"O Shklovskom ili o Majakovskom": Autobiography and Jubilee Memoir in Shklovskij's "O Majakovskom"

Laura Shear Urbaszewski, University of Chicago

Reviewing Viktor Shklovskij's O Majakovskom in 1940, the critic Charnyj expressed his most important concern in the review's title: "About Shklovskij or Majakovskij?' In his review, Charnyj accused Shklovskij of writing not biography, but autobiography. Though usually assessing O Majakovskom more positively than Charnyj, many later critics have followed his lead in assuming that Shklovskij was really writing "about Shklovskij." They have studied O Majakovskom mainly in the context of Shklovskij's autobiographical writings. However, Shklovskij's memoir was published and read first as an occasional piece. It was one of at least ten book-length works and innumerable short memoir sketches that were published in 1940 for the tenth anniversary of Majakovskij's death. While not negating the autobiographical readings of Shklovskijs work, I will discuss Shklovskij's O Majakovskom in the context of the 1940 Majakovskij jubilee. Shklovskij's memoir is ultimately a jubilee text; it is framed by the literary celebration as a moment of veneration, cultural unity, and remembrance. In writing a memoir for the jubilee year, Shklovskij participated directly in Majakovskij's Soviet canonization.

This project does not equate Majakovskij's canonization with Stalin's famous 1935 declaration that Majakovskij was the "best, most talented" Soviet poet. "Canonization" will be understood as the cultural process that followed Stalin's statement, one that created a dynamic, multigeneric "commentary" defining Majakovskij's life, works and Soviet cultural value. The Majakovskij jubilee in 1940 was the primary moment in which texts and events of such a commentary were created. In first reviews of O Majakovskom, contemporaries criticized Shklovskij for depicting everyday details of Majakovskij's personal life and for sympathetically portraying Futurism (Menzel 173-74, Ikach 49-50). However, Shklovskij's greatest mistake, the critic Timofeev suggested, was not "filling out" the readers' pre-formed opinion of Majakovskij, violating their expectations of jubilee memoirs and of Majakovskij.

In the first part of my presentation, I will define conventions that typified the 1940 Majakovskij jubilee memoirs, suggesting, for example, that they novelized the poet's biography along the lines of the Socialist Realist "master plot" defined by Katerina Clark. The second part of my paper will demonstrate how Shklovskij's merger of autobiography and autobiography violates the formal, thematic, and ideological conventions of the 1940 Majakovskij memoirs. Shklovskij's merger of biography and autobiography violates the expected hierarchies between writer and subject that were standard for other Majakovskij jubilee memoirs. Shklovskij recreates the role of the jubilee memoirist, creating an image of Majakovskij based in a private context and vocabulary and using Majakovskij to express a new concept of "priznanie po╦ta." Paradoxically, Shklovskij both participates in and counters the official canonization of Majakovskij. In closing, I will suggest how, at the same time, O Majakovskom engages and enters the "canon" of unofficial writings by Shklovskij's contemporaries--Pasternak, Cvetaeva, Jakobson--that remained outside the Stalinist veneration of Majakovskij, and outside the 1940 jubilee.