing terrible happens afterward.

What is the most valuable lesson your parents have taught you?
Parents are always about unconditional love. It’s not like it’s something they’ve taught, but I’ve already accepted the fact that no one in your life will ever love you as much as your father and mother. That’s it, point blank. Therefore, there is no point in looking for such love and it’s not necessary. Speaking of what happiness is, my parents always pushed me towards the notion that there should always be a maximum number of events in one’s life. Do not stand still and saturate your life, regardless of where it leads, whether to good or bad. You need to try.

What is love to you?
Love is probably absolute trust and openness to one another.

Is it even possible? Like an ideal gas that does not exist in nature.
Just like love in its absolute. Perfect gas. Absolute vacuum. Absolute zero. It can still be sought.

Who is your favorite comedian?
I love Robin Williams very much. In movies – he is my favorite comedian. Recently, I really like Steve Carell. Generally, it’s very cool when a person starts as a comedian and then goes into a very deep dramatic role. Like Papanov or Nikulin in the Soviet cinema. And Jim Carrey and Robin Williams in American cinema. From funny to deep and dramatic. Are we not talking about politics now?! And so regarding my favorite stand-up comedians, whom I adore right now .. from the modern ones – Trevor Noah. He’s the one that now leads the Late Night Show instead of Stewart. Well, they are all in varying degrees of genius. Eddie Murphy’s ‘Raw’ – fantastic. But now I doubt we’d go see his show. I really liked Dylan Moran in Black Books. And his stand-ups are not so cool anymore. In terms of intelligence, probably Louis C. K. Very cool. Well, I love Steve Martin. But that is probably another generation of comedians.

If you could become the author of any of the existing books, which author would you be?
By importance – Homer “Iliad” and “Odyssey”. It all started from there. Probably in this sense, I envy Homer, who wrote the book on which all Western civilization is built. Religious books I would not want to touch, since they are, in theory, not written by a man. These are canonical writings that were inspired by the prophets. And, of course, I envy Cervantes. “Don Quixote”. He wrote it so interestingly. He hated knightley novels because he was captured by pirates and there was nothing to do. But there were piles of knightly novels, and he read them and they were all written in exactly the same way – the dragon kidnaps the beautiful lady, the knight goes to save her. There are dozens of such books because there were printing presses and people could write nonsense. It’s not like you had to manually write transcripts, you could just type it up. And he wrote a parody of all this nonsense. And the parody became one of the main novels in history.

And the writer, whom I envy in terms of writing, which for me is a model of literary skill, is Kurt Vonnegut. It seems to me that he is the coolest author. “Slaughterhouse Number Five”, “Cat’s Cradle”, I don’t even know what to grab, they are all so well-written, and in different ways. He seems to be writing in such a dry literary language, but it’s way more colorful than the Hemingway or Dovlatov. Dovlatov is very admired over here, but I think it’s too short handed. Vonnegut in its short handedness creates especially bright bursts. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s very cool.

A series of quick questions.
And these were not so quick?  enough?

If you could take yourself out, where would you invite yourself on the first date?
How can you answer that ?! Like, would I have sex with myself on the first date ?! I’m sure it would be mega boring. Well, that’s the worst date you can ever be on with a man you know entirely, with whom you always agree. A perfect date is something that you have never tried in your life, that is, it is something new, and at the same time, you have a great time. Okay, I never flew a glider, but I would like to try. What if it’s rocky and I would vomit while hanging on the glider. Although no, this is the perfect date. Vomiting on a hang glider. Like “Singing in the Thorns” and vomiting on a glider. Great date. That is something to remember. Dad, how did you meet mom?

If you could have sex with anyone, who would it be?
Besides me? Kim Basinger in “My Stepmother is an Alien” and all the female models in George Michael’s – Freedom! ’90 music video.

And if you were a woman, then what men would you choose?

If you could go back in time then where would you go?
Ancient Greece. Athens, Acropolis. That would be very interesting and I’d like to go there; how it was all built, developed, all those street meetings, naked men. Or maybe even Mesopotamia or Babylon even.

Would you take a first aid kit with you?
There wasn’t such an amount of germs back then. They didn’t really need a first-aid kit. If I had brought my microbes there, they would have all died out. All those microorganisms were less developed.
Imagine the situation: I go to Ancient Greece, infect all Greeks, the whole culture dies out. Excellent job Gleb, well done.

The paradox of the killed grandfather.

Who would you like to talk to among any existing person, dead or alive?  
Imagine you’re in a spacesuit like: “Dude, I do not want to infect you, you are just very close to me”. Today is the Cosmonautics Day, and, of course, I would like to hold Sergei Pavlovich Korolev. I think he is an outstanding person. Tesla, of course. Although I am not sure that they would be interested in talking to me, I would be very interested in talking to them. I would really like to ask Nikolo Machiavelli about the “The Prince” – whether all of these recommendations apply only to the sovereigns or to every single person too. Did he know that the valet parking guy at Khreshchatyk would read his book and think that in general “the end justifies the means”?

If you were a car, which one?
Wrangler. But I flattered myself. My first car was Niva. But to make it a tiny bit prettier I will describe myself as a Jeep Wrangler.

If you were an animal, which one?
Giraffe. At birth, I’d fall from the height of one and a half meters. I think this is a start of victory.

If you were an invention, which one?
For some reason, the moonshine machine still comes to mind. Maybe the printing press? No? I’ve already said the moonshine machine. Both inventions are very important.

What object would you be?
An alarm clock. This is the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning.

What advice would you give to humanity?
Not my advice, but I would give it too, to everyone. It’s a piece of advice from a professor of moderate development to save the planet. Everyone is concerned about saving the planet, right? He was asked: “What should be done to save the planet?”. – “Only three things: develop critical thinking, build horizontal connections and consume only what you need.
Listen to each other, communicate with each other and build connections. Because purely critical thinking is not enough. No use of critical thinking if you’re alone with it, hence you have to build horizontal connections, but it’s not enough on its own either. Without the two being together it won’t work.

What question would you like to hear at an interview and what would your answer be?
Who is your hairstylist, Gleb? – Vitya, hello.
I promised, on Aristocrats, to send greetings to Anton Travkin, but this won’t be published on  Aristocrats though. Well, I don’t know, maybe “what is your favorite wine, Gleb?”. “What movie are you waiting for the most this year?”. “What kind of music would you recommend to our readers?” – Miles Davis ‘Water Babies”. Such a good album from the 60s, I opened him for myself anew. Kicks in full swing. Generally, Miles Davis is love. The dude opened three completely different directions in jazz. It is like cubism, realism, and impressionism. And one artist came up with all of it.

What are some of your favorite music videos?
George Michael – Freedom! ’90 – it’s a celebration of some sorts. I think he developed this aesthetic in me since childhood.
Michael Jackson – Black Or White
Rammstein – Deutschland – a super cool video from the new ones.

Whose concert would you never miss?
Daft Punk. I don’t know how to make it to one though, they give very few concerts, and announce them at the last moment. It’s like, guys if you happen to be here – we’re performing. U2, The Rolling Stones seem not to be relevant any longer. Both resemble a museum of wax. Some more, others less. But Daft Punk are super cool, super smart, super fresh. I would really like to see Radiohead. And Nick Cave. Skeleton Tree is a beautiful album. His son tragically died while he was recording the album. Cave did not give any comments, no press releases. The band delayed the release date of the album for several months because he decided to implement his feelings through creativity. And the album is very painful, yet incredibly beautiful. He had a tragedy, and we received good art. I’d walk by foot to see Nick Cave perform.

Also watch “Love, Death & Robots”. It’s great. Bless Netflix!

Translation: Elena Savlokhova