Creating the Best, Most Talented Poet at the 1940 Majakovskij Celebration

Laura Shear, University of Chicago

When Stalin proclaimed Majakovskij the "best, most talented poet of our Soviet epoch" in December l935, he set in motion a cultural process that canonized Majakovskij as the first Soviet Classic. This process culminated in the Majakovskij Jubilee of l940, which can only be compared to the 1937 Pushkin Jubilee in its scale and importance for Soviet Literature. Like the Pushkin Jubilee, the Majakovskij celebration created a vast and diverse body of published materials about its poet-subject. Memoirs, poems, fiction, critical essays, and many other genres all contributed to the creation of a standardized image of Majakovskij, the Soviet Classic.

In this paper I will examine two types of texts about Majakovskij published in l940 for the non-specialist reader: poems about Majakovskij and short memoirs of his life. Many of these appeared throughout the jubilee year in periodicals such as Komsomolskaja Pravda. In my approach to these texts I will use critical studies of the literary celebration and its role in Russian and Soviet culture. Stephen Moeller-Sally, for example, has suggested that literary celebrations "mediate persons into the collective abstraction of national identity" (Moeller-Sally 180). Similarly, Karen Petrone argues that Soviet celebrations of various types were important for the creation of Soviet national identity. However, Petrone posits that official celebrations in the 1930s retained a subversive potential: officials risked losing control of the "carnival". Applying these theories to these specific aspects of the Majakovskij celebration, I will analyze how the authors of these texts present Majakovskij as both a literary and biographical subject for the mass reader. The paper will concentrate on how the authors portray their own critical and emotional response to Majakovskij. In doing so, the paper will show how Majakovskij, like Pushkin in l937, became a model not only for the Soviet poet but for the Soviet citizen. Literature oriented towards the Soviet reader was part of a larger project: the shaping of the Soviet Man (Dobrenko 2). My paper will attempt to clarify Majakovskij's role in this project.