Malevich's "Ule Elye Lel": A Suprematist's Reflection In the Mirror of Late Twentieth-Century Theories of Poetic Discourse

Margarita Marinova, University of Texas, Austin

After years of relative obscurity, Malevich's oeuvre in its totality has finally received the appreciation it rightfully deserves. The Russian Suprematist's paintings hang in the best art museums around the world. His groundbreaking vision is recognized and analyzed by scores of art critics on both sides of the ocean. There are even dozens of articles (published in all the major European languages) which focus on Malevich's peculiar theory of art and philosophical interpretations of our "being-in-the-world." However, until very recently, this active investigation of the artist's work both in Russia and abroad, did not include one of its main constitutive parts&mdashMalevich's creative writing. The first major reason for the unfortunate neglect is that it was only two years ago that Malevich's poetic texts were collected and published in Russia. The second lies in the fact that in order to make them available to readers in the West, they will have to be translated from Russian&mdashan ambitious, daunting task which still awaits its brave volunteer.

My presentation will be a very small attempt to rectify the situation. Rather than analyzing the vast body of Malevich's poetic writing in its totality (and I use the phrase on purpose, for I agree with Aleksandra Shatskix's comment that much of the artist's prose exhibits strong poetic qualities), I will focus on selected poems, excerpts from letters, and theoretical essays, in order to outline the trajectory of his development as a poet and theorist of poetic discourse in general. Although most American and West European critics choose to foreground Malevich's philosophical thought's connection to the great German philosophers of the past (e.g. Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Nietzsche), I intend to discuss his theoretical preoccupations in the light of late twentieth century's theories of literature and culture. It is my contention that just as Malevich the avant-garde artist proved to be decades ahead of his time, Malevich the theoretician-of-poetic-discourse, once again, anticipated a number of currently dominant ideas regarding the relationship between language and power, body and mind, (re)creation and deconstruction of linguistic (but also psychological) material, the impossibility to sustain binary oppositions in any semiotic system, and many others.