This issue of New Literary Observer (145) focuses on two topics: performativity in art and literature, and the sociology of a literature. A section of articles dealing with the performing arts examines the performative actives of contemporary art, dance, and the theater. A separate section looks at performative practices in current Russian literature. Two sections of articles subject literary practices to sociological readings. In the first section, Soviet literature is considered from the vantage of the ideological narratives it transmitted and the reception they assumed. The second section traces the evolution of literary communities in the history of Russian and French literature.
The Anthropology of Performance
Guest editor Mikhail Shiyanov
This collection of essays orbits around a common topic. In one way or another, each of them considers the impact of performance (theater, dance, radical artistic gestures) on participants and spectators. Posed this way, the question allows us to peer inside the common conceptual core of once-related but now-separate arts, from “primitive” dance to the radical performances of the 2010s. Primarily aimed at finding common ground in the various performing arts, this approach is conceptually indebted to Victor Turner’s studies of ritual and Alexander Veselovsky’s notion of primitive syncretism, which inevitably invokes the significance of religion in stage performance. It is no wonder, then, that the three articles in this section, which were written autonomously and without a special focus on isolating art’s religious elements, touch on religious themes one way or another. Regarding the performative practices discussed in this section, religion is primarily revealed in subjects dealing with liminal, fringe experiences, generated by the act of staging and subsequent attempts to record and conceptualize this know-how.
The section opens with Irina Sirotkina’ s “How Can We Know the Dancer from the Dance?”: The Anthropology of Movement and Dance.” The anthropology of movement and dance emerged as a specific discipline in the 1970s in the work of Joann Wheeler Kealiinohomoku, Drid Williams, and their fellow thinkers. It combines a contextualist or emic approach to human movement with a universalist or etic approach. Unlike previous ethnography, it is not western-centric, researching “high” forms of dance like ballet along with folk dance. Instead of speculating about the functions of dance in society or what causes people to dance, modern movement and dance anthropology asks what people do when they dance, interpreting human movement as purposeful, conscious action. Using such categories as the dance (expressive) body, the discipline is connected with theater anthropology.
Ekaterina Krylova’s “Gelitin’s Paradox: Radical Punk Performance as a Vaccination against Alternatives” overviews radical performance, in particular, protest actionism and self-victimization as anthropological practices. Krylova attempts to understand why, in the current context, the humanist impulse behind artistic provocation only cements society’s shortcomings. Why does the notion of freeing individuals from exploitation and oppression, as encapsulated by artists in acts of self-sacrifice and demorali zing the audience, no longer trigger a personal transformation among viewers and actualize values and attitudes? The author examines the paradox of protest within a system that maintains stability and supplies pleasure, situating a possible future for performance in the realm of absolute eccentricity.
The problem of documenting performance is discussed via viewer testimonies of Jerzy Grotowski’s practices. On the one hand, Erika Fischer-Lichte’s notion of performance involves the viewer’s experience in the aesthetic work. On the other hand, this conception situates documenting the experience beyond the realm of performance. In light of the li mitations Grotowski placed on documenting and disseminating his own work, it is especially interesting to analyze viewer testimonies. In her “The Incomplete Archive and Documenting Experience: Strategies for Describing Jerzy Grotowski’s Practices,” Varvara Sklez examines several texts by professional viewers, analyzing the ways they reconstruct the performances they saw and the elements on which their reconstructions are based (literary texts, personal texts, and texts by other views). A key ele ment in these descriptions is the appeal their authors make to an experience that cannot be expressed. The appeal to this experience shapes a specific temporality, combining the time of viewing and the time of writing, and activating not only the possibility of analysis but also the experience of the various senses.
Soviet Practices and Ideologies: Literature, Periodicals, and Drama
The essays in this section examine various sociological aspects of Soviet literature’s everyday existence in the broadest sense, from fiction to periodicals and drama. Two articles deal with Soviet pe riodicals and their ideological implications. Their authors, however, turn to very different kinds of periodical literature: popular science magazines (from the perspective of their contribution to the ideology of the Soviet intelligentsia) and the so-called thick literary journals (a decree on the journals Zvezda and Leningrad is examined against the emerging Cold War). The section closes with an article examining the Soviet school literature curriculum as a source of ideological narratives.
The section opens with Ilya Kukulin’ s “Periodicals for Engineers: Soviet Popular Science Journals and the Shaping of the Late-Soviet Scientific and Technical Intelligentsia’s Interests.” Popular science journals and scientific and technical journals were a significant segment of Soviet periodicals. However, the social, political, and cultural impact of these journals has not yet been studied. The article aims to study the image of physical and social reality these journals collectively fashioned from the 1960s to the early 1980s. Special attention is paid to how the journals combined features on technology, basic science, occultism, and the New Age with works of science fiction, most of it in translation. It is shown that, in the late Soviet period, scientific and technical journals were the main platform for New Age ideas in the Soviet press. At the same time, New Age ideas potentially brought the scientific and technical intelligentsia into contact with Russian nationalists, who had become an independent social force by the late 1960s.
Violetta Gudkova’s “The Inertia of Fear and Attempts at a Breakthrough: The Second Congress of Soviet Writers” examines the mindsets and works of Soviet playwrights in the 1950s amid the historical and cultural context of the Thaw. The article shows how the theatrical intelligentsia attempted to rethink literature’s ideological functions and redefine the vectors of Soviet playwriting during the period. However, given the ongoing public campaigns of harassment and persecution of dissent, the community of freethinking writers proved incapable of withstanding the bureaucracy, intellectual inertia, and the legacy of the purges. The Thaw did not provide sufficient resources for negotiating society’s mental dystrophy.
Evgeny Ponomarev’s “Literature in School as Everyday Ideology: Soviet and Post-Soviet Practices” deals with the teaching of literature, the principal ideological subject in Soviet schools, and the main points of teaching methodology, which, historically speaking, changed from one period to the next. This literature and these methods shaped ideologically literate Soviet citizens. The ideological traditions of Soviet schools can be traced in Russia’s current education system. The author concludes that the teaching of literature in Russian schools should be radically restructured, and the minds of young Russians freed from ideological dependence.
Tatiana Shishkova’s “‘Representing Soviet People as Uncultured’: The History of a Decree in the Journals Zvezda and Leningrad in the Context of the Western Press’s Anti-Soviet Campaign” recounts the history of a decree, published in the journals Zvezda and Leningrad, in the context of the Soviet Union’s postwar international policy. The author argues the decree was a response to anti-Soviet articles in the western press that described the low cultural level of Soviet people and Soviet culture’s general decline. The articles undermined the Soviet Union’s culture policy in Europe, forcing the regime to strengthen Soviet culture’s political potential and abandon cultural producers whose works could compromise the country’s image.
Literary Communities: from “Circles Of Yes-Men” to a Professional Corporation
The section consists of two essays that examine the issue of literary communities in France and Russia.
The section opens with Vera Milchina’ s “Literary Affection in France and Russia: Camaraderie littéraire and ‘Famous Friends’”. The October 1829 issue of Revue de Paris featured Henri de Latouche’s article “De la camaraderie littéraire,” in whose aftermath the world camaraderie became a genuine term in France. Latouche’s article was di rected against Victor Hugo and the writer s of his circle, especially Sainte-Beuve. Latouche argued they were engaged in excessive mutual praise, destructive for literature. In Russi an cri ticism at the turn of the 1820s and 1830s, the topic of friendly praise was also one of the most notable. Although they describe a similar situation, the Russian writers do not refer to Latouche’s article. The article highlights the reasons for a lack of interest in the term camaraderie in Russia. A full translation of Latouche’s articles is included in an appendix.
Ekaterina Lyamina and Natalia Samover’s “Krylov et al.: The Genesis and Meaning of Russia’s First Literary Jubilee” focuses on the fiftieth anniversary (1838) of Ivan Krylov’s work as a writer. The celebration is interpreted as an important point in the Russian literary community’s evolving self-imagining.
In Memoriam: Leonid Batkin (1932—2016)
This memorial section is dedicated to the outstanding Russian humanities scholar Leonid Batkin, a philologist, historian, culturologist, philosopher, and expert on Renaissance culture. It features Nikolay Koposov’s article about Batkin’s scholarly work, Marina Sviderskaya’s article on Batkin as a scholar of the Renaissance, several reflections on Batkin’s life and work by his friends (Irina Berlyand, Anatoly Akhutin, Alexander Gorfunkel, Roza Koval, Vladimir Krzhevov, Mikhail Boytsov, and Andrej Doronin), excerpts from unpublished interviews that Batkin gave to Vladimir Ryzhkovskyi, excerpts from an interview that Grigory Yavlinsky gave about Batkin, and, finally, a bibliography of his principal works.
This section examines the work of Petersburg’s Laboratory of Poetic Actionism as exemplified by Roman Osminkin and Pavel Arseniev. (Osminkin has also penned one of the articles in the section). The Laboratory, whose starting point is Moscow conceptualism (primarily as represented by Dmitri Prigov), has sought to bring poetry closer to contemporary art generally and different performative practices in particular. It has vigorous ly elaborated different non-canonical forms of working with poetic texts (both its own and others). These texts are incorporated into artistic performances, in which they play an essential role, thus attaining a new performative status.
In his “Between Prigov and LEF: Roman Osminkin’s Performative Poetics”, Mark Lipovetsky examines Roman Osminkin’s poetry as the realization of a new “constructive principle” (Tynyanov). The conflictual coexistence of a lyrical subject harkening back to conceptualism, on the one hand, and the traditions of leftist poetic activism, on the other, proves viable in Osminkin’s work due to performatism, which binds together incompatible discourses in the modern author’s mind.
Roman Osminkin’s “The Would-Be Osminkin (The Performative Attitudes of Modern Social Network Poetry)” analyzes the changed functions and place of literature and poetry in socially networked production and distribution. In the age of Web 2.0, literature not only forfeits its institutional framework and aesthetic autonomy, but the author’s function also undergoes a profound transformation. In socially networked space, writer and reader are joined in the figure of the universal blogger-prosumer, and the literary artefact takes on the shape of a syncretic internet post. The synchronous and simultaneous co-presence of verbal, extra-linguistic, and audio-visual linguistic systems, the dismantling of the frontier between word and deed, and the direct construction of social reality (“a poem is a gesture, an act”) translate the author’s utterance into a category of performative act, implemented in the open, non-predetermined pragmatic context of socially networked communication.
Kevin M.F. Platt’s “Fire in the Head: Pavel Arseniev, Aesthetic Autonomy, and the Laboratory of Poetic Actionism” offers an analysis of works by Pavel Arseniev in the context of the Petersburg collective The Laboratory of Poetic Actionism. Many of their actions and happenings rely on the traditions of earlier avant-garde and neo-avant-garde artistic interventions into political discourse. Arseniev’s work presents doubly and sometimes triply remediated deployments of prototypical texts, which are reinserted into the cityscape and then recorded and disseminated in digital form, in a conceptual-art analogue to augmented reality. Arseniev’s projects demand analysis in relation to the philosophical and institutional history of avant-garde challenges to aesthetic autonomy. Such an analysis leads to the conclusion that Arseniev’s work reconfigures the history of Soviet underground and avant-garde art, in opposition to official and mainstream revisions of history, in which all past political art is reduced to art commodities.
Book As Event
Alexandra Petrova, Appendix: A Novel, Moscow: New Literary Review, 2016
This section consists of essays by critics, poets, and writers coming to grips with Alexandra Petrova’s novel Appendix, winner of the 2016 Andrei Bely Prize. The section features reviews by Alexei Porvin, Olga Balla, Alexei Kona-kov, Stanislav Snytko, and Maxim Krongauz.
The BIBLIOGRAPHY sections contains reviews of several new Russian and foreign academic books, while CHRONICLE OF SCHOLARLY LIFE reviews the 2016 Melitinsky and Gasparov Readings at the Russian State University for the Humanities, and the first Russian confe rence on public history.