Russian Avant-Garde Poetry
Almost all twentieth-century Russian poets familiar to Western readers – Akhmatova, Mandelshtam, Mayakovsky, Khlebnikov, Pasternak, Zabolotsky, Kharms, and others – belonged to that broad literary movement in the first decades of the previous century generally called the avant-garde or avantgardism; however, these poets are usually studied in isolation, without their broader literary context. Yet in order to understand the essence of their poetic experiments and achievements, and thus to evaluate their significance, it is necessary to examine their work within historical context, as a part of the activity of certain literary groups and schools. This course will examine the work of great poets of the 1910s to 1930s within this context. We will focus on literary groups including Acmeism (and the Guild of Poets), Futurism (and LEF), Constructivism (LTsK), Centrifuge, and OBERIU. We will examine the relationship of the literary practice of these great twentieth-century poets and their esthetic reflections, particularly those expressed in the declarations and manifestos put out by each group. We will also examine great critical responses to these groups and directions, such as Viktor Zhirmunsky’s article “Preodolevshie simvolizm”, Kornei Chukovsky’s articles on Futurism, and others. We will attempt to understand what traits of “group aesthetics” were of greatest significance for the work of these poets, and which ones they ‘overcame’ in the process of literary evolution, opening the field for further development and poetic renewal. There will be a class presentation, three short papers, and a final paper.