#3 Slap in the Face of Public Taste

Blog post - Avant Garde Изучайте старое, творите новоеThe Revolutionary Avant-Garde and the Dictatorship of Taste

In anticipation of Dan’s presentation and blog post below, we are fittingly divvying up the intellectual labor of our class into small groups of “superstructural” analysis once we establish a base of shared textual knowledge in Trotsky’s hortative program, Tretyakov’s contemporaneous piece and Boym’s retrospective description. These groups will convene to discuss their particular manifesto before putting their interpretations into the more general pool of impressions, as we collectively struggle to come up with a synthetic (anti) aesthetic idea of the Russian revolutionary avant-garde.

So far only a few of you signed up, so those who didn’t should pick a manifesto to meditate on and sign up in the “reply” section below, two per text please.

“Slap in the Face of Public Taste”: Abby and Luc

“We, Too, Want Meat!”: Maddie, Jonathan

“The LEF Program”

“Go to Hell!”: Dan, Erica

“We Prefer a Pinkerton Cover to the Concoctions of Picasso”: Zosha

Till tomorrow’s meeting, a terrific post from Dan to tide you over and tie all the texts together!

Byt, “everyday existence…routine and stagnation” deviates from traditional understanding of Russia “defined by her perpetual nomadic spirit, wanderlust, and liberation from dailiness” (Boym 31). The socioaesthetic tendency of the Futurist’s railed against byt, their commonality being “a hatred for their yesterday and today” (Tretyakov 206), combating it through heterogenious and divergent, akin to the traditional understanding of Russia’s nature, which Trotsky and the Bolshevik’s despised. Valuing uniformity and utilitarianism in public and private space, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks sought ahistoricizing the totalitarian state through instituting new ethics and understanding of human responsibility and association amongst the people. Eventually, the Futurists changed from being collectively invigorated against byt, to develop philosophies that assume their own transcendence from the everyday, to the zenith of human activity as defined by pre-Stalinist Soviets. The attempted development of said population, and the “failures and deviations” (206) in how Futurists acknowledge, understand, and participate in this project are the interest of this blog post.

The philosophy of new Futurists contradicts the original socioaesthetic tendency of futurism to its idea of world-sense. The socioaesthetic tendency is characterized by total heterogenity “pushing the psyche toward the greatest possible creative flexibility and toward rejection of all possible canons and concepts of absolute values” (206), not “settl[ing] on aesthetic cliches” and not “ceas[ing] to be the revolutionary ferment that without respite impels us toward creativity” (205). The world-sense is one of “joy in involvement, of fierce persistence devoted to his production collective, [and]the degree of…infectious enthusiasm for work” (207). These two perspectives progressively contradict one another in Tretyakov’s piece. Yet, possibly the contradictions of futurist logic are reflective of the very heterogeneity it describes as it unifying force; thus, it takes a different turn with productivist art production as its goal for the “continuous reorganization of the human psyche toward the achievement of the commune” (210). Achieving the commune requires “forging the new human being” which is derived from the “sum of emotional (sensual) judgements” (207) and a new world-sense (described above). This world-sense of emotional judgements “began with sharply individualistic self-assertion, with aimless passion…but little by little it started recognizing its social value” (208). This social value was completely integrating art and life through productivist art, making “creativity…applied to all production processes” (210).

Such a philosophical transformation posits futurism as the “canon…of absolute values” (206) it initially sought to lambast, aligning it the Soviet era New Byt. Trotsky suggests “artistic imagination in creating material objects will be directed towards working out the ideal form of a thing…and not towards the embellishment of the thing as an aesthetic premium to itself” (465) and that art must be purposeful. The Futurist’s echo that “creativity must not have as its aim all manner of embellishment, but rather must be applied to all production processes” (210), confirming their new social value. The Futurist’s also answer Trotsky’s call for art’s complete utilitarianism by demanding “to throw the energy which [art] generates into the service of reality…to color every human production movement with the mastery and joy of art” (212). Such a project demands hyperobservation and control. Tretyakov believes “every movement, every step of the people, their inability to achieve harmony in work” and so on, “is a sign of counterrevolutionary action…requiring large-scale efforts” (214). The communist goal is to fuse “social construction and psycho-physical self-education” (466), so the new human being can succeed and replicate through self-discipline. Such ushers in Soviet aesthetic and ideological control, as described at length by Boym (35-39). The new futurism parallels itself–and states it could only be replaced with–communism and its organizational project, yet claims its distinction based on communism not having “defined its line on the issue of organization of the individual and world-sense” to “roo[t] out the old socioeconomic system” (216).

Yet, the “old socioeconomic system” was not uprooted, along with byt and poshlost. These failures informs my questions for the class:

-Tretyakov states that the most powerful revolutionary sentiments cannot upset byt and vulgarity, describing vulgarity as “the system of feelings and actions which have become automatized by repetition in conformity with a particular socioeconomic basis” (212). Can a new state of “productivist mutual relationships” transcend byt and poshlost when they themselves are demanded to be “energetic, ingenious, solidarity disciplined [and]…[to put all their] production at disposal of the collective” (213), thus becoming routine? If not, what are the implications of this more evolved futurism not being able to evade aesthetic cliches and the stagnancy of the everyday? Can futurism, and specifically a productivist work ethic, evade poshlost?

-What is the state of taste once all become arbiters, as with the Futurist possibility of all becoming art workers?

-Notions of transcendence exist in the texts of Boym, Tretyakov, and Trotsky. Yet, whenever subjects in these texts postulate and/or attempt transcending their present order, a new routine, a new everyday develops. If insidious taste that believes in its transcendent state yet in actuality is conventional, trite, and banal informs our understanding of poshlost, does the mere assumption that the everyday can be transcended by subjects in the text an aspect of poshlost itself? Though Tretyakov and Trotsky rail against the everyday, and have nuanced yet similar viewpoints, is the mere intellectualizing of transcending the everyday in fact poshlost based on the multitude of thinkers theorizing about common themes? Is theorizing about the banality of the everyday in itself trite, yet thought of as original and spectacular by the thinker, thus making it poshlost?

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