Keeping Pace with Death: the Poets of OBERIU and the Russian Templars

Yevgeny Slivkin, Defense Language Institute

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate a possible connection between two writers of the literary group OBERIU (1927–1930) and the Order of Oriental Templars. I argue that some images and concepts in the works of A. Vvedenskij and D. Xarms reflect the influence of the cosmological legends of this esoteric society which existed in Leningrad in the mid 1920s and was destroyed by the NKVD in 1931.

Documents from the Central Archives of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB RF), previously unavailable to scholars, were published in the 1990's by the historians B. Brachev and A. Nikitin. According to these documents, from 1924 to 1931 members of the scientific and artistic intelligentsia of Moscow and Leningrad were united in the renewed Masonic lodges and Gnostic orders (Autonomic Order of Martinists, General Lodge Astraea, Order of Rosicrucians, etc.). Among these organizations the most spiritually and intellectually challenging was the Order of Oriental Templars which was founded in Moscow in 1921 by a prominent activist of the anarchist movement, the French repatriate A. A. Arenskij. The famous Pulkovo Observatory in Petrograd, the workplace of a number of astronomers, meteorologists and mathematicians who joined the Order, became the center for the dissemination of the Templars' ideas. In my paper I focus on similarities between some aspects of the theosophy of J. Druskin (who in 1925, together with the philosopher L. Lipavskij and the writers A. Vvedenskij, D. Xarms and N. Olejnikov, formed an esoteric coterie called &chachke;inari and whose views influenced the poetics of the future oberiuts) and the cosmological vision of the Templars. By comparing the NKVD's interrogation record of Vvedenskij against the investigative records of the Leningrad Templars I concentrate on the figure of a Templar, M. A. Loris-Melikov, an astronomer at the Pulkovo Observatory, who was a member of a close circle of friends which included Vvedenskij and Xarms as well. I suggest that both writers could have been introduced to the Templars' ideas and aspirations by this individual. As I argue, due to Druskin's philosophy Vvedenskij and Xarms would have been well prepared to perceive and creatively reconstruct these ideas. Further in my paper I conduct a comparative analysis of the "naked concrete figures" (N. Zabolotskij) in the works of Vvedenskij and Xarms and images of the Russian Templars' legends (published by Nikitin) and doctrine. I compare the particularities of time and space in the works of the oberiuts with the hierarchy of spaces in the Templars' cosmology. As I try to show, the elements of the Templars' mythology incorporated into the oberiuts' texts bring a purely existentialist dimension to their absurdist model of the world.

I conclude that in order to define OBERIU's place in the post-futurist epoch it is necessary not only to determine its stance toward earlier modernist literary groups but also toward the esoteric spiritual movements of its time.