NLO (№ 147) addresses several problems connected with contemporary interpretations of major twentieth-century theories — primarily Russian Formalism and Tartu/Moscow semiotics. The issue opens with a group of articles on the visual investigations conducted by Russian Formalists — Osip Brik’s works on photography, Viktor Shklovsky and Boris Eikhenbaum’s writings on film (and their work in film). Next comes a section of articles analyzing Yuri Lotman’s views of the cinema and asking how the tools of analysis Lotman developed can be relevant for the humanities today (in comparison to other large-scale theoretical projects on cinema, such as that of Gilles Deleuze). The second plot-line of the issue is new readings of early twentieth-century literature, including heavily studied material (new readings of Osip Mandelstam and Andrei Platonov) to the Ukrainian modernist writer Viktor Petrov (V. Domontovich), whose Swamp Lukroza is presented for the first time in Russian. The “Chronicle of Scholarly Life”section also includes a report from a conference on Soviet-era unofficial literature. Another section of articles address the phenomenon of love in modern so cieties and contemporary culture — from Khlebnikov and cummings’s literary modernism to contemporary BDSM practices described in ethnographic terms.
Russian Formalism: Visual Cases
Guest editor Jan Levchenko
There is an international tendency in humanities culture: to move from the word to the image, i.e. from that which can be thought and explained to that which can be pictured visually and not always thought. Generally speaking, this tendency is inherent to the second half of the twentieth century, but the Russian Formalists tried to cover similar ground earlier than others. Although they did not manage to fully realize this project, what they did manage is all the more interesting and productive. There is a great deal to be said about the visual aspect of Formalist theory; this section sets out the basic foundations of this conversation. The articles take various approaches, including comparative-philosophical analysis and the history of ideas (Arkady Bliumbaum), descriptive representation of the analytical potential of the material itself, in this case the views of Viktor Shklovsky (Daulet Zhanaydarov), and the reconstruction of a potential visual element in a verbal text, which was never before examined from this angle — The Route to Immortality by Boris Eikhen-baum (Jan Levchenko). The section thus includes markedly different cases of the realization of intermedial problems in the Formalists’ legacy, with a focus on the many different levels of visuality (conceptual, descriptive, imaginary).
Arkady Bliumbaum’s “Osip Brik and Photography: Once Again on Novyi LEF’s Bergsonian Tendency” examines the Bergsonian foundations of Osip Brik’s conception of the place and role of photography in modern culture, as well as the resulting polemics with the artistic ideology of the Artists’ Association of Revolutionary Russia (AARR) and its orientation toward classical realism. In Brik’s view, painting was a non-referential art that “deformed” life in the interest of aesthetic principles; it was photography that was truly capable of capturing life. Toward this end he turned to the philosophy of Henri Bergson, with its critique of abstract reason: the latter is seen as only capable of creating static isolated representations of the living, uninterrupted world. However, Brik “flips” Bergson’s conception: for him, it is mechanical photography that turns out to be capable of an organic perception of reality, while painting becomes the expression of abstract reason. Photography reflects the constantly changing world, embodying an authentically artistic vision of ongoing reality, and a simple photographic reproduction of reality can unexpectedly be understood as the gaze of an authentic artist — as maximally individual and immediate perception, tearing off the mask of stagnant aesthetic representations.
Daulet Zhanaydarov’s “The Historical Imagination of Viktor Shklovsky as Screenwriter” addresses constructions of images of the past in screenplays written by Viktor Shklovsky in the 1920s—30s. Zhanaydarov demonstrates Shklovsky’s lack of a single historical conception and traces his gradual transition from avant-garde experiment and classicism toward adaptation to the norms of socialist realism. Zhanaydarov also examines the unchanging characteristics of Shklovsky’s work with historical material, evident in all of his screenplays.
Boris Eikhenbaum wrote the novel The Route to Immortality between 1932—33, both marking and concluding the crisis of his Formalist biography, which had begun in the latter half of the 1920s. Were it not for the complete and utter failure of this book, Eikhenbaum’s rebranding of himself as a post-Formalist might have sent him down other paths besides those of editorial work and further absorption in his “Tolstoy project.” Tynianov managed to become an author of popular historical fiction and a screenwriter; Eikhenbaum did not. Nevertheless, an unsuccessful attempt is still an attempt, although most of what is written about Eikhenbaum avoids discussing this novel or focuses on its mechanically philological nature. In his “Apologia for Action: Boris Eikhen-baum’s The Route to Immortality as a Film-Narrative”, Jan Levchenko suggests that the book is also interesting in its reflection of Eikhenbaum’s unrealized ambitions as a screenwriter. His peculiar ideas about film are curious to no small degree because of their dilettantism, and can be traced back to his 1920s work in film theory; in the novel, they change in accordance with his ideas about how a screenplay should look, or visualizations of literature.
The Anthropology and Phenomenology of Visuality: Yuri Lotman’s Semiotics and Film Analysis: A New Reading of the Classics
Guest editor Irina Paert
The passage of time has not diminished interest in the legacy of Yuri Lotman, and although during his lifetime he was considered primarily a literary scholar, his concepts have more recently been successfully applied to the history of culture, political science, art history and many other disciplines. Meanwhile, the theoretical potential of Lotman’s work for film analysis has yet to be fully exploited. The articles in this section are all engaged, in one way or another, with developing this potential. There are two main approaches: the first can be described as an attempt to re-read Lotman in comparison with and through the prism of the ideas of other film theorists, such as Deleuze (Sergey Ogudov); the second involves freely applying Lotman’s theoretical constructions to an interpretation of individual structural features of cinema (Irina Margolina on color in early newsreels) or individual works of film (Irina Paert on Bergman).
Sergey Ogudov’s “The Cinematic Sign and Narrative According to Gilles Deleuze and Yuri Lotman” studies the correlation between sign and narrative in works on film by Gilles Deleuze and Yuri Lotman. Ogudov examines the criticism of the semiotic conceptions of narration and the role of the “potential for falsity” in Deleuze’s book Cinema 1—2. The problem of the continual sign as specific to film in Lotman’s work is studied in light of Deleuze’s philosophical ideas.
Irina Margolina’s “The Semiotics of Color in 1900—1920s Newsreels” offers a semiotic analysis of 1900—1920s newsreels, focusing on their use of color. Her introduction to the context encompasses the formation, function and development of different coloring techniques. She examines the color structure through individual films and demonstrates its influence on the logic of montage and the overall construction of the narrative. The relevance of this approach for both newsreels and narrative film is tied to the universality of the declared principles of the use of color.
Irina Paert’s “Film and Autocommunication” examines the model of autocommu-nication suggested by Yuri Lotman for the analysis of works of literature and art in its application to cinema (using examples of films from R. Bresson, T. Malick, L. von Trier and I. Bergman). The primary focus of analysis is Bergman’s Winter Light: through this example, Paert explores the analytical and hermeneutic possibilities and drawbacks of the autocommunication model.
The articles in this section are dedicated to the work of Osip Mandelstam, including both close readings of his poems and analy sis of how his relations with contemporaries were reflected in the poetry. Biblical and mythological connotations, intertextual references and folkloric motifs are all examined, and new interpretations of well-known poems offered. Of particular interest are findings related to the phonetic potential for generating meaning of Mandelstam’s poetry and the capacity of the poetic word for producing a “material” effect.
Evgeny Soshkin’s “Mandelstam and his Brothers: On the Question of Mandel-stam’s Self-projection as the Biblical Joseph” acquaints readers with new arguments in favor of the old hypothesis that Osip Mandelstam’s poem The bread is poisoned and the air all drunk up… (1913) was a reaction to a disagreement, a duel that didn’t happen and an eventual reconciliation with Khlebnikov regarding the latter’s anti-Semitic remark in the Stray Dog café. An analysis of the poem in its polemical aspect renders the key to understanding a certain strangeness in Fourth Prose, in which Mandelstam describes himself as the victim of an anti-Semitic attack, while paradoxically endowing “Soviet writers” — his persecutors in the unfortunate “Ullenspiegel affair” — with the stereotypically “Jewish” features of anti-Semitic myth.
Valery Merlin’s “‘Vnutri gory bezdeistvuet kuvshin: The Phonetic Technique of Mandelstam’s Stalin Ode” addresses the “mouth music” [gubnaia muzyka] that Mandelstam discovers in Dante’s Divine Comedy and which characte rizes the former’s own poetic technique in the 1930s. When examined in this context, the Stalin Ode is typologically correlated with folkloric spells, vox magica and the mythological symbols of pottery. In the biographical sense, mouth music is correlated to Pushkin’s Boldino grotesque. At the same time, the pejorative articulations crossing over into parole pleine allow Merlin to define the “Ode” as a phonetic Bakhtiniad.
In her “Osip Mandelstam’s Butterfly: A Poem about Cognition”, Marina Kuzicheva examines the phonetic structure and images of Osip Mandelstam’s O butterfly, o Muslim girl… as well as the context of its writing and the interaction of philosophical and artistic meanings within the text. The poem is part of the 1933 cycle “Eight-line Poems,” which Mandelstam himself called “poems about cognition.” Unpacking this designation, Kuzicheva clarifies the significant events that preceded the creation of the cycle and establishes the correspondences that on multiple levels link this Butterfly with other works of the early 1930s: Journey to Armenia, Conversation about Dante, and the poems in memorial to Andrei Bely. She discovers a series of problems focused around the concepts “matter-form-entelechy,” which hark back to Aristotle while acquiring a new, poetic, validation.
Metamorphoses of Eros
The articles in this section seek to make sense of the phenomenon of the erotic in various perspectives: literary-critical, philosophical-poetic, and cultural-historical. Alexander Kondakov’s article analyses the BDSM phenomenon as a variation of the equality-based social contract in opposition to an unsymmetrical relationship of violence and power, examining this phenomenon through its representation in popular culture. The article by Irina Golovacheva, Mikhail Zhuravlyov and Polina Demoni tests the usefulness of mathematical models as tools for analyzing romantic-lyric and erotic literary narratives. Angelina Saul’s article looks at the poetry of e.e. cummings, N. Kabbani and V. Khlebnikov to show how experiments with the liberation (the deformation of normative structure) of language are connected with the discourse of the erotic and the eroticization of poetic language itself.
In their “Formulas of Love: Mathematical Modeling of Literary Plots”, Irina Golovacheva, Mikhail Zhuravlyov and Polina de Manny discusses the prospect of a non-quantitative method — mathematical modeling — for studyin g literary plots. As an example, the authors analyze the dynamics of two typologi-cally similar romantic plots: Ivan Turge-nev’s Vernal Waters and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs. The combination of literary-critical analysis and mathematical modeling allows for a much more objective reproduction of the space-time dynamics of the romantic (in this case, masochistic) relationships in the works. This method for textual analysis, unlike “distant reading,” presents both a supplement and an alternative to the traditional method of “close reading.”
Alexander Kondakov’s “Master and Slave as a Collaborative Relationship: An Analysis of Contractual Relationships in BDSM” analyzes the concept of slavery in BDSM culture, taking Deleuze’s categorization of power relationships in sadism and masochism as a startin g point. An examination of feminist arguments for and against BDSM, raised in a discussion around the concept of sexuality for feminism, also serves to clarify the conception. These theoretical formulations are used to analyze interviews with practitioners of BDSM and representations of BDSM in the film Fifty Shades of Grey. Kondakov’s analysis reveals the non-correspondence between social practices and their representation in cultural production, which has both empirical and theoretical significance for our understanding of power relationships.
In her “The Erotosphere of a Poetics of Desire: The “Transformation” of the Status of Desire in Modernism in the Work of Khlebnikov, Kabbani and Cummings”, Angelina Saule examines the problem of desire in the poetic discourse of modernism through the work of three modernist poets: Kabbani, Khlebnikov and Cummings. In modernism the traditional concepts of the continuous, whole and consistent were replaced by the language of interruption, multiplicity and incoherence: the relationship between words and objects, speaker and beloved constitutes a break in which desire acquires its roots. Analyzing the linguistic specifics of the theme of desire, Saul demonstrates the dense semiotic articulation of three conceptual fields: that of linguistic experiment, the liberation of language and of Eros.
“Socialist Utopia in the Work of A.P. Platonov,” an article by Marina Zavarkina and Anton Khramykh, presents an analysis of the work of one of the twentieth century’s most mysterious writers — Andrei Platonov. The authors focus on the utopia genre and its derivative, as well as the problem of utopian consciousness. They conclude that Platonov, who considered himself a proletarian writer, in the mid-1920s/early 1930s began to have doubts about what was going on. This “doubt” is reflected in the depictions of the socialist myth in his works, particularly the simultaneous reflection of socialist utopian ideas and a criticism of them. This gives rise to a complex interaction between the utopian and anti-utopian levels of Platonov’s texts, which makes it difficult to define the “second nature” of the genre (utopia or anti-utopia). It also suggests other variations of genre designations that might more aptly express Platonov’s vacillating position.
Ukrainian Neo-Classicists: An Attempt at Exclusion
This section focuses on the creative biography of the Kiev-based scholar, writer and essayist Viktor Petrov (1894—1969). Petrov, who also wrote under the pseudonyms V. Domontovich and Viktor Ber, remains attractive and relevant today through his universalism and the organic intertwining and mutual complementarity of the analytical, literary and historiosophical approaches in his work. Alexander Dmitriev’s article focuses on Petrov’s scholarly activity and views as a philologist, folklorist and archaeologist. Meanwhile, Inna Bulkina pays close attention to Petrov’s novels and autobiographical prose, finding in the latter points of intersection with the lite rary experiments of Lydia Ginzburg. The section closes with a memoir-sketch by V. Domontovich (Viktor Petrov), Swamp Lukroza, written in 1947 in a camp for displaced persons in Bavaria; written in Ukrainian, it is here translated for the first time into Russian. In addition to possessing indisputable historical and literary interest, the sketch is unequivocally an example of great prose.
Alexander Dmitriev’s “Archaeology of the Epoch and Playing at Identity: Petrov — Domontovich — Ber” presents the ideological biography of the Kiev-based scientist, writer and essayist Viktor Petrov (1894—1969) and attempts a reconstruction of the continuity and interconnections of his scientific and artistic views in the 1920s and 1940s. At the center of his concern is the problem of history as a series of epochs that succeed one another outside of any progres s, as well as the problems around the reconstruction of a primeval ideology of lineage (with reference to Potebnya and Dmytro Chyzhevsky). Petrov’s work is particularly important and attractive in its combination of the analytic, artistic and historiosophical approaches, his biographical stylization and love for masks, as well as his strategies of intellectual survival in a post-avant-garde ideological situation.
Inna Bulkina’s “Viktor Petrov and his ‘Other’” presents the biographical circumstances of one of Ukraine’s leading twentieth-century prose writers, Viktor Petrov, and analyzes the particulars of his poetics. The device of “making strange,” which the Formalists described as an aesthetic device, becomes in Petrov’s novel Doctor Seraphicus a sort of defense mechanism, the only possible “estrangement from oneself,” “form of experiencing the world.” In this sense Petrov’s ( V. Domontovich’s) literary practice approaches the experiments of Lydia Ginzburg. Bulkina also reveals the historical and cultural contexts of the novel and explains the origins of its protagonists and prototypes.
Viktor Petrov’s memoir-sketch “Swamp Lukroza” (Ukr: Bolotniana Lukroza) was written in 1947 in Bavaria, in a camp for displaced persons. It was first published (the part about the university) by the Ukrainian People’s Union in their 1948 Calendar-Almanac (Munich, 1948). This is in part a continuation of the “Kiev chapters” of the novel Doctor Seraphicus (published in Munich the previous year) and an immediate response to Yuri Klen’s (Osvald Burgardt’s) Memoirs of Neoclas-sics, which had been read in 1946 and which were published as a brochure in 1947, also in Munich. Petrov’s sketch addresses the history of the new Ukrainian literature and more broadly, the Ukrainian humanities; the protagonist is Mykola Ze-rov, whom Petrov sees as a central figure in this history.
“Awareness of the Hand’s Will”: Serge Segay
This section is dedicated to the Transfu-rist poet Serge Segay (1947—2014) and includes his unpublished work “syorzhbrinn’’ sigis’’” as well as two essays on his work by Boris Konstriktor and Willem G. Weststein.
The “Bibliography” section includes reviews of recent publications in the humanities, particularly on cognitive literary criticism and the influence of Bruno Latour’s sociology on contemporary humanities scholarship.
The “Chronicle of Scholarly Life” section contains reports from conferences on the development of nationalisms in post-Soviet space as well as on Soviet unofficial literature.