Beyond the Sverxpovest': Xlebnikov's Doski sud'by

Walter Comins-Richmond, Occidental College

During the last five years of his life, Xlebnikov devoted much of his creative energy toward the project "Doski sud'by" which, besides four excerpts published by Vladimir Markov, remains unknown. In this paper I describe and analyze the entire project, which is located at RGALI. "Doski sud'by" is in fact the culmination and synthesis of Xlebnikov's many literary and extraliterary experiments and represents an attempt at a comprehensive integration of all his theories concerning time, language, history, and mathematics. In addition, "Doski sud'by" reveals the mathematical foundations of much of his earlier poetic oeuvre which have hitherto gone unnoticed. In this sense, "Doski sud'by" is not only a unique transgeneric work, but also the key to understanding many aspects of Xlebnikov's artistic output. It represents a stage of his literary evolution beyond his sverxpovest' "Zangezi" generally considered his crowning achievement.

As a result of the Russians' defeat in the battle of Tsushima in 1905, Xlebnikov made the discovery of the laws of history his life's goal. He applied concepts from disparate fields in an attempt to predict and avoid future wars. Believing that rational language alone was insufficient to accomplish this task, he developed a poetic language that would provide a nonrational complement. At the same time Xlebnikov developed an eclectic mathematical system based upon linear equations that he hoped would predict rhythms in history. Thus, Xlebnikov's writings fall into three distinct generic categories: literary (poetry and prose), analytical (articles on language and history), and mathematical (complex equations occasionally accompanied by illustrations and telegraphic statements). In "Doski sud'by", Xlebnikov fuses these three genres into a single work in which mathematical expressions appear in literary prose, analytical articles transform into supernatural tales, and linear equations are described in poetic form, as well as many other combinations and syntheses.

Unlike the published excerpts, which provide a background to the project and charts of collated historical events, the unpublished volumes of "Doski sud'by" address specific aspects of Xlebnikov's project. For example, the first unpublished book, Odinochestvo, is concerned with the creation of a new type of "hyperword" that would assist in discovering the true nature of the relationship between time and space. In the next book, Glashataj, Xlebnikov uses poetry and mythological prose to demonstrate an inextricable bond between sound, numbers, and matter. In another excerpt, "Slovo o chisle i naoborot", Xlebnikov examines various world religions as precursors to his mathematical approach to predicting the future. In each case Xlebnikov creates texts that continually cross generic boundaries and ultimately defy classification.

Since a detailed analysis of all the books of "Doski sud'by" (approximately 1000 pages) is beyond the scope of a conference paper, I limit my discussion to: a general description of the entire text; a description of the major strategies Xlebnikov employs to fuse disparate genres; and an analysis of a representative passage from the seventh book, "Mera lik mira" (handouts will be provided).