CINEMOTIONS: SCREENING SENSORY HISTORY
Compiled by Serguei Oushakine
John MacKay’s (Yale University) article “Film Energy: Process and Metanarrative in Dziga Vertov’s The Eleventh Year (1928)” employs archival materials and critical reviews from the 1920s in an attempt to explain the paradoxical aspect of the reception of “The Eleventh Year” (Dziga Vertov, 1928): namely, the fact that contemporary critics and viewers perceived the film either as chaotic and low on information, or as highly organized and semantically overloaded. MacKay asserts that this contradictory reception is an accurate reflection of the semantic tensions that lie deep within the film, stemming from Vertov’s attempts to found his cinematic practice on purely materialist principles. The dynamics of construction in “The Eleventh Year” can be shown as a rhythmic circulation of real human and technological energies; but the aim of construction — ultimately, communism — is perhaps shown only allegorically, with the help of fairly obvious cinematic tropes, which proceed inevitably from the strictly materialist film conception.
Emma Widdis’ (Cambridge University) “Socialist Senses: Film and the Creation of Soviet Subjectivity” discusses the energetic debates in the Soviet film press about the role of film in creating prototypes of Soviet subjectivity, and in offering new models of sensory and emotional experience. Second, Widdis shows how these discussions invoked ideas that filtered down from the attempts of Soviet Marxist psychologists to formulate a specifically materialist model of psychology, to theorize the relationship between sensation and emotion according to a new ideological framework. In the elaboration of models of Soviet subjectivity onscreen that took place in this period, the ideological / political agenda of forging a new model of individuality came together with a formal and technical interest in the capacity of film to provoke new modes of perception. This, suggests Widdis, gave a particular coloring to earlier Constructivist experiments in the sensory “remaking” of the Soviet subject. The result was an ambitious, and ultimately doomed, project in Soviet cinema: to forge an alternative psychological model for Soviet man and woman — one in which individual emotion would be formed in direct relation to a sensory encounter with the world, and where tactile experience was foregrounded. The contours of this project can be traced in the case studies of three films: Sergei Iutkevich’s Lace (Kruzheva, 1928), Abram Room’s Potholes (Ukhaby, 1928), and Alone (Odna, 1931, dir. Grigorii Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg).
Philip Gleissner’s (Princeton University) article regards the scandals of the “MetrOpol” almanac, Viktor Erofeev’s Russian Beauty and especially the perestroika films “Little Vera” and “Intergirl”. Through their performance of provocations, oftentimes sexual, transgressors activate the suppressed desires of their audience, whose defensive reaction copies the performative mechanisms of the initial transgression. In applying such a reading to perestroika scandals and their reception, this article critically examines “Little Vera” and “Intergirl” as cinematic scandals and explores their ability to start productive debates about moral values and social rules.
In her article, “Overcoming the inexpressible: autism and documentary film,” Natalia Klimova (Princeton University) discusses questions of the representation of autism and documentary film. Klimova touches upon the network of relations that exist between reality and its transformation and documentation in cinema; the status of document in film; and various kinds of communication that manifest themselves when captured on camera. The article focuses on Lyubov’ Arkus’ 2012 film, “Anton’s Right Here,” depicting four years in the life of an autistic person, Anton Kharitonov. Klimova argues that “Anton’s Right Here” functions as a training manual for recognizing non-verbal communicative patterns, specifically for people with limited verbal abilities, and presents a visual vocabulary for decoding emotions of the Other.
A BIOGRAPHICAL PRISM
In “Stalin’s Rilkeana,” Konstantin Azadovsky (St. Petersburg) and Pyotr Druzhinin (Moscow) offer a documentary study of a little-known episode in twentieth- century Russian comparative literature. The piece is centered around the fate of Gitela Chechelnitskaya (1916—1996), who wrote the first Russian-language dissertation on Rilke’s ties to Russian culture. The great German poet passionately loved Russia and visited twice, but became a persona non grata in Soviet Russia. Mentioned rarely in the Soviet press after 1917, his name became essentially forbidden during the ideological campaigns of the late 1940s. Using documents discovered in Moscow, Petersburg and Kazan archival holdings, Azadovsky and Druzhinin reconstruct the history of Chechelnitskaya’s dissertation, “Russian literature in the work of Rilke,” which was successfully defended in 1948 at the State University in Leningrad (her official reviewers were V.M. Zhirmunsky and B.M. Eikhenbaum). The “struggle against cosmopolitanism” launched in 1949, however, led to the LSU Academic Board rescinding its decision, and eventually to the physical destruction of the dissertation itself. Chechelnitskaya was stripped of her Ph.D. candidate title, which fact determined her subsequent, very difficult life as a talented scholar of German literature. The demeaning procedure of revoking academic titles and positions, established in the late 1940s-early 1950s, continued to be practiced all the way to the “departure era” of the 1970s—1980s.
F.V. BULGARIN IN KARLOVO: THE WORKS AND DAYS
In her article “‘Nonliterary’ Karlovo and its Inhabitants” Tatiana Shor (National Archives of Estonia, Tartu) focuses on Bulgarin’s estate in Karlovo, regarding the controversial writer as a landowner, a country gentleman. Having based her research primarily on legal documents, Shor shows how Bulgarin managed his estate and interacted with authorities and locals. “F.V. Bulgarin’s Letters to N.I. Shenig,” published by A.I. Reitblat (NLO) (with a commentary by Reitblat and Shor), further expands our knowledge of Bulgarin’s everyday life in Karlovo, of those he socialized with, of his interests and habits.
This section memorializes the outstanding poet, translator, human rights activist and USSR-era dissident Natalya Evgenevna Gorbanevskaya (26.05.1936, Moscow— 29.11.2013, Paris). In his essay “A Norwid bird. On Natalya Gorbanevskaya’s ‘Eight-line bird poems’,” Igor Bulatovsky (St. Petersburg) offers a close reading of the bird image in Gorbanevskaya’s Osovoprosnik (2013); Bulatovsky suggests that the characteristic features of Gorbanevskaya’s poetics are gathered together in this image, as in a magnifying glass. In “The blissful visions of Natalya Gorbanevskaya,” Polina Barskova (Hampshire College, Amherst) recalls her meetings with the poet and talks about Gorbanevskaya’s relationship to art as fate and service to the word. In “Apocalypse, Eschatology and Belief: The Trajectory of Religious Motifs in Natal’ia Gorbanevskaia’s Poetry,” Allan Reid (University of New Brunswick) investigates the system of religious motifs in Gorbanevskaya’s work — from her earliest to her latest poems. The section closes with a bibliography of the poet’s work.
TOWARD A THEORY OF THE SOUNDING WORD
On 24-26 October 2012, the Slavic Institute at the University of Regensburg (Germany) hosted an international master-class on “Declamation in early twentieth-century Russia,” bringing together scholars from many different countries and disciplines. The articles in this section represent the results of the class. All the articles share the same task: they bring together the many points of contact between poetry, theater, literary studies and linguistics to lay out the contours of a science of spoken literary language. This science emerged in large part thanks to the efforts of Sergey Ignatievich Bernshtein (1892—1970).
Born in Tbilisi in 1892, Bernshtein studied philology under A.A. Shakhmatov, J.A. Baudouin de Courtenay, L.V. Shcherba, S.A. Vengerov and D.N. Ovsianiko-Kulikovsky. He was one of the founders and active members of the Society for the Study of Poetic Language (OPOJAZ). In 1923, Bernshtein founded KIKhR (Office for the Study of Literary Speech) at the State Institute of Art History, and spent the years prior to 1930 researching literary speech, using his extensive knowledge of poetics, experimental phonetics, sound recording, etc.
The articles in this section from Ekaterina Chown (University of Nottingham, UK), Valery Zolotukhin (Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, Moscow) and Vitaly Schmidt (University of Regensburg, Germany) are all founded on KIKhR archival materials. Using Bernshtein’s methods, the authors present a detailed analysis of declaimed works, the influence of authorial declamation on onstage speech, as well as discuss the history of interdisciplinary studies of intonation and its use as an artistic device. The articles thus illuminate both the scholarly and the cultural aspects of this important literary and theatrical phenomenon.