Wonderlands of the Avant-Garde: Technology and the Arts in Russia of the 1920s (Studies in Russian Literature and Theory (Hardcover))

Wonderlands of the Avant-Garde: Technology and the Arts in Russia of the 1920s (Studies in Russian Literature and Theory (Hardcover))

Julia Vaingurt

Language: English

Pages: 322

ISBN: 0810128942

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In postrevolutionary Russia, as the Soviet government was initiating a program of rapid industrialization, avant-garde artists declared their intent to serve the nascent state and to transform life in accordance with their aesthetic designs. In spite of their professed utilitarianism, however, most avant-gardists created works that can hardly be regarded as practical instruments of societal transformation. Exploring this paradox, Vaingurt claims that the artists’ investment of technology with aesthetics prevented their creations from being fully conscripted into the arsenal of political hegemony. The purposes of avant-garde technologies, she contends, are contemplative rather than constructive. Looking at Meyerhold’s theater, Tatlin’s and Khlebnikov’s architectural designs, Mayakovsky’s writings, and other works from the period, Vaingurt offers an innovative reading of an exceptionally complex moment in the formation of Soviet culture. 

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body, which is both animate and inanimate; mechanical and organic; solid yet constantly changing; subject to rules, yet capable of improvisation; an instrument, yet also a plaything. Similarly, Bakhtin emphasizes that the “grotesque body . . . is a body in the act of becoming. It is never finished, never completed; it is continually built, created, and builds and creates another body.”50 The grotesque body, with all its chaotic connotations, would seem to be far from the man-machine, but Gastev

desire for the new, a transgressive urge in the entropic world of OneState, which, insofar as everything worth wanting has officially been achieved, is “finished.” The possibility that his reader (whoever that might be) might have a different value system only intensifies D’s feeling of newness. Though D initially trusts that his values are the only correct ones, the implied otherness of a potential addressee leads him into a sort of dialogue with himself, the process of explaining the bases of a

readily concedes are stereotypical, indeed, which could not be otherwise. To what extent, then, do travelogues convey unadulterated firsthand impressions, as opposed to borrowing from received opinions on their subject? How fresh are impressions themselves, and how can we pinpoint the border between authentic and inauthentic experience? This distinction can be especially hard to make with regard to America, which, in Baudrillard’s formulation, is hyperreality, a utopia that behaves as if it has

I am amused by poets who base their poems on the pictures in bad American magazines.”63 The American miracle is a mystery, at once ostentatious and clandestine, into which only a few fortunate ones have been initiated: “The smoke evokes a feeling of mystery; beyond these buildings something so great and enormous is taking place it takes your breath away.”64 Why does Esenin harp upon the extent to which America outstrips Russian poets’ imaginings of it? Perhaps because for Esenin, American

potency of his vision. By giving concrete form to Mayakovsky’s abstract, cosmic imaginings, America congealed and reduced them. Having heard Mayakovsky read his “Brooklyn Bridge,” one American communist reminded him that the bridge was not only a device for reaching the stars, but also a site from which the despondent unemployed jumped into the river. Reprimanded, Mayakovsky immediately included a line to this effect into his otherwise celebratory poem.94 But the pinch of grim reality comes

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