Rambunctious Experimentation, Organic Continuity: Social Utopia and the Russian Avant-Garde

Julia Trubikhina, New York University

Though the poetics of avant-garde, by the very definition of this word, suggests radical rupture with the past, one cannot fail to notice multiple attempts undertaken by recent scholarship to shift accents from rupture to continuity. Since the pioneering works of Camilla Gray and Vladimir Markov the boundaries of understanding of the Russian avant-garde have expanded to embrace a larger cultural context. Notions of "avant-garde" and "modernism" are used interchangeably in such general studies as Modernism 1890–1930 and—in relation to Russia specifically—Gibian's and Tjalsma's Russian Modernism: Culture and the Avant-Garde, 1900–1930. Many essays in the more recent collection, Laboratory of Dreams (eds. John E. Bowlt and Olga Matich), strongly suggest an organic connection, rather than break, between the scientific discourse of the 1920s and the "synthetic philosophical thought" of the nineteenth century and Russian fin de siècle. Drawing on the continuity of tradition in the 20th-century Russian poetry, Mixail Gasparov identifies two sources: "Parnassian strictness and symbolist shiftiness (zybkost')" as dynamic dialectical categories of Russian modernist poetics. This allows Gasparov to retrace the trajectory. Though formed within the symbolist aesthetic this dialectic soon grew beyond it, to the two "later schools that replaced symbolism: acmeism and futurism," acmeism taking up the "Parnassian" tradition, futurism—the symbolist one. Finally and most radically, Groys expands the avant-gardist framework to conceptualize Socialist realism.

With all obvious differences, both between various movements and individual artists, the utopian premises of the revolutionary discourse seem to be a unifying moment in a complex event of Russian modernism and avant-garde. This paper will address some of the utopian aspects of the poetics of Russian avant-garde: such categories as "life-creation" and the logocentric emphasis in Russian modernism and avant-garde; the transformative belief in science and its role in the discourse of a new man/new body.