Velemir Xlebnikov and Andrej Platonov: from the "Self-Sustaining" to the "Dysfunctional" Word

Jennifer Sunseri, Texas Tech University

Research: An analysis of selected works of Andrej Platonov and Velemir Xlebnikov, focusing on the glottogenetic nature of each author's vision of utopia and the role of the artist in said vision.

As T. Siefrid noted in his study on Platonov, recent scholarship acknowledges in that writer's works "a complex, intertextually allusive thematics <...> that testifies to his sophistication and aesthetic self-consciousness" (Andrej Platonov: Uncertainties of Spirit). It is therefore not surprising that much Platonov scholarship of recent years has focused on his major ideological, thematic, and, to lesser extent, stylistic predecessors. Of particular interest has been Platonov's peculiar "utopian" or "dystopian" vision, and its possible sources. In her seminal works of the late 1970s, for example, E. Tolstaya-Segal highlighted the major roles played by the materialist mystic N. Fedorov and the Proletkul't theoretician A. Bogdanov. Lesser sources cited by both Western (e.g. Geller, Teskey) and Russian scholars (e.g. Shubin, Kornienko, Vasiliev) include Rozanov, Solovjov, Belyj, Gastev, Lunacharskij, and many others. In contrast to the assurance with which scholars point to such thinkers as forerunners to Platonov, particularly in the west, it is usually with some reservations that Xlebnikov is cited as a possible philosophical and artistic precursor (cf. Tolstaya-Segal, T. Siefrid, A. Teskey), despite apparent stylistic and thematic similarities between the two writers. These include not only the complex, technological-materialist utopian formulae encoded in each man's works, but also a philosophical orientation to language itself, expressed particularly in their propensity for vivid linguistic experimentation. Was Xlebnikov himself an influence on Platonov, or did the two merely share influences, as Tolstaya-Segal suggests? In my paper, I will address the extent to which Platonov was, in effect, carrying on a dialogue with the State begun by his futurist predecessor, as demonstrated by the linguistic experimentation and corresponding philosophical orientation of his celebrated experimental masterpieces, Chevengur and Kotlovan. In addition to the aformentioned works by Platonov, I will focus on Xlebnikov's theoretical writings and 1920 poem "Ladomir" to delineate his conception of the role of the writer and the Word in the establishment of the Ideal Society; I will explore links between each author's dialogue with utopia and the State, and its distinct expression, in order to show that, as relates to his glottogenetic approach to utopia, Platonov's literary praxis was informed by that of his Futurist predecessor.

The nature of the topic I have selected requires that I provide a certain amount of historical background and ideological context. Contextualization must thus be one aspect of my methodology, particulary as regards my exploration of the evolution of Russian modernist utopian thought. In my textual analysis I will draw on Russian formalist precepts taken primarily from Viktor Shklovskij, whose methodology was contemporaneous to the period I am addressing.