Envisioning Byt in Tret'ja meshchanskaja

Benjamin Sutcliffe, University of Pittsburgh

Abram Room's 1927 production of Tret'ja meshchanskaja uses space, temporality, and material objects to depict byt in filmic form. Byt, described by Roman Jakobson and Vladimir Maiakovskij as an amorphous yet malevolent obstacle, is divided into external and internal categories. External byt, focusing on images of 1920s Moscow and its discontents, illustrates travel and modernization. It is linked to three types of temporal representation: production, ludic, and frustration. Internal byt, centering on the claustrophobic world of the apartment and its inhabitants, is associated with temporal representation of domesticity. This temporality is expressed through the characters' movements between various spaces and objects as Ljuda, Kolja, and Volodja change roles. External byt focuses on the Soviet state's conceptions of newness and modernity, while internal byt is more rooted in pre-1917 rituals.

Attempting to depict byt via a series of organized categories, Room's film becomes the locus for debates over everyday life in late NEP-era culture as identified by Svetlana Boym, Andrej Sinjavskij, and Richard Stites. Ultimately, representational categories blur: space, temporality, and material objects function together. Pairings of external/new and internal/old byt question the viability of distinguishing between pre- and post-revolutionary everyday life. The film also raises issues Judith Mayne, Rimgaila Salys, and Wendy Goldman connect with the "woman question" in its Soviet incarnation. Highlighting connections between gender and domesticity further complicates depiction of byt even as Room attempts to organize its representation.