Founded in 2005, Translit is a literary-critical anthology, publishing outfit and community of artists, poets, philosophers and humanities scholars. The editors of the anthology aim to bring forward various fields of confrontation in contemporary literary theory and the literary process. The first issue was devoted to the gender framework of poetry; the second to the “role of personality” in poetics; the third to the forms and features of the co-production of texts and reality; the fourth sought to investigate the forms of contemporary poetry’s social being in the context of its (poetry’s) secularization. The fifth issue asked the question, “Who is speaking?”, which nowadays implies a mapping of the intra-poetic (narratological) registers of speech production, as well as inevitably necessitating an investigation into the interrelationship of the speaking subject with instantiations of language and ideology. The following double issue (6/7) was devoted to investigation into the contingencies and obstacles involved in a transition from the rejection of the non-aesthetic (“everyday life”, byt) towards the active appropriation of this non-classical material. This process assumes a reassessment of aesthetic methods and is to a certain extent capable of leading to the transformation of art’s social functions as well. The latest, eighth issue of Translit presents an attempt to view literature as anthropological experience, cultural institution and social practice. The authors emphasize that they are primarily interested in the “transition from the investigation of literary facts belonging to an aesthetic series, to the analysis of the interactions between series and, first and foremost, between art and the socially political context”.
Translit has published texts by authors including the writers Anton Ochirov, Roman Osminkin, Kirill Medvedev, Aleksandr Skidan, Valery Nugatov, Andrei Rodionov, Andrei Sen-Senkov, Dmitry Golynko-Volfson, Marianna Geide, Alla Gorbunova, Maria Stepanova, Gali-Dana Zinger, Daria Sukhovei and Evgeny Rits; the philosophers Keti Chukhrov and Aleksandr Smuliansky; and the scholars Pierre Bourdieu, Jean Ray, Tatiana Venediktova, Igor Chubarov, Ilya Kalinin and Sergei Ermakov
In december 2013 - January 2014 was prepared #14 [Translit]
Pragmatics and Literature
Just as in ordinary language a certain number of assertions constitute the completion of an action in addition to the act of utterance, so many literary techniques aspire to the status of phenomena valuable in and of themselves, beyond mere representation (cf. Mayakovsky, “To write not about war, but to write by and through war”). These phenomena not only carry significant illocutionary force, but often an entirely palpable perlocutionary effect as well (cf. Kharms, “Poems should be written in such a way that if you throw a poem at a window, the glass will break”). The subject who makes a performative assertion is assumed to have a specific kind of authority and to make the assertion in a specific situation; in just the same way, the poet is the product of the specific authority of poetic utterance and is more than sensitive to the situation, not being ceaselessly and tacitly a poet (Pushkin, “And among the inconsequential children of this earth/Perhaps he is more inconsequential than all the rest./But when the Divine word/does reach his keen ears…”). Twentieth-century analytic philosophy realized that one can “do things with words,” while the “poets’s words” have long been intuitively equated to “his/her deeds” without any sort of theoretical underpinnings.
What is traditionally understood as “pragmatics” in linguistics and analytic philosophy — the view of the utterance as “successful” or “unsuccessful” (instead of the category of “truthfulness” or “falsity” in relation to facts and the internal consistency of the utterance) — was also at one time scandalous. The functions of language have been correlated to literature through hermeneutics and structuralism, but never through the pragmatic philosophy of language. An investigation of the pragmatics of the literary utterance (similar to linguistic’s turn toward pragmatics and away from semantics and syntax) should refuse to examine the correspondence between the “depicted” and “extraliterary” worlds and also reject obsessive intertextual neuroses, in order to focus on the act, the gesture, the move made by means of the literary utterance and the realization of the text in a concrete situation. It should also address the question of what position the utterance occupies within the space of literature and in relation to other such manifestations, as well as what effect it seeks to have beyond the borders of that space.
Traditionally, literary theory concerned itself with what is actually said in literature; meanwhile, the analysis of illocutionary meaning (what action is carried out in the word) and particularly perlocutionary effect (what kind of effect is had), including in the broader (social) sense, usually boiled down to just bringing in confused biographical material or sociological constants. Because of this disregard of the rhetorical aspects of language, “pure literary value” conflicted with or was randomly connected to “usefulness”/ “practical value” — educational, didactic or directly utilitarian — but was never understood as action or as something in and of itself directed toward concrete effect.
We find another predecessor of the pragmatic viewpoint, one focused even more on literature, in the so-called “Bakhtin circle” (Voloshinov, Yakubinsky, Medvedev), with its “metalinguistics” project.
Unlike the Oxford school of analytic philosophy, here the utterance is not equated to the isolated speech act, which is initiated by an autonomous subject. Instead, it always discovers in itself traces of the views or words of some other — it is fraught, if you will, with the dialogic. Likewise, literary invention appears in response to another (preceding) invention, usually in order to challenge it. This reveals its immersion in a completely polemical context, in the perspective both of art history and its present organization. The pragmatic gesture is directed toward preceding modes of operation in literature and simultaneously seeks to overtake contemporaries and address itself to a newly invented audience.
Historical pragmatics and co-situational pragmatics. Since it is neither a calculable cell of genre morphology nor the product of an individual creative will, the event of the literary utterance directs the pragmatic task in both the diachronic redetermination of the generic system, and in the more localized co-situation of the poetic utterance. However, like the word in the metalinguistic project, the literary work is less a natural extension of the author’s body than something strung on pragmatic threads pulled between significant precedents of the utterance. Without taking these directed and oppositional qualities into account, it is basically impossible to identify the orientation of the literary work, to understand the text as an utterance (speech act).
Bakhtin stipulates more than once that the utterance, which is directed not so much at its own subject as toward others’ speech about it, constitutes a unit of scientific and artistic communication as well as ordinary and everyday communication (the former being stable forms of speech genres, mediated by social activity). Poststructuralist reception of Bakhtin’s theory reduced these discursive interactions to the textual (in which utterances neutralize each other in the shared synchronic card-catalogue, although written responses to other texts are obviously not the same as speech acts responding to other speech acts). With the pragmatics of the artistic utterance, the accent must be shifted from the reference to the gesture made by the speaker (Bakhtin’s circle affirmed the “cultural” (ideological) as something equal to the signifier, given in actions). Here the library metaphor has to be replaced by a theatrical one.
Thus pragmatics is yet another artistic and methodological move toward an externalized understanding of the artistic utterance (not the text itself, but the conditions and circumstances of its realization, included in the course of its production).
Just as meaning in language is only the potential for meaning in a specific context, literary facts are something fabricated in practice (something obscured by such writing pragmatics as the address to “eternity”), and the meaning of a literary work is its actual mode of operation and the revealed response. Finally, the analytic formula “meaning as use” correlates directly with Genette’s conditionalist criterion of literariness. This means that even one and the same literary technique can in different situations appear as different pragmatics of the utterance (the ascetic style as a consequence of depletion of the rhetorical tradition, as in Robbe-Grillet, or as a stake in the radical transformation of social communication, as in Literature of the Fact).
In this way, pragmatics is not the “what?” or even the “how?” of literature, but “how does it work?” (including in the sense of “how powerfully?”). With the turn to the practical, we are inevitably confronted with materiality. Institutions and communities, tools and technologies will also play a role. We can see the effect on literary pragmatics that comes out of media conditions (the difference between poetic utterances in a poem written for a private album vs. for mass publication), but we should not forget about the potential for poetic actions’ figurality, which lets us examine the “suicidal quality” of Mandelstam’s poems, or texts written in prison, as speech acts made in a specific autonomous way.
Sociology re-conceptualized things as independent reality — not merely passively signifying, but also actively acting — by anatomizing the mechanics of scientific discovery. Meanwhile, the actor-network approach to literary scholarship can demonstrate how — and with the help of which technical-rhetorical and institutional-organizational efforts — “literary discoveries” are achieved and what material and figural qualities of the sign were employed as agents in the production of literary facts.
In other words, if we understand pragmatics as a disciplinary lens (not yet a mode of operation inherent in literature itself1), then it demonstrates a fairly synthetic method, one that takes into account the logic of symbolic capital, purely textual devices for the production of meaning, the analysis of technique and the dimensions of the individual author’s accomplishment. Pragmatics is not a revision of the schoolroom question “what was the author trying to say here?”; rather, it is an attempt to grasp what act of utterance (l’énonciation) the author is actually making, at times despite that which is said (énoncé), and what gesture is being made in writing [A. Smuliansky, “The utterance as action and as act”]. The author’s individual intention is not important (likewise his/her explicit declarations regarding this intention). Instead, what is significant is the totality of conditions of the given literary-political situation and the given audience (including the social distance between them) that determined the construction of the utterance, as well as precisely how the writing itself completes the given action.
The task of pragmatics is not to lock texts into the economic statistics of the publishing industry, but to see in them the chess-game logic in which only those things are valuable whose modes of operation are different from the others [I. Kravchuk, “The novel as social gesture: preliminary notes toward a pragmatics of early Dostoevsky”]. That which is impossible to discuss in economic terms should be examined from the point of view of wordplay on the social scale. When the class position of the artist is no longer considered relevant (because of the reshuffling of class logic itself), there still remain various moves to be made in the social space of literature and epistemological bets to be placed [D. Bresler / A. Dmitrenko, “Throwing life-giving “seeds”: the pragmatics of repeated use of verbal raw material in Vaginov’s notebooks”].
The situation today in art is such that it is no longer possible to determine “what is art” according to purely external features — one and the same action might be art or not art. Precisely for this reason, we are usually interested in art which, as a consequence of external conditions, conceals a certain epistemological schism within itself: for instance, art that denies the existence of construction and completely dedicates itself to the material, but meanwhile has systematic and obvious recourse to the deformational features of language and/or sophisticated rhetorical resources. Or cases in which art insists on one thing (the object) while deriving its whole effect from something else (the visual) [P. Arsenev, “Literature of Emergency State”].
Regardless the mass of communicative-utilitarian terminology when talking about pragmatics, our attention to the topic is not an attempt to call for or to shove literature into some kind of suspicious “effectiveness,” but rather to discover those actions that literature itself “does with words” [I. Gulin/N. Baitov, “How to do things with the reader using words”]. Just as linguistic meaning emerges in the world of human activity in connection with the aims and interests of speakers, in literature the “world of action” is not opposed to any construction, but rather makes possible its creation.
Where we find (artistic) utterances, we also find relationships (including social ones). How literature imagines them, what kind of action it feels it should take within them or with them — is this action in the more metaphorical cognitive sense, or the social-externalized performative sense? How does the appearance of these relationships and the selected mode of action enter into the actual procedure of writing (it would seem, something that has remained unchanged over the centuries)? What happens with the pen — is it really equal to the sword, or does it get transfixed by the whiteness of the paper?
In another sense, we are also interested in the modes of operation within literature that are characterized by calls for simplicity of language. What is the real pragmatics of texts that ask to be called “simple,” “folk” or appeal to such values [P. Seriot, “The people’s language”]? How do they conceptualize themselves? Should they use language like that of Roland Barthes’ “woodcutter,” or have recourse to more sophisticated attempts to “escape language” and the mediation of the sign [A. Montlevich, “Fact as fetish: instead of a name”]? In other words, what myths and models of its own language are created by this kind of literature?
There is an even simpler case of this passion combining with real participation in politics (liberation- or oppression-oriented). When authors lay out their pragmatics, having completely identified themselves with one or another political force
[N. Azarova, “On the addressee, discursive boundaries and Subcomandante Marcos”], can we always suspect this pragmatics of antisemiotism? But what is the pragmatics of those texts that do not seem to be totally ignorant of the demands of politics and do not oppose them openly, but simultaneously select that type of “politicization” that flourishes far from the noise of the streets [T. Nikishina, “Discourse in the perspective of ecriture”]?
How, then, is pragmatics connected with politics overall — the most immediate, public and civic politics, as well as that of literature itself (but still — politics as struggle)? And what is the connection between these two kinds of politics and literature’s own connection with that which brings it into action and which actions it brings itself to (is the strong civic tradition connected with the strong national institution of literature?) [J. Rancière, “Mute speech”]?
The translation of Rancière analyzes the classical description of literature’s mode of operation as “the expression of the Zeitgeist,” like any other linking of the “work with the necessity of which it is the expression.” The chapter from Mute speech given here addresses this particular remnant of literature’s participation in a certain processuality/duration, including in the sense that “the object of its examination is something distinct from poetics — the external relation of literary works to institutions and morals, rather than their value.”
Art that understands itself as consequence and art that understands itself as cause. Is there more pragmatics in one or is the pragmatics just different in both cases (is it measured quantitatively or qualitatively1)? For instance, what happens with the writing methods themselves or with a pre-determined understanding of them in the case of texts “written in blood”? What happens to the supposedly independent object when it reveals traces of participation in one or another communicative game [N. Mironov et al., “Texts which cannot be judged by ‘purely aesthetic criteria’”]?
In the final account, pragmatics sort of leaps away from method (methods of examining literature) to the practice of literature itself (the viewpoint infects the doing), and thus it is impossible to establish a precise borderline between the viewpoint and the object.
Proceeding from all the above, this issue of Translit forces us into repeating a phrase very familiar in the humanities context: “this is more of an attempt to pose the right questions than to give answers,” which also goes for the “dialogic” quality of the materials included: collective authorship, interviews, polls. Furthermore, the issue includes illustrations from a Samara-based project involving artists and architects. The illustrations present functional models of various poetics: the poetic machines of the Lianozovo school, metarealism, conceptualism, direct utterance and the new epic come equipped — instead of manual instructions from the producer — with the reflected vision of a geographical and professional other, reported speech that penetrates and mixes with the machinery of these poetic languages [A. Ulanov, “Working models of poetic festivities”].
1. Furthermore, one could voice the reservation that not all literary works are characterized by equally obvious pragmatics; but the Formal method was, after all, more appropriate to some texts than others.
Translated by Ainsley Morse
Poetry selections (Translit 14)
1. Galina Rymbu
* * *
the all-elucidating blood of animals
politics: animals in a hut deciding how to be
a breeze in the hair of darkskinned animals
the belly cries of white elephants
moving within economic systems,
shedding skin, dropping fur
the critique of pure reason cleft by claw
sex acts in the lagoon, dark liquid, sobs…
death on the knife-edge of memory
the old leader in a heated coffin carried through the Siberian steppe
darkblue doublets bear fragmentary traces of the hunt, the savage flowering of phonemes
sensual wounds on warm flesh in the muffled consciousness of a gadfly
in the cold winters we gathered on our own
phoned absent friends from the hut
created a forest of soviets, harems of regimes
and only one made it out alive
ethics: they want to eat
finishing in dead signs
2. Khamdam Zakirov
Sense of the world at 5.15, Finland time
Last night I slept waking constantly, or even didn't sleep at all,
taking note of the dawning outside the window that came with changes of pose.
I dreamed of Navalny in a small northern town,
he was walking around and asking passers-by:
“Hey man! How are things around here? Should we come immigrate?
It's OK, not that many of us will come: it is known that 40% of all Tajik men
live in Moscow, plus the same number of women, also children and old people,
and their president manages the Russian border guards, no one else left for him to order around.”
Afterwards I dreamed of some poet talking about weight loss and
the pointless kilometers he's covered, some musician on food preparation,
some litterateur on the changed image of the average Muscovite,
some journalist on closing the southern borders and opening the western ones,
or this old acquaintance of mine, once a hip poetess,
now writing articles blind with hatred,
newly a jew- and homo-phobe, having long since sniffed out who's who behind the scenes,
Orthodox protectress of the Muslims, bitter enemy of the gay liberals, lesbo blasphemers etc.,
and all the while a lioness of the scene, selling off her couture dresses worn once or twice
and swearing as she stumbles over a new-laid Sobyanin flagstone...
Then I woke up and repeated to myself over and over: you need to stop reading facebook,
you need to stop reading facebook, you need... You need to read,
it's better to ruin your eyes and brains with books, I said to myself, then sat down
to write all this down and entitle it “My Facebook newsfeed is replacing my dreams.”
But not you, my love, although you weren’t there.
3. Nikita Sungatov
* * *
realpolitik on the picture
and know that he who fell like ash to earth
slums awash in flames
who was so long oppressed
the quotes open the loss
pieces of earth knock against the concrete
he will stand taller than the great mountains
you take off your dress we go to the theater
catharsis was experienced there
given wings by bright hope
together striding gladly forth,
together we sing in chorus, of course!
4. Kirill Adibekov
And life was real, it was summer, the tower, the clock on the tower, birds walked along the clock's orbit, conversations about parachutes, the park for culture and recreation. Moscow, other capitals, structures, herds in the fields, thoughts of war.
promenade along the embankment, opposite the south Moscow side,
the water in two, in three hours
through the islands and all enormous Moscow,
à pas lentes
Tverskaya with the crosses and banners –
a religious promenade, graced
with the goodwill of the sovereign.
Tverskaya – the clear air of a Sunday
the onerous rheumatism
of an alley in the very
center of the summer city.
Further – a railing, further –
a cathedral; a run along the boulevards, further on the river.
The horizontal line of water and red
Motionless, in squares – your canonical face of a Madonna.
Momentary forms. Silence. Laughter. A tall cold building. The hard
soft scent of firewood. 27, morning. Or the tenth, the pink light fading
above the arch, on
the steep wall
here there is only the horizontal line of river, the horizontal line of the bed, the vertical
line of the belltower, in the distance. Here there is only light
through unabashed blinds.
5. Gleb Simonov
the inevitable land of three
beyond the unnamed pass —
needing itself as little
in slow streams
waiting for a white clean wind
from windless places,
not speaking to each another
sit at a distance
for their interpreters.
Translated by Ainsley Morse
In may 2013 was published #13 [Translit]
The school of language
What is poetry’s relationship to language? The question might seem rhetorical, but try to come up with even just two answers: you’ll quickly conclude that these answers will necessarily be mutually exclusive theories of the sign (as well as an economy of speech, a topology of language, a politics of the referent and the political economics of poetry as an institution). Thus any answer to this question is doomed to bear this rhetorical and plural character. You could say that poetry is never harmed by attention to (its) language, but at the same time many — from the naïve reader to the most sophisticated avant-garde programs — have sought in poetry a certain transitiveness, which to some extent contradicts the imperative of “being analytical” (existing for non-referentional writing)1.In any case, since it simultaneously constitutes the required nutrient medium and a great danger for poetry, this attention to language threatens to make poetry into an intellectual pursuit, excessively complicated and not at all “warm and fuzzy.” And this problem is directly relevant to a school of poetry that calls itself the Language School. But even so, language-centric poetry also represents a stance in the old dispute over craft vs. thought, which has long been hashing itself out in poetry and other art forms. And this language-centric line has always been linked to reflection (methodologically), to the essay form (generically), to theory (disciplinarily), and to the discourse community (institutionally). In this sense, we are dealing with poetry that is unequivocally and primarily avant-garde.
Like any avant-garde art form, the only thing this poetry does not question is questioning its own origins — material and media-based, social and ideological. Attention (which amounts to suspicion) to the medium in every sense, from the most corporeal (breath and voice, for Olson), including the traditional and therefore inconspicuous (paper, for Ogurtsov), and all the way to the electronic (new media, for Perloff). And under no circumstances should we forget about the (semiotic) micro-level of the medium: this poetry follows Mallarmé’s irrevocable imperative that “poetry is not written with ideas, but with words.” The Russian Formalists called it the self-containedness and self-sufficiency of the word; Bakhtin called it the word’s dialogic quality and heteroglossia; Lacan called it the approach to the symbolic (“everything that this word wishes to say comes down to the fact that it is nothing other than a word”): whatever the name, it is directed “against transparency, instrumentality and direct readability.” “Poetic language is not a window to look through, a transparent glass pointing to something outside itself, but a system of signs with its own semiological “interconnectedness.” To put it another way, “language is material and primary, and what’s experienced is the tension and relationship of letters and lettristic clusters, simultaneously struggling towards, yet refusing to become, significations.”2 And if it’s come to this (to being materialists), then we should acknowledge the thinking and production of poetry as dependent primarily on the medium (from semiotic to material) as the means of consolidating, preserving and exchanging signs. This materialism of the signifier makes Mallarmé and the Lettristes bigger Marxists than the apologists for vulgar sociology.
Poetry conceived spatially3 supposes that “the empirical experience of a grapheme replaces what the signifier in a word will always try to discharge: its signified and referent,” while poetry that reflects upon its own media-based origins extends to include investigations of poetic speech and experiments with it in new media (“for those ‘communolects’ now have everything to do with the one revolution that really has occurred in our own time — namely, the habitation of cyberspace”).4
But, as we have said, this is poetry wedded to theory. Not only the movement, but a whole journal carrying the proud name of language (L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E) brought together “contemporary ‘innovative’ poetry with the ‘new’ rapprochement between poetry and theory.” Like any rapprochement, this one provoked suspicion — that the fundamental task of demystifying “the referential fallacy of language” is more linguistic and philosophical than poetic, that this was experimental overkill whereby poetry would become a “bland cottage industry, designed for those whose intellect was not up to reading Barthes or Foucault or Kristeva.”5 A critique of the actual contemporary condition of poetry, yet one lying outside of “actual poetic tasks.” But what kind of essentialist definition can poetry have, if it’s still-poetry, and what is no-longer-poetry? Whether this is “poetry tortured by reflection” or released from that burden, nevertheless poetry “cannot be too far out of step with the other discourses — philosophical, political, cultural — of its time,” and will go on existing in this context. “The suture of poetry is removed from philosophy, leaving the poetry itself with a scar of theory: the ‘Century of Poets’ is superseded by the era of language” [S. Ogurtsov, “Besides bodies and languages”].
But still, what does the name of language poetry name? “‘Language poetry’ names the crisis of understanding language,” and this sets off a chain reaction touching on several neighboring theoretical areas.
One example is a topic very important for LS, translation — both between disciplinary languages and from one national language to another, such that the “summary area [of each language] expands out into uninvestigated territories” [E. Hocquard, “Blank spots”]. Perhaps we still consider the line in Russian poetry, “the mere mention [of which] thrust defenders of the ‘academy,’ observers of certain publications, protectors of ‘New Formalism’ or poetry of ‘the pine needle and home sweet home’ into paroxysms of idiosyncrasy,”6 to be a valuable link in the chain of translation, constituting a valuable cultural import — an agent of meaning absent and forgotten in the Russian-language universum. In the spring of 2013, however, a publication with incomprehensible texts and a majority of non-Russian names among its published authors can be identified as a “foreign agent,” pure and simple. This is why we decided not to limit the number of translated texts in this issue.
Among the transformations elicited by the crisis of the sign, of equal importance are those that impact reception. We see “a major alteration in textual roles: of the socially defined functions of writer and reader as the productive and consumptive poles respectively of a commodital axis,” while “the text becomes the communal space of a labour.” In step with the first avant-garde, LS puts perceptual responsibility on the receiver, thereby opposing art that mystifies by delivering a finished product. In this way “reading” becomes “an alternative or additional writing of the text.” But emancipating reception without taking on the attendant obligations in the collective production of meaning means that this emancipation can be misinterpreted: “any reading is a good reading.” However, one more rule stays on as a security guarantee: “read semiotically, not referentially.” Language understood après Marx and Wittgenstein forces us to discard “referentiality as a disorienting search for the pot at the end of the rainbow, the commodity or ideology that brings fulfillment.”7 Thus one of the main lessons to be learned from the “school of language” lies in the fact that the politics of utterance can lie beyond the referential plane, which ordinarily limits our understanding of the political in poetry.
This issue will inevitably conflict with the expectations of those who’ve grown used to understanding leftist poetry as a story about or call to revolution8. Language poetry is not about the intention to make the language of poetry complicated, so that “ordinary people” can’t understand it. It is rather an attempt to examine “ordinariness” or “naturalness” itself, as something that is organized and not very simple at all (one of these models can be found in Bernstein’s estranged retelling, “I look straight into my heart and write the exact words that come from within”)9. Supposedly opposed to “direct utterance,” this model can be of service to social communication as well. Yes, this is a rupture of lively communication as fraught with ideological transmission, but also rupture for the sake of restoration (of the conditions) of new communication — a transition from another kind of syntax to another kind of social relations, a new social syntax. This is a political critique of language developed in poetry.
“In experimental poetry, the aesthetic search is isomorphic to the social search” (L. Hejinian). As Marjorie Perloff notes in a critical response to the movement, LS “poetics had a strong political thrust: it was essentially a Marxist poetics that focused, in important ways, on issues of ideology and class.” A politics as old-school as they come, one that takes into account the linguistic procedures of political subjectivization (Althusser), but that has not yet dissolved “the universalism of critical leftist thought” into the practice of “particularist discourses of gender, race and nation,”10 and is moreover fertilized by good old Party-style self-criticism. At the same time, in some respects the politics of LS look entirely Foucauldian,11 hanging between the industrial and the post-industrial.
In any event, it’s time to move forward. Since even politics has now long been “not public, but mass-media-based” and “the very status of knowledge and thought in the new social-symbolic order remains unclarified,” we must now “rethink the function of language in the cognitive everyday, not denying the linguistic nature of our corpo-reality.” In his essay, Sergey Ogurtsov develops a media-based and institutional critique of poetry, in particular, (post-) language poetry itself (“Identifying itself with text, poetry simultaneously drops out of the generative procedure of art and finds itself dependent on the material fate of text as information medium,” and critical writing turns into creative writing). Only by analyzing the material foundations of poetry [R. Silliman, “Political economy of poetry”] is it possible to take poetic hubris down a peg, and to see poetry’s dependence on the non-reflexive forms of existence. Consequently, it becomes possible to annul the contract with fixed forms in order to save the name or essence itself of poetry (historical consciousness and conceptual thinking) — “to drag it out of its own fragments” (the linear writing with which poetry identifies itself) and readdress it to a different practice, which we could call the self-critical reconceptualization of truthfulness. The (old) politics gets criticized through language poetry, while the fixation on language gets criticized through a politics of truth.
To arrive at a full understanding of the “typically samizdat” experience of the avant-garde, we need to not only study its institutional organization in academic articles — we should also strive to regenerate its basic impulse by precisely duplicating its writing and self-organization in practice. Sometimes it can be productive to try to adapt a foreign past to our own present moment,12 to apply the direct experience of a community in “leading position” (literally, the avant-garde) to a developing community (as we can see in the dialogue between Natalia Fyodorova and Charles Bernstein). To a certain extent, this issue of [Translit] is not so much an exercise in literary historiography as in self-reflection and reconnaissance of our community. Regardless of the fact that it might seem subordinated to a very particular topic and its strangely amorphous title, this issue actually gathers together all of our recurring themes (language, media, the relationship between reality and writing, the author and the text, the sociology and anthropology of literature, the politics of utterance, theories of subjectivity and the community, the history of creative work understood through communism). But — again — we need to move forward.
“There exists no separate truth-procedure called “poetry” – there is only art.” The crisis of the media and institutions with which poetry-art was once identified allows us to rediscover “poetry” anew, but on new grounds. This is not necessarily a “transition to a Gesamtkunstwerk of the multimedia, not even rejection of text as such. <Instead, we uncover> an organization of the language of poetry on other foundations, which are connected to the new understanding of language in its subordination to the grammar of truths.” This grammar constantly modifies its structures according to models of non-linguistic language operations (first and foremost, those of visual art)” (S. Ogurtsov).
In light of these intersections, this issue of [Translit] is paired with a collective exhibition, which presents works that draw together discursive and figurative experiments (see the works of the participants on color pages). Undergoing its third birth, the avant-garde discovers its inborn traits: generic transgression and movement past the boundaries of the work, self-criticism of the medium and utopian overtones, transformation of the modality of participation and re-socialization. In this nearly predictable order, accent on the hermetic form gives way to inroads of social activism: after the battle is lost, the war with the dominant is continued, and activism returns to the abandoned laboratories of emancipation and begins working towards the next phase in the reinvention of its cognitive arsenal. One of the characteristic constellations of this moment is the rapprochement of the plastic and the rhetorical. The trajectories of art-instead-of-philosophy (a long-described phenomenon) and of poetry that pushes toward understanding itself spatially are finally at risk of intersecting. The bankruptcy of logocentrism forces the most sensitive of today’s “artists of the word” to come to terms with adjacent materials and techniques; meanwhile, visual art, which has long sought an acceptable code for self-description, can only be of service to the school of language.
1. “Poetry is more than the direct voicing of personal feeling and/or didactic statement…poetry, far from being transparent, demands re-reading rather than reading, [it is] News that Stays News.”
2. McCaffery, quoted in [M. Perloff, “After Language Poetry: Innovation and its theoretical discontents”]. See this issue.
3. “The poem is distributed across the page...” [K. Korchagin, “Distributed speech: extension and fractionality in Dragomoschenko poetry”].
4. M. Perloff.
5. “The feeling/intellect split had probably never been wider.” M. Perloff. All above quotes from McCaffery (SUP), quoted in M. Perloff.
6. A. Dragomoshchenko, “Slepok dvizheniia,” in NLO No. 113 (2012), http://magazines.russ.ru/nlo/2012/113/d33.html
7. All above quotes from McCaffery (SUP), quoted in M. Perloff.
8. Though even in these two options language begins to conduct itself differently, which fact ought to attract more attention than the referent, which remains unchanged.
9. Cf. Wittgenstein who refused to distinguish between ordinary and non-ordinary languages, considering “ordinary” to be sufficiently “strange”.
10. [S. Ogurtsov, “Besides bodies and tongues”]. Mullen speaks ironically of her dark-skinned fellow students, who asserted that while it was normal for white poets to reject “the voice,” for them it was not – since they had need of “their own subjectivity.”
11. In his 1981 essay “Constitution / Writing, Politics, Language, the Body,” Bruce Andrews describes politics as “a struggle for norms over the body,” and the politics of writing as “a politics of the body,” where “reason is a part of the body,” and “experience is always experience of the body.” Правильно ли я поняла «фукиански»?
12. The political essays of Michel de Certeau, written in the fall of 1968 and dedicated to the “acquisition of speech,” coincide to a surprising extent with the political intuitions and emotions in today’s Russia.
In November, 2012 was published Translit #12
The charm of the cliché
Literary common sense warns us: the cliché is something to be got rid of. But the fact that we are being warned means that literature is a space within which the likelihood of clichés appearing is quite high, and the phrase “to get rid of” suggests that clichés are in some sense inevitable. We could say that literature lives by a suspiciously ineradicable logic of rejecting the cliché in the name of new invention. However, if throughout the whole long history of literature this distressing substance has never been successfully eliminated, it’s hard to believe that literature can get by entirely without commonplaces. Whether the situation was like this to begin with or became so as a result of extended opposition, literature needs clichés.
But literature likewise can’t get by without something other, that threatens its existence, calling us to remember that which is higher than words and that calls for their constant reassessment (if not rejection). The Formalists brought the first tidings of the systematic deterioration of the means of expression into Russian literature: even if the world does not change, the forms of its description in literature become automatized. But the main reason for the hatred of cliché lies less in the actual nature of the cliché (good or bad) than in the function it fulfils. And it’s a political hatred: entrenched forms of expression offer shelter for the consolidation of conservative ideas. Permanent revolution in style is provoked by the same thing as political revolution — the corruption of forms of representation. But if in literature this leads to the transformation of everything into commonplaces, in politics we have the equally chronic tardiness of socialization (language is easier to regulate than reality). Perhaps the reason for this asymmetry lies in the fact that words, unlike things, have no consumer value. But the wide circulation of clichés is suspicious in and of itself — it gives away the parasitic presence therein of ideology and mythology. Every clear instance of reasoning — every word used — conventional syntax1 — old grammar2 — patently obvious morphology — and, finally, the letters/sounds themselves3 — all of this works for the old order and can conceal cognitive and political clichés at any level, clichés that inhibit the free connection between words and objects [Jacques Ranciere, “The poet’s politics: the captive swallows of Osip Mandelstam”]4. In order for these two to meet freely and accidentally, a certain retardation of brisk communication is necessary; paradoxically, a belabored form — one nearing the refusal of language — is needed in order to force words to speak once again. The most radical method of struggling with cliché in this sense will naturally be silence (Rimbaud’s exit or Krzhizhanovsky’s “I am so much a poet that I write no poems”). However, this is precisely why these poets and their comrades are required to turn one last time to words — in order to designate their refusal of them. And it is here, at the point of a complete and ultimate taboo on expression, in this literary Auschwitz, that we find the starting point for collaborationism with cliché.
Thus, a no less forceful reason to declare emergency is the necessity to transmit that which in and of itself provokes the total annihilation of literature. If at one time stylistic clichés were gradually overcome under the aegis of the cult of form (all the way to its eventual dissociation), now — when that cult’s strategy itself is more and more often qualified as a commonplace5 — the main target has become the referential cliché. In this case the tactical compromise with conventionality of expression is provoked by the fact that misshapen reality itself calls to be described in forms minimally distorted by style: much material, little art [Taisia Laukkonen, “The modest charm of graphomania. On the literary strategy of Yuri Dubasov”]. Literature is written not about war (camps, blockades, etc.), but through war, because war no longer requires special artistic methods; staking its claim on reliability and documentary qualities, it establishes an emergency in literature and rescinds the latter’s constitutive and regulative rules. Authenticity and the ability to achieve the status of witness is understood here as a quantity in reverse proportion to the literary made-ness of a text. The author of such literature expresses his readiness to be anonymous, to be a nameless witness, a registrar, author of a protocol. Facts, numbers, and things are all equally of value insofar as they help the writer to forget what he is writing, as he hesitates between the role of medium and that of journalist [Vitaly Lekhtsier, “Types of poetic subjectivity and new media”].
In both cases, however, it seems that in the struggle with stylistic and referential commonplaces literature must make reference to the external, must go neurotic through exposure to political, social and existential horror, in order to acquire the right to pronounce a few more phrases about the impossibility of speaking. And for quite some time now — phrases specifically about the impossibility of speaking beautifully. All the more so when speaking of “Such a one”, which is made through the main justification of opening her mouth, from which had already issued so many monotonous cries of “wolf!” However, when literature stops playing this role too (having been reassured that it is enough “just to write”), it stops trusting itself. It’s enough to attend a session of the black and white magic by “its subsequent unmasking”, to see literature losing its strength.
Furthermore, in addition to the maniacal (graphomania) or enlightened (rhetoric) adherence to models, the insatiable desire to express “that which has never been” itself leads to the involuntary use of cliché [Dmitrii Bresler, “Konstantin Vaginov vs. “the incessantly disintegrating world”: to fight cliché using its own methods”]. So what is more dangerous: the inertia of language or the pressure of “content” that does not take into account and therefore stumbles all the more over that which has been? Which is the straighter path to cliché — inattention to the structure and genealogy (of literature) or to the signal calls of the spirit?
The very myth of the thought burdened every instant by language is rooted in the dualism of language and thinking, which has a respectable philosophical pedigree. Everything acquires its possibility only through mediation, through representation linguistic or political. Human expression is doomed to “supplement,” poetry is created from words, not ideas and so on. Although the majority of poets do their business with the ephemeral hope of overcoming language.
But that’s not the most interesting part. People always talk about certain discontiguous literatures, or to be more precise, about literature and that which is called to subvert it, i.e. the avant-garde.There exists a literature that is recognized and read as literature, and is therefore “just literature.” And there is a literature as yet unrecognized (autonomous? experimental? zaum?), which does not wish to be recognized as literature and serves as an orientation point for the horsemen of the Literary Apocalypse (and for “those-in-the-know”).
Thus the problem of the cliché is tossed over into the sociology of literature: in order to be original in literature, the bourgeois has merely to reject everything he was taught in school; but what can the people do who have nothing to forget besides their own clichés? [Aleksandr Smulianskii/Pavel Arsenev, “The canon that never became. A dialogue on literary (re)production and production literature”]. The argument for the socio-cultural relativity of the cliché makes it into a political term; ricocheting off the question of its nature, it shoots out questions about the nature of social divisions between those who culturally have something to push away (though the cliché is produced precisely in the pushing away), and those who have nothing to push away and for whom even the mastery of commonplaces is actually a support for thought.
In its uncompromising opposition to stock phrases (“they’re always used by the stupid ones!”), the avant-garde does not acknowledge that it makes use of that which it has itself made. The situation must be envisioned continually and at a distance: when some words already seem “empty” to one (let’s say, avant-garde) group, for others these words retain their strength and absolute authority. And precisely those words that proper society considers “grand”, capable of influencing individuals indifferent to the latest rhetorical contrivances (some of which include their visible absence). Thus occurs the great refusal to be comprehensible (to the majority).
In this way, the phenomenon of the cliché-stereotype-commonplace bifurcates: first of all, we always need to clarify the position from which we are talking about cliché — that of reader or writer (even in cases where the cliché gives the reader the pleasure of assuming that he too would write the same thing, while the writer can always be considered the first critic of his own cliché); and secondly, we have to understand that the cliché is an extraordinarily historical phenomenon — that which was yesterday a forbidden invention becomes a widespread device today, and hackneyed, spent material tomorrow (this is also constitutive for invention); third, diachrony multiplied by positionality gives the dislocation characteristic of all contemporary culture, which not only is flooded with commonplaces but within which we no longer understand the function of each individual commonplace — that of an unconscious imitation or a conscious distanced exposure [Pavel Arsenev/Igor Gulin, “The tragedy and farce of Soviet language (on the linguo-pragmatics of Gleb Panfilov’s films”)].
In any case, now in addition to being aware of the historicity of clichés (which are not born but come to be), we also know the very definition of cliché. In addition to periodicization we will bear in mind the multiplicity of perspectives or positions in relation to cliché: the naïve, the resisting, the enlightened, the meta-position.
When you try to avoid cliché, it only grows stronger. But if you chase after it, will it not try to save itself by running further away? Inviting cliché into works, art seems to do away with the neurosis of authenticity — but how this is done is important [Gleb Napreenko, “Art inside the machine”]: we see that the aestheticization of cliché follows from an overdose of high culture, not a deficit. The peculiar dandyism (like “the exceptional talent for decadence”) of reception and use stays tactfully silent about the most important aspect of commonplaces: if they allow to take such a different positions, they are no longer common.
The genres, rhymes and other literary conventions (hence stylizations) that have become commonplaces seem from the very beginning, having been discovered, to be doomed to move in a certain direction of generalization; every leap forward risked becoming (or hoped to become6) a well-trodden path. However, at some point there appeared a route that ran in the opposite direction, one that consists in displacing not the automatized form itself but merely the framework of its reception; placing it into a context so privileged that in it, the poverty of the form begins to look like an original solution: ready-made, camp (meta-kitsch), etc. The cliché has always been located in the eye of the beholder, but in this context it ceases to be a cataract.
There are various methods for placing a cliché in a strong (urgent) position: irony, accent, slight distortion, barely discernable shift, demotion. In this position the cliché cannot be ignored; the author not only knows what he is doing, but is also hinting to the reader (though again, only to the enlightened one) that “we are both here” on the same side of language [Alexei Yurchak, “Critical aesthetics in the period of imperial collapse: ‘Prigov’s method’ and ‘Kuryokhin’s method’”]. The form-made-difficult now acts in the guise of the automatised form. The reader, having already begun to feel at home with the “difficult” language of literature, is disappointed yet again: he is losing sight of the writer, not understanding whether the latter is so persistently using (meta-) clichés intentionally, or just repeating them without noticing. Clichés once again become the blind spots of language. A good contemporary example: aren’t memes a manifestation of this media-modification of the commonplace for those who are born into cliché and thereby condescendingly sympathetic (especially to those tired of avant-garde clichés of the dyr bul shchyl 7 variety)? [Maksim Aliukov, “The patriarch’s watch, or the meme as the illocutionary suicide of criticism”]
In the end, if the problem of the cliché was limited to literature, we could decide that it isn’t of such first-order importance and leave it to the arbiters of rhetoric. But from literature cliché leaps across into social speech, from the means of expression — into receptive reality [Pavel Arsenev on the “Red Storm”, “Revolution in the individual head”]. Every time a commonplace is (re)invented thanks to a useful observation, the militia shows up and starts spreading rumors about the extent to which it is widespread in “real life”: “If people saw a sunset like this in a painting, they’d say it was unrealistic.”
The constantly postponed unmasking of language and the immersion in pure “presence” is precisely what supports every ambition towards invention. The charm that we intend to probe in this issue is therefore connected less with calls for the clichéd (even if in fun) quality of language than it is with a summons to rethink the structure of contemporary literature as one sequestering cliché at its very center — and that therefore can be characterized by centrifugal movement [Antoine Compagnon, “Theory of the cliché”]. If at some point it could thought that with the help of literature people could think their way to truth or achieve perfection, today the central demand is for the most successful flight beyond the limits of such a program (which has become clichéd), as well as beyond any territory touched by the metastases of the commonplace. The cliché is precisely that which negatively determines contemporary literature, and therefore the use of cliché is an attempt not to continue the movement away from stale everyday language into heavenly pastures (themselves doomed to become that which will be scorned by future pariahs of the commonplace), but rather to figure things out once and for all — having plunged into the inferno of the engine of literary evolution, to figure out whether the cliché is an obstacle to elegance and expression.
1. [Anastasia Vekshina, “Rubbing cliché the wrong way: the physiologization of metaphor in Dostoevsky”]. P. 16.
2. [Evgeniia Suslova, “Tautology as de-phraseology of the cliché in the poetry of Vsevolod Nekrasov”]. P. 74.
3. Whose halfway-decomposition in the work of letterists marks the triumphant completion of this annihilation.
4. In this way, criticizing symbolist practice and the philosophy of language (including a certain amount of the philosophy of history and political practice), Mandelstam advocates the disconnection of words and things that have merged into symbols that are indistinguishable one from the other on both the conceptual and the corporeal levels.
5. Schopenhauer: “In essence, the first and only prerequisite for good style is that you have something to say”.
6. Baudelaire: “Creer un poncif, c’est le genie. Je dois creer un poncif.”
7. Aleksei Kruchenykh, a major poet of the early Russian avant-garde, opened his 1913 poem “In my own language” with these made-up words that emphasize the most guttural, cacophonous sounds of the Russian language.
Poems of the issue
I take out my pistol.
It’s already soaped.
when I hear
for my pistol
the pistol plays
an important role
with a pistol
with a pistol
pick out harmonies
on the pistol
with a pistol
with the help of a pistol
when I hear
for my pistol
when I hear
for my pistol
when I hear
for my pistol
when I reach
for my pistol
where is my
where is my
where is my
* * *
She will not be defeated by my reason.
i’ve nowhere to put my weariness
like nowhere to put my eyes
while staring from the darkness
are watching other eyes
there’s the homeland there’s the birches
there’s the little house with chimney of brick
a pale-blue tracksuit lurches –
there rambles a little blurred hick
he’s russian? of course he’s russian
defeated by his fate
while far above the flattened plains
there sounds a mountainous retreat
laws of the other
in and of itself a pencil sketch is exactly the same text only moulded from a different dough
this is probably how klossovski thought he had reasons to think in this way especially after the damage
done to the categories of human speech, the winking fabric of chromosomes which emerged instead of
the rotted-through constructions ankle-deep in sand the image replaces speaking rolling around on the floor generously
handing out prompts to all takers regardless the merits and shortcomings of the witnesses to the triumph
who crosses the street
who is growing a beard
having combed his hair who sat down
sits and reads the paper
the crime reports
who is losing a tooth
who is growing round
who calls his wife
the wife explains who
the rules for behaviour
(from Poems about music)
I respect black people.
The radio was
Playing black people again.
I was sitting again
Listening — way to go black people! —
Like nightingales they were
Trilling, those black people!
Naw, man — nightingales
Don’t even hold a candle
To black people, man.
I’d tear out my heart for black people.
I respect ‘em, man.
from Poems about poems
I started writing a poem, man.
And I wrote something, man –
Then I see — that’s not a poem, man,
That’s like some bullshit, man.
I tossed it. Started a new one.
Then I see — that’s not a poem either,
Some bullshit — started off sweet –
The poem won’t work.
Tossed that shit too, man.
Started a new poem.
Started off bad — tossed it, man –
Just some bullshit, not a poem.
Naw, probably it won’t work
Writing a poem right now.
Maybe something’ll work out later.
But for now — bullshit.
(from Poems in foreign languages)
Dont bee effreid if iu hev teikin
Eh pees of peipa end eh pen!
Not yzee eez eh poem meikin
On menee faktorz eet dipendz.
Bat yf sam diffikalteez mitting
Iu hehvnot sei iu hani stop –
Vill eech attentiv bee yo rider
End hee vill neva sei iu nou!
In January, 2012 was published Translit #10-11
What has brought about our interest in things Soviet (or what, on the other hand, provoked the previous lack of interest)? Our confidence in the obvious fact that the so-called Soviet aesthetic (however that might be understood) was once dominant, while now certain other codes are dominant? That truth-value dimension of politics, which infiltrated all of Soviet culture (even when the former came into conflict with the latter)?
The central question of this double issue is posed in relation to the everyday reality, social sensibility, anthropology and culture of the Soviet era (or, dare we say, “society”?). Naturally, we are concerned here not only with literature. However, literature particularly as a social practice and political speech in general were allotted a special role in Soviet society; for this reason, the title of this issue (significantly expanded in its range of disciplines) nevertheless contains just this phrase. Of course, during the Soviet period there was no room for communication as such — even artistic — but there was still space for literature. Thus the diffuse concept of “Soviet literature” is not meant to exoticize its object, but rather to illuminate the extraordinarily mediated quality of the contemporary cultural consciousness itself. Indeed, what was the construction of the Soviet subject like back then, a construction that satisfied a hugely logocentric state of things? This is also an important question (examined in the article by Ilya Kalinin).
If we are to talk about literature according to the rules of traditional philology, what do we understand as Soviet — literature as “part of the overall proletarian cause,” “the pin and wheel” of one great united social-democratic mechanism, <…> a component part of organized, systematic, united social-democratic party work,” or as the entire field of belles-lettres, all of the texts that appeared throughout the existence of the Soviet Union? Where do we put émigré literature? And literature written by the various ethnic minorities of the USSR? How do we bring about the divorce and divide the property between Soviet and anti-Soviet (Aleksandr Zhitenev’s survey examines some of the most typical scenarios in the latter category)? Sooner or later, increased attention focused on the phenomenon of Soviet literature will necessitate a reassessment of the categorical apparatus of the contemporary humanities (see an attempt at this in the “Politicization of cultures” project).
It is impossible to imagine Soviet literature without this predicate, because it possesses a strikingly different function from that which is typically considered literature in its “normal aggregative state.” The literature created during the existence of the Soviet Union by people who were in one way or another connected with it turns out to be, like it or not, part of a large universalist project, rather than a one-time example of a purely literary project. Even in those cases when literature “has a place” not thanks to but rather despite “everything Soviet,” it still has as its (negative) source the need to relate, perhaps to critique (various things in various ways); but it is always located within the boundaries of a shared fate. These stipulations, however, should under no circumstances be understood as intending to excuse or justify anything. On the contrary, they serve to illustrate the situation in which Soviet literature must be not less but more than “just literature” (cf. “all the rest is literature”): whether literature that seeks to abolish the division of labor into literary and manual (see Ivan Kostin); literature that is created in several languages simultaneously and represents completely different classes of “the Soviet people,” but which is genuinely united by the struggle “for those values which, though distorted, crudely resisted or even turned inside out over the course of the Soviet project, nevertheless lay at its foundation” (see Sergei Zavialov’s review of a collection of wartime poetry); or, finally, literature that continues to search for realism in the non-censored literature of samizdat in the late Soviet years, even after this concept began to morph into a form of struggle with the latter (see Aleksandr Zhitenev). And since it quite quickly becomes clear that there was a discrete set of problems that tied together all of this “Soviet literature,” we ask: what is the function of the boundary between the so-called “official” and “non-censored” Soviet literatures, a boundary drawn by and still useful to, first and foremost, today’s new nomenclature (though they may not yet have completely defeated the old)? And as long as this struggle for definition continues (though none of the sides involved is unequivocally attractive), perhaps the most valuable thing now would be to figure out what Soviet literature represented as a general form, the various segments of which were part of “a struggle waged more between different Soviet sides — progressive and reactionary — than between Soviet and anti-Soviet.” Right now we need to be able to think about literature as a writing practice that goes outside the legitimate and comfortable bounds of the literary salon.
We can extend this logic to the culture as a whole, in which “socialism establishes itself not only in the iconography, in the images that embody the ‘communist party’ and its leaders: its elements are scattered throughout the entire living space of the ‘Soviet.’ This means that a critique of the “socialist” or “communist” cannot be reduced to the traditional division between official (false-socialist) and unofficial culture, or to that between official and depoliticized everyday reality. The Soviet past certainly contains an enormous number of examples of false socialism, of petit-bourgeois Philistinism. But at the same time there are also isolated, unrepresented spaces of voluntary, non-ideological socialism — non-ideological everyday spaces filled with a utopian faith that cannot be reduced to the declarative slogans of socialist realism. These spaces have not yet been studied at all” (Keti Chukhrov).
And yet, those who “have actually experienced life under socialism” will perceive this interest in the Soviet theme with the typical calculated perplexity and condescension otherwise directed towards young writers. In our view, however, the absence of this (usually traumatic) experience creates an investigative point of view much less subject to ideological appropriation, and artistic efforts more open to new experience.
This new experience of the return of history is imminent, as is, consequently, an importunate demand for the identification and criticism of ideology. The current issue of Translit was slated to come out at the end of last year, but December 2011 ended up being marked by developments of an importance that compelled everyone to relate differently to their “ordinary activities.” The question of rapprochement between serious theoretical work and contemporary social practice was once again raised. Thus, certain texts that might have seemed abstract historico-archival investigations actually turned out to be relevant not only in the so-called academic context, but also for entirely of-the-moment debates about contemporary institutions of political representation (see Ilya Kalinin).
Many of the pieces in this issue, which focus on the synchronic transformation of stylistic and phenomenological perspectives in poetry (Aleksei Kosykh, Pavel Arsenev), the ethics and economy of creative labor (Veronika Berkutova), medial analysis of cultural practice (Mikhail Gronas lecture synopsis), the social dynamics of the privileges of writerhood and the circulation of the authority of the public utterance (Mikhail Nemtsev), seek to avoid the limitations of the ordinary philological repertoire of methods and conclusions — hoping to break out into the realm of real contemporary issues.
We were equally concerned to track the influence of the “Soviet” not only in literary material, but also in film (Andrei Fomenko; Andrei Gornykh), in the organization of labor (in interpretative practice — Richard Stites) and other areas. In terms of questions of creative labor and the traces of the Soviet presence still present today, one of the most reflexive fields of inquiry lies in contemporary art; this issue features several textual-visual contributions towards this topic (see Khudrada, Arsenii Zhilyaev).
Along with the publication of excerpts from a book by Oleg Kireev devoted entirely to the literary and historical situation in the 1950s, we also sought to take a close look at today’s literary situation, how it is transforming and generating contemporary cultural activism. The experience of former Soviet republics, located on the far side of the post-colonial barricades, is particularly valuable here (see Anastasia Vekshina, Sergei Zhadan, Giorgi Khasaia an others). And especially among those who — mainly for age-related reasons — are not repulsed by Marxist aesthetics or theory, nor burdened by the complex of belonging to an “excluded culture.” This is also important because elements of the Soviet cultural consciousness have become displaced in culture and history.
The tendency towards the “falsification of (literary) history” has only recently become obvious: “the aspiration to write oneself into an idealized pre-revolutionary tradition betrays the desire, typical of the 1990s, to erase the still very relevant Soviet past from the collective consciousness” (Kirill Medvedev). At the same time, the danger looms large of a revanchist interpretation of Soviet culture, which would be most obviously demonstrated in a prohibition on the institution of new utopian projections. In the final account, only a complete rethinking (and not one or another revaluation) of the Soviet experience will allow us to formulate a liberation agenda for today, to clarify to what extent the model of class struggle for cultural hegemony is still appropriate in today’s circumstances of cognitive capitalism and the rapidly changing composition of society.
In the first article of the issue, “Early Productivism and the critique of ideology”, Ivan Kostin examines the polemics carried on from 1918-1921 between the theoreticians of “productive” art O. Brik and N. Punin and Narkompros leader A. Lunacharsky. The main issue was the ideological role of art, which the Productivist theoreticians denied and Lunacharsky affirmed. The Productivists’ critique of easel-painting, from our point of view, duplicates Marx’s critique of ideology, while Lunacharsky’s position is based on the pragmatic logic of state propaganda. This lack of understanding in a situation of state monopoly on artistic commissions led to a decrease in the role of innovative, “leftist” art in Soviet culture and ultimately made its full realisation impossible. Nevertheless, the study of Productivism as a project and, by extension, deeper knowledge about it as practice can illuminate a great deal of the questions of early Soviet culture, as well as the crisis of the avant-garde project today.
putinish hickey (excerpts)
I believe I am quite well-prepared to answer
was grey as ash
and that’s no metaphor
but a meta-form of evil
whereever you go
look and squint
squeeze in good time
horror in the mouth
put on the epaulets
cut your coupons
for margarine cheap tobacco
just as soon as I
got used to the syllogism
of those who have so much
just try touching us
we’ll start kicking as a steed
steam from the nostrils
that Afghan–Iraqi–Libyan tan
than a poppyseed stick
little kid with a dose
in his little damp palm
break the bottle jagged
for the enemy’s ugly mug
god is nobody’s
not stingy with rays
squeezed in the buttocks
of the Basmannaya judges
nobody needs you fella
no jerk-offs here
repeat after Adorno
with the shaggy tongue
big mouths say
big mouths say
it hasn’t all been eaten yet
big mouths say
the system is in danger
big mouths say
give us time
big mouths say
big mouths say
/a teeny bit paternalistic/
you can’t outlaw living
pretend to be rags
osculates the motherland
in the solar plexus
a putinish hickey
on the generation’s forehead
[and Aristophanes will be the first to slip away
when it has dawned for real
Agatho will meet his maker too]
In a collaborative article, “Sergei Tretiakov’s Chinese journey (The poetic capture of reality on the way to Literature of the Fact),” Alexei Kossykh and Pavel Arsenev discuss the poetic capture of reality as a facet of modernist poetics. The article is dedicated to the early period of Sergei Tretiakov’s literary life, between his early Futurist manifestations and subsequent “red” turn to LEF. During the Russian Revolution and Civil War, Tretiakov lived and worked in the Russian Far East. In 1920 he managed to escape the Japanese occupation of Vladivostok and illegally came to China, where in 1921 hе wrote the poem “The Night. Peking” — a poetic response to his first arrival in exotic China. The distinctive feature of the poem is its lexicon, which includes a great number of neologisms (depicting acoustical, olfactory, and visual sensations). Each metaphor refers to some exotic feature of Peking — its smell (Chinese street cuisine), its soundscape (the sounds and calls of Peking merchants and peddlers, Peking opera and street music), and its visual images (the architecture of Old Peking with its night lanterns). Tretiakov strives to recreate the missing link between language and the world through typically modernist devices of onomatopoeia and neologism. However, while Tretiakov engaged with his first trip to Peking poetically, this approach would soon seem inadequate to the future advocate of Literature of the Fact. All of this same material would be opened up from entirely different methodological positions after Tretiakov began to move away — in a most radical yet consistent manner — from the cultivated spontaneity of his perceptions to the primacy of the thing not yet put into words.
In “The Medvedkin-Bruegel effect,” Andrei Fomenko examines Aleksandr Medvedkin’s film Schaste [Happiness] — which combines political satire and surrealist fantasies on Russian folk themes — as one of the first attempts towards a conscious and methodical laying-bare of the conventionality of cinematic language. The term “montage of attractions” in application to Medvedkin’s method reveals that Medvedkin’s attractions, unlike Eisenstein’s, do not so much persuade as pull the viewer in with their fairylike ingenuity. In his radical experiments, Eisenstein sought to bring cinema closer to text, to formulate abstract ideas using film shots, transforming the image into an utterance. Medvedkin, on the contrary, takes up the formula of “everyday wisdom” — where the signifier is maximally transparent and, as it were, dissolved into the signified — and through its medial transformation makes the signifier visible, palpable and active (as Daniil Kharms put it, “if I throw this word out the window, the glass will break”). In this way, Medvedkin nullifies the results of efforts towards “securing” signifiers and brings us back to the starting point, where the thing is already a sign. Despite Chris Marker’s designation, Medvedkin was — in art, at any rate — not a Bolshevik, but an anarchist.
The “texture” of Medvedkin’s images, while not completely obscuring the incriminatory significance of a given scene, nevertheless does make it more vague (such is the scene with the soldiers ordered to arrest the protagonist for his unauthorized attempt to die — itself a literalization of the expression “to [not] let someone die in peace”). Fomenko finds an analogous strategy in a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “Netherlandish proverbs:” the figures in the painting illustrate the literal meaning of deadened figures of speech and thereby embody the “madness of an image” no longer subjugated to the wisdom and edification of language.
This issue also contains a first-ever translation into Russian of “Utopian Miniature: The conductorless orchestra,” a chapter from Richard Stites’ Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution, as well as translations from the poetry of Victor Segre, who belonged to the Russian revolutionary-democratic tradition but wrote in French and in the context of French literature (particularly avant-garde).
In “The emergence of the Soviet subject: colonizing the colonizers,” Ilya Kalinin examines the discursive mechanisms at work in the formation of the Soviet subject. Kalinin employs postcolonial theory as his basic analytical framework, with its propensity for problematizing the rift between the individual in the process of liberation and the language through which his subjectivisation takes place. As it was built into the previous socio-economic practices and coordinates of cultural hegemony, this language gives the new subject the possibility of independently achieving political and cultural representation; however, it also places him under command of the system of domination and subjugation that remains embedded in the language he has inherited. Various approaches to the solution of the problem of representation (in both the political and symbolic sense) helps to reveal a theoretical horizon relevant both to the Soviet cultural revolution of the late 1920s-early 1930s and to the Western intellectual context and reactions to social unrest in the late 1960s.
This issue also includes excerpts from Oleg Kireev’s book (currently being prepared for publication) “Earth. The 50’s” and a review by Sergei Zavialov of a collection of poems by poets who participated in the Second World War, “The tram is going to the front” (Free Marxist Publishing, 2011).
Keti Chukhrov’s article “Soviet Material Culture and Socialist Ethics in Moscow Conceptualism” focuses on the concatenation of economic background and cultural values in Soviet socialist society. Moscow conceptualism has traditionally been interpreted as an anti-Soviet cultural practice, but in this study, Chukhrov proves the contrary: that Moscow conceptualist practices (especially those of the first generation) were inseparable from the anti-capitalist anti-libidinal economy and the spaces of Soviet collectivities. The article also discusses the differences between Anglo-Saxon conceptualism (based on analytical language structures and thus hermetic in relation to reality) and the Moscow conceptualist tradition, which represented the languages of Soviet ideology as the primary undisguised reality of the time. Chukhrov questions the notions of avant-garde productivism in relation to the Soviet 1960s and 70s, when the modernizing technologies (i.e. the means of production) and the socialist ethical maturity were separated — a stance that is excellently manifested in works by Moscow conceptualists Kabakov and Monastyrsky.
You know, I grew up in a normal country
Of normal people
In the normal 80s
Now everyone’s always spying out the danger signs
They read the histories like Nostradamus’ book,
tracing fingers down the dates.
But I will prove — I will show —
I will vindicate these years.
Take for example, outside Krasnodar my aunt had
A watermelon field — an allotment.
They, the grown-ups,
would take me along for the weeding,
But at eight years old I was quite a little worker.
Dragging across the beds,
Brittle and harsh like the red waves of Mars,
The chopper, ever heavier from clods and strings,
I would examine the rows of striped skull-caps:
Lush… and so on all around,
But in the radial centre — the bald patch of the stalk,
As if the sun had beaten into dust,
Grasshoppers — began to chirr down and out
Those acres have gone off
into the fourth dimension of time…
At the same time there were —
Movie halls on wheels,
there in the darkness of the wagons
for a handful of 15-kopeck coins
sinewy Bruce Lee would dragon the mirrors;
october processions — banners
on conscientious shoulders,
crunch, stride, silence
in a thick stroke of rowanberry;
well-ordered, Procrustean TU and YAK planes
(so sternly and sullen stride the captains
into the cabins under yellow embossed ceilings);
grey shops in the winter,
but in the summer — waves carved out of aquamarine,
the draught-horses of colossal chess pieces
and grandma with her balm of sour cream,
til autumn, when like clockwork school comes back,
The era. The era when they couldn’t pile all of us
into the storage units.
And they wrote in buses: “A good conscience
is the best ticket collector”.
Now I use this quote to provoke hearty chuckles
in public transport
acquire friends and influence people,
In my whole childhood I lied maybe five times.
And if the goose is no comrade to the pig, then —
Don’t trust false memories!
Nothing was falling apart — neither quietly, nor quickly.
There were kids, and the grown-ups worked.
It was later all sorts of Stalins and facts came out,
And urgent historians goggling their eyes
Dragged out of the past and into the future
The guilt of forgotten grandfathers, swimming in death.
So now the Romanov family is dearer to me than my own,
Onto every vertical stick I nail a horizontal one,
And for any horizontal I find a vertical one,
Make dough and dart around among the people —
in the green hop with God’s nation.
In his analysis “Metaphysics as a ‘natural inclination’ in the village stories of Shukshin,” Mikhail Nemtsev aims to apply Kant’s category of a “natural inclination” towards metaphysics to a typical Shukshin character — the village thinker-autodidact, who tends spontaneously to fall into “musing.” Nemtsev notes, however, that this tendency for protagonists to “fall into thought” in Shukshin’s village stories has in no way been prepared by any socio-cultural infrastructure and, moreover, cannot from the outside even be recognized as valuable or (correspondingly) discursively supported. Thus, the infinitely naïve expression “my soul hurts” is the most correct for Shukshin’s hero to describe what goes on with those people for whom the instruments of subjectivization are limited by propaganda-radio and “good sense.” The drama (sometimes even comicality) of these ill-suited (in a 1960s Soviet village) manifestations of a “natural inclination” to metaphysics lies in the fact that even if it developed somehow on its own, such a metaphysics could not be further socialized in any way, and therefore could only alienate the protagonists from their own organic environment.
a drunken brawl in Café Yuryuzan —
the boys started some shit with the cops,
and though the cops are former cops
the boys could give a fuck
some classic fighting words,
“Green Label” vodka,
the cries of an old beautiful broad,
then more boys in a foreign car
drove up to fuck shit up,
to wreck Café Yuryuzan
Lenochka the waitress
Lenochka the waitress
she’s crying Lenochka
they wrecked the cafe, I’m reading poetry
at this fancy pick-up
very strong tea,
a faltering tongue
at five thirty a.m.,
of highway left to get to Ufa
I feed a hundred into the machine
to pay up my phone,
so I can send texts to Siberia
to my beloved Masha
Masha, you can’t imagine
what Café Yuryuzan is doing for me
the Ural mountains, the first of May
everything I saw today
revives me with the faith
that this country will go on living
it will live for all eternity
guarding Yuryuzan within itself
and thousands of other little spots —
enough bitching about collapse
as long as the boys keep tying one on,
elegantly pulling broads,
long-haul truckers keep drinking coffee,
and poets reading verses
in cafes resembling Yuryuzan —
all together we are the catechism
and you all in Moscow quit already
seeking that national idea
fucking pack it in
come on over to Cafe Yuryuzan and
while away the night.
An article from Andrei Gornykh, “Tarkovsky’s social poetics,” presents an analysis of the relationship between the cinematographer Andrei Tarkovsky and his social context. The cinematographic theme of home in Tarkovsky’s work is seen not as a reference to the director’s remote biographical experience, but rather as a model for a social poetics of the Thaw-era intelligentsia and its historical experience of the European home. The social poetics of the Soviet intelligentsia is placed in the perspective of the genesis of early European urban communities (urban communes, taste communities). The meaning of a return to a lost Home is transferred from the plane of Soviet man’s acquisition of a world of privacy into the plane of the very means of return — the reproduction, by a group, of connectedness in the context of the artistic search for truth.
In an article from Veronika Berkutova, “In search of lost choice: the Strugatsky brothers’ protagonists between labor-for-a-good-cause and life-against-all-odds,” the focus lies on the correlation between the situation of choice typical for literature of the 1960s-70s and the motif of labor. Analyzing the basic themes of the Strugatsky brothers’ story “A billion years before the end of the world,” Berkutova traces the change in the concept of work (significant for the Soviet system) from something equal to creative activity, a marker of the subject’s social engagement, to a form of internal protest and a means of confronting the authorities. Berkutova concludes that in the high-pressure situations in which the Strugatsky protagonists find themselves, the choice is always predetermined and, in its own way, tragic: in circumstances where the previous symbolic order is being destroyed, the protagonists can make any choice and still lose not only the possibility of social stability, but also their own sense of identity.
Next, Ukrainian curatorial collective Khudrada’s provides a run-down of its “Labor exhibition,” which focuses on the images of labor driven off somewhere behind the stage curtains of capitalist production. Having migrated to the outskirts of the everyday, labor is losing the contours of the real and becoming fantastic, to such an extent that it permits any forms of control, exploitation and self-exploitation.
In “The demarcation of ‘Soviet’ and ‘unofficial’ as problem: the self-definition of the ‘cultural movement’ on the pages of Chasy,” Aleksandr Zhitenev analyzes attempts to define the border between “Soviet” and “unofficial” in 1980s Leningrad samizdat and reveals the foundational values underlying such a demarcation. Using articles published in the journal Chasy, Zhitenev comes to conclusions regarding the paradoxical nature of the literary underground’s self-definition; the presence of elements of self-criticism and self-abnegation which nevertheless coincide with a comprehensive denial of the Soviet system of literary institutions, forms of legitimization for the writer, principles of dialogue with the public, etc.
Killing a Cop
By the entrance,
On the left side of the supermarket
A cop was butchered
They knifed his chest
And indifferently examined
Red flowers just grown on his soul asylum
On his soul asylum
The blood splashed on the children’s faces
It’s no blood it must be freckles
It is blood
It’s no blood it must be freckles
By the entrance,
On the left side of the supermarket
A sleepless cop was killed
He had been reading Naked Lunch all night long
And then they killed him
And the kids
Each bought an ice-cream
And threw the changes into the face of
A beggar with a boyish haircut
By the entrance,
On the left side of the supermarket
A proud cop was killed
His eyelashes smashed the sun into pieces once and for all
And once and for all his lips repeated:
By the entrance,
On the left side of the supermarket
A cop was butchered
He knew nothing about the literary work
of a poet Dmitry Alexandrovich Prigov
He just remembered his name
From a literary radio program
In November or April
On the left side of the supermarket
From the darkness and the wall scripts of the entrance
A cop appeared like a comics character
With a cap on and a stiff collar, he had been cutting
through the darkness and air
And he somehow reminded a shark
Huge and white
By the entrance,
On the left side of the supermarket
A courageous cop was killed
Then he got up and walked across
The river, which does not divide a city into two parts
He walked with pride
He’d got the power
To taste the sea
Without getting wet.
In “Literature from the blank page”, Anastasia Vekshina discusses the typical features of the contemporary literary process in Poland, particularly the place of poetry in cultural space: literary strategies, the system of publishers, prizes and festivals, and the organisation of media space around literature.
Vekshina compares the situation today — wherein poetry is becoming a niche occupation for a small circle of intellectuals and one of the available career paths — with the situation during the period of transformation in the 1980s-90s, when the young generation broke out onto the literary scene. This group was known as the “third force” of literature (after the first — official — and the second — oppositional, functioning in samizdat). The new generation of “barbarians”, rebels, adversaries of “high” culture, was formed around the alternative literary journal BruLion, and the main figure of this generation was the popular poet and rock vocalist (for “Swietliki”) Martin Swietlicki.
One more thing about barbarians
Everyone knows they will come
to this land that does not belong to us,
or them either, for that matter,
— they know and don’t buy
groceries for future use, just for right
now (I’ll take a quarter-loaf of bread, please).
The problem of old people is taken care of.
An end to the greetings,
and polite bows in the street and in stores.
All of our previous entertainments abandoned,
we sit, concentrated to the utmost.
We wait. We no longer feed the animals.
We wait and wait for the day to come when
our weakness is confirmed and
Next comes a synopsis of a lecture by Mikhail Gronas, “The mnemonic existence of verse.” Gronas explains the stability of rhymed syllabo-tonic verse in the Russian tradition through the sociology of forms of cultural practice and the material aspects of communication. Two aspects are emphasized: the content of the texts being studied, which are distinguished by heightened ideological content (either repressive or resistive), and the specifics of cognitive technique in memorizing poetry (about the usefulness/harmfulness of which there exist various assessments). At the conclusion of the lecture, Gronas proposes a hypothesis whereby mnemonic man — currently doomed to extinction — is opposed by the figure of the internet user — currently becoming paradigmatic in relation to the techniques of cultural appropriation (as a consequence of the cognitive (counter-) revolution of the internet, there appeared the prostheticizing of individual memory in the partitioning of attention and the reduction of the nominal unit of attention, because of which the mnemonic form of existence of verse is once again taking on a resistive cultural meaning).
In his notes on labor in contemporary Russian art, “Works and days,” artist and curator Arsenii Zhilyaev analyzes how, as a consequence of economic crisis and the process of gentrification, art renounced the aesthetics of euphoric waste and made the disappearing spaces of industrial labor in post-Soviet space into the object of artistic reflection. At the same time, art also began the process of making sense of its own ambiguous position of victim and/or accomplice in the exploitation being carried out by the industries of creative production, which more and more bring to mind industrial, conveyer-belt production.
Kirill Adibekov has was written essay as a sort of afterword to the “Montage based on Dziga Vertov’s Three Songs about Lenin,” a video piece by Kirill Adibekov and Olga Zhitlina filmed in Tajikistan in fall 2011. The author analyses Vertov’s working method as part of a project aimed at conquering Central Asia in the late 1920s-early 1930s.
In “The political subject as a ‘side effect’ of the production of knowledge in late Stalinism and post-Soviet depoliticization,” Oleg Zhuravlev suggests an analysis of the Soviet politicization and post-Soviet depoliticization of cognition. Taking the example of the production of knowledge and pedagogy in schools and universities, Zhuravlev shows that the politicization of knowledge in the USSR did not “distort” truth by replacing it with ideology, but rather stimulated sharp debates and the struggle for truth. Paradoxically, the result of this politicization could be simultaneously the victory of the most ideologized versions of science and, on the contrary, the most “pure,” as in the case of Soviet physics here analyzed. Zhuravlev believes that the post-Soviet depoliticization of culture created conditions in which the impossibility of a political struggle for truth lowers the status of such an enterprise and impedes the progress of knowledge.
Boy, on top of all this running around
you have to do so much stupid
crap, who would think.
My acquaintance calls in the morning,
says: buddy, help me out,
we need a feature right now.
So now instead of recovering
some kind of decent appearance,
I have to
protect my friends from ordinary everyday
What’s this? — he asked. A feature, —
I say, — in memory of Yevtushenko.
What — already? — he asked.
Yes, — I say, — I heard about it yesterday
in a cafe somewhere. Or at the train station,
when we were maintaining. You know,
they have that twenty-four hour place?
I know, — he answered. — Ahh,
fuck: I was just listening to him
speak the other day
on the radio. About the intelligentsia.
Or democracy. Yeah, probably
about democracy, — I said,
having thought a second. Yeah, — he agreed, —
You know, — he said after a moment —
Sometimes I think that democracy really is
a big pile of shit, the whole thing,
all democracy, am I right or am I right.
It was late in the evening, we were already
at the train station, standing beneath
the twenty-four hour place,
and I couldn’t think of any way to object.
The next morning he
called again. Well, look —
he said all agitated, — we have this
disaster: turns out, he’s still alive,
good thing I checked this morning,
we’d have really gotten
it with that feature of yours.
Well, thank God, — I say, — who would
have thought. — What do you mean “thank God”?!
We have a hole on the front page, I had
to give them two crosswords. And we are not
a crosswords paper, do you get me:
are not a
OK, — I say, when he’d
calmed down, — so what: should I come
pick up my feature?
Your feature? — he became thoughtful, —
no — you can leave the feature with us:
he probably won’t be around much longer,
and your feature turned out
and most importantly —
In his essay “Reassessing the results of the privatization of poetry: a new paradigm for engagement,” Kirill Medvedev makes a detailed inquiry into current ideas about the incommensurability of poetry and politics, which refer back to the Soviet experience. Medvedev directly addresses the latter with an attempt to return to relevance forms of the politicization of poetry, in the context of an overall rethinking of the Soviet project and a denial of oversimplified and ideologized conceptions of “Soviet.” He begins with a brief excursus into the history of the politicization/depoliticization of poetry in (post-)Soviet space: from the party’s equidistance from all literary groupings and the unlimited aesthetic competition (intertwined with political) within these groupings, through the Socialist Realist canon and the artistic formation of mobilized mass enthusiasm, to the 1960s poets [shestidesiatniki] with their turn to the linguistically creative and civic-consciousness aspects of Futurism, to the aesthetic radicalism/political indifference of “outside-censorship” [nepodtsenzurnaya] literature — which viewed any call to civic pathos or political realities as a compromise with Soviet power. Medvedev then devotes special attention to the depoliticized post-underground of the 1990s, whose idea of the “private nature of literary activity” turns into an ideological phenomenon that in turn gives “literary extras” the opportunity to participate (one way or another) in the collective production of even political meanings — while simultaneously denying the political character of such activity. On the political level, this is connected with the idea of the inevitably progressive historical work of the liberal project in Russia. In this way, if in the 1920s the literatteurs’ gamble on revolutionary progress (or at least their loyalty to the Party line) was connected with the hope of their work being included in the new cultural and social construct, the post-underground poets’ gamble was a sort of division between poetry and state.
With the formation of Putin’s soft dictatorship in the 2000s, poetry “not intended for the fulfillment of social or political functions” finds itself in an ambiguous position, since the need for direct civic utterance is felt all the more sharply. The cultivation of the “Soviet/non-Soviet” opposition is replacing the development of new political truth in a new, historically unprecedented situation. Medvedev points up the crisis of the idea of the poet as “a tool of language,” capable as a result of this privilege of conveying certain meanings purged of ideology and revealing the timeless value of the simple quality of one of the ideologies, beyond the pretensions of its bearers and ideologues; he describes the mechanism of the new politicization of poetry as a calling into question of both conventional language and the institutional foundations and social functions of poetry. He also designates a new paradigm for engagement that resembles the situation in the 1920s and that of the post-Soviet underground, in that it contains and postulates in principle the maximum of formal diversity.
In the manifesto that concludes the issue, “Applied social poetry: inventing the political subject,” Dmitry Golynko-Volfson writes about applied social poetry (a paraphrase of A. Zhmievsky’s term) as the sphere of contemporary poetry that serves to produce and distribute knowledge, while also calling for a detailed study of reality and for its political overhaul. Applied social poetry emerges when the poet delegates his unique individual voice to the mass of oppressed people deprived of the opportunity to express themselves in the field of the contemporary industry of culture. The poetic gesture becomes a social act precisely because of its quick response to significant social events, as well as its clear-eyed intellectual grasp of the essence of such social processes. From the point of view of applied social poetry, any given individual story can be told only in terms of social experience. Applied social poetry translates the utopian aspirations of the revolutionary avant-garde into the language of the age of declining cognitive capitalism. In this way, it becomes an intellectual industry for the production of the “the new political subject.”
Several texts in this issue are accompanied by graphic work by Nikita Kadan. “Fixation” (see pages 30–41) combines illustrations from a 1950s Soviet medical encyclopedia with the Suprematist contours of buildings from town-planning outlines, thereby “fixing” the bodies of citizens. The theme of “Procedure room,” (see pages 49–68) meanwhile, is the body under torture — the personal (inalienable), the private (an object of exchange) and the body as public property (work with which is entrusted to professionals in uniform).
Further artistic projects in this issue include the “Perestroika Chronicle” (see page 164) by the Chto delat collective (graphics by Nikolai Oleinikov), as well as Anton Ochirov’s “Collage on phantom time” (see page 78). The latter consists of a poem by Yan Satunovsky laid out into a visual series retransmitted by media, inside which are zones of traumatic experience that have been displaced in the post-Soviet consciousness (characterized by such phenomena as the triumph of political technologies, the “atomization” of people, the crisis of education and social institutions, the complete alienation of people from “politics”), but that exist in Soviet — “outside-censorship” — poetry like that of Satunovsky, which developed in Russia after the vacuum of the 1930s (xenophobia, “the authorities” and “the people,” censorship, the Second World War and “patriotism,” problems of minorities).
In May, 2011 was published Translit #9
The question of technique
This issue of Translit is devoted to technology. The concepts of literature and technology intersect on several planes at once. First and foremost to come into focus is combinatorial literature, which was the first to conceive of the text as a machine for the production of meaning. In this connection we present quite a broad panorama of widely varying poetic technologies, from the polyphonosemantic [Aleksandr Gornon] to the asemic [Iulii Iliushchenko, Ekaterina Samigulina], and also touch on what may be the most currently relevant register of this intersection of literature and technologies — the beginnings of the video-poetry genre. The moment of synthesis of literature with new media takes on a particular context in discussions of the historical avant-garde. After all, the strivings of Russian Futurism towards a technologized future for-the-masses can be compared to the sabotage of computer technologies by today’s post-avant-garde, which is focused on a practical relationship to poetic construction [Sergei Biriukov, “The avant-garde after the avant-garde”]. The contributors to this issue currently working with new media state in turn quite strict demands regarding the intersection of literature and the video medium, as well as regarding the possibility of creating film versions of the signifier and the idea of video as a writing technique [Laboratory of Poetic Actionism, “Dotted-line composition”].
In literature, however, there are different reading techniques, discussion of which was provoked by a selection of poems by Kirill Korchagin. A possibly good counterpoint to discussions about the author’s degree of responsibility for what goes on in writing and reception is provided by the first publication of texts created by a machine, accompanied by commentary by Mikhail Kurtov. An example of extremely de-individualised, nearly “machine” syntax is presented in poetic selections from Nikita Safonov and Kirill Adibekov.
Furthermore, technological objects often appear as thematic content of prose writers as well. An article by Igor Chubarov provides an example of just such an analysis of machine synthesis in works by the foremost machinist of Russian literature, Andrei Platonov; an excerpt from Aleksei Shepelev’s new novel presents the experience of contemporary prose, the displaced content of which exemplifies the machinization of labour and daily life. A reflection on the technicalization of contemporary urban space, experienced close to the bone, can also be found in an essay from Andrey Vozyanov (who is inclined towards the investigative genre).
In the issue’s first article, “Lengthwise and crosswise: forms of dialogising the word in combinatorial literature”, Natalia Fyodorova examines the mechanisms for dialogising the poetic word at work in combinatorial (“the word as formula”) and electronic literature (“the word as mechanism”). As is well known, Bakhtin considered the “novelistic word” to be polyphonic and furthermore that it demands a reply (the reader’s answer); meanwhile, the poet speaks in an all-encompassing language that brooks no opposition, and beyond which there is nothing (and need be nothing). Proceeding from this, Fyodorova concludes that according to Bakhtin, formal limitations in poetry kill the internal dialogism of the word, rendering it monologic. Consequently, the point where formal limitations are most rigorously applied should coincide with the utmost monologism in literature.
However, a metaphor of the text as toy-like dictionary-labyrinth in which the reader is at liberty to choose his trajectory of movement/interpretation (such as appeared in M. Pavić’s Dictionary of the Khazars and became definitive for combinatorial literature) unexpectedly corresponds to Bakhtin’s argumentation: where else but in a dictionary can the word be maximally openly dialogised? And here, the point is that so-called formal limitations are understood as a prescription for revitalising the imagination, that is, in the final account a condition for the emancipation and dialogisation of speech.
The most intensive dialogue going on in combinatorial literature is the dialogue with the word itself, with vocabulary — ever so much richer than in syllabo-tonic poetry. Fyodorova quotes T. Bonch-Osmolovskaya: “the limitation narrows the search field for the needed word, leading to seemingly unexpected discoveries of one’s own self and of that which burns, weeps, screams within one.” Which in turn very much recalls polyphony a la Bakhtin. What is more, of key importance in combinatorial literature is the rearranging of textual elements, the testing and partitioning of all possible options: for instance, a novel with different options for plot development, which once again can be referred to as the polyphonic principle of structuring the text. In this way, for instance, the novel Hopscotch presents the reader with a “selection of words” in the hope that the player who responds to the initial reply will compose his own unique book. Fyodorova directs our attention to the idea of a book as a multitude of books, exactly as Bakhtin presented the word in the novel as a constellation of different voices. As far as the electronic element is considered, when the poetic (video-poetry) and prosaic (electronic novel) word finds itself in media space, it becomes dialogised due to the fact that an interface — with all of its combinatorial possibilities — is not just a neutral surface like paper, but is a component element in the generation of meaning. When moving around in a cybertextual environment, the reader (user) selectively navigates semiotic space; this space is a system that demands that its “reader” be adept at non-linear multi-directional reading.
Since the relationship between author and reader as such is determined by the question “can the user transform the text into something not planned out or thought through ahead of time by its creator”, the prefix “cyber-” indicates a relationship to the text as a machine — not at all in a metaphorical sense — to a mechanism for the production and consumption of verbal signs.
This article is followed by poems by Aleksandr Gornon; these represent a dispersed model of signification and are, in Gornon’s opinion, untranslateable, but they do provoke an extensive discussion of such methods (also published here).
In dialogue “Behind the scenes of the poetic word” with Pavel Arsenev, Aleksandr Gornon talks about the history of the origin and technique of the polyphonosemantic method, whereby poems sound in a certain unified (a-)semantic polyphony not separated into any stable concepts. Polyphonosemantics assumes the existence of several different planes; they are supposed to resist perception by the recipient, who focusses by turns on each of them. In this way, polyphonosemantics makes active use of the same resource known to poetry in general — semantic instability — but the resonance of meanings emerges already on the morphological level and thus never leads to a stabilisation of meaning. AG asserts that in polyphonosemantics it is not words that interact but semes, the nuclear components of meaning, spilling out graphically and conceptually one after another and giving rise to associative redundancy. PA notes that while the meaning of words is usually grasped from context (words are more often recognised than understood), in polyphonosemantics this kind of conceptual dozing is impossible — instead there are tectonic collisions of words that force their component parts to rear up on hind legs and form stratifications of sense, keeping everything tensed to the limit. Having abandoned its habitual usus and lost its habitual face, each word forces the recipient to proceed by feel among all the possible etymological and derivative connections that emerge in this unnatural environment. The situation becomes more complicated, essentially, because of the fact that a unit like the word is here subjected to a sort of de-hermeticisation, as a result of which the tightness inherent to the poetic series turns into a real crush (which as we know does not exclude mutilation, i.e. the destruction of both the words of ordinary language and its habitual morphology).
Drawing our attention to an aberration in the terminology of the visual arts (used either for an imaginary visual image, the visual quality of the text itself or the irregularity of the graphic signifier), PA suggests we compare the polyphonosemantic means of encoding with the hieroglyphic, since both give rise to a certain construction that is not purely symbolic, but also not completely figurative. AG agrees, saying that in polyphonosemantics code does not impose itself as an established convention, but is rather invented along the way and offered as one possibility. This is why code (like the hieroglyph) both preserves a plurality of meanings and itself carries the rudiments of that which is being encoded. PA also notes that at a certain point, the audible word in the European metaphysical tradition — having taken the place of the hieroglyph — began to be understood as an authentic sign of a thing (at least by comparison with the written word, which turns out to be merely the sign of a sign). He then asks whether one of these types of signifier is basic for AG or, on the contrary, more operational than the other? In response to this AG acknowledges the primacy of the “heard and felt” in polyphonosemantics, where sonority is paradoxically the foundation of instability — it gives the poem the quality of a ship being rebuilt as it sails along. AG also notes the importance of the trace that appears when a letter is crossed out — the word becomes something else, but goes on carrying the trace of the initial word. Next PA puts forth the hypothesis whereby the semantic consonances that are so unsettling in polyphonosemantics are actually working towards the same demystification that Derrida was aiming at — he used writing as an example of meaning being established according to the game of articulations and transformations itself (rather than according to the traditional model of meaning, where the word represents an idea).
The dialogue also includes a discussion of video-poetry and of the fact that the intersection of text and video (without the figurative quality of cinematic narration) contains great potential for ways of renewing poetic syntax; indeed, this is precisely why authors are interested in these poetic possibilities in an age of technological reproducibility. AG and PA agree in acknowledging the advantage of the screen version of the signifier over the reigning type of adaptive visualisation of the fabula of a poetic text. PA notes that we should bear in mind the fact that, along with poetics that are actively resisting the screen-version perspective, there are those that on the contrary feel entirely not at home on paper. While hyper-text editors at first seemed capable of constructing a more natural environment for them, now these hopes are pinned entirely on video. In order for a poem to be brought to the screen, says AG, it must contain a certain incommensurability with the linear space of reading, certain gaps and degrees of freedom that allow for the text to be translated into different modes other than that of the printed page, or even a search for such modes as a more natural habitat for the text (take for example the poems of Dina Gatina). Thus, concludes AG, if video-poetry can ever formulate itself as a genre, it should base itself first and foremost on an understanding of what the given individual poet is doing with language.
In conclusion, articulating the difference between texts that satisfy certain expectations and those that transform our understanding of poetry, PA identifies demand for the former as material-consumerist in nature. Polyphonosemantics, on the contrary, multiplies the means of text production. It turns out to be that selfsame model for assembly. Concurring, AG adds that polyphonosemantics is interested less in the final product of interpretative efforts and/or of the realisation of assembly strategies than in the very instability of expression — it is distributed everywhere in language, but as a rule is not noticed and not valued, and is perceived rather as a breakdown of and obstacle to communication.
After the dialogue comes a number of visual translations by Yulii Iliushchenko and Ekaterina Samigulina. These are translations of texts by V. Khlebnikov, A. Kruchenykh, V. Nekrasov, V. Mayakovsky and M. Tsvetaeva into various unstable systems of signs and symbols similar to original manuscripts. The basic idea behind visual translations is an attempt to seek out a form of asemic writing, which would — proceeding from the feelings and perceptions of the translator — reflect them with maximal precision and in contravention to the conventional graphics of natural language, thereby bridging the distance between feeling and symbol. On the other hand, by transforming the word into a sort of cultural hieroglyph or a meta-symbol, visual translation frees up the concrete poetics of handwriting, the corporeality of touching the word and letter (see pages 29-31)
Next comes the “Avant-garde after the avant-garde” questionnaire. Answering questions from Pavel Arsenev, Sergei Biriukov remarks that the avant-garde was never a unified project, but rather a series of purposeful and accidental discoveries, as well as failures and half-successes. Thus, the work of every “avant-garde artist” should be examined on several different levels, although for convenience’s sake we usually get away with merely separating out “avant-garde” elements. Inheritance in the avant-garde obviously did not proceed in a straight line. Unlike movements such as the Baroque, Classicism or Romanticism, which show fixed and stable features, the avant-garde as a movement is characterised by strong changeability and the re-creation of forms, and is moreover the fundamental movement of the 20th century to be continued into the current century. In the West as well as the USSR, we can observe the gradual appropriation of the historical by the ahistorical avant-garde (Biriukov’s term). While in France, Germany and Austria post-war avant-garde artists discovered Dada through personal acquaintances, many in the USSR had to go about restoring an entire period of literature by hand.
Asked about the proportion of mechanical relationship to form and technological means (such as the avant-garde dreamed of and which are today realised in the form of new media), Biriukov directs our attention to the fact that in Russian Futurism, serious engagement with technological novelties (film, sound recordings, photography as art) was accompanied by or even opposed to the sabotage of mechanical inventions. Khlebnikov seems to have completely ignored mechanics and predicted an age of digitality — ‘’shadow-books’’. Kruchenykh’s typographically published books often look sloppy, while his hand-made books are unsurpassed models of book-art. At the same time, the contemporary avant-garde accomplished a great deal without using any new technology, in the discovery of the tiniest units of poetic constructions (as, for instance, in combinatorial poetry).
Biriukov also notes that while the early 20th-century poets were great inventors under the influence of mechanical inventions, further along in the Soviet tradition the “physicists” overtook the “lyricists” in technological innovation, abandoning the poets to the role of ordinary users. Regardless, many avant-garde poets today reveal miracles at the user-level in combination with a high poetic level (take Aleksandr Gornon, who in his seventies mastered flash-animation and has begun to make screen-versions of his polyphonosemantic verses).
Biriukov also believes that the contemporary poetic avant-garde has been seriously distanced from politics and is concentrated primarily on artistic searchings; this fact does not, however, negate the possibility of authors appearing who will attempt to unite avant-garde searchings in art with political radicalism. The Western example today (Biriukov lives in Berlin), however, shows that any artistic phenomena containing a protest element tend to be quickly neutralised.
Next comes a survey article by Aleksandr Zhitenev, “Contemporary literature in media context: the phenomenon of video-poetry”, which examines new media as a factor in the structuring and development of culture in today’s information society. Having outgrown their status as a simple means of conveying messages, the media are becoming an all-consuming and all-encompassing environment that brings together the experience of reality and consciousness. In this connection all cultural phenomena, including literature, are starting to transform in conformity with the logic of information structuring peculiar to media. This logic actively influences ways of thinking about genre and style, changes the principles of a text’s existence and ideas about the distinctiveness of literature: poetry is also drawn into this process, which fact is witnessed by poets’ desire to places their texts in a medium of synthetic, simultaneous reception.
The dialogue with visual media occupies a special place in the “medialization” of literature. The “iconic turn” reveals the language of screen art to be a universal language of contemporary culture, aimed at boosting the methods of creating emotional impact. One of the most significant manifestations of this synthesis straddling literary and media spaces is video-poetry, which combines semiotic codes of various different lines. By combining the experiences of satisfaction and understanding and accentuating the “presence in absence” effect inherent in media, video-poetry turns out to be an ideal embodiment of the “multi-layered” quality of the contemporary sensibility. In the Russian context its distinctive features are the metaphorical connections between text and video, the variable accentuation of word and visual series, and the paradoxical quality of associations.
This article is followed by a brief description of a video-poetry project by the Laboratory of Poetic Actionism, based on a poem by Andrei Monastyrskii. The video documents a psycho-geographical investigation conducted via the placing and staging of the poem’s text on urban surfaces; the aim of the experiment was for language to acquire the much-vaunted “weight, coarseness and visibility”, and to put an end to the tongueless writhings of the street (see http://vimeo.com/22888731).
The next article, “Poetic film: establishing the topic and material for evaluation” by Dmitri Golynko-Volfson, comes out of the selection committee of the 2010 Zebra video-poetry festival in Berlin. In Golynko’s opinion, on the practical level there is now a great variety of video experiments having to do with poetic film; on the theoretical level, however, this phenomenon has yet to be conceptualized. So far there is no clear distinction of terms like “poetic film”, “video-poetry”, “media- or digital-poetry”, “cine-poetry”, “poetic performance art” et al. In the article, Golynko takes poetic film to be the superimposition and mutual re-coding of two media: poetic language and the language of cinematography. The production of a poetic film can be motivated by three formal objectives. The first boils down to the director’s desire to adapt a poetic work for a mass audience. The second objective assumes the director’s readiness to present his own unexpected interpretation of a poetic text that requires reference to the visual language of cinematography. The third and most fundamentally important objective is to construct a poetic film, through the back-and-forth between the two media — verbal and visual — as an investigation into that which constitutes the subjectivity of modern man; how it is formed and how it manifests. The most powerful poetic films are focussed on the problem of the formation of subjectivity in the post-industrial or even post-capitalist world — a subjectivity that is not bourgeois or conformist, but rather based on protest and revolt.
After that placed the Kirill Adibekov’s poem, “[fragments] Leningrad”:
the tomb of К. like
an ant on five legs
telephone from rue du Temple
days swans days
dragged by old wolves Tsvetaeva that
little Muscovite hysteric
vue voir des villes qu’
elles soient blanches ou rouges
leg-crutches lying Venice La Gozzi
bella: n’existe pas, clammy
a time of rain
of wind: into this — you
an animal by the seasons
king of the Beleymas rooftops
retreating from the Tagus but you
In the next essay “Reading technique 2.0, or poetry after blogs”, Pavel Arsenev analyses the specific reading technologies that are taking shape in the era of provisionally free use of information and the way that they are influencing the nuts-and-bolts of poetic utterance.
The scroll being displaced by the book in the 4th century B.C.E. allowed for the transition “to fragmented reading, of a sort whereby the reception of the work as a whole is always preserved, conditioned by the material form of the object itself” (Chartier), but the capabilities and limitations of electronic texts necessitate the organisation of even more fragmentary material. At the moment of crossing a certain threshold, this fact results in structured-ness according to the sensation method. Arsenev refers precisely to these parameters as among the most typical in relation to the prevailing technology of reading. One of the other important features is the fact that this technology is itself no longer separable from writing.
Arsenev sees an echo of Macluhan’s orality – when “everyone influenced everybody” and raised his voice in song surrounded by his tribe, with no individual opinions hidden within himself – in the contemporary organisation of the blogosphere. Developing this example, he shows that what matters is not so much the tribe’s orality or the optical aggression of cinema (Benjamin bases democratic communication on the latter). The function of robbing the analytic-combinatorial capabilities of the mind can be fulfilled both by gadgets that make non-linear movement through the text difficult (electronic readers) and, on the contrary, by those individual media and mass communication genres that bring fragmentariness to its apotheosis. In Arsenev’s opinion, overcoming monotonous manual labour in the information age results in the mechanisation of cognitive procedures themselves. The Taylorist program for isolating and optimising operations has now leapt over into the way we deal with information, imposing upon the cognitive proletariat the possibility of ceaseless operative activity and data manipulation, but without concentration on any one individual datum.
Attempting to bring to light the specific nature of the book after its having ceased to be the simplest and most common bearer of text, Arsenev arrives at the conclusion that the time of the publication of paper collections laid the foundation for the capability of intellectual effort, on the one hand, and on the other hand set aside time for reading. Things printed on paper, however, nowadays are allotted the role of a sort of potlatch for the information age, intended to raise the symbolic value of the printed material.
In light of the fact that the integrity of reception of electronic texts is no longer guaranteed by the material unity of the bearer (different texts appear on one and the same surface), Arsenev notes that these texts also erase the difference between communication genres: the flyer and manuscript now look exactly alike and contain references to each other. This favours civil communication, expanding it to a previously unheard-of scale; at the same time, the consequences of electronic communication for poetry are more ambiguous. For one thing, poetry is the most dependent on traditional monologic authorial culture. When it finds itself in the space of electronic representation, it tries on the one hand to conduct defensive battles and protect itself from media-profanation; on the other hand, several lines beginning with Mallarme and the Dadaists, not to mention ULIPO, were insisting far before the appearance of the Internet on just such a fragmentary and/or rhizomatic organisational principle of the poetic text.
Arsenev demonstrates that the position of the poetic text today, tossed into the electronic environment, is characterised by the loss of its reputation both as the most autonomous space of language’s existence and as the source of the most effective transformational impact on the mechanisms of thought and perception a priori. On the one hand, poetry on the Internet is incorporating the expectation of instant feedback ever more into its generic capacity, while on the other hand we can obviously rest easy regarding the excessive impact “on minds” of the word, which now due to sharing one surface is forced to compete with other words and, possibly, with more intensive informational irritants as well.
In this way, the main obstacle preventing the poetic use of language from becoming autonomous is the electronic environment itself, which makes the poetic utterance accessible, rather than any motives seemingly “auxiliary” to the writing of poetry. Finding itself in that global supermarket of opinions that is the electronic environment, poetry is either forced to sketch out a ghetto of authenticity and professionalism in a universally profane and democratic space, or to conceive of the electronic environment as essentially natural and productive for poetic activity.
Next comes poems by Kirill Korchagin, here is few from the selection:
* * *
coloured placards hung everywhere
splitting the sunny day
among the frozen molecules
and the shadows keep pouring in
wind blew out the candle and they’re singing about factories
the chimneys incinerated by sun
and the opaque fields blacken
to the ones in the car whipping past
the guard silent in the darkness
the echoing room full of wind
dry crevices in thin lips
foreboding a snowy morning
their nakedness extended
across this city is so drowsy
watchfully but it too will face
while the sun is rising
IN MEMORY OF MARXIST SURREALISM
as lanterns burn in the splits between mountains
through the silence of communications
you too go to the crossing where waiting
with a parched face
blast furnaces quivering in the crevices
flipping through the uralmash book
a scorching wind of mountain forearms
as it dozes above decrepit hollows
flings up the shreds of your poems
they hate it so from the faceless mine
carving out a wreath of firearms
but the sunny proletarian’ll abolish the mountains
the typhoid louse levels construction
train-car line all down the tracks
just dust atomised dust
you won’t leave even dust behind
The selection of poems by Kirill Korchagin is followed by the author’s own self-commentary and a critical response from Sergei Ogurtsov. The polemics is based on Korchagin’s insistence on the existence of a significant distance between the text and his own authorial position. This particular group of poems aims to be a sort of trying-on of various cultural masks. And it is precisely for this quality of being emotionally removed from the problems described that Sergei Ogurstov takes Korchagin to task. Ogurstov denies the possibility of an disinterested examination of historical tragedies — the refusal to choose is, in his opinion, an unequivocal indication of one’s shift onto the side of “evil”.
In her essay “On the formation of a receptive mode of critical utterance”, Anna Golubkova gives a detailed historical reconstruction of the aforementioned kind of argument. In order to approach the problem of authorial responsibility, we should look back to the experience of the latter half of the nineteenth century, when the method of examining a work of literature as raw material was still forming. Via criticism, the work/raw material was supposed to yield its true and relevant content. In his articles, Belinsky presents an example of this unique re-coding of the literary text into a sort of value system. The most dramatic example here is his interpretation of the work of Gogol, whose “model” literary works “The Government Inspector”, “The Overcoat” and Dead Souls are sharply discordant with the ‘Selected passages from correspondence with friends’ that appeared at the end of his life. The value system constructed from Gogol’s works eventually breaks down.
Golubkova sees another example of this kind of misinterpretative collision in the contemporary Russian literary process — with the provocative difference that the space for “incorrect”, “too literal” understanding is now embedded into the work itself. In the case of Korchagin’s work, the role of naive reader is taken on by the state as represented by its repressive authorities, which effectively consolidates precisely this kind of receptive mode. This has in turn placed the literary community before a choice: to defend the right of the poet to write any poetry he likes — including the extremely reactionary — or to acknowledge the poetry of someone like Emelin as purely postmodern, which is to say mocking absolutely everything, including its respective ideology.
Then comes next verses:
directors of the great metal of the universe,
consider the symptom to be literary aviation
although it won’t be foreseen,
while at the same time the symptom,
like everything else,
will be brought by the Volga region as a newspaper on emptiness.
found his wife in a room with newspapers,
she wanted in cleanliness,
having embodied sciences on her knees
with the Volga region rummaged through in them,
as if she hadn’t produced the surrounding marriage.
Seizing the roller of the manor of the era and,
as they were hoping, revealing it,
these people in turn
were literary successes of certain strength,
that stirred around the world.
The authorship of this poetic text is revealed in the subsequent article from M. Kurtov, “Doorways: Life and work”, which discusses the possibility of cultural appropriation by the doorway search-engine spam. “Doorways” are texts automatically generated from random-texts and key-words, designated exclusively to be read by search-engine robots. Ordinary users don’t see them: when they click on a doorway in the search results, they are automatically directed to a new page, where they will be offered the appropriate product or service. This is where the name “doorway” comes from. Unlike email spam, which however “incorrect” it might be (this is connected to the attempt to get around email filters that react to stop-words like “Viagra”) is still addressed to human beings, doorways are agents of pure machine communication. In order to fool search robots, a collection of random texts is assembled and a new chain of words constructed on the basis of an analysis of key-word combinations; the new chain will always be more or less grammatically correct. Some of the methods include automatic synonymization, random replacement of morphologically identical words, rearranging phrases, etc. What results is a unique text seemingly devoted to a single theme. But while a person is capable of immediately recognizing its senselessness, this presents a problem for the robots.
Analysing the doorways’ poetry, Kurtov juxtaposes them to palimpsests (texts written on top of existing texts), collage (which always include more than one text) and combinatorial texts, while at the same time he discovers their most recent and more ancient generic predecessors (Burrowes’ “cut-up” aleatory technique, dating back to the Dadaists, and the linguistic combining machine demonstrated to Gulliver at the Grand Academy in Lagado). Kurtov notes that in doorway-poetry only individual syntagms and word combinations have any aesthetic significance. Free from any sort of pragmatic concerns and with unlimited combinatorial capacity at their disposal, the doorways are effectively investigating the valency capabilities of words and experimenting with their potential for combination. Kurtov compares the doorways, broken into lines, with “bad” poetry: the worse the poem, the greater the overall sense and the more senseless the individual units (it’s easy to say what the whole piece is about — say, parting or loneliness — but the individual syntagms are absurd, their meaning slips away). With machine poetry it’s just the opposite: the sense is drawn away from the whole to the details. This forces Kurtov to make an excursion into Gilbert Simondon’s theory of technical objects, and to pay detailed attention to the detail as an object through which technology multiplies and evolves.
Kurtov also notes that some of the doorway fragments recall the work of Platonov, and that in his opinion this is meaningful, since a notable feature of Platonov’s work is his technical “detailing” of language. While Simondon defines the inventive imagination as a particular sensitivity to the details that form the foundation for the construction of technical individuals, Platonov shows how the inventor’s love for his machine can be expressed in a typically machine-like assembly of the component parts of the text: Platonov works with grammar as if he were riveting or welding joints. He was the first to record the “detailing” language of machine-life, having founded a sort of technical realism.
Kurtov emphasizes the political aspect of the existence of these automatically generated texts, showing that they became a weapon in the struggle against major corporations (like Google’s search engines), and that what is at stake in this struggle is sense itself.
According to Kurtov, the excluded quality of the proletariat is only the socio-economic and political aspect of a more general ontological exclusion of technology (and, more broadly, of things) from the world of human meanings; of their exile in the world of bare use. The “senselessness” of the doorways is a result of the same kind of alienating treatment of technical objects as purely utilitarian (i.e. acknowledged as non-aesthetic). Consequently, the doorways are alienated from people not so much when they hide from the user in a technical sense, but more when commerce places this deeply ingrained layer of anonymous utterances about the world at its own service, hindering their cultural appropriation and confirming their “senselessness”. Even from the point of view of commerce, however, these undervalued aesthetic objects are constantly blurting out things about beauty. In Kurtov’s opinion, only humans can recognize this appeal of the excluded and include it in the world of meanings.
Then comes poems from Nikita Safonov, here is on from them:
A throat dream, when he saw her.
As if this meant moving closer to the event, when it was visible.
First: the warm silence of the sign and the tremor of the latters’ composition.
I.e. beginning to speak, he comes to naught,
i.e. distinctively visible body parts, remembering the horizon
the objective character of the horizon = the memory of the body parts
In this way the hand would become the distant horizon, while the sounds were audible
Of the approaching alphabet.
The one moving towards the instruction. (Eyes speaking of the converse)
Otherwise — a letter weighted down by the breadth of vowels,
recalling a touch.
Next comes the first Russian-language publication of Gilbert Simondon — an abridged translation of the conclusion of his book On the mode of existence of technical objects (Aubier, 2001).
Next up comes an excerpt from an unpublished novel by Aleksei Shepelyov, which can be considered representative of a genre quite rare in Russian literature — an anthropological thriller, autobiographical and then some, at the core of which lies an investigation into the phenomenon of excessive drinking. The antipode and antimony of alcoholism comes in the concept of “roboting” (alienated work in contemporary post-society), in light of which the marginality of the protagonists spirits them into an elect group, a sort of mythic “alco-sainthood” for which, naturally, they will have pay a high price. The novel contains an original and powerful theoretical (though realized through artistic means) criticism of the foundational institutions of contemporary society.
In the final article, ‘’Elements of mechanical synthesis in Andrei Platonov’s Technical novel’’, Igor Chubarov analyses this novel, in which the characters, performing as various models, versions and components of a synthetic machine, mutually criticize and fulfill one another. Platonov’s characters are not ideal types and do not express any authorial position, but serve rather as a certain novelistic function, like the motor of narration or part of a machine that carries within itself the possibility of total collapse.
In this way, the ‘’convinced communist’’ Dushin is the foremost working component of Platonov’s synthetic machine, which however requires a few more parts in order to function successfully. The utopian mechanic Dushin, obsessed with the ideas of electrification and mechanisation of the economy (which are supposed to automatically solve the problems of hunger and labour), needs to be opposed to a different voice. Thus the intuitive inventor Shcheglov criticizes him precisely for this attempt to make bare use of nature and to completely subjugate the world, for the fact that Dushin is automatising himself in the context of the machine-myth and in so doing, refusing himself the possibly of real happiness; he is furthermore turning other people and machines into tools to use towards achieving social goals. Platonov’s protagonists fulfill one another in terms of their single-track abilities. For instance, the “bare brain” (“empty head”) is supplemented by the capacity for forgetful and aimless ableness (“able hands”) and spontaneous invention. In turn, both the bare brain and pure invention can be detrimental in their inability to apply results to the needs of the public economy. This is where the role of the third power comes in — that of the organisational social machine.
The problem of sexuality in ‘Technical novel’ is played out in the background, in dialogue with the machine theme. Platonov asserts that the problem of love and the problem of technology are not only associatively connected, but that they also mutually condition each other and are impossible to address separately. Thus Dushin views love as a purely mechanical and energetic process, opposing illusory efforts for the liberation of humanity to the waste of energy in sex. Shcheglov seeks a different means of communication with women based on “feelings and reflection”, but this too turns out to be detrimental: his non-functioning arm symbolises both inadequacy in the sexual sense and his inability to bring about his technical intuitions in practice. The very judgements of Platonov’s characters are also non-self-sufficient, but mutually supplementary; the author’s position, meanwhile, never coincides completely with any one of them. In conclusion, Chubarov underscores the fact that this situation—in which the features of one type are distributed between two characters — shows how for Platonov “authentic” protagonists are much less important than the functions and components of the synthetic machine presented under the masks of characters.
The last article in the issue is “Meaning wastes: new tendencies in urban airlifting”, by Andrey Vozyanov. According to the author, completely reading the text (like many completed actions) often turns out to be too labor-consuming. Production of texts is actually becoming less and less correlated with reading. Textual blocks are gradually transforming into instruments and diffusing with routine algorithms. A constantly travelling conductor, for instance, is a figure whose routine textual space is filled with instrumental literary forms — be it route numbers, face values of banknotes, route signs or graphs of traffic logs. This group includes the voice of another expert knowledge provider — a device called the “passenger validator.” Information about the person is detailed precisely to a degree necessary and sufficient to maintain conventional public space. Previously, passengers were regarded as the voice of transport, as a recognizable personification of urban mobility, and — a little — as showmen for the lottery with its jack-pot “lucky” ticket. Now they are drifting toward something more like a silent pantomime, which features no room for improvisation in contact scenarios. The model for social behavior is improved through sterilization. The metaphor of “airlifter”, which previously referred to a vehicle carrying no passenger, is now taking on new meaning — it is now used to describe a vehicle carrying no ticket-buyers — e.g. transportation devoid of profit — thus articulating the re-combination of social and material priorities in daily politics.
In December, 2010 was published Translit #8
Literature: à lateral view
In this issue of Translit, we have decided to look at literature not only from various angles (which implies an apparently objective picture), but also from unexpected ones; to activate methodological approaches often considered outrageous by the writing profession. We have decided to complicate the facade of literature, riddled as it is with questions of craft and stylistic devices, by means of some less popular perspectives; in particular, we have tried to take a view of literature as a certain anthropological experience, as cultural institution and social practice. The method of strictly immanent analysis (of evolution) of artistic forms, crowned “Formalism,” was also overcome by it in the later work of Tynyanov and Eikhenbaum. It was they who postulated the transition from investigation of literary facts belonging to the aesthetic series to an analysis of interaction between series – first and foremost, between art and the sociopolitical context.
Thus, the new issue both furthers the theoretical line of some material from the previous issue (“The Style of Fact and the Fact of Style”), while thematizing the working premise of the Kraft series (founded in collaboration with the Free Marxist Press), which states that “sensitivity to the material quality of language and the opacity of form” – something imputed to writers – “given a certain progression, leads [them] to an analysis of the material level of art’s day-to-day existence and the opacity of its relationship with society and, consequently, to a reassessment of the boundary between ‘art’ and ‘what has nothing to do with art.’”
Giorgio Agamben, Alexander Skidan, Alexei Penzin, Dmitry Novikov // “The poetic subject must be produced anew every time, only to subsequently disappear” (dialog)
Alexander Skidan opens the conversation with a brief overview of the position and significance of poetry in Russian society during the past several decades, citing its migration between the public sphere and the margins in relation to the changing political situation. In relation to this, he asks Giorgio Agamben to speak about the state of subjectivity in contemporary poetry. Agamben rejects the implication that poetic subjectivity has been problematized specifically in the postmodern period; he sees this problem as “a constituent element of poetry” and presents a number of examples, from Dante to poets in 1960s San Francisco. Skidan goes on to clarify his point; in his view, over time “this lack of subjectivity was increasingly thematized by poetry itself, and it became part of its self-reflexive structure,” and asks Agamben to comment on a possible parallel between the problem of subjectivity for poetic and (post-Heideggerian) philosophical discourses. In response, Agamben brings up Foucault’s definition of the author as a juridical entity, subject to laws and hence open to potential persecution. Opting out of this identification leaves an empty space in place of the author, and Agamben suggests that poetic subjectivity begins from this space of ambiguity but unlimited opportunity: “The poetical subject is something that in the text, in the act of expression, remains unexpressed. He also underscores the link between the subjectivity of the author and that of the reader, stressing that this “something unexpressed” is necessary for reading a poem.
At this point, Alexei Penzin intervenes. He returns to Skidan’s initial statement about the role of poetry in contemporary society, suggesting that poetry may be influencing contemporary individuals’ sense of subjectivity while hearkening back to previous historical models. Agamben again emphasizes the timeless nature of the problem of poetic subjectivity, supporting his case with references to linguistic and philosophy-of-language concepts that form what he calls the “ontological basis for assigning this subjectivity.” In brief, the subject is only a subject during the act of enunciating the pronoun “I,” but is otherwise effaced; its stability as an entity is further undermined by the word “I” and the voice uttering the word. Skidan wonders whether the fracturing and distancing of the subject in a poetic context could have a political application. Agamben agrees that poetry is an ideal site to experience “the fracture between living and speaking,” but feels that this experience is so fundamentally human as to transcend mere politics: “poetry is a kind of anthropogenic experience.”
The fact of poetry’s marginalization is especially perplexing in light of the central importance of the above-mentioned experience to human experience overall. Skidan points out that Heidegger made the poetic experience necessary to thinking when he began to use poetry, and that in this philosophical application poetry is directly relevant to politics. Yet, in its cultural manifestation, poetry is reaching an increasingly narrow audience. Agamben agrees, pointing to the difference between Baudelaire – “the last poet who was really read” – and Mallarmé, whose experimentation took poetry closer “to the margins.” Regarding Heidegger, Agamben comments on the natural affinity of poetry and philosophy, which he views as “two intensities that run through the field of language. […] One goes from sound to meaning, the other goes from meaning to sound, but they cannot exist alone. It’s impossible to have only one. One intensity goes with the other; a good poet is somehow thinking, and a good thinker is somehow producing poetry.”
Dmitry Novikov enters the conversation with two statements from Blanchot: “Poetry is a space for the production of subjectivity, and the opposite, a space for the abolishment or destruction of subjectivity.” Agamben responds with Deleuze’s seeming abandonment of subjectivity – “I write to become impersonal” – while noting that what is produced is a testament and necessarily implies subjectivity. In this way, subjectivity and de-subjectivization go hand in hand.
Penzin brings the conversation back to politics, asking whether poetry can be an action with the potential for impact on the subjectivity of others. Skidan elaborates this point, noting that any discussion of poetry necessarily involves some kind of a community with which the poetry can resonate. The other implied in community is a potentially important element in the process of (de-)subjectivization. Agamben rejects the idea of the community as a direct interlocutor with the poet; he sees the position of the contemporary poet as “a poet with no people.” Rather, he proposes that poetry’s potential for action lies in its ability to perform an “operation on language that will make language inoperative, deactivating all the common functions of information and communication, opening it to a new possible usage.” He sees such an operation as an inherently social, collective experience, and one that has taken on crucial importance in a situation where language has become impossible to use (because it is controlled and manipulated by mass media). The use of language is opposed to its consumption: Agamben points to numerous examples of consumption as the only possible relationship between man and various phenomena of the modern world. Penzin laments that poetry has lost its power because language, too, has fallen victim and been reduced, like everything else in the world, to consumption. Agamben reassures him that the problem is not new, and closes the conversation on a hopeful note: rather than try to resurrect the good old days, i.e., the use of language or poetry that once existed, we must fight against the existing power structures and culture of consumption in order to liberate language and find a new use for poetry.
Anton Ochirov // “Israel” (poem)
“Israel” is based on the principle of patchwork or collage, incorporating a wide range of both literary and extra-literary materials. The literary materials cover an incredibly broad range of subjects and include the poet’s own verses (rhymed and free verse), the poems of other people, excerpts from encyclopedias and scholarly works, news clips, interview transcripts, and snippets of conversation in Russian, English and Hebrew. This verbal hodgepodge is lent still further heterogeneity by the manipulation of font size, spacing, and punctuation, and the addition of pictures, cartoons, and “music” (the text is periodically interrupted with the phrase “pop song” in brackets). The initial impression is chaotic and cacophonous, at times reminiscent of a bout of uncontrolled Internet surfing (this effect is underscored by the graphic elements, as well as by the quick succession of various types of text). Yet the poem possesses unmistakable unity and an irrepressibly coherent message.
GOGOL: THE FAIR AT SOROCHIN
businessmen are inhuman
that’s why they think they’re eternal
like how these underage booze-lovers don’t ask where their livers are
ask aslan maskhadov
an eagle came to him
ten bullets, eight bullets
an impossible july
dressing up gramma
uncomplaining as the country
in a found corncob
whose poverty don’t lie
to Anadyr instead of a mouth
little red suite, who’re
you wasting time with there
who’s that dude jawing
just as shamefully as he lived
because he achieved
shabtai kalmanovich will die
basketball won’t save anybody
kobzon will squat down froglike
the banker’s paunch will blush
little girl death a giggler
PAUL CELAN: TODESFUGE (International Solidarity Movement)
(ISM coordinates actions by supporters of non-violent resistance
people all over the world come to Gaza but Israel puts the heat on)
jew, do not fear death, it is nothing
it is not here, you just kept thinking it was:
this is how the Russians sing,
all fifty murdered millions
in their soviet homeland, unnamed
we are in the future as in an underground cloud
we are abolishing everything
you don’t feel it, but you are shifting
Dmitrii Golynko-Volfson // Untimely Meditations on the status of literary labour (analysis)
In this essay on the changing role and function of literary labor in contemporary society, Golynko presents the thesis that labor – when it is endowed with an emancipatory function and does not require immediate returns – provides the foundation for grasping the universal parameters of human experience. Beginning with the 1990s, he surveys the radical changes the past several decades have brought to the concept of literary labor and its various component phenomena, including working hours, production, consumption, and products. The 90s saw a shift from production to promotion: maximum effort was devoted to the construction of a reputation, with success determined by the writer’s ability to manipulate and influence media and public opinion. The artist became a showman. Golynko cites slam poetry as a definitive example of this phenomenon, in that the value of this poetry lies entirely in its performance before the public (at the same time, he acknowledges the advantages slam presents for the inclusion of non-canonical voices in the poetic conversation, as well as for the articulation of protest). With the 2000s came another shift: economic crisis transformed the showman into a contract worker, one moreover forced to struggle for even this privilege. Golynko claims that the position of the literary laborer today has metamorphosed from that of a comfortable entertainer to a poorly-paid day laborer, from the film director caught up in “post-production” (advertising) to a lowly backstage theatre hand working hand-to-mouth just to guarantee himself the right to work.
Referencing post-workerist ideas on immaterial labor in the age of “cognitive capitalism,” Golynko claims that the rise of global corporate capitalism has hijacked immaterial labor. He cites the consequences of the blurred boundaries between work time and free time, and the redistribution of intellectual human capital into elite first-world structures (and the attendant increasing “brain drain” from third-world countries). In light of this appropriation of immaterial labor, the responsible intellectual today will be more inclined to think of his work as physical and material. Throughout the course of the twentieth century, labor was conceived as oriented towards increasing one’s symbolic worth, but today’s crisis of modernity demands a new definition. Bearing in mind Agamben’s idea of non-productive sovereignty, we can think of the intellectual worker today as “engaged in the material production of radical transformative (in)activity.”
The post-Soviet period has not been kind to literary laborers. The emergence of “Moscow Romantic capitalism” in the early post-Soviet period brought a combination of the harsh social and economic realities of consumer capitalism and the many unresolved traumas of Soviet social and economic reality. Golynko sees labor today as a site of dialectic collision between, on the one hand, the neoliberal project and its focus on profitability, and, on the other hand, the unresolved Soviet project, with its emancipatory potential and evocation of universal equal rights and justice. He identifies three literary labor models: first, the Soviet model, highly systematic and hierarchical, with a clearly defined ideological value system shared by writers and readers. In this model, the writer (even the unofficial writer) was revered as the bearer of truth. Next, the model that emerged at the beginning of the post-Soviet period: that of the writer/media personality, focused on self-promotion and judged entirely on the basis of celebrity. In this period, media replace the government as the new authority; writers like Dmitri Prigov recognize this and begin to reveal the clichés of the media rather than the regime. The third model emerges in the 2000s, after the Putin government has eliminated the possibility that any sort of protest-oriented intellectual efforts or substantial critical utterance be given mass media coverage. The process of segmentation begun after the fall of the Soviet model has continued apace, and the writer is now focused primarily on positioning himself and his text within the moving and unstable literary field. The large-scale shift of the literary process onto the Internet plays a large role in the ever-greater segmentation, requiring ever more deliberate and conscientious positioning; ironically, the virtual nature of the audience means that an author’s reputation can be made or destroyed within the space of a single day. Golynko points out that all of these models are active simultaneously and relevant for literary labor today. He closes his essay with a cautious vision for the future: he describes a new breed of young leftist intellectuals, immaterial laborers “who [offer their] product in a pointedly material form –protest placard, slogan, agitprop, video clip on YouTube, etc. [They have] invented a new labor model, manifested in their orientation towards the materialization of the potential, in their declaration of readiness. Readiness for what? For the future, for action and self-sacrifice, for disinterested activity in the name of others, for rejection of neoliberal ideological norms, for work with the discourse of friendship, for collective utopianism.” This new laborer will choose to stand apart, to not completely fit his time or environment (be this through harsh criticism or simple purposeful ignorance), and thus reclaim his own activity.
Dmitry Golynko // “Looking Around” (verses)
1/ LOOKING AT AROUND the ventilation outlet
leading to the oval office, where the board
of directors is meeting, the secret lodge,
major company stockholders, deputies plotting
against the coalition government, polish flaking
3/ LOOKING AT AROUND whose woods are these?
collectivization, holodomor, no escaping the requisitions,
the kirza of regional prose, sound and fury
obscure topics, snub-nosed masha sewed up the sock
any old how, the pencil won’t sharpen
9/ LOOKING AT AROUND the two preceding post-reform
decades, ubiquitous hustle and bustle
after denomination or default, astonishment
after a rise in economic indicators, horror
after a sharp drop, not giving two shits about the fine details
15/ LOOKING AT AROUND what’s in a name? of that
skinhead who carved up an illegal
from down south, heavy doc martens
leave prints on the battleground, the case slapped together
by the investigation falls apart, in a hurry to put him away
20/ LOOKING AT AROUND an office girl goes on maternity
leave at six months, the ultrasound reveals the sex
of the future child, not exactly longed-for, the screening
cost a pretty penny, no congenital pathologies
revealed, family planning as it should be
Poetic Resistance Group // Manifesto (excerpt)
1. There are versifiers and readers for whom art has no meaning whatsoever. It’s enough that something be said, couched in the language of schoolboy poetry, about what they think and feel. These are people who hunger for contact. It makes them happy when someone else thinks and feels the same thing. This is why they view art as an enormous web, www, populated by little blogger-spiders, where the movement of one blogger’s foot is immediately conveyed to all the others and provokes them to respond in kind. All the possible movements are classified as romantic, civic, religious, philosophical, mystical, humorous, etc., with the addition of an “other” section featuring still more of these same movements. As concerns the actual network, the bloggers most of all appreciate its property of invisibility and impalpability. Ideally, they would like to convey their thoughts and feelings to one another with no mediation at all, without the help of thread-words. Words, and art in general, seem to them an annoying necessity, an unavoidable hindrance. And they strive to make words transparent, to achieve their instantaneous comprehension, such that not a single phrase could impede the quickest possible communication of a thought or experience. Meanwhile, strangely enough, the opinion prevails among them that thoughts are best conveyed in prosaic language and feelings in poetic language. That prose and poetry are, as it were, different cables: thoughts run along one and feelings along the other. But in either case, they expect that the cables offer the least possible resistance, like electricians or telecommunications experts concerned with providing electricity or information with no hitches. And for this reason they react with perplexity, irritation, and indignation when someone shows them texts of an entirely different sort, texts that resemble cables with the highest possible resistance quotient, cables that relay only the very weakest signal or impulse. This impulse doesn’t allow them to determine what kind of movement was made at the other end: romantic, civic, mystical, satirical or “other.” Their sensitivity threshold is so high that usually they don’t notice any movement at all. And they say the connection broke off. And they recommend calling in the repair team. It’s too much for them to grasp that real art is born from agitation of the complaisance of language. For compliant language is capable of conveying only compliant thoughts and states of being. As an old philosopher might put it, base thoughts and states – that is, thoughts and states typical of the multitude. And since both a person’s thoughts and his various spiritual states are inescapably connected to language, compliant language is bad in that, having taken root in someone, it forces him to think and experience compliantly, i.e. basely. Some people, however, manage to yank these roots out of themselves and learn to speak using incompliant language. When compliant people hear noncompliant speech, they ask: where are the criteria? How are we to determine the quality of something uttered in noncompliant language? And how are we to distinguish a message in this language from a random vibration of the thread? And are we to even ascertain the fact of this vibration if we don’t feel anything? Naturally, there is no need to answer any of these questions. But good will can be extended even to the compliant. And why not offer them some examples that will make it clear to the rest – or the most sensitive among the rest – how to receive messages in noncompliant language. This can be done with no harm to the Resistance […]
Vladimir Ermolaev // “Unrecognised” (poems)
contemporary verse resembles Odysseus
his face has changed
and he wears neither imperial sandals
nor a chiton
he wanders unrecognized where
people are accustomed to determining verse
by meter and rhyme
by metaphors and metonymies
at night he sleeps
wrapped in an ox’s hide
by day he gazes, smiling
at the syllabo-tonic feast
and whispers quietly
your bride is long dead”
/”Point of View”
your attention is first drawn to the white web
against the blue background it resembles a hairnet
cracks in cooling lava
capillaries filled with white blood
around the edges black and blue lines interlaced
in them the outlines of monsters emerging
above the web a black spot is pulsating
it is surrounded by closed lines
patterns like this can be observed on certain precious stones
the pulsation depends on your movement
you approach the web from an angle of approximately sixty degrees
take a step and the web unexpectedly disappears
in its place appears a woman’s face
with long curly hair
black pupils look right into your thin colorless ones
the lips smile but the eyes are sad
another step and the face vanishes in its place again
appears the web
this is what the advertisement for the movie Lady in the Water looks like
set up on the second floor of the Coca-Cola Plaza
the woman is named Bryce Dallas Howard in the movie she plays
a mysterious nymph or mermaid inhabiting a swimming
pool next to a big apartment building in Philadelphia
I am talking about this ad because it
seemed to me to be the answer to a question asked by a certain
internet poet “does my esteemed colleague separate
art and reality and if so where”
probably art is divided from reality
by a step maybe less by half by a third a fifth
of a step by a baby-step half a pinky-toe maybe half a toenail
to see a woman’s face instead of a web
it’s enough to move just a single degree along
the circle in the centre of which is located an advertisement
I investigated this effect for a long time transferring my body weight
from one leg to the other and discovered all you need’s
a very slight shift change of viewpoint
to once again see the web or the mysterious
face of Bryce
I don’t know if my discussant will be satisfied with this answer
but I can’t think of anything better I think that realness
reality is some kind of advertisement created
by an anonymous artist on order from an unknown company
and what we see there depends on our own selves
and also if we consider the original image to be the face of Bryce Howard
then the artwork will probably be the image of the web
while if you consider the web to be the original then the work
of art will be the image of Bryce Howard’s face
Sergej Yermakov // A literary ‘Wheel of Fortune’ (essay)
In “A Literary Wheel of Fortune,”  Sergei Yermakov attempts to open up the topologically paradoxical nature of Pierre Bourdieu’s socio-analytical toolkit on the whole, as well as such concepts as the field, agent, manifestation, and position. Yermakov traces the genealogy of the logic of the field of literature to Schmitt’s logic of exclusion. However, in Bourdieu’s case, this logic requires the existence of the paradoxical figure of the excluded, which is located simultaneously within and outside of the field: it simultaneously does and does not belong to it. This paradox also reveals an analogy with the problematic nature of the subject in Althusser’s theory of interpellation, as noted by Judith Butler. For who, if he is “unnamed,” could make himself a name, since in order for the name to be made inside the field, it must be there already? But if an agent is there, then he must already be named, since he evokes a reaction in the field, and so on. In other words, a hypothesis is needed from subject to subject, an agent simultaneously occupying and absent from a fixed position. Referencing another work by Bourdieu, in which the latter maintains that “the social agent can only occupy one place in social space,” Yermakov notes that the field of literature constitutes an exception: the synchronic location in two places is a condition for the very functioning of this field. The logic of the paradox of “outside” being located “inside” allows Yermakov to uncover problems on other levels of Bourdieu’s analysis as well. Thus, according to Bourdieu, the concept prise de position can comprise both “the text itself” and “networking” with the literary environment, since both fulfill one and the same function – assertion of the agent in the field. This lack of differentiation naturally leads to Bourdieu being accused – justifiably, according to Yermakov – of extraordinary reductionism, since it collapses “actual textual” space into the theory of the literary field. Yermakov also points out that the logic of the concepts of agent/position-manifestation is held back by a series of classical (Romantic) characteristics of the “creator-creation” duo, although Bourdieu’s text declares that it demystifies them. The relationship between expression and property which characterizes the agent and his manifestations manifestly ignores the thinking of the New Criticism on “intentional fallacy,” canonical texts by Foucault and Derrida on the name of the author and his signature – indeed, everything that evokes deappropriating and deviating effects in the relationship between the one writing and what is written.
Yermakov also highlights the difference between Bourdieu’s conception and classical structuralism, with its ultra-Enlightenment idea of a single taxonomy equipped with empty cells for all the works not yet written. The difference lies in the fact that structuralism wanted to get to this point via the “proper” inductive-deductive route, more concretely – by building something like a universal poetic grammar. Bourdieu meanwhile presents this grid dogmatically, already fully completed. Bourdieu’s field, for all its expansions and compressions, is nevertheless always closed, with the “possible new” determined entirely by the logic of the field. The field is structurally not capable of rupture because of the fact that everything has already been given, including all that is possible. The field is not capable of catastrophe – due to either internal or external causes. This universe does not allow for questions such as Mallarmé’s “How can one write poems during a crisis of poetry? How can one write poems when lyricism has exhausted itself?” or, a question from the last century, “How can one write poetry after Auschwitz?” In the best-case scenario, such questions will be labeled as teasers, roundabout maneuvers; flirtation that lends some supplementary value to verses that will be written all the same. In the field, where thinking happens aided by the category of “permanent revolution” (the constant mutual overthrow of “holders” and “contenders,” as well as the struggle between the autonomous and heteronymous structural principles of the field), no revolution could ever occur. At least, if we are to understand “permanency” as bound to chronological development (which is precisely how it is understood by both Trotsky and Bourdieu); then it forbids revolution as such, assigning it rather a totalizing figure and finitude. But the most significant contradiction, in Yermakov’s view, lies in the fact that meaning and significance (of a given manifestation) only serve an empty gesture of denotation. The aim of “illegibility” is to be recognized as such and necessarily associated with the name of the agent. No matter how much is said about the Formalists’ reductionism of the concepts of defamiliarization and impeded perception, they nevertheless preserved a certain cognitive position – the defamiliarized object demonstrated heretofore-unseen facets, and the satisfaction from boosting intratextual obstructions gave “illegibility” its raison d’être.
In closing, Yermakov expresses the proviso that he does not seek to disqualify the theory of the literary field or deny its critical relevance, but that his motivation has come rather from the following: when any theory pretends to exclusive sobriety (the disillusioning language of economics and will-to-recognition versus the enchantment of “pure textuality”), it is always useful to show the astonishing (epistemological) leaps that it makes behind the back of its followers.
Dmitry Glebov // “Skate-gong”
The excerpt “Ass Time,” from Dmitry Glebov’s novel “Skate-Gong” marks the first publication of prose in Translit. The excerpt opens with a satirical poem proclaiming “Death to Poets!” and continues with the chapters “Before Zemlyanikin Arrived” and “After Zemlyanikin Arrived.” The novel satirizes the contemporary literary scene by presenting an absurd portrait of a group of poets slavishly devoted to the blatantly philistine Zemlyanikin.
Timofei Usikov // “The 0-0’s”
(Interview with a former worker)
We have sitting before us Ilya - now already an engineer at MORP: the Moscow oil-refining plant
uh, well I first went to school (sniffs briefly)
at Moscow State Oil & Gas
my first year...
ah, crap, my first year (rolls his eyes)
my fifth year I left
to go work at the plant
but then the crisis started
there were big problems with employment in that industry
until tuesday of next week, I’m still stuck
with a worker’s position
now I’m not a worker anymore
you can figure me for (sniffs briefly, smirks)
look, it’s just the set up they have there
it’s, well, so it’s the Kapotnya industrial district
and practically the entire district
works at this plant here
(rapping, waving his hand to the beat)
no, there’s some guy
(I don’t know), he’s forty
his father worked there too
and granddad worked there
and his wife
his wife works there
and his kids
he set them up to work there too
so basically everyone’s going in the same circles (traces a circle in the air)
and you get the feeling there tha-a-t
(even from the young ones!)
you get the feeling that you’re back in the eighties or something
I mean, no later
well maybe the early nineties
like as if
the o–o’s passed them by completely like (whistling) wheeew
I mean, I don’t know what kind of people there were there
in the eighties
but I think they were
one hundred percent exactly the same (sniffs briefly)
naww they all like kinda reflect on this
but their reflection is, how would you say
it’s like empty, like zero reflection
it’s really their fault afterall
absolutely the same thing everywhere (looks down)
with politics, you know
with the attitude
towards the government
just the same thing as
the attitude toward the plant management for
all these people (sniffs briefly)
I mean, fuck it, they’re all a buncha bastards
but what are we supposed to do about it
Aleksandr Smuliansky // The worker and speech (essay on certain consequences of the documentary approach)
In his critique of Usikov’s work (excerpted above), Smuliansky focuses on the problematic nature of the very concept of “the worker,” noting the overwhelming political and social significance of this mythic figure during the Soviet period and the continuing relevance of this history for present-day considerations. Smuliansky argues that the true image of the worker is rhetorical, i.e., conveyed through his own speech, and offers by way of contrast the highly stylized, completely implausible speeches of the First Worker (from the play “King Hunger” by Leonid Andreyev). He also points out the incompatibility of such an anti-realistic depiction with Marxism, given the latter’s dependence on the “demystifying and mediating character of all labor.” Some ambiguity emerges, however, out of the fact that Marxism also allows for a certain initial illusion in relation to the worker, which relates tentatively to some hoped-for future. Yet, Smuliansky reassures us, all of these convoluted concerns of the critic-intellectual are mitigated by the fact that “the nature of the description and the very historical possibility of its efficacy” play the primary role in determining the historical relevance of the figure of the worker. With this in mind, the documentary quality of Usikov’s text presents a clear advantage, though Smuliansky hastens to clarify that the value of the document has nothing to do with its relationship to reality or, still worse, realism. The literary sphere has long persisted in the delusion that, for instance, the appearance of profanity in print is equivalent to a realistic depiction of “simple folk”; this and other delusions are founded largely on the false identification of the opposition “literature”/realism with the opposition high style/low style. Mere faithful reproduction of speech patterns creates only another illusion and in no way brings us closer to the “realistic”: on the contrary, the “true bearer of the realistic dimension” must be sought on an entirely different level.” With this in mind, Smuliansky returns to Usikov’s interview, pointing out its total absence of any predetermined declaration of intent, its wildly inconsistent style and even intonation. From the very beginning (Smuliansky cites “my first year.../ah, crap, my first year (rolls his eyes)/my fifth year I left/to go work at the plant”), Ilya’s narrative demonstrates its adherence to a relatively new standard of speech that is acutely self-conscious, aware of all of the inherent pitfalls and uncertainties that turn any utterance into a gamble. Other notable features of Ilya’s speech include his occasional adoption of professional vocabulary (for describing his activity on the job), remnants of schoolboy speech habits, inclusion of different perspectives, and literary ironic description. The latter is significant both for its indication of the radically different class situation (previously workers simply were not privy to literary, i.e., high-class speech gestures), and because it exemplifies the unpredictable nature of Ilya’s speech. This unpredictability forms the cornerstone of Smuliansky’s argument: that this text cannot present any fixed, categorized “position of the worker”; that, as the text reads, “now there just aren’t any workers anymore/well, I mean, people work at plants/but they’re still/not workers.” The documentary speech given here does not aim to overthrow the character-driven norms of previous speech styles. In fact, its unfocused and unfinished quality denies even the possibility of such an intention. The “critical and political core” of documentary speech lies in recognizing it, not as a coherent presentation of the status quo, but rather as a series of facts revealed on the level of speech itself and laying bare our expectations of the power of utterance.
The issue closes with a selection of poems by younger Finnish poets, chosen and translated by Sergei Zavyalov, and Pierre Bourdieou’s essay “Invention of the Artist’s life’, translated by Pavel Arsenev and Sergej Yermakov.
In April, 2010 was published Translit #6-7:
The Style of the Fact and the Fact of Style
This issue of the almanac deals with the historical reconstruction and analysis of the conceptual complications that arise when literature characteristically strives to grasp “truth itself” and “life in its immediacy” — that is, when it turns to the non-classical aesthetic material to which every “poet of modern life” tacitly lays claim. This choice involves a switch from rejection of the an-aesthetic (“everyday life”) to its active appropriation. It likewise entails a revaluation of aesthetic methods, which in the extreme case can lead to a transformation of art’s social functions.
To begin with, however, we have to evaluate the complication generated by the fact that any passion for the real inevitably hinges on the question of our tools for encountering reality and thus on the question of its nature. While the mimetic arts encourage us to succumb to the illusion that a zero degree of the material’s deformability might exist, the question of the “natural” verisimilitude of linguistic expressions is considerably more complicated from the start, if not altogether meaningless. In reality, no absolute, non-conventionalized realism is possible even with the use of analogical codes. Like any language (and all the more so in the case of the “natural sign system”), the language of painting or cinema has to be mastered first in order to understand what is said in it and (realizing all its conditional character) to assess the degree to which it is “realistic.” The problem of realism is thus radically grounded in the question of codes and, in the case of art, in the dynamic of the conventions observed by its languages.
The realism of writing (already delimited from the epistemological principle) can be understood as the pendulum-like movement between “artlessness” and “madeness” as the convention of reception is renewed. Regardless of whether they were figurative or literal, yesterday’s words mean nothing today. Both metaphors and the “proper names” of things are thus equally capable of performing the shifts and deformations that give us the gift of perceiving reality. As long as we limit ourselves to the degree to which a description of reality is realistic, however, we will be unable to exit the vicious circle traced by the combinatoire of intralinguistic devices, whereas the Marxist criterion of praxis complicates or displaces this question and enables us to shift from an analysis of how ideas are organized to an analysis of how material things and processes are organized. The literature of fact was thus fundamentally different from all other tendencies towards artlessness because it transformed artistic relations of production themselves instead of naturalizing the fabrications of language.
Any appeal to “immediate reality” is thus already ideological if only because it strives to naturalize representation and conceal the mechanisms of rhetoric’s (de)formative work. Access to the material world beyond the unreflexive turn to “facts themselves” is possible, however, not via an analysis of the represented, but via an analysis of the practices that frame representation and ideological production in general.
In “Dziga Vertov: A Communist Decoding of Reality,” Igor Chubarov examines Vertov’s method as a fundamental alternative to the understanding of cinema that was hegemonic then as now — as a product for an audience that passively savors the images of the collective unconscious. In Vertov’s version, political cinema lays claims to the political not through content, story, and mimesis, but rather through material and the means of its organization.
As a result of a change in the political environment and with the development of the technical means for co-participation and co-presencing, more and more recipients became producers, thus growing into authorship as it were. Readers and spectators were transformed into comrades-in-arms.
It is this aspect that Benjamin singled out in Brecht’s epic theater, and he detected it once again in the cinematic practice of Vertov.
For Vertov, the masses were not relegated to the role of a target of shock montage attacks and emotional and ideological appropriations, but the material basis for revealing the democratic means and channels of human interaction that were immanent to the reality of the new society. According to Chubarov, the principal difference of Vertov’s approach to the new subjectivity of the masses from Eisenstein’s cinematic aesthetic consisted precisely in his choice of this machinic-democratic method over the affective-manipulative method favored by Eisenstein.
Vertov developed separate aspects of the aesthetic doctrines of productionist art and factography elaborated by the circle around the journal LEF, who declared the principle of life-construction as the creative participation of any individual in this process.
Whereas the democratization of art as such was insisted upon by the Proletcult (who went so far in this direction that they tended to abolish art itself), and the Trotskyists (like the majority of Soviet politicians) insisted on the traditional — pedagogical and ideological — functions of art in society and thus absolutely rejected the very possibility of recruiting the masses to it other than as pupils and spectators, the productionists affirmed the possibility of a third way.
Sergei Tretyakov, editor-in-chief of the journal New LEF, argued that Vertov’s films employed factual (“flagrant”) material as the unit of an aesthetic utterance inspired by the “social commission” of the revolutionary class. Eisenstein, on the contrary, he labeled a director-qua-engineer who took as his material the audience itself — a “carcass” that he operated on with the instruments of the montage of attractions in order to “mold social emotions.” Whereas Vertov’s kino-eye technique was directed toward the discovery of a new social sensitivity that would enable the viewers themselves to draw conclusions from what they had seen, Eisenstein exploited the existing sensibility of the masses in order to emotionally shock them, which he saw as the only means to make them grasp the “ultimate ideological conclusion.”
Eisenstein in turn criticized Vertov for the contemplativeness and descriptiveness of his cinematic aesthetic, contrasting the latter’s observant “kino-eye” with his own active “kino-fist.” Eisenstein admitted that Vertov’s method could be useful only when the individual had achieved all-round “development.” While this had not yet happened, however, the individual needed “pathos and entertainment,” which once more confirms Chubarov’s thesis about the manipulation of the Other in Eisenstein’s cinematic theater of cruelty and the aestheticization of the Soviet state’s modernizing policies in those years.
Chubarov likewise cites Deleuze’s definition of cinema as a machine for the interaction of images and matter, juxtaposing it with Vertov’s method, in which the movie camera was both a metaphor for such a machine and an example of it in its capacity as the instrument of cinematic production. Mechanically investigating the “chaos of optic phenomena,” the kino-eye is motivated by nothing other than the task of reconstructing social reality, which is captured not in its aesthetically perceived images, but in the internal forms of social events located in a state of continual emergence. The montage is subject to their internal rhythm (of temporal and spatial intervals), not to the clichés of passive spectatorial reception.
Unless he intended to aestheticize society as it was — that is, become an ideologue of the regime — the only thing left to the artist in the deforming proletarian state was to move towards overcoming the alienation between art and society in the forms of productionist art. Even in the thirties, Vertov continued to swim against the current, in the gap between commercial and purely propagandistic ideological art, insisting on the possibility of a third way.
Igor Chubarov’s article is followed by a poem by Alexander Skidan entitled “Andrei Illarionov on the Russian Federation’s Rank in the Ratings.” The poem is based both on utterly factual (even deliberately dry) statistical material about the rank of the Russian Federation in various ratings, which is construed via an abrupt montage with the schoolroom truths of “great Russian literature,” and on a non-agitational method of involving readers in reflection on their country’s place in history as well as their own:
«Today’s Russia is at the bottom of the world list for quality of the most important state institutions. Our country is ranked 158-159 out of 187 countries for political freedom — between Pakistan, Swaziland and Togo. For freedom of the press we are 147 out of 179, at the level of Iraq, Venezuela and Chad. Russia ranks 123 out of 158 for corruption, next to Gambia, Afghanistan and Rwanda. For property rights it is 89th out of 110 countries, next to Mozambique, Nigeria and Guatemala. For quality of the judicial system — 170th out of 199, side by side with Burundi, Ethiopia, Swaziland and Pakistan. For efficiency of bureaucracy — 155 out of 203, neighbouring Niger, Saudi Arabia, Cameroon and Pakistan. An authoritarian state model legalises violence in society. Russia occupies seventh place among 112 countries for the number of murders per 1000 residents — between Ecuador and Guatemala, a little lower than South Africa and slightly higher than Mexico. In terms of physical safety overall, our country ranks 175th out of 183 countries, along with Zimbabwe, Sudan, Haiti and Nepal.»
From a report by A. Illarionov on Russia’s place in foreign ratings.
When they tell you in plain Russian, in the dry language of numbers
that in terms of
political freedoms and civil rights
Russia occupies 158–159th place — somewhere between
Pakistan and Togo, ––
what do you feel, a person
of the era of centralised Moscow conceptualism,
of the futures and marketing of sovereign democracy?
Insulted for your nation?
For the great and powerful Russian language, the language
of Pushkin, Lermontov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov?
Oh yes, after all it was none other than Pushkin
who wrote to Chaadaev
(and everyone reads this poem in school)
about the debris of despotism. We can recall
others of his sterling works as well, for instance,
the ode “Liberty”, or the last chapter of “Eugene Onegin”,
all sorts of stuff, where the sun of Russian poetry
speaks out unequivocally
on the subject of political freedoms and civil rights.
Lermontov, also in the purest Russian, bade farewell
to the land of slaves and masters, heading off
for active duty in the Caucasus. His bitterness — and
rage-filled lines on the death of Pushkin — you remmeber, of course,
you remember everything — make your heart and fists clench, as if
they were written only yesterday.
And Tolstoy, excommunicated from the Orthodox church, tearing
all and sundry masks from the ruling ideology,
Tolstoy — mirror
of the 1905 revolution?
And Dostoevsky’s axe, thrown into circumterrestrial orbit,
that same one,
from “Brothers Karamazov” that maids in the deep frost
give their lads to kiss?
And Chekhov, Chekhov with his gallery of melancholics yearning
for a beautiful life
lovely depoliticised intelligentsia
toiling away or losing their minds?
You, looking into trips to Togo or Tunisia, Pakistan or Thailand,
reading in your spare time about the standard of living and civil
liberties in developed
capitalist countries and Third World countries,
feeling insulted for your nation, which gave this world
Pushkin, Lermontov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov,
have you ever
asked yourself what their heroes are doing?
What are they doing — those badly-paid country doctors
What are they doing — the convicts from Sakhalin Island?
What are they doing — the students in the brothel?
What are the ones attending them there doing?
What are the well-bred officers in “Three Sisters” doing?
Soon they’ll all be sent off to the front, to the imperialist
slaughterhouse, where they will die honourably for the tsar and the fatherland,
in other words,
for the sales outlet, the colony and other geopolitical
and financial interests,
and where they will undoubtedly be wanting
great powerful noble ––
though in part already grown common ––
Russian language, but also
the dry language of numbers.
This is followed by an extensive research text by Ilya Kalinin entitled “From the Notion of ‘Madeness’ to the Technology of ‘Literary Craftsmanship’: Viktor Shklovsky and Socialist Formalism,” which analyzes the evolution of Shklovsky’s ideas about the “defamiliarizing” function of art. In his early Formalist period, Shklovsky defined the capacity of modern man (the individual of the bourgeois age) to perceive as the sum total of automatized mental and perceptual habits that block the very possibility that an immediate view of the world could arise by subjecting experience to the preliminary and alienating effects of social, economic, and cultural practices. Automatization can be resisted only by realizing the necessity of being “artists in everyday life,” which transports the tasks of art as Shklovsky describes them far beyond a purely aesthetic program, imbuing them with a universal anthropological dimension. Emphasizing the “madeness” of the artwork (in which there is nothing “free from the construction of the material”), Shklovsky likewise demystifies the traditional myth of artistic creation. Inspiration is replaced by the artistic device; god-given talent, by craft. The artist himself yields to the craftsman, who has the ability to see the texture of the material and overcome its resistance.
Kalinin then makes a convincing comparison of Shklovsky’s construction of the relationship between the thing and the conceptual category that abstracts its objective and sensual properties, and the opposition between use value and exchange value in political economy. According to Marx, the individual’s natural, economically unmediated view of things is based on a notion of their concrete, objective qualities, of their function and use — that is, of their use value. The commercial transaction mediates the relationship between man and thing by producing an exchange value, which consists in the abolition of the object’s sensual and substantial aspects, in the desubstantializing transition from the commodity body to the commodity form. What Shklovsky exposed as a habit of recognizing things that usurps the individual’s original capacity to see is thus related to the object of Marx’s critique of the commodity form.
Shklovsky’s testimony to the advent of an age of total alienation between the thing and its producer (or consumer) is immanent both to Marx’s social diagnosis and Shklovsky’s own conception of the artist as a producer/craftsman who is not alienated from his own product. The phenomenon that Shklovsky describes through the notion of automatization (the repetitiveness of movements and perceptions, the “algebraization of thought”) was also recorded by his contemporary Georg Lukács, but in this instance from the perspective of direct social critique. Whereas the object of his critique is automatized factory labor, which can be emancipated only by revolution and the abolition of private ownership of the means of production, in Shklovsky’s case (and that of early Formalism in general) the alternative model of political economy is the skilled labor of the self-employed craftsman, who is the prototypical figure of the artist. This basic (albeit not always verbalized) notion of art (as well as of science and, even further, of biography) as craft was one of the theoretical obstacles that Formalism encountered when industrialization became history’s principal agenda. Integrating the idea of individual (non-mechanized, non-standardized) craftsmanship into the new industrial model of manufacturing was, perhaps, the main challenge faced by Formalism as a literary-critical movement forced to defend its positions in the cultural landscape of the late nineteen-twenties.
The excursus into the implicit strategies of the young Shklovsky’s poetic and political-economic critique helps Kalinin reveal the prospects for the subsequent conceptual transformations that Shklovsky underwent in his work in LEF and, particularly, in New LEF, the journal’s rebirth in 1927. It was this final attempt to transform the formal method (which was also reflected in Eikhenbaum’s theory of the “literary environment”) that could be called “socialist formalism.”
Shklovsky’s new colleagues at LEF described the belletristic method as an aestheticization of the perception of an individual who had lost touch with society and culture, and the device of defamiliarization was all the more criticized (albeit without direct reference to Shklovsky, whose work was published in the same number) as an element of an aesthetic based on a consumerist attitude to reality. The paragon of the new worker-correspondent literature of fact was the production sketch, whose narrator is the “production specialist,” a figure who, on the contrary, had the qualifications to relate properly to things. As a counter to defamiliarization as a device that imitates ignorance of the things it describes, Shklovsky himself advanced a different notion of it in which, on the contrary, the renewal of perception was based on utterly professional know-how.
For Shklovksy and other LEFists, “literary studies” thus proved to be synonymous with the professional development pursued by the worker striving to “become a writer.” The paradox of this concept had to do with the fact that the so-called second profession (second vis-à-vis writing) essentially remained the first profession. It was only this fact that gave the worker with a penchant for literature the chance of becoming a good writer. Moreover, this “second profession” was constitutive rather than compensatory in relation to writing. According to Kalinin, while Shklovsky outwardly yielded to the existing trend towards “literary studies” for new “recruits” to literature, he in fact attempted to resist this campaign by redirecting the creative energy of the masses into actual production and encouraging their becoming “artists in everyday life” on an industrial scale. Whereas in 1914–1917 Shklovsky had argued that literature exists in order to “return the feeling of life” and “sense things,” the “literature of fact” was now advanced as means of “defamiliarizing” the worker’s daily labor — that is, as an instrument for intensifying the worker’s creative attitude to his own labor.
Kalinin’s essay is followed by a selection of poems by Andrei Rodionov, who in a certain sense is the a posteriori prototype of the “worker as artist.” Rodionov possesses an unbelievably original and clear-sighted artistic vision, and he draws the material for his own artistic practice both from everyday life and his own production work.
Dyed some fabric recently for costumes in this one play,
dyers, like all alcoholics,
have a certain respect for the profession —
all the more unpleasant to encounter the colour-blind
dyed some crepe-de-chine for Gertrude’s dress,
used turquoise, bottle-green, yellow...
achieved a deep emerald,
in the review it said –— Gertrude was in a poisonous green something-or-other...
maybe the reviewer failed to catch the essence of the colour
because when he was still an eighth-grader,
mercury was boiling on the stovetop in the kitchen
and caused him to go blind in both eyes
after all, the spectators were vigorously applauding the actors––
and the honour encompassed my work too, at least a little,
but little beads of boiling mercury were bursting
in the unseeing eyes of the blind theatre critic
maybe having fallen agonisingly in love at twenty
with a brilliant jewish beauty, rare as a panda,
the reviewer was blinded by love,
and became for theatre criticism what Stevie Wonder is for music
as one quite sensible comrade of mine says:
the prole just needs to know he won’t get in any trouble for it
and the blind theatre critic, like a drunk in a karaoke bar,
broadcasts amidst the death-throes of the Moscow construction boom:
“Gertrude was in something poisonously green”!
No! Smeared in paint,
in something poisonously green — those were the dyer’s hands,
but Gertrude was exquisite in emerald…
or maybe all of the preceding is but the discontent of a slave
having made something beautiful by the sweat of his own fucking brow
and whose back, where there’s something like a hump,
was seared by the incidental lash of a poisonous line of criticism
but only the poisonous cough of a smoker for him
Plutarch, another sensible guy, touched on this problem
Dyers should not be objects of mockery
though we do love well-dyed textiles.
But now, that’s not all, after all! Now some — no!
some colour-blind people can’t distinguish good colour,
for them it’s doubly and even triply
unpleasant — the work of the dye-room craftsmen
Next comes Pavel Arsenev’s essay “A final attempt to call a spade a spade: Literature of the Fact [in 1920s Soviet Russia]”,
devoted to the evolution of literature’s passion for reality — literature reckoning its own history from its verisimilar reflection. Such a self-proclaimed dependence on reality was based mainly on total confidence in its existence, prior to and apart from its contact with language. However, it was recognised fairly quickly that literature reflects reality in a determined historical form of perception (not on the level of abstract content); although “how it is depicted” remained a gradual degree of “artistic verisimilitude” for a long time (rather than a criterion for classification of worldview in writing). In this way, even that most dignified recension of realism nevertheless had the theory of reflection as its epistemological basis; this theory comprehends both the ideologeme of “screaming reality” (e.g. screaming about class contradictions) and the romantic mytheme of the artist’s cry in response to that reality.
It was noted much later that verisimilitude has an openly discursive — not at all referential — character, and is consequently an historically relative convention. Thus the relative character of verisimilitude (which naturalises the dominant ideology in the form of the work) was revealed, and form itself discovered — as a disturbing phenomenon that wedges itself between “reality” and its description, but at the same time unties literature’s hands and presents the prospect of a new, roundabout way to reality. The antithesis to attempts at a verisimilar reflection of “reality” (which was discredited as a consolidation of the existing state of things) was literature’s refusal to search for the modality of the correlation with reality, towards the production of sovereign artistic reality. This artistic reality could consist in finding a form of language which would have nothing in common with the language of realistic invention, whose policing function was now revealed.
Arsenev next turns to Barthes’ reconstruction of the gradual solidification which form experiences beyond the modality of verisimilitude, now exclusively as diction. Having first become an object of scrutiny (for the Romantics), then finishing (for Flaubert), and finally killing (for Mallarme), by the beginning of the 20th century form arrives at the logical end point of its metamorphosis — the possibility of disappearing. Thus from the moment universality escapes from bourgeois ideology and the writer becomes a victim of the gap between his social position and intellectual calling, while literature began to feel the necessity to justify its own existence — form was developing towards ever greater naturalness and artlessness.
Literature’s approach towards this state of innocence began with attempts to imbed individual bits culled from “inferior” languages into the literary language as such. But even understanding the virtual schism within language (inseparable from the class schism of society) and portraying social heteroglossia still couldn’t hide the fact that “the question has only to do with the expressive technique [of one person], and thus Literature remains as unmastered as before.” The category of writing invented by Barthes turns out to be a third function of expression, which comes forward following an already conscious and political choice and is analysed as the essential act by means of which the writer reflects on the social function of form. But even in those radically neutral types of writing which Barthes files under “degree zero”, it’s fairly simple to distinguish the impulse towards denial, on the one hand, and the powerlessness to accomplish it in practice, on the other.
Approaching a critical understanding of writing as a kind of material practice, Barthes remains faithful to the traditional understanding of literature as exclusively a series of artefacts of social consciousness and worldview, as activity exclusively in the realm of superstructure. Precisely because literature is still understood as an free zone for the production of ideas, and the writer as a privileged subject inventing innovative forms of perception, the crusade of colourlessness against Literature is an obvious failure from its very beginning. The futility of the search for innocent writing reflects a dead-end in which society itself abides, as it defines the aesthetic as a derivative of those forms of creativity which distance themselves as much as possible from immediate social practice — on the institutional if not the representative level. Barthes thereby recognises that the writer can consider himself fully socially responsible only when his poetic freedom is rooted in the linguistic situation itself (its boundaries coinciding with the boundaries of society overall, not just the framework of this or that conditional form, or with the tastes of a specific social group). Yet, he finds no comparable examples in the past nor hints of them in future.
However, there does exist an example, and it is the focus of the subsequent exposition. Literature of the fact, which gave rise to this investigation, anticipates the search for neutral writing in Europe (Camus) and the new novel (refusal of psychologism and plots of traditional narrative invention, in favour of attention to “the things themselves”) on the level of (departure from) stylistic convention. Meanwhile, it posed an even more ambitious task on the institutional level: to take down the literary industry itself by means of a literature of industry. Here material labour would be restored its creative character (which had been alienated by the capitalist economy in favour of autonomous art), and creativity itself would be dissolved in direct productive activity.
At the intersection of the Russian Formalists’ research on byt (which takes, however, a rather ambiguous form — byt is both some inert extra-aesthetic material which must be organised by a device, i.e. something potentially aesthetic, and at the same time it is the “everyday life” of literature itself and immanently sociological), Benjamin’s analysis of the author’s position in the context of modern production relations (taking the place of his position in relation to them), and also his consideration of how fundamentally the author-as-manufacturer recreates artistic forms (the ones that lead to the transformation of the actual social relations of artistic production and consumption) — this is where we find the theoretical pursuits and writing practices of the literature of the fact movement.
As the whole controversy of representation came down to a wearisome argument over the definition of the realistic (as true-to-life imitation or creative interference, as the creation of a holistic contemporary worldview or a decentred polyphony of various social forces in their productions), and sensitivity to the non-transparent quality of form did not lead to an analysis of its non-transparent
relationship with society, the author (repeating Marx’s manoeuvre concerning philosophy) insists that people must stop arguing over the “depiction of social being” — and rather conceive its potential transformation by making sense of the conditions that gave rise to the social function (no longer just of a concrete artistic form, but the actual type of the writer’s social practice).
The production programme also re-examines the relationship of art to “byt” on the institutional level and advocates an innovative type of social and artistic practice for the “creative unit”, which would consist in the transition from autonomous production of representations to the production of actual things.
Literature of the fact, before future stylistic searches for innocent writing on the level of one specific form, was an attempt to realise a programme of production art of the 1920s with regard to the word. Precisely by means of a re-examination of the very role of writer’s labour as a kind of social practice — and not because of the inclusion of the production theme in literature or the style of factographic writing as such, which could have been appropriated by the history of literary technique as a poor relation (of art) at best — literature of the fact is still interesting today. However, regardless (or actually bearing in mind) aesthetics’ unhealthy interest in the very artlessness of form, and also taking into account the impossibility for literature — in its passion for reality — to go beyond its sole medium (language), the author analyses the foundations and limits of the “style of the fact” itself. Rejecting both of the existing contemporary definitions of literariness (fiction and diction, to use Gérard Genette’s terminology) and demonstrating “against invention and prettiness”, literature of the fact overcame both the uncritical practice of realistic representation and the ineffectual search for a sovereign artistic language. In so doing it confirmed the prospect of a different type of relationship between words (neutral style) and a new social syntax as well.
Thus the need for a reflection only of literary byt changes into the need of the person writing to himself be involved in production. The “objectivity” of language is necessary here, not as a means to reach “reality itself”, but just to be the instrumental basis for the transformation or production of reality –if it does not exist prior to language.
Giving the greatest consideration to new media — photography, film, radio and literary factography (newspapers) and helping to build, first and foremost, a new media culture (not just a new byt), the productionists furthered the reincarnation of the whole problematics of representation, which was proceeding under the aegis of photography’s artlessness (it “records reality only mechanically”). Photography became a kind of ideal of authenticity, which literature of the fact was supposed to strive towards. But the latter was from the outset in a more sensitive position in regard to the necessity to deconstruct its own transparency. Even the mechanically recorded fact — precisely because it becomes a sign of the fact as well as an indexal trace — cannot maintain its politically neutral authenticity, and in fact changes into a rhetorical act which either exposes its speculative nature or uses the language of power to provide itself with an alibi of anonymity. Thus the category of factualness not only turns out to be extremely theoretically problematic, but is very ambiguous ideologically; after all, ideology appeals precisely to the non-linguistic, quasi-natural character of representation. This is why literature of the fact subjected facts — always hopelessly “concocted” ahead of time — to a “dialectical montage”, better able to guarantee sobriety than photo-factography, tortured by phantom memories of some kind of immediate tie to reality. Consequently, the final stake and simultaneously the border separating the use of “mobilised facts” as an instrument for transforming life from their use towards propagandistic aims becomes the quality of a rhetoric which “exposes rather than smoothes over the affecting devices”. Literature of the fact never naturalises ideology, it denies the call to “a natural order of things”: in formulating a given message, it simultaneously demystifies it, reveals its linguistic nature and points out the existence of a gap between the order of things and the order of signs (Voloshinov, “the realm of ideology coincides with the realm of signs”).
By the beginning of the 1930s, however, with the demand for propaganda unchanged, the call to the narrative quality of life itself and the stake on forms of narration suited to the facts themselves led to the inception of the most arrant socialist-realist narratives. Rhetoric, shoved behind the door (and left there unattended), climbed in through the window, shoving out any information. Arsenev believes, however, that the problem was not so much propaganda (which ultimately no utterance can be completely free from), but rather that the moment of decanonisation and explication of the political functions of language slipped by unnoticed — when facts meanwhile began to be naturalised virtually all over the place.
But by bringing their criticism closer to a non-reflexive appeal to the reality of “facts themselves”, the productionists were able to hold onto the prospect of a call to material reality on the level of an analysis of the social practices of cultural production. Regardless the fact that factographic-type writing — faithfully stressing the transformation of the writer’s style and the actual type of his social practice — turned out to be very close to the trap of representation, Arsenev believes that the actual choice (in favour of reflection) of literary byt as the most acceptable form of passion for reality is still justified.
The essay is followed by a large selection of Valery Nugatov’s poems. Nugatov not only deconstructs the myth of Russia’s national prosperity; he also encourages reflection on contemporary literary byt, which he sees as deriving from the general degradation of political culture. Here are examples of both types of Nugatov’s writing:
Victims of debt
worked as a local policeman
worked in migration services
worked in military enlistment
worked in the EMERCOM fire brigade
worked in customs
served at the border
worked as a judge
headed a ministry
ran the country
taught in a university
worked as a doctor
worked in public health
worked in GBDD
worked in the tax office
worked in a funeral parlour
feed the family
raised children all the way
healthy smart good children
helped them get into a good university
greased their way out of the army
provided them with a good starting position
and a cushioned existence
married the son
married off the daughter
got to see grandchildren
lived took and died
and was cremated
left cherished memories of himself
love of country begins with the family
family is one of nature’s masterpieces
I castigate the vice of your rotten society
I denounce your shitty konsumer societee
I reveal the flaws defects and incurable diseases
of your shit- and piss-stained post-industrial society
I expose the foul hypocritical essence
of your society of the spectacle, gleaming with a cadaverous lustre
I sniff out your greasy shiny rotting flesh
I bare and prepare the putrid internal organs
beneath your redolent placated glaze
I rake out fat soft writhing maggots in handfuls
from your glamorous clean-shaven armpits
I gnaw open your silicon lungs kidneys intestines and hearts
and suck out the technology-produced pus
I stick my finger into your transparent distended celluloid stomachs
stuffed with digital technology cool threads credit cards and cash
I pour my viscous poisonous spittle my caustic and bitter morning urine
and yesterday’s thick puke all over the mountains of your crisp exhilarating cash money
I curse your vile progeny the monstrous creation
of your hands and your loins and your clenching sphincters
I curse it and thereby praise it
I praise all of this wretchedness all of this pathetic luxury and sorcerous poverty
I praise while cursing and curse while praising only so that
I too can snatch a greasy hunk of this splendid fragrant rotting flesh for myself
I too can live off this bewitching rot
partake of the bounties of this life I myself have cursed
and enjoy its repulsive charm
I am laying claim to my shot of bliss, gentlemen
you have to share your happiness with me
you are under obligation to offset my costs
and fulfil the conditions of the deal
I envy you
and want to be the same as you
throw me a bone
Afterwards we have Sergey Ermakov’s survey piece, “Zero degree of verisimilitude”, which looks at the logical status of fictionality and the historical evolution of conventions of verisimilitude. As represented by Searle, logic decisively denies fictional utterances any referential quality (unlike constative speech, these utterances cannot have any direct correlation to reality; the fictional text is neither true nor false) or ability to perform acts (performativeness). Fiction is a third class, utterances that are “sort of” constative, utterances of the “pretended” category, which Searle considers to belong to the model of threatening gesture — the raised arm which, according to Searle, is part of the blow, “pretends” to the blow itself. Referential conventions are suspended by a complex of social attitudes with regard to the work; readers’ presuppositions taken into account by the author; and genre conventions. The non-referential quality will be constructed differently every time. The decision-making process regarding fictionality unfolds outside the text; this corresponds to the fact that no one particular language of fictionality (prose, etc.) exists.
Thus the price of this characteristically Platonic gesture, disqualifying the referential in literature, comes clear; the gesture is made in order to establish a logically precise status for fictional utterances (the classical model of an author with “intentions”; the reader can no longer influence fictionality established by law; fictionality as a sort of defective mood, feeding off of plenitude). In order to reconcile its relationship to reality and to concrete, “living readers”, a discourse excommunicated from the truth has to borrow from the category of verisimilitude.
Verisimilitude “as such” came to be in the context of ancient legal rhetoric (when the defendants’ “convincing” the judges confounded or even replaced verification) and immediately took hold of fictionality; hence the first function of verisimilitude was to “give the impression of truth”. But unlike truth or veracity, verisimilitude makes reference not to an “extratextual” fact, but rather to a different discourse or even a different code of discursive conduct.
Furthermore, verisimilitude has degrees of gradation, a power extent radius and the quality of historical variability. In the 17th century, verisimilitude rested on a certain form of “obligation” (“It is incredible, and therefore impossible, that a girl would marry the murderer of her father” — the period’s verdict to Corneille’s “Le Cid”), that is, on the correspondence of public opinion to an anonymous discourse which acted as the referential field for fictional utterance (this mute discourse, not meant to be uttered, of course acts as a “naturalising” function; though everyone knows that it is the opinion of the respectable public, it functions as “life itself”, “nature”, etc.). Meanwhile, during the first half of the 19th century — thanks to the appearance of realistic writing — verisimilitude no longer made reference to universally accepted doctrine, but rather to certain hidden (or assumed forgotten) general social and/or psychological objective laws (“as befits a provincial…”, “like all old maids…”). Verisimilitude went from being obligatory to being law-governed; now the master of verisimilitude is not the connoisseur of obligation, but the connoisseur of life, the biologist and biographer. Meanwhile, the objective laws which make a narrative credible began to propagate; dozens of new ones were uncovered with each new big novel. The third constellation of verisimilitude, meanwhile, appeared when the verisimilitude of both obligation and objective laws no longer sufficed, ceased to give the “impression of truth”. This impression was consequently sought in the excessive, in the useless which gives the “effect of reality”, in the complete absence of motivation. A poetics of unconditional Disruption, sheltering in the blind-alleys of verisimilitude, comes to the fore. In this way, the war against verisimilitude can continue without cease — waged using the resources of verisimilitude itself. Ermakov concludes by comparing this task to a different velocities problem — the disruptions must be carried out before verisimilitude has time to fill them back in. But it must also not be forgotten that verisimilitude is the one means accessible to fictionality which supports any relationship (even a disrupted one) to the Real.
Next come the poems of Alexey Kruchkovsky, which happen to build upon non-linear lyrical expression and the unmotivated description of objects fallen into the realm of vision-as-lens; where an epiphany of (in)sensitivity or a fragment of new seeing appear as the unit of the text. Here’s one of them:
The heat seized by Petersburg: Gutuevsky’s
too far away, where I wanted to take pictures
of trashpiles and other such soles of the port city.
Uneasy wind against skin (bottom-less and smoke),
a voice coming in stabs from the sink:
“The degraded smoothness of the completed,
a fragment of late time — a rag.
Zoom of the eye. Cloth hung
outside, strong coffee; (rustle and abyss).”
words for a letter on
listened to the dance of falling
leaves and towers.
the ends of ribbons of horizon,
into one of which
falls the sun.
acerbic ruins of the shore.
What does that have to do with mind?
Hours spent asleep melt
by tree’s echo.
The raised arrows of cranes
motionless, like birds on a roof.
The photograph is ready. Ice melts in the cup.
Nowhere to go, you might think right now.
She was the one who called me.
In the direction of a space. Breaking waves adhered
to feet stills stubbornly running along the sand.
The bus goes on to the sea of empty hope.
A perfect long sentence.
is contained in the last word: “shimmers”.
Reflection of the water, shore, night.
The chest is full of springs. They are of various colours, always more orange ones. How do they fit inside, all different sizes? Coiled. Better not to take the lid off a box like that, standing in a potato field a few steps from an irrigation canal, where clay mixes with sand churned up by glinting field creatures. — The sun goes by above the bridge, warms the water, back, back of the head. A dry ditch, in it lies a mouse.
By my left hand there’s a bridge, highway and lake. The road leads to the city — 12 kilometres to the nearest telephone.
To the right is an unmown field of grass, barrier gate, lake and mushrooms. Boats stand in the water, water drips over them...
A wood and abandoned houses in it. Dry like stones, on the sides not overgrown with moss.
Songs of murder carry out from there. Yellowness fills everything around. Red falls into the water, mixes with sand where there were footprints.
Ships left behind. Wire-net fencing. Did anyone get lucky in them? Empty sounds of riven statues, Juergen. I must remember them, otherwise I won’t have anything to make music from.
A few seconds, before the riven head leans for the last time to the cold painted wall, to any. On the neck — literally, beads of rowanberries pierced by the fishing line linking them. Black hair taking in blood through the skull of the dying man. The only mistake was the quantity. The women wring their hands in despair. The men keep hold of the murderer. He is still alive.
I go upstairs to my apartment, <…> in my pocket. The elevator doesn’t work, it’s hot.
27. march poem
On the upper floors of a building
leaning against the wall
that gives out onto the street,
i.e. on the outside part
several people —
men and women —
standing, «go to bed».
Not one of them
dares to look down.
Then we present Alexander Smulyansky’s philosophical essay, “Fact and its relationship to speech affect”, in which he construes the classical opposition of “words and things” as based on false grounds. Smulyansky claims that this argument is less about the notorious “deformational properties of the word”, i.e. the inherited opposition between “truth as such” and “words about truth” that circulated in the polemics of Socratic and Sophistic discourse — but rather about the actual intention of the utterance.
While the Ancient Greeks were interested in the problem of the origin of all that exists from its source, the problem that took its place in the modern age sounds like the metaphysical problem of the “knowability of the world” (in the adaptive-academic philosophical tradition). The accent moves from the “essence” to the “place” where all sorts of things reside.
However, Smulyansky specifies that in the Modern age, neither is practical interest in the “knowability of the world” at the core of typical Sophist intention, neither is our apparently lost ability to value truth as such at the core of Socrates. It becomes all the more logical to question the influence of the opposition between the primacy of truth and the clever exploitation of its absence in light of the fact that, at the very time it was experiencing a renaissance in the new Europe, this opposition was losing its ability as an argument to explain anything. The subject’s interest is not oriented on truth, but not on gain either. But it is not “veracity” in the sense of the Latin veritas, which is seen as a legal turn in the history of the problem of truth. This turning-point is used to explain the western “impoverishment” of truth to “practical accuracy”, and in the final analysis, to practical and theoretical fidelity of description. However, in Smulyansky’s opinion, the explanation very distinctly misses the mark right here in this rational conclusion about the nature of “fact”. For fact — and that modicum of reality that fact is supposed to make accessible to the subject — is, on the contrary, that which is no longer subject to any kind of exploitation.
Smulyansky is at pains to underscore that it is reality itself at stake, not the degree of usefulness or veracity. In the history of Western thought, close attention is clustered around the fact as a witnessing representative — but not at all a representative of one or another “objective” state of things. In other words, the fact represents not itself, though it seems otherwise at first — when the state of things and utterances about this state are both simultaneously called fact. But what the fact refers to is an instance of reality, in which the fact acquires its true value.
That is why betting on the fact isn’t pragmatic. On the contrary, along with the subject’s interest in the fact, a further significance connected with the concept of “reality” per se also comes into play.
Smulyansky clarifies that the fact, its manner of relating to “truth”, has a speech dimension, but that in the age of the fact’s “real» significance, it is deposed: not only can the fact not be described, but also cannot be “made into” speech (the radical constructivist version). Generally, the fact is situated on neither meaningful nor even communicative levels (on the contrary, its strange power begins to lose strength precisely when it is completely used up in these dimensions), but rather in the axiological dimension that allows references to the “fact” to express both assertions and demanding affect (as expressed in speech).
This demanding quality is still not completely understood, concludes Smulyansky, but unless it is taken into account, some things — especially the problem of “realism” or certain attempts at factographic literature — remain simply inaccessible.
Next we present Evgeniya Suslova’s drama in verse, “Blood Echolalia”, in which the author elaborates upon the principles of methodological writing. “Blood Echolalia” is not a ‘text for reading’ but rather a ‘text for action’, which allows for no utterances in ‘semantically charged language’. The ‘real-world image of the internal mind’ transitions towards speech according to the principle of transference. Suslova is not an apologist for language and underscores the necessity of orienting oneself towards an ‘intransitive’, non-interpretative reading, which allows the perceiver to form a topos of potential experience and cognition within himself. The basic category lying at the foundation of
methodological writing is spiritual effort — on the part of both the author and the reader.
This edition concludes with Pavel Arsenev’s essay “The effect of sophistry”, which views the latter phenomenon as a fact of influence on history (the history of thought) and as an effect of structure consisting in a regular criticism of ontology. With Sophists, the claim to an utterance about existence gives way to the facts of language (if it is enough to imagine oneself in order to be, and enough to be uttered in order to imagine oneself), and the epitome of sophist-type discursivity establishes that the utterer utters the utterance, and not some other thing — whereby the function of words is more relevant than their reference, and the intention of meaning outweighs the denotation. In antiquity, the critique of ontology established the political sphere as well. The imperialist intention to establish a rigid relationship between words and things of the outside world, to stabilise meaning, transforms itself into an elucidation of the internal, that is, civil relationship between words, the way of combining them which is necessarily projected onto the social syntax of the polis as well. The phenomenon of the homonym is an analogue, the most striking illustration of social consensus in speech activity. The resulting administration, created by all possible ambiguities, is indeed a consensus — it is the art of double (and more) meaning.
The likeness of a symbol with a coin, even as it bears witness to the significant convenience of both (which frees us from the necessity of “bringing” things with us for communication/exchange and, consequently, allows us to reach much greater accuracy and even refinement by means of this act), at the same time hints at the danger hiding there. With the intensification of communication/exchanges, we risk not simply exhausting the “objective-sensory dimension of words and things”, the use value of reality, but also allowing the exchange unit to turn into a fetish which ceases to be a measure of anything. At the same time this opens the door to homonymic proliferation and the autonomous principle “speak in order to speak”.
However, this in no way implies the notorious “departure into language” — rather a departure beyond language, which is the first condition of political praxis as understood in antiquity. Inasmuch as speech is what makes a person a political animal, politics sets up a situation whereby speech and speech alone is the one thing that has meaning (i.e. does not have a single stable meaning). The sophist virtue of juggling appearances turns over as the ability to see the world from different points of view, from another’s point of view — political perception par excellence. Thus politics is inescapably a politics of appearances, and the citizen speaks the language of sophistry, which allows the manifestation of all possible potentialities of discourse.
The only blight on this state of things comes from attending to how this “gift of speech” was distributed among all the citizens of the polis; at which point it becomes obvious that language, culture (of speech) is not only that which distinguishes man from the animals, but also that which distinguishes one man from another. Arsenev concludes his essay with a rhetorical question: to whom does this truly democratic privilege — to call things by their names — belong? To whom does the jurisdiction of sophist discursivity extend? (after all, even the polis’ most non-hierarchical regime of discursivity still didn’t let slaves or women become fully legitimate citizens, they remained speechless).
In May, 2009 was published Translit #5.
Who is speaking?
The notion that the work of art is a space where a sovereign will expresses itself has long ago been debunked. According to this notion, the artwork reveals traces of this will, which underwrites its utterance. Despite this debunking, as well as the deconstruction of the bourgeois subject and the destabilization of the category of authorship that were carried out in the sixties, the question that serves as the theme of this issue of Translit (a question first asked by Nietzsche) remains legitimate. Today, however, it presupposes a mapping of the intrapoetic (narratological) registers of speech production, as well as the consequently urgent necessity of investigating the relationship between the subject of the speech act and the authority of language and ideology.
Since antiquity, (lyric) poetry has been thought to be a much too direct form of utterance—that is, a nonfictional form in which the implicit author critically collapses into his biographical counterpart. It was thus even excluded from classical poetics. Only when poetry’s utilitarian potential was drowned in the nontransitivity of modernist writing did the lyric enter poetics and a specifically regulated poetic idiom become a criterion for literariness. Ever since then, any claim to direct poetic utterance has necessitated extensive commentary and aroused theoretical suspicion. The realm of subjective discourse is contrasted with “objective” diegesis and mimesis precisely by virtue of the unconditional, declarative recognition that there is promise in one’s own vision. After “objectivity” has been put paid to, this enables one to generate radically performative speech from the site of one’s autonomy. This discourse (unlike narrative) does not attempt to disguise the face of the speaker with either the consensus of depicted reality or the fascism of language. On the contrary, this face presents the most problematic area of its utterance as its sole guarantee.
Another means of thematizing the heterogeneity of speech and the inevitability of the Other’s presence within it is free indirect discourse broadly understood. This strategy is heir to the Aristotelian dramaturgical tradition, in which viewpoints are dispersed and the author’s sovereign will is delegated to various enunciating subjects even to the point of transmitting the truth of “things themselves.” But even this discursive strategy is not free of the suspicion that it has been infected by the discourse of power. For every conceptual declaration of repressed social idioms—every innovative montage of someone else’s speech—not only opposes one symbolic hierarchy to another or only the possibility of others, but also produces a distinct subject effect. Even when he demonstrates the deficit of democracy in language and conspicuously sacrifices himself, the bricoleur succeeds in acting as someone who has the right to this manipulation and in appropriating a certain quantity of the “power of naming.”
Thus, speech is as pre-given for the subject as is language, but it is determined by other social phenomena, historical in nature—ideological formations that produce corresponding discursive formations. The principal blind spot of every discourse is the construction of the subject per se. It is this subject that all ideologies address as their inalienable component.
Issue in â pdf
The new issue opens with a translation of Gene Ray’s programmatic essay “Toward a Critical Art Theory,”1 which draws a fundamental distinction between the art practices of modernism and the avant-garde. Ray outlines the conditions both for the overcoming of genre as well as the very autonomy of art itself, arguing in favor of radical cultural practice.
Critical art theory faces a dilemma: art under capitalism is a business like any other, albeit one whose actors trade on their relative autonomy within capitalist society. Despite this, the sum of the works they make is tantamount to “symbolic legitimation” of the class society in which they are produced. This dialectic—artwork as autonomy versus artwork as social fact—was most famously formulated by Adorno and his fellow Frankfurt theorists. They argued that the only way art could maintain its autonomy to any degree was by refusing both the blandishments of “capitalist rationality” and the “political instrumentalization” offered by anti-capitalist social realism. Hence, Adorno and his comrades were induced to side with high modernism, which allegedly sought out an autonomy proper to it alone. This was not, however, the only alternative for those wishing to defend art’s autonomy under capitalism. The most convincing of these attempts was the practice of the Situationists, who progressively detached themselves from the institutions of production, exhibition, spectatorship, and careerism while also avoiding the simple or total instrumentalization of art that their radical politicization might have seemed to demand.
Peter Bürger, who continued Adorno’s line of argumentation in his Theory of the Avant-Garde, gestured toward the practices of the Situationists and such pioneers of happenings as Allan Kaprow. He remained, however, committed to the Adornian notion that art cannot give up its (high modernist) autonomy without ceasing to be art. The implication is that if art does engage in direct political or social action, it forfeits this status.
The Situationists proved, however, that direct action (that is, the transformation of art into praxis) is in fact the goal that constitutes the avant-garde. Many artists have attempted to erase the boundary between art and life, but they performed this erasure under the watchful eye, so to speak, of the institutions, upon which they remained dependent. It is precisely in this sense that the happening acquires the character of an artwork. The Situationists critiqued the happening in 1963, contrasting it with their own genuinely avant-garde practice of constructing “situations”:
The happening is an isolated attempt to construct a situation on the basis of poverty of human contact and poverty inherited from the artistic spectacle. In contrast, an outline for the construction of situations must be the game, the serious game, of the revolutionary avant-garde, and cannot exist for those who resign themselves on certain points to political passivity, metaphysical despair, or even the pure and experienced absence of artistic creativity.
Ray concludes by arguing that a renewal of the avant-garde project means making “politicized breaks” with dominant art institutions that at the same time avoid a mere repetition of the “historical” avant-gardes by grounding themselves in contemporary social reality. If the break is radical enough, there is little danger that the hegemonic conception of art will prove capable of assimilating this rupture as an object for spectacle or consumption.
This is followed by Keti Chukhrov’s manifesto “The Mobile Theater of the Communist,” in which she makes a demand at once clear and daunting: art cannot avoid being communist. The author sees all of art—that is, all art from ancient Greece to the present day that has overcome egoism and conceit—as containing the potential of communism, understood as a specific, broad worldview. Independently of its pessimism or optimism, such art deals not with a certain stratum in society, but with everyone in general and each individual in particular. For often art either fears losing itself amidst the mob or, on the contrary, it makes artificial attempts at populism so as to avoid being accused of a reliance on specialized knowledge or expertise. When it avoids this altogether, it is confined to a narrow circle of connoisseurs and professionals.
This means that the artist herself has it in her power to be not one person but many—to not merely observe life and the multitude of the living, but to be or become them through art. In this connection the author discusses the theater, not as repertory-driven spectacle, however, but as an anthropological and political regime that emerges as the capacity for artistically effecting this transformation itself.
Chukhrov confesses that she made the unavoidable shift to the theater from, on the one hand, poetry, and, on the other, contemporary art. What she has found encumbering about poetry is its monologism, the fact that it is condemned to Acmeism, to lyricism—in short, to endless self-analysis even when its ostensible subject is the world, often castrating the legacy of the avant-garde and modernism in the process. On the other hand, contemporary art still operates vis-à-vis the modernist canon, which reduces the world to artistic idioms per se. When it approaches the event, it fails in this attempt because it immediately annuls the attempt itself. The space of representation, exposition, and commentary in contemporary art is configured in such a way that whatever subject contemporary art tackles, it inevitably ends up dealing with itself and its own limits. Despite the fact that it is based on process and unfolds in the “living” present, even performance (or actionism) is in essence an installation of the concept in space and time.
Theater, on the contrary, is dynamic: it constitutes the experience of performing, not of performance. As the regime of action qua becoming (not being), it appeals to what does not yet exist—in society, life, and art. It does not simply live through time, but performs it. That is, it is capable of dealing with the present as if it were the future.
Even when they thematize specific sociopolitical issues, exhibition spaces remain bound up with the politics of things and spaces. Theater, on the contrary, offers a way for human beings to politicize the space between them.
The theater is a space of people, not of artists. The paradox, however, is that this becoming-human has to be performed. The artist renders habitable the conceptual art-space of the performance, but he still remains an alienated individual. Even when it presents a monologue, the theater is dialogue, for ideas are deployed in the theater as the living tissue of human relations—that is, in a mode of unreduced polyphony and multitude.
Chukhrov examines the work of Meyerhold and his notion of cabotinage, which refers to traveling actors who perform wherever they wish. While the theater is definitely a public institution, its public is often identified with an audience that watches a performance, that is, with the notion that the action is a spectacle offered up for passive contemplation. The public nature of the theater also implies that it has the potential to be about everyone—about how the world exists for everyone; about how to be with the world when it does not exist for everyone; and about how to be with those people who for some reason have been abandoned by the world.
In this sense, the theater’s capacity for dealing with politics is greater than that of contemporary art (however many other means it possesses) and poetry (however existentially profound or socially acute it might otherwise be). This is because the political in the theater is neither theme nor problem. It is manifested between people when they are not mere documented objects or contemplated characters, but speaking political subjects.
The essence of drama is that it never boils down to the representation of a single idea. On the contrary, many ideas or people qua ideas are set into conflict in such a way that the resolution of this conflict or the conclusion it induces us to draw is a product of the action itself, not an initial premise.
The theater encourages both author and actor to speak not only for themselves, but to cultivate the ability to speak for many others. For the hardest thing is not to imagine one’s own development and self-perfection (whatever heights one might have achieved in contemplation of the world), but to catch sight of how other people develop and perfect themselves.
Chukhrov founds her arguments on a single assumption. Artistic achievements and intellectual quests for the transcendent are worth nothing if they take place thanks to the fact that they discount the great multitude of people in this world who have neither the space, time or basic conditions for thinking, creating, loving, and living. Your personal access to the sublime counts for nothing if you fail to understand that all people, whoever they are, are potentially artists, scientists, engineers, philosophers, interlocutors, comrades, and simply human beings. Without them, the fullness of the world and life is unattainable.
Although many people resist the communism in themselves, reality, art, and history out of fear for themselves, their prosperity, their own power (however modest), their success, and the education and culture they have acquired with such effort, Chukhrov believes that it is possible to think about yourself as if you were thinking about others, as if you were not thinking about yourself. Hence, “the mobile theater of the communist” is possible. It is the possibility of creating relations charged with political eros using the means at hand here and now. Despite circumstances, we can introduce this artistic space of communism into the existing environment, albeit temporarily. This work is performed by as many people as want and are able to do it right now, in the place they have found to do it right now. And they do this work for whoever is prepared for this encounter right now.
A selection of poems by Anton Ochirov, who employs precisely this device of social polyphony, is followed by Alexander Smulyansky’s polemical essay “Alienated Speech: The Genius of the Commonplace,” which deals with the discussion that has unfolded around the direct action poetry movement.
Smulyansky attempts to elicit from the utterance qua utterance what it wants and what it says in addition to what “is said” within it. He examines free indirect discourse as a construction in which the author has as it were renounced his own point of view, although he does not deprive it of certain traits whose absence would make his discourse direct. This type of discourse is employed by the author but does not belong to him. Closing ranks with “alien” discourse, it acts behind the back of direct utterance.
This discourse, however, is “alien” not only to the author, but also to the person whom the author has willed to articulate and utter it (the hero). The character who speaks this discourse is no more its expert than the author himself. Neither of them knows anything about it, with the difference that one of them uses it, while the other exposes the first to universal view. An anonymous foundation always enters discourse with free indirect speech.
The typical form of narrative thinking that we have just described serves as the basis for the customary yardstick used to measure the status of “alien” discourse vis-à-vis authorial intention. Critics and readers constantly ask each other how clearly the author has determined for himself the alien status of the speech to which he has resorted. It is thus assumed that Vladimir Sorokin is fully “conscious” of the “sovietisms” he employs. Andrei Platonov’s narratives, on the other hand, are ambiguous about their status. Literary critics are thus tempted to engage again and again in debates on this score. Did Platonov himself understand that he was being “ironic”? All discussions of the use of the “ironic” context, however, conceal the fact that the author never and in no way can take possession of “alien” speech; therefore the question of his consciousness is irrelevant. The author is weak: he is secretly terrified of the vitality and freedom of this speech, which he carefully employs in the free indirect mode.
The narrator who uses this speech is not its author not merely because he did not invent it. A more or less personal thinking through of the utterance is the weak sense of the word “authorship.” First and foremost, the author cannot be the author of this speech in the strong sense of the word: because he does not wish to be the person who regards this speech as something genuinely meaningful. Although he transmits this speech as genuine, the author is finally unable to become its master. He merely demonstrates the terror it radiates as something self-assured that it possesses its own meaning.
Indirect speech is not something that can be incorporated into polyphonic discourse. On the contrary, its anonymity assures that no discursive network will be able to contain it. It rumples and crushes the discursive order, which is configured with thoroughgoing thoughtfulness and the passionate hope for its own success. These qualities, of course, are motivated by the best intentions when it comes to enlightening the reader and critiquing the mores of the powerful.
It is wishful thinking to imagine that we might find a new authorial discourse that is immediate and direct. These transgressive qualities are present only in speech, which appears anonymously at the author’s shoulder—that is, as something no one is able to domesticate, not even the author. In the midst of utterances already aware of their own impotence (which alone makes them the “intelligent” force of their discourse), anonymous speech appears like a berserker, a crazed ancient warrior run amok amongst a company of well-trained soldiers.
In conclusion, Smulyansky attests to the unrecognized fear that reigns over the symbolic field, which is disturbed by the knots of anonymity that exist within it. This is witnessed by the fact that, as pseudophony, the false voice of the discursive ensemble, free indirect speech is handled exactly the same way as in instances when it is used in a monologically naive fashion. Very few authors dare to violate its integrity. The only thing they question is its authority.
Smulyansky’s contribution is followed by a dialogue between Pavel Arseniev and Sergei Ogurtsov, who continue to develop the problematic around the instable positions of speaker and listener, as characterized by the dubious formula “I speak, therefore (?) you exist.” While Arseniev insists on the necessity of suspicion towards the discursive subject—that is, toward the person who always speaks and thus dominates the person spoken about—Ogurtsov focuses on the problematic of the “message” and the possibility that the participants in this process might enter into a unconventional relationship in which the political is made possible both by the Other and by the unmediated emergence of subjectivity via the Other. Any understanding of the Other that treats it as an “addressee” known and constituted in advance “oppresses” it—that is, speech reduces it to the status of the “addressee,” as the person who “understands,” and thus deprives it of the possibility of being Other. The Other is what is oppressed by “me.” It is oppressed so that “I” can speak, so that “I” am heard. Arseniev and Ogurtsov agree that we should think power more abstractly: where the power of systems (e.g., the state) over individuals (or collectives) is assumed, we should speak of the power of One over the Other, of “I” over “you.” This is the basis for any visible form of power.
Arseniev and Ogurtsov then discuss the correlation of critical thought—whose apogee is critical self-reflection, the questioning of “oneself” (“the questioning of the speaker itself”)—with specific formal and cultural-political strategies and with historical praxis. While Ogurtsov attempts to debunk the myth that a pedagogy of perception denies “direct” political action, Arseniev insists on the performativity of every artistic utterance. He argues that direct action poetry, one of the most reflexive types of artistic utterance, neither postpones nor simplifies the question of the Other. Instead, it addresses this question to the enunciating subject itself as the most problematic realm of speech.
Arseniev and Ogurtsov concur that the gesture towards the Other, which is possible in art, cannot by definition be prescribed as an aspect of “content” controlled by the willpower of the (enunciating) subject. This alleged act of will instantly transfers the subject to the sphere of policy. It makes the subject an agent of power, one of whose effects in poetry is the pre-scription of the Other. Arseniev and Ogurtsov see this effect as the most destructive both for poetry and for politics.
Their dialogue is followed by Tatyana Venediktova’s introduction to a selection of foreign poetry, “Artless Art on the Market of Values,” which deals with the artistic strategies employed by nineteenth-century and twentieth-century American poets in the absence of an institutionalized literary field.
Thanks to the relative emancipation of aesthetics from the traditional patronage of reason and normative religious ethics, from the mid-eighteenth century onwards it was precisely in the aesthetic space that much that had been considered low, vulgar, primitive, and commonplace sought out and found cultural representation. There was no person or thing that could not suddenly take on new beauty and value if it was transformed by the imagination of a genius—not because this genius gussied it up according to the rules, but because it made this thing intensely visible. Aesthetics was no longer bound up with rules for producing beautiful objects, but rather with the creative nature of perception—that is, with the capacity for recognizing the initial creative gesture (of nature or God) and extending it, thus giving expression to the individual creative ego.
The paradox and inner tension of post-Romantic culture has to do with the fact that creativity splashes out in all directions and begins to be recognized as a (potential) trait of any person, while at the same time the professionalization of art leads to its re-enclosure. The flywheel of the market puts the artist face to face with the mass consumer. On the one hand, this contact is subjugated to the predictable formality of the commercial transaction; on the other, it is unpredictable insofar as communication cannot find support in a universal set of conventions shared by everyone.
Art dissolves into life: it takes on new significance as the aesthetic function, which is potentially immanent to any object or phenomenon. The newfound relevance of the aesthetic function is directly bound up with the manifestation of the principle of subjective creativity. Moreover, the identification of an individual as a privileged “creator” is limited by nothing, but nor is it guaranteed by anything other than the mechanism of the market. Therefore, in a democracy, the aestheticization of life goes hand in hand with commercialization.
Venediktova goes on to analyze the artistic strategies of specific authors. In the Romantic tradition, the artwork is consistently perceived as the immediate extension of the artist’s self. Thus the act of publication—taking one’s “creation” to the public—is often associated with putting one’s own personality on the auction block. Emily Dickinson was never genuinely admitted to the market: the editors of the journals to which she submitted her poems explained to her that they were helpless, clumsy, “unsalable,” and in need of rewriting. Revised versions of the poems were published, but the poet decided not to make any further efforts to correspond to “standards.” She preferred to retreat into anonymity and profound privacy.
Walt Whitman is characterized by a no less intimate corporeal and spiritual identification with his own works, but he reacted differently to the stark challenge of his cultural milieu. The inner sense of Whitman’s famous poems is that any act, moment or object—chosen arbitrarily and utterly ordinary in itself—is potentially aesthetic: having become the focus of admiration, pleasure, and desire (which thus acquires the significance of creative effort), it becomes a kind of “poem.”
The poet plays a double, as it were “split” role—that of commodity and seller, or rather, auctioneer. An ancient form of trading, the auction was always reserved for commodities whose value was undetermined or debatable. Artworks are also often sold at auction. Unlike handicrafts, their value is determined not by the quantity of labor and mastery invested in them, but by their author’s “genius,” which is perceived only subjectively. The price of the commodity is not fixed in advance, and the identity of potential buyers and their degree of interest is unknown. The act of sale/purchase at an auction is viewed in some sense as a creative act (the audience applauds the conclusion of each sale). Generally silent and invisible, the public reveals itself; it confirms its participation in the production of a new symbolic reality, a new value.
For Whitman, the marketplace crowd, traditionally despised, is the democratic mass, a potentially creative subject whom the poet as “auctioneer” attempts to “conjure” into being with his appeals. This is precisely the chance that Whitman sees in the ritual of the (symbolic) auction: the “germination” of the creative impulse into the field (as we would say nowadays) of “mass communications,” and the transformation of the “vulgar” practice of economic exchange into a cultural dimension.
The focus of attention is not the aesthetic object as such, but rather the process and experience of perceiving the object and interacting with it. This experience is fraught both with the risk of humiliation and the chance that the thing can be raised up and its value increased. It is no surprise that early twentieth-century modernism made frequent use of this double gesture: proud alienation from the general public, à la Dickinson, and recognition of a radical (albeit not literal) dependence on it, à la Whitman.
In Wallace Stevens’s poem “Anecdote of the Jar,” despite the absence of qualities (even color) of the “main character” (the jar), it nevertheless becomes the focus of a powerful fascination. The jar overcomes and organizes the primeval energy of its natural environment, which begins to play it as his retinue plays the king: it imparts value to it, creating an infinite something ex nihilo. The originally worthless object suddenly appears as something magnificent, sublime, and endlessly valuable. Stevens’s jar recalls, of course, Duchamp’s readymades, its contemporaries—everyday things that in a new context of reception (the exhibition hall) are transformed for viewers into artworks. In this case, however, the museum or exhibition hall is emphatically absent; all that exists is an effort of the imagination. An authentically individual ego—authorial and lyrical, along with the readerly ego, which enjoys equal rights with the first—has been placed at the center of the world: it is this subject which gives this standard object a new place, role, and value. The creative consumer affirms himself as a cultural hero—the nearest equivalent to the non-existent Demiurge.
The further development of the logical construction thus defined is quite apparent: the postmodernist de-aestheticization and re-aestheticization of a mediatized environment, the relativization of aesthetic value, and the spread of a “new sensuality.” The aesthetical manifests itself ever more actively beyond the confines of art—in advertising, fashioning, political propaganda, etc.—but the discussion of its problematic continues for the most part in terms of its alleged autonomy. Stances are struck for and against the “artificiality” of art and the “literariness” of literature, but this debate has long ago acquired its own inertia and leads its participants nowhere. Dating back to Romantic aestheticism, this thesis is no longer supported by contemporary cultural realities. Venediktova thus concludes that the terms and vector of the discussion need to be updated.
The issue concludes with Alexander Skidan’s translations of poems selected from three books by Michael Palmer — Sun (North Point Press, 1988), At Passages (New Directions, 1995), and The Promises of Glass (New Directions, 2000).
(Summary prepared by Thomas Campbell)
There are also two russian poets, whose texts are printed in this issue.
can you believe it they
think it’ll pass
yes I also think that things will come round
nothing turning up–nothing turning up
but something’ll turn up
after all you turned up well, accidentally I mean
it just worked out like that somehow on its own
and what is
god? sorry somehow I‘m awfully tired autumn gets me you know
the first one’s starting school I have no idea how they do things there now
the second one yes all grown up too
oh and do you remember that ad for “KUKURUKU
JUST A DREAM COME TRUE” no? you even said it sounded funny and
you used to say in the mornings about your job “well bye I’m off to whore myself out” although
I don’t remember anything anymore either maybe that was a different ad
it’s too bad that after that you wouldn’t set foot here and I I too
I thought then that I buried you too
I was worse when I was younger
by the way what’s better to say “I gave birth” or “I birthed”?
yes it’s OK it’s just it’s too bad I would have liked
for them to be yours
but now I have this voice inside I think that it’s you like
speaking from your grave:
there’s a lot of fun kids here they’re all making a bicycle
and one of these mornings someone’s going to figure out gunpowder
or it’s me speaking like that from my grave because you are my death
and I just invented you
you think this is a poem no it’s white noise
“blood type” old music the rustle of time our pilotless whisper
a house that people live in
maintains the same architecture
as a house where people die
shifting two centimetres to the left
ask the homeless—led by miniscule distances
ask the mute tomcat—now he’s banging against the slightly shifted basement window,
still unused to silence, now and then trying to say something —to whom?
against the background of the house there is an enormous wood:
a figure completed by the road
its line reminds the birds of two letters, a number and a sign
(the tomcat sometimes licked up off the table: ax+7, 3f/a,
can’t argue with that)
if you come back, remind me who with a knock of resolution
if I’m still here, try not to bring up the past
(Poems translated by Ainsley Morse)
In October, 2008 was published Translit #4
Secularisation of literature
This is already the fourth issue of the poetry and essay almanac Translit. Its aim is to once more draw the reader’s attention to a particular conflict in the modern literary process. The first issue concerned the gender aspect of poetry; the second dealt with the role of personality; the third, with the intercausation of text and reality. This fourth issue strives to investigate the forms of modern poetry’s social existence via the concept of the secularization of literature.
Two seemingly hostile camps — the culture industry and elitist (“contemporary”) art — are products of the partial breakdown of the avant-garde project, which combined the principles of innovation and accessibility. The culture industry, which transformed accessibility into the enforced imperative to consume, is a super-intensive conductor of the dominant ideology, whereas elitist art (usually disguised under less objectionable names) is a more indirect conductor. It lets its agents in the field believe that they can preserve their own pure outlook as they increase art’s supply of precedents. Functionality is thus reduced to the instrumentalization of reception, whereas innovation is entangled in the internal game of scandalizing the establishment.
This scheme is also applicable to the current condition of literature. This compels us to problematize the contradiction between the current tendency to auratize poetry in conditions of total communication and the project of its secularization, which inherits the tradition of such avant-garde tendencies of the early twentieth century as “production literature” and the “literature of fact.” The sovereign flashiness of the modernist utterance is thus opposed to the effectiveness of functional poetics, which overcomes the very autonomy of literature by creating constructive utopian messages and direct critical statements. By wielding its sacral status and instrumentalizing its own autonomy, such literature specializes not only in the hermeneutics of social reality but also tries to overcome the institutional limits of literature as such, thus establishing direct contact with reality and producing instruments of knowledge and resistance. When the talk turns to political power, contemporary literature usually pulls its hand away from the flame, although it always affects a reliance on power, trying to channel it into a tautological affirmation of the autonomous zones of its own symbolic influence, which is easily converted into exchange value. Secularized literature, on the contrary, is well aware of the fact that each artistic statement is an act of modeling social reality, i.e., a performative act. It cannot continue to propagate the myth of the artist’s autonomy — the myth that the artist has evolved from disobeying the dominant discourse to a frozen pose of incoherence and independence from all contexts.
Issue in pdf
The first article in the issue is an overview by Alexander Skidan, “Poetry in the Age of Total Communication”. This article discusses forms of the representation of poetry that gravitate toward synaesthesia, toward the integration of text with video and photography, which subordinate the text to a visual logic. The groups that use music and video in their readings (or rather, performances) base their aesthetic on the devaluation and ineffectiveness of the word as such, which has to be compensated by an energetic audio-visual injection. It isn’t that important that these groups use very different formats — Riga’s Orbit group produces multimedia shows; Petersburg’s Drills put on rock concerts; while Listen Up! is engaged in poetic cabaret or poetic theatre. What is more important is that all of them strive for a total aesthetic effect in the spirit of Wagner’s Gesamtkunstswerk — for spectacle, for interaction with the audience. It is possible to debate the degree of talent and professional merits of the performers in such projects (if such categories are applicable here). We can ask whether they bring something new and meaningful to poetry itself, or instead reduce poetry to the role of an ingredient, a “handmaiden” to other art forms. The author, however, is more interested in the very symptom of the unprofitability of the text-in-itself.
The sense that the poetic word is “unprofitable” and “useless” is fueled by a complicated set of problems occasioned by the socio-cultural transformations of the last several decades. The turn to new technologies on the part of poets is merely the tip of this iceberg. The “soft” terror of the mass media and the cult of consumerism have replaced ideological control in the post-Soviet space. The speed with which information is transmitted via electronic and wireless networks has increased so exponentially that our customary (bookish) skills for reading and making sense of it malfunction, yielding to machinic processing and digital surfing.
Valéry (Problems of Poetry, 1935) does not specify what kind of “immediate magic” and “direct stimuli” “show [us] life itself,” but in any case it is clear that, compared to them, poetry (and its graces) will seem “outdated.” He, of course, could not have predicted that things “themselves,” objects and phenomena, would be replaced by their electronic images; that information flows would replace nature; that the reality principle would be shaken to its foundations by the “reality effect,” delivered to one’s door by industrial means. Television, Internet, mobile phones, and other forms of instant recording and communication organize the market of synthetic, simulated perception, thus enabling its industrialization and automation. Technics has become the dominant force; it subjugates both itself and everything it touches — both the micro- and macro-world, from the human genome to intergalactic space — to a sole principle, the principle of cost efficiency.
The current turn of poets to spectacular forms and technologies is, therefore, not simply their means to find a new audience, preferably a bigger one. It is not simply a means for concealing the word’s insolvency with a “direct” psychosomatic attack or, on the contrary, for demonstratively flaunting the end of an egregious literature-centrism. It is, rather, proof that the paths of contemporary art and poetry have been diverging since the mid-twentieth century. Contemporary art was institutionalized and taken under the wing of governments, museums, foundations, and corporations. It gradually became an inalienable component of the culture industry and the political propaganda machine, as the Moscow Biennale has recently demonstrated with such showy brilliance. Citing the campaign to promote American abstract expressionism, mounted with the direct support of the CIA, some historians argue that the institutionalization of the visual arts undertaken in the west in the post-war period was a farsighted, well-conceived policy to socialize and, thus, domesticate the anti-bourgeois spirit. This policy channeled radicalism into the autonomous buffer zone of the arts.
This version of events sounds plausible, but it is only a part of the truth. No less significant is another factor: the deterritorialization of art, its escape from the surface of the canvas and traditional easel painting. Its new forms — assemblage, object, happening, body art, land art, installation, process art, relational aesthetics, video, and multimedia — conform precisely to the deterritorialization wrought by transnational capital. Two logics encounter and reflect each other here: the immanent logic of art, which seeks to overcome its own limits, and the logic of the expanded (re)production of goods. Put crudely, if the thing (the painting, the object) has become an item on the market or has been purchased by a museum and exhibited there as “contemporary art,” then for me to remain an artist I am now forced to create, for example, ideas or relations, not material things. In turn, these things acquire an exhibition value (a price) — that is, a commodity form.
Poetry quite quickly, as early as the nineteen-teens and twenties, ran up against the material boundary of deterritorialization: pure phonetic writing (glossolalia, transsense language) and/or the blank page. The collages of the Dadaists or the “vacuum” poetry of the Nothingists (nichevoki) pushed poetry to the verge of exhaustion or dissolution in the other art forms.
Valéry’s prediction has been fulfilled in one other way. As the world is integrated via mass communication, the World Wide Web, and porous national frontiers, as it becomes (as they say) globalized, and national cultures mix, lose their strict contours, and more and more often generate a non-national, supranational or international art, poetry, on the contrary, is locked in its local traditions as in ghettoes, unable to overcome its cultural and linguistic barriers. Since the time of the surrealists and, with certain provisos, the beatniks, not a single poetry movement has emerged that could lay claim to true international status or provoke a public response outside its local audience.
This is a close type economy, it corresponds to hermetic local poetics traditions and of poetry itself as a kind of creative activity within the extended — and still widening — cultural production. In other words, the industry of contemporary art has the advantage of upward mobility, as the sociologists put it. This means immediate access to the international market, while poetry is forced to make do with a national symbolic economy. It is a closed economy: it corresponds to the hermeticism (and hermetization) of local poetic traditions and poetry itself as a form of creative work within an ever-expanding field of cultural production.
Thus, the center of creative activity has moved into the zone of visual art, which immediately reflects (and partly overlaps) the new technogenic environment and this in its turn is a conductor that mobilizes human cerebral and sensor-motor resources and matches the dominant regime of temporality and synthetic perception established by mass media. The center of creative work has shifted to the visual arts because they immediately reflect, and partly coincide with, the new technogenic environment, which mobilizes the cerebral and sensorimotor resources of human beings and corresponds to the dominant regime of temporality and synthetic perception established by the mass media.
Unlike poetry, the visual arts are inscribed in the culture industry and, consequently, in the capitalist machine, which deterritorializes any form of identity based on linguistic competency. This competency has been replaced by an expanded (re)production and consumption of audiovisual images. Poetry must still invent means for dwelling in the heart of this absolute rupture, for delivering and enduring it as an openness to the future. And, perhaps, as an openness to future (absolutely real) collective actions.
[Full translation of this essay you could find here]
This essay is followed by a selection of poems by Roman Osminkin, a perennial slam participant who actively uses video technology to represent his work and who publishes his poetry clips on the Internet.
“The metro hadn’t opened yet, but now it had opened,
They entered, and each of them presented his transport pass.”
Danila Davidov, “Plan of the Moscow Metro”
...I am a female suicide bomber entering the metro with the equivalent of x kilograms of TNT
or I’m the stupid turnstile that doesn’t suspect a thing
I’m the flooded tunnel between Courage Square and Lesnaya
or I’m the construction worker who courageously fixes it
I’m the pile that threads into the subway car with a teeth-jarring squeal
or I’m the passenger who there and then decides to give up drinking
I’m a creature without fixed domicile trying to get warm
or I’m a new Anna quasi-Karenina who stares at the rails
I’m a person of Caucasian nationality without papers
or I’m Lyubov Sliska, who doesn’t take the metro but threatens him from a campaign poster
I’m the girl with sad eyes who tweaks away at her violin in the transfer tube
or I’m the coin flying towards her feet but caught in mid-flight by the cop
I’m the token squeezed in the callused palm of the Moldovan Gastarbeiter
or I’m the old lady wielding a rucksack who mutters they’ve overrun the place
I’m an unemployed gatecrasher who hops the turnstile and dashes down the escalator
or I’m the middle-aged broad who eternally yells into the microphone don’t run on the escalator
or else you’ll stumble fall and roll to the bottom you’ll be in a world of pain
and besides every step on the escalator costs a lot of money
if you don’t care about yourself then take a little pity on her
stop I beg you in the name of the holy semaphore of the underground god. . .
The issue also contains Vadim Lungul’s “Poetic Manifesto”. In a dashing futuristic manner, it calls on poetry to take urgent measures to make literary utterance transparent and poetics maximally functional. Poets, according to the author, must realize who their social audience is and stop flirting with “that old woman Literature.” By repeatedly using the predicate “wants” with the subject “poet,” Vadim either means to supply us with collective image of a the contemporary poet or to describe his own cultural and political needs. (“The poet wants to know everything here and now without waiting for the Final Judgment; he has no right to appeal to God’s judgment — he must appeal to secular courts”) He himself, after all, is the figure to whom these requirements are addressed. Beside these imperatives, the author is also granted a permission to speak about the most down-to-earth matters if they really worry him: “The poet understands that anything can be poetry, and this is his strength”. Here is a translation of one of his poems:
What are the cops talking about?
What are people
What are the papers
What are the сops
What are the poets
People are talking
The papers are writing
The cops are talking
The poets are writing
The papers are writing that
to guarantee rights.
People are saying that
it’s better to toughen the measures
than to wake up
every night in fear.
The cops are saying
that the measures
aren’t tough enough,
as fast as possible.
But the poets are still writing
about this and that, about themselves
and their lives,
and they bite their tongues
because they know that blood
is the most precious thing of all,
and that it is blood
that flows in their veins.
This is followed by an essay by Pavel Arsenev, “The Bureaucracy of the Code”, in which the author studies what happened in theoretical studies of formalism and (post)structuralism, as well as in the artistic practices of historical modernism — the hypostatizing of the fundamental properties of the linguistic sign, which had already been described by Saussure, into the constituent properties of the (artistic) utterance. In consequence, literature and other areas of symbolic production are treated as self-enclosed systems, as a playground of arbitrary distinctions in which the utterance itself is characterized not so much by what it expresses or might express as by its correlation with previous utterances (e.g., by how it differs from them). This structural logic of art’s function generates supporters of the so-called ‘pure’ gaze and ‘pure’ works of art, which immortalize the exclusive adequacy of internal exegesis and thus devalue all attempts to reduce them to extratextual reality, which they are meant to oppose.
The principal contradiction in the aesthetic program of formalism — between the pre-rational structure of thought, which must be imprinted in a palpable object, and the artificial nature of this object, which reveals its technical nature — exposes the fundamental property of this program. Both the palpability of the work and the coquetry of “baring the device” in fact rely on the conventionality of art. Following Bourdieu, the author criticizes the escalation of literature’s autonomy, when precedents become more and more the result of the field’s specific structure (and the history that led to it), and are thus less and less predisposed to direct contact with reality. Since literature is the realm in society where symbolic complexes are exchanged, this autonomy or the drive towards it can be called bureaucratic.
The author explains that the modernist revolt against authorial autocracy created the personnel base for the future bureaucracy of the code. The place of the narcissistic authorial message, brimming with dictatorial clichés and ideological implications, and thus filled with a repressive referentiality, is captured by the long-awaited unselfishness of the auto-referential text, emancipated from despotic authorial structuring and promising emancipation to all recipients. The recipients, however, are not emancipated, despite the demonstrative openness (transparent mediation) of texts. Reception bogs down in the casuistry of deconstruction, weaning the addressee away from seeing an ideological message in the artwork.
Born in the period of “aimless aims”, the bureaucracy of the code, when it came to power, made absolute the principle of immanence. It thus hoped to avoid the bootlegging of ideology into works of art, but in fact it only drove it deeper into “self-sufficient” form or “immanently structured texts.” Thus, there are two generations of the bureaucracy: the formalist generation, which is more predisposed to fetishizing the textual unit or the text-as-unit (the “self-sufficient” artifact), as determined by the structure of the field; and the structuralist generation, which fetishizes the code as such and its intertextual properties as determinate. The author is primarily interested in critiquing the second generation because it is this ideology of the “pure gaze” that remains the main definition of the contemporary consensus, which admits the most experimental poetics, any and all discursive configurations, as long as they only describe the world without trying to change it, and the author forgets that the blocks of text he produces are ideological.
Thus the project of literature’s secularization has halted at the stage of a new dictatorship — textual immanence and the bureaucracy of the code. According to the author, the thoroughgoing secularization of literature as a social phenomenon can not continue balancing between the author as something human but ideologically conservative and the text as something progressive but subject to bureaucratization. It must continue by taking the dialectical step towards a new humanism that accents the figure of the collective recipient. Thus, not only will the bureaucracy of the code be overcome, but also the autonomy of the field of art, which conditioned the triumph of this stage.
If now it is something outside individuals that dominates — the text — then it will be a real revolutionary step to overcome this maximally mediated and minimally palpable hegemony — the hegemony of the code. After the death of the author, we cannot put up with the corpse-like smell of the text — it is time for the reader to be born. When the ethics of the message and the aesthetics of the code are overcome, we will need a new ethics of reception, inversely proportional to the first and perpendicular to the second.
The author also proposes an original distinction between modernism and the avant-garde as fundamentally antithetical phenomena of modernity: as a result of transformations in the cultural field, which had been going on since the nineteenth century and had led, in particular, to the emergence of a new class — the bureaucrats of the code — the production of artistic artifacts becomes more and more impossible in its previous form. However, while the modernist author, recognizing this impossibility, either tries to avenge art for his own incompetence or to play off this impossibility, thus becoming a bureaucrat of the code, in no way does he destroy the border between art and reality. On the contrary, the intention of the avant-garde is to make use of the revolutionary moment of “weak art” and destroy the autonomy of the field, to destroy art in order to overcome the division of labor that has made it possible as an institution. Recognizing the fact that many of the avant-garde’s intuitions were incarnated by mass culture, the author returns to an analysis of the particular practices of the historical avant-garde, insisting on the necessity to continue the secularization of literature and to go beyond the limits of aesthetics in general and the system of literary genres in particular. This is the way to finally enter “life,” to enter praxis, to completely operationalize artistic work in the process of “life construction,” which had earlier been realized in the literature of fact and the poetry of direct statement (Mayakovsky’s yavnopis).
Saussure’s constant political and economic allusions (valeur is “meaning” but is also the “value” of a sign) enable the author to use the concept of the sign’s surplus value to suggest not only a project of radical criticism of the recipient’s semiotic exploitation, but also a program of emancipatory practices of ethical reception in the form of the free correlation of oneself with the code and the imposition of an urgent social message on any given artistic statement (what approaching to the concept of detournement), which not only annihilates the fundamental distinction between production of art and its consumption, but also the very phenomenon of the sovereign work of art.
The essay is followed by a number of examples of innovative techniques for construing the poetic statement by the same author, so-called “ready-writtens”, which demonstrate the “capture” of ideological statements with the use of instrumentalized poetry:
32 inches in diagonal:
A truly revolutionary breadth of views.
Mayakovsky for Sale
A used Mayakovsky is for sale
on the new trading square of the Runet.
Add to cart.
E-mail this link to a friend.
Everything will be found.
How to spend your free time.
Then follows “Afgan-Kuzminki”, a dramatic poem by Keti Chukhrov with two protagonists — the wholesale dealer of the so called «veshevoi rinok» (cheap clothes market) and a saleswoman. The market «Afgan» really exists in Moscow in the suburb of Kuzminki, at the Metro-station Kuzminki. Quite often in authors poetic plays she try to juxtapose the everyday prophane language of the unprivileged with the almost miraculous potentiality to overcome and transcend such language by means of the Poetic, that can arise from anywhere. Harshness that helps to struggle with hard life at the expence of becoming beasty, rude and merciless might have an incredible and unexpected outcome in case of the event of love, filiation, meeting, amity. Hatred, pain, nausea may have a strange climax when they are able to achieve transformation into the opposite. This is possible only in the regime of the poetic parole which is not the monologue of a lirycal hero, but always a live dialogue between the two or more — i.e. a theatre.
The plot of a play is very simple. The wholesale supplier Hamlet offers the saleswoman Galina a barter — if she has sex with him, he lets her get a more profitable sales counter — not the underware counter at which she presently works but the fur-counter. It is clear though, that none of them actually desires such sex, they do it because within the life they live they are doomed to such relationship. This is a mathematical formula of a predetermined promiscuous compromise, out of which the real touch between two human beings could help to escape. Such an escape may happen not by means of morals or elevated matters but within the fuss of life’s filth, and despite it. As long as the play goes on, Hamlet and Galina try to have sex at a dress-change room right in the market. It is not comfortable there, so they move to medical-aid room, just because there is a bed there. And again, Galina is hampered by medicines’ smell, Hamlet beats her for being so capricious but they later drive to Hamlet’s flat. Then all of a sudden Galina’s favourite series begin over TV and she asks to postpone sex after it ends. They dumbly watch TV. Then Hamlet is listening to Putin’s speech until it is very late and until they both — very tired and unable to have any contact — intimate, personal, or any other — are ready to fall asleep. The more so, that their job at the market the next day starts at 7 a.m. This is when the miracle may happen — between sleep and wake, between being and non being, between man and woman. And it sort of happens.
Finally, the new issue includes a memoir-essay by Kirill Medvedev devoted to his ex-friend Dmitry Kuzmin, a well-known figure in the Russian literary scene. Medvedev’s breakup with Kuzmin made him analyze the peculiarities and limitations of the most successful example of cultural management in contemporary Russia. Dmitry Kuzmin is a well-known publisher: he edits anthologies and organizes literary events, and he is also known as a poet, critic, and translator. He recruits all authors who are inclined to innovation and publishes them in his magazine Babylon, thus declaring thus the creation of a big meta-space that, with the success of liberal reforms and the general emancipation of the population, was supposed to be established as a mainstream cultural phenomenon and play an important and positive role in Russian culture. The main value of a poem, according to Kuzmin, is innovation, and he gives his own definition of it. While reading a poem, a person without realizing it sees a certain group of people behind it. These people may be familiar to him or not, they can be interesting, nice or repulsive. This happens because an author while writing the poem also thinks of a certain group of people. Art is always a relation of minds; it is always communication — not with heaven or books, not with abstractions — but with people. Thus, whereas a traditional poem is an imprint of an already existing group, an innovative one is the micro-project of a new group. By mixing different layers — emotional, linguistic, cultural, etc. — and various kinds of experience, which no one has mixed before, the poet suggests a micro-project of social transformation. The author of the essay insists that when someone really needs poetic innovation, he is not satisfied with the stratification — social, ethnic, ideological — that he senses in the society and that, perhaps subconsciously, he wants relationships between people to follow different lines. It is from this spontaneous socio-aesthetic cognition that the desire to read and write innovative texts comes. A person with conservative tastes does not desire serious transformations. Or he does not like what he sees around him and looks for an ideal in the past. Having read the right kind poem, he finds himself in a pleasant and congenial community, whether real or imaginary.
Thus, the author defines the circle of Babylon authors not so much as an aesthetic community, but as a specific social group working in advanced spheres (advertising, design, journalism, television, etc.) This social group was progressive in the nineties, and its poets were innovators; but now the author does not think they still are progressive: the social group has established itself and the authors belonging to it are representatives of the poetic mainstream. However, all attempts by other cultural players to oppose any other system to Kuzmin’s “florid complexity” fail. Kuzmin offers an integral project, in which political, aesthetic, and ideological principles combine. However, Kuzmin’s principle of maximum liberalism and tolerance toward different poetics creates an unbelievable complexity, to the point of self-negation, which no form of liberalism can encompass.
The author tells the story of his own conflict with Kuzmin, which resulted from differing political views and from Kuzmin’s losing interest in Medvedev’s poetry. Foucault’s thesis about the author as a “means of grouping texts,” which Kuzmin supports, shows the abyss between the time when postmodernist ideas had a revolutionary meaning, and our own time, when they can be used as an instrument for legitimizing empty and de-politicized texts that simulate diversity. What is the original meaning of the phrase, “The text speaks independently of the author; the author can process and structure textual blocks, but he cannot control the text as a whole; he cannot be responsible for all its implications”? This was obviously a progressive idea from the point of view of the struggle against logo- and phallocentrism, but now it serves a condition of the author’s consent to play the role of an appendix to systems which allow him to do what he wants and work in any manner, as long as he does not intervene in politics, in real life.
Kuzmin’s system — not in itself, but within the broader context — reflects the structure of a repressive totalitarian society. All innovative poetics are accepted, but it is people with a certain social and professional status that play the leading roles. These are people with a certain outlook and values that reflect certain class and group interests — in particular, an interest not to mix life and text, character and author. There is an interesting tendency among designers, copywriters, journalists of glossy magazines — in a word, among those who sell images: the “new sincerity.” This form of direct and quite humane literature enables authors to go on with their work, offering them the possibility of real art instead of “office creativity,” while leaving intact the gap between the literary character and the social status of the author. Trespassing this limit would introduce an undesirable ethical aspect and could be fatal for both of them. Poetry still retains the function of understanding the world, but this is also dubious because understanding as such is not a creative act: the world is really reflected only in the continuous connection between thought and action. All this demonstrates once more that overcoming the postmodern involves reconsidering the relationship between the author and his creation, text and reality, politics and art.
The main anti-postmodern strategy offered by the author is so-called direct statement. By overtly demonstrating the relationship between text and author, by stubbornly searching for new ethical norms (sometimes by violating the existing ones), by working, like a permanent revolution, to widen, expand, and violate the consensus and cross borders, this strategy inevitably comes into conflict with the system, because the system is only prepared to accept it as one in a number of possible means of utterance. In this case, however, the postmodern situation will not be overcome; on the contrary, it will be reinforced and structured. Thus, the principal difference between direct statement and the other poetic projects of our time is that by permanently provoking and suppressing multiculturalism’s “repressive tolerance,” direct statement suggests a universal truth that is realized by escaping the limits of the text.