To Duel or Not to Duel? That Is a [Futuristic] Question

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The Russian futurists were masters of scandal and provocation as ways of promoting their ideas, and their exhibitions, disputes, and performances often caused public outrage. One of the little-known scandals took place on the opening night of Pink Lantern cabaret in Moscow on October 19, 1913. Following Vladimir Mayakovsky’s taunting declamation of his poetry and Konstantin Balmont’s improvised speech honoring the futurists, Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova engaged in a confrontation with the public already irritated by the provocative performances and alcohol. As a result, Goncharova slapped a gentleman across the face, which led him to challenging Larionov to a duel. Larionov refused the challenge, however, in a bizarre twist, Goncharova counter-challenged, causing the discussion of what is and is not futuristic behavior.

Using newspaper articles, interviews, and futurists publications, the paper analyzes this scandal through the prism of Commedia dell’Arte. Recognizing Mayakovsky as the red clown and Larionov as his naïve and cowardly white counterpart, the spectators experienced the cognitive dissonance when Goncharova as the futuristic Columbine took center stage and challenged the public to a duel. Looking at this incident in the broader context of dueling in European history, the paper also addresses the role of the duel in Russian culture and juxtaposes Goncharova’s never-acted-upon challenge with the tragic final duel of Alexander Pushkin fought to defend the honor of his wife and Goncharova’s namesake.


A Journal of Russian Culture



  • “Shabash futuristov,” Rannee utro, October 22, 1913, 6.
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  • “V rozovom fonare” Stolichnaya molva, October 21, 1913, 6.
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  • “Sostoitsia li duel,” Rannee utro, October 23, 1913, 4.
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