The term Soviet Baroque was coined by Viktor Shklovsky in 1929 to describe the aesthetic and theoretical tendencies of the left art of the 1920s – a generation of revolutionary artists to which he himself belongs. Shklovsky understands Baroque not as a specific historical style, but as the aesthetics of “intensive detail” and nonsychronous conception of history. With the onset of the Stalinist ideology and of the Five-Year Plan era’s optimism in the legibility of progress, Shklovsky becomes openly critical of the Soviet Baroque and his former artistic allies who espouse it. In this article I analyze the Soviet Baroque as an extension of a broader tendency that falls in line with the tradition of Historical Poetics and draw on several examples from Yuri Olesha’s Envy and Yuri Tynianov’s The Wax Person that I consider illustrative of this tendency.
The friendship between Viktor Shklovsky and Yuri Tynianov received a near-deadly blow in 1932, when Shklovsky’s essay entitled “About the People Who Walk Along the Same Road, But Do Not Know It: The End of Baroque” appeared in Literaturnaia gazeta, the official mouthpiece of the Federation of Union of Soviet Writers at the time.1 In this brief article Shklovsky attacks Tynianov, together with Yuri Olesha, Sergei Eisenstein,2 Osip Mandelstam, and Isaac Babel, on charges of perpetuating what he calls the Soviet Baroque. This tendency, for Shklovsky, is bound with indulging too freely in eccentric detail and sacrificing the unity of outlook and composition to the purely ornamental and the picturesque. In the wreckage of royal porcelain in Eisenstein’s scenes of the storming of the Winter Palace, and in the tangled chaos of cut-off limbs in Babel, Shklovsky recognizes only a distracted fascination with the explosive and fragmenting energy of the revolutionary event. During the 1930s, the period of increasing centralization of literary production and the advent of the doctrine of socialist realism, the aesthetic approaches that had been born with the revolution and embraced its destabilizing power were pressured to give way to a more conservative and totalizing vision. For Shklovsky, this meant stepping away from narrative saturated in details, with their splintering force and semantic ambiguity, and embracing the cult of clarity, continuity, and plot.3 He criticizes Tynianov’s novel The Wax Person (1932) and Olesha’s Envy (1927) (much to Tynianov’s displeasure at being mentioned in the same breath with Olesha)4 for their Baroque ornateness, and dismisses both texts as semantic swamps. The fermentation of references and meaning in them may be rich, but it is nevertheless superfluous in comparison with the linear flow of a unified plot: “A novel does not flow out of a swamp as small rivers sometimes do. The [Baroque] novel floats into the swamp. Ending in nothing. The time of Baroque has passed. Now comes the time of a continuous art.”5
Shklovsky was not alone in commenting on the semantic density and obscurantism of Olesha’s and Tynianov’s prose. In fact, the common theme in the critical reception of both novels was a perplexed hesitation as to what, exactly, to make of them. Even Lydia Ginzburg, Tynianov’s grateful disciple, in a diary entry from 1931, characterizes her mentor’s novel as slovobludie – a verbal bacchanal.7 And Envy to its contemporary readers seemed as an optical puzzle, capable of accommodating diametrically opposed views if approached from slightly different perspectives. Characteristically, Dmitry Gorbov, a literary critic associated with the Pereval group, described the profound ambiguity contained within Envy in visual terms. The novel
He (Olesha) has an exceptional talent for creating fragments, for seeing isolated details…
Olesha lacks a plan, but on principle…
Olesha sees things as a child would and knows his own style well. His description of the curls on cabbage leaves is just like a description of a baroque ornament.
In their construction, Olesha’s works are conditioned by several factors at once, they contain several different meanings, they simultaneously offer several different answers. And that is why they are incomplete. That is why they never lay out a greater meaningful plan, as if the writer had no need of one.
Olesha’s works end with the out-and-out baroque frill of a cabbage head.
His is the art of ornament and false domes.6
У нeгo (Oлeши) нeoбыкнoвeннoe умeниe coздaвaть куcки, видeть нeмнoгoe…
У Oлeши пpинципиaльнo нeт плaнa…
Oлeшa видит вeщи кaк peбeнoк и xopoшo знaeт coбcтвeнный cтиль. Eгo oпиcaниe зaвиткoв кaпуcты—тoчнoe oпиcaниe opнaмeнтa бapoккo.
Beщи, кoтopыe пишeт Oлeшa, пo зaкoну пocтpoeния paзнooбуcлoвлeнны, paзнoзнaчны, paзнooтвeтны и пoэтoму oни нe дoпиcaны. Пoэтoму в ниx нe paзpeшeн и кaк будтo пиcaтeлю нe нужeн бoльшoй cмыcлoвoй плaн.
Beщь кoнчaeтcя мaxpoвым бapoчным cжимoм кaпуcтнoгo кoчaнa.
Иcкуccтвoм opнaмeнтa и фaльшивыx купoлoв.
What is remarkable is not that Shklovsky would denounce the Baroque, but the terms on which he does so. Rather than simply condemning the Baroque for being outdated or bizarre, Shklovsky, although critical of its ornamentalism, suggests that the Baroque vision is intimately bound with the historical, so much so that it could be disruptive to the ideology of centralized planning. Shklovsky’s criticism, it seems, falls in line with the debates and tensions surrounding the notion of the Baroque that arose at the beginning the twentieth century and would be developed in later decades. Derived from Portuguese barroco—an unusually shaped pearl, an organic object, an accident of nature that has been rescued from a filthy-smelling seashell to be set into a precious piece of jewelry—the term “Baroque” etymologically already presupposes the unity of extreme oppositions, as well as the potential for meaningful recuperation of the basely material and the monstrous. However, in the twentieth century a new “fold” was added. The Baroque as a historical style of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (often associated with ostentatious and dubious taste, as for Benedetto Croce) was supplemented by a notion of the Baroque as a mode of historical thinking that disrupts the linear reading of history as a progressive succession of styles. The key figures of this alternative approach to the Baroque are Henri Focillon, Walter Benjamin, and Gilles Deleuze.9 In the latter concept, the Baroque is disassociated from any specific appearance and instead corresponds to a mode of organization and stands for a complexly choreographed movement through accumulated material and memory. In Shklovsky’s characterization of the Baroque we find both paradigms, with a nod to the historical Baroque (for instance, he notes the architecture of the Winter Palace in October and “the architecture of false domes” in Olesha) and a clear equation of the Baroque with a rejection of aesthetics predicated on a linear vision of historical progress. Rather than simply an instance of bad taste, Baroque, for Shklovsky circa 1930, is primarily a mode of historical imagination that became incompatible with the teleological and progress-oriented ideology of the Five-Year Plan. At the same time, it was an aberration of which an entire constellation of Soviet artists, arguably including himself, was guilty.
is as if it has been drawn on glass. When placed on a dark surface – you see one picture, executed in somber, “chemical” tones. But when you hold it up to the light, you begin to recognize something completely different – an image with a meaning that is almost diametrically opposed to what you saw originally. And that initial impression already contains much that would compel one to lift the image and hold it up to the light.8
(«Зaвиcть» Oлeши) кaк бы нaпиcaнa нa cтeклe. Пoлoжишь нa тeмную пoвepxнocть – нa нeй oдин pиcунoк, cдeлaнный в глуxиx «xимичecкиx» тoнax. Пocмoтpишь нa cвeт, − пoлучaeтcя нeчтo coвceм инoe и eдвa ли нe oбpaтнoe пo cмыcлу. И cлишкoм мнoгo в пepвoм cлучae ecть тaкoгo, чтo нaтaлкивaeт нa нeoбxoдимocть пoднять кapтинку и paccмoтpeть ee нa cвeт.
In what follows, I will take Shklovsky’s pronouncement of the Soviet Baroque of the late 1920s and early 1930s seriously (although I do not agree with his criticism) and consider this aesthetic as an extension of a broader tendency that falls in line with the tradition of Historical Poetics. This paradigm, which originated with the work of Alexander Veselovsky, has resonated with many of the Western vitalistic interpretations of the historical process (from Nietzsche to Simmel, Bergson, and Aby Warburg), and had a major influence on the Russian Formalists, the Bakhtin Circle, and later Olga Freidenberg and others. The tradition of Historical Poetics approaches literary forms as structures at once suffused with the vibrancy and resiliency of life, and mediating historical and social processes. Although the theoreticians indebted to Veselovsky are not unified in their understanding of history, their interpretations nevertheless share several defining features comparable to Baroque aesthetics: the view of history as a non-linear process that moves in unexpected jolts and reversals, the conviction that the present is imbued with surviving and often competing remnants of the past that can be re-activated given appropriate historical and social conditions, and lastly the belief that innovation frequently proceeds through contemporary re-engagement with the archaic. Tynianov’s conception of the dynamic principles of literary evolution through sudden breaks with tradition, decomposition of the canon and parodic deformation, as well as Shklovsky’s own Formalist theory of literary evolution “from uncle to nephew” – a movement that is not linear, but is propelled precisely by mistakes and accidents – are offsprings of Veselovskian theory.10
In the second half of this article I draw on several examples from Olesha’s Envy that I consider illustrative of the Baroque’s nonsynchronous conception of history and further reflect on them through the prism of Tynianov’s theories. The Baroque aesthetics of The Wax Person has already been extensively analyzed, most notably by Mikhail Iampolski and Arkadii Bliumbaum, so in this paper I will merely gesture to Tynianov’s novel, while shifting focus onto parallel phenomena in Olesha’s work.11
Only a year later, in his 1932 text for Literaturnaia gazeta, we detect a clear change in Shklovsky’s tone. He is no longer forgiving of Baroque tendencies and becomes more pronouncedly critical, if not outright accusatory. Instead of merely acknowledging “historical mistakes” – his own and those of his allies, including Tynianov, a fellow member of the Opoyaz “triumvirate” – Shklovsky now makes a deliberate effort to distance himself from them. Whether or not this was a gesture intended merely as aggressive self-criticism, such self-interrogation at the expense of others did not impress Tynianov favorably. He likened Shklovsky’s article to a backstabbing and a betrayal.14 In an irritated letter to Shklovsky from August 1932 he writes: “You, my dear, wish to surrender to someone, to some new time, to some future Rococo, your acquaintances, whom you label as Baroque. In their place I inscribe you.”15
are preoccupied with intensive detail – they are people of the Baroque…
The Baroque, the lifestyle of intensive detail, is not a defect, but a characteristic of our time. Our best living poets are fighting against it.
Люди нaшeгo вpeмeни, люди интeнcивнoй дeтaли – люди бapoккo. <…> Бapoккo, жизнь интeнcивнoй дeтaли, нe пopoк, a cвoйcтвo нaшeгo вpeмeни. Haши лучшиe пoэты бopютcя c этим cвoйcтвoм.13
By 1931 the Soviet Baroque vision of literary evolution as uneven and shot-through with the shrapnel of competing archaic forms would be replaced by a more linear model, under the pressure of the ideology of planned economy that extended to literary production. The “great attraction of revolution”17 was over, and it was time to embrace the new classicism. Shklovsky’s Baroque period encompassed not only his Formalist years, but also a brief period after his official renunciation of Formalism, while he was searching to bridge his earlier theories with Marxism. This capacity for co-existence with Marxist discourse without conforming to it completely, I argue, is one of the defining features of the Soviet Baroque.
Literary evolution must be understood not as a continuous flow, or as an inheritance of some property, but rather as a process with leaps and ruptures, in which alternating forms compete with one another and are ascribed new meanings.16
Литepaтуpнaя эвoлюция дoлжнa быть ocoзнaнa нe кaк нeпpepывный пoтoк, нe кaк нacлeдoвaниe oпpeдeлeннoгo имущecтвa, a кaк пpoцecc co cмeнoй взaимoбopcтвующиx фopм, c пepeocмыcлeниeм этиx фopм, co cкaчкaми, paзpывaми и т.д.
In Shklovsky’s view, the primary opposition between the Soviet Baroque and the new Soviet Classicism is not style. Instead it is the opposition between a view of the history of literary and artistic forms as a dynamic field of struggle, and a view of history that no longer needs this internal struggle. The absolute uncontested contemporaneity and radical newness of Soviet Classicism can be defended only by insisting on radical naiveté and willed amnesia. In his repeated and excessive repudiation of the Soviet Baroque in favor of Soviet Classicism, one is almost tempted to suspect Shklovsky of a desire to convince himself. Despite his better instincts and intuition, he forces himself to repudiate the Baroque model of literary evolution and inheritance that he has long espoused, but knows that it is no longer politically prudent to express this.
Our viewer [i.e., the new Soviet man] perceives art as something completely new. The fact that columns have existed for a long time and might have become boring for some is a fact of a mere historical interest for him. Our reader and our viewer do not entrust their tastes to anyone and review the entire inventory of art anew themselves.18
Haш зpитeль вocпpинимaeт иcкуccтвo кaк тoлькo чтo coздaннoe. Пoэтoму для нeгo тoлькo иcтopичecкий интepec, чтo кoлoнны cущecтвуют дaвнo и чтo кoму-тo oни нaдoeли. Haш читaтeль и зpитeль никoму нe пepeдoвepяeт cвoиx вкуcoв и зaнoвo пepecмaтpивaeт инвeнтapь иcкуccтвa.
…our classics and our columns are not similar to the normal classics and the columns. Our classics and columns are stations of departure.
…нaши клaccики и нaши кoлoнны нe пoxoжи нa клaccикoв и кoлoнны – этo клaccики и кoлoнны – cтaнции oтпpaвлeний.19
Olesha’s Envy, the novel that Shklovsky selects with Tynianov’s The Wax Person for his discussion of the Soviet Baroque, contains many explicit references to the Baroque as a specific style: deliriously ornate carved beds, pink and mother-of-pearl coloration, and even direct mentions of Tiepolo’s paintings. In both Envy and The Wax Person we discover a fascination with Baroque spaces and tropes, such as cabinets of curiosities, effigies, wax models and automata. In the center of Tynianov’s novel is the making of a post-mortem mask and mechanical effigy of Peter i by Rastrelli, and in Envy Kavalerov, the novel’s protagonist, has his main meditation on the nature of history and historical glory during his visit to a wax-figure exhibition. He even conceives of his desire to one day enter the pantheon of wax effigies himself.20 However, it is the ambiguous quality of Olesha’s and Tynianov’s images, which simultaneously encompass several competing meanings and are destabilized by this tension, that has most relevance for the discussion of the Soviet Baroque.
In both writers’ use of this image the animate is folded into the inanimate, the person and the thing become amalgamated. Distinct figures twist into an arabesque and form an abstract pattern: “But time passed, and the blanket’s patterns swelled and turned into pretzels,”23 Olesha writes.
Tynianov: “Pie-sellers yelled, sold pies, and the pies were bundled in rags like infants.”21
Olesha: “I had a dark blue blanket on it that I’d bought in Kharkov, at the Blagoveshchensk fair, in a bad year. A woman was selling pies. They were covered with a blanket. Cooling, still not ready to give up the heat of life, they were virtually murmuring under the blanket, squirming like puppies. At the time I was living as badly as everyone else, and this picture breathed such well-being, hominess, and warmth that I made a firm decision that day to buy myself the very same kind of blanket. My dream came true. One fine evening I crawled under a dark blue blanket. I boiled under it and squirmed, the warmth made me jiggle as if I were made of gelatin.”22
The creation of a formal structure organized by uniting several oppositional forces existing in a state of constant struggle for dominance, and in which the balance of these forces is influenced by external conditions, resonates with Tynianov’s view of literature as a dynamic speech construction. This construction evolves through the perpetual movement of self-parody, self-differentiation, and self-deformation: “every deformity, every ‘mistake,’ every ‘error’ in normative poetics is potentially a new constructive principle,” he writes.25 Tynianov extends this concept of evolution via deformation and struggle to describe the development of literary history as a process that moves not according to a smooth line or a plan, but in jagged fits and starts.
The structure of a trope, of “thingly metaphor” is understood by Tynianov as a state of conflict, of a clash. This metaphor does not conjoin two “halves,” is not an “amalgamation of images” “into a unified whole” etc. Instead, by conjoining and integrating, as Tynianov would have said, the heterogeneous elements, it initiates a struggle between them.
Cтpуктуpa тpoпa, «вeщнoй мeтaфopы» пoнимaeтcя Tынянoвым кaк cocтoяниe кoнфликтa, cтoлкнoвeния: мeтaфopa нe oбъeдиняeт двe «пoлoвинки», нe являeтcя «cлияниeм oбpaзoв» «в eдиную цeлocтнocть» и т.п., a, cвoдя вмecтe, интeгpиpуя, кaк cкaзaл бы caм Tынянoв, гeтepoгeнныe элeмeнты, иницииpуeт мeжду ними бopьбу.24
The defiant war of the small and the marginal against symbolic Goliaths, the advancement of peripheral phenomena into the center, the continual process of subversion – this is what really attracts Kavalerov’s attention and what is broadly thematized in Envy. Kavalerov himself stands as a hero born from the social and literary-historical periphery, casting a mocking sidelong glance toward the masters of the day. “Class struggle” in the above quotation is employed not in a classical Marxist sense, but as a camouflage term for the process of perpetuating, and therefore ensuring the survival of, “neglected” and “downtrodden” phenomena (small letters, discredited people, defunct social types, old sentiments, garbage, characters from past literary canons) in their struggle for visibility in the intimate proximity of the “winners” of history. The semantic dimension and pure materiality of signs merge for Kavalerov, to the extent that his vision of words doing battle can equally be classified as a natural history of politics and language (where the development of ideological language is a function of natural evolution) or as a politicization of nature.
I entertain myself with observations. Have you ever noticed that … a man is surrounded by tiny inscriptions, a sprawling anthill of tiny inscriptions: on forks, spoons, saucers, his pince-nez frames, his buttons, and his pencils? No one notices them. They’re waging a battle for survival. They move in and out of view, even the huge sign letters! They rise up – class against class: the letters on the street plaques do battle with letters on the posters.26
Just as Olesha’s ambling and aimless protagonist, Benjamin is stunned by Moscow’s display of signs that are simultaneously mute and vibrantly expressive, fighting for survival and visibility not unlike plants competing for sunlight in a dense forest.
From the arches of gates, on the frames of house doors, in letters of varying sizes, black, blue, yellow, red, in the shape of arrows or in the image of boots or freshly-ironed laundry or a worn stoop or a stairway’s solid landing, the life leaps out at you, combative, determined, mute. You have to have traveled the streets by streetcar to realize how this running battle continues up along the various stories and finally reaches its decisive pitch on the roofs. Only the strongest, most venerable slogans or commercial signboards manage to survive at this height and it is only from the air that one can survey the industrial elite of the town beneath one’s eyes.27
Among the myths that get shattered under the disintegrative Baroque gaze of Benjamin is the myth of historical linear progress itself.
When Benjamin conceived of the Arcades project, there is no doubt that he was self-consciously reviving allegorical techniques. Dialectical images are a modern form of emblematics. But whereas the Baroque dramas were melancholy reflections on the inevitability of decay and disintegration, in the Passagen-Werk the devaluation of (new) nature and its status as ruin becomes instructive politically…
And the fleetingness of temporal power does not cause sadness; it informs political practice.29
The continuity between the theory of Baroque imagery and the Marxist dialectical approach ends when we reach the problem of teleology. While Marxist dialectical theory of productive forces requires history to adopt a plot, Baroque historicism is an endless intrigue of evolving and interweaving patterns, without any drive for a final culmination or reconciliation.
Searching the historical records for counterevidence, Benjamin used all the scholarly imagination at his disposal to discover within them counter images that rubbed harshly against the grain of the semantics of progress…
Where Marx himself had fallen under the spell of the discourse of progress, identifying revolutions as the “locomotives of world history,” Benjamin countered: “Perhaps it is totally different. Perhaps revolutions are the reaching of humanity traveling in this train for the emergency brake.” Where the megalomania of monumental proportions, of “bigger is better,” equated both capitalist and imperialist expansion with the progressive course of history, Benjamin sought out the small, discarded object, the outdated buildings and fashions which, precisely as the “trash” of history, were evidence of its unprecedented material destruction.30
A striking instance when “class critique” and Baroque intrigue coincide in Envy, is Kavalerov’s exposure of Andrei Babichev (the corpulent head of a food trust, in whose house he lives) as a member of the master class, rather than a genuinely new Soviet man. For Kavalerov, Babichev’s “superiority” is given away first and foremost not by the comforts of his apartment or by the sumptuous meals that he orders for himself every night, but by a small physical detail – a birthmark.
Inasmuch as it becomes absorbed in the microscopic examination of details, it [Baroque drama] progressed no further than the painstaking calculations of the political intrigue. Baroque drama knows no other historical activity than the corrupt energy of schemers.31
The “face” of Babichev is presented here by the fleshy mask of his back. Like a scroll, ceremoniously unwrapped, it slowly reveals to Kavalerov the true tale of Babichev’s heritage and “genotype”– that of an aristocrat. Kavalerov looks for his clues in small physical details and genetic traits as sure signs of the perpetuation and survival of class atavism in the body of the supreme new Socialist specimen. Babichev is described here with an equal measure of repulsion and glorification. Like a marble statue of a classical deity or a hero, he appears naked bathed in rays of sunlight. Even his corpulence does not necessarily have to be interpreted negatively. It is herculean flesh, yet marked by a repulsive little wart. What attracts Kavalerov to this detail is his predilection for the archaeology of power, a desire to ridicule it, to undermine the contemporaneity of Babichev’s achievements by finding an organic atavism that would negate him, to out him as an imposter. Baroque anamorphic vision here serves as a tool for unmasking the social pretender and tracing the genealogy of contemporary power.
I saw that back, that stout back, from behind, in the sunny light, and nearly cried out. The back gave everything away. The tender yellow of his fat body. The scroll of someone else’s fate had unfolded before me. Old man Babichev had cared for his skin; the pads of fat had been softly distributed over his aging torso. My commissar inherited this thin skin, noble color, and pure pigmentation. And most important, what evoked real triumph in me, was the fact that on his waist I saw a mole, a special, inherited, aristocratic mole, the very same kind – blood-filled, a transparent, tender little thing that stood away from his body on a stem – by which mothers recognize stolen children decades later.
“You – a lord, Andrei Petrovich! Hah! You’re a faker!” nearly tore from my lips.32
Both the parading of untimely characters in front of history itself and the unmasking of Babichev are premised on the same logic of non-coincidence and a plurality of competing, co-existing states.
I have been given the honor of conducting the last parade of old-fashioned human passions…
[T]hrough the eye slits of a mask, history is watching us with a flickering gaze. And I want to show it: Here is a man in love, here is a man of ambition, here a traitor, here a reckless hero, here a loyal friend, here a prodigal son. Here they are, the bearers of great emotions that have now been deemed unimportant and vulgar. One last time, before they vanish, before they’re laughed at, let them show themselves in their full intensity.33
In the writings of Tynianov and Olesha, as well as Gogol, instead of the complete hero giving a material expression to his inner life, masks achieve a very different effect – they create a sense of interrelation with “the original” without fully corresponding to or exhausting him. The excessive materiality of a mask interferes with the legibility of the original of whom it is supposedly a reproduction.35 Masks for Tynianov are at the same time spectral and exaggeratedly material.36 The space between the original and the copy, between the person and the persona, creates an opening or vacuum in which illusions, verisimilitudes, and fictions proliferate. These chimeras have a claim to autonomous life, like the nose from Gogol’s story or the wart on Babichev’s back, as well as a capacity to serve as a parody of the “official faces” that bear them. So in The Wax Persona the Baroque space of the Kunstkamera, where Peter’s life-like effigy is brought, becomes a location for the theatrical and parodic staging of the life of the Petrine court – a place where the historical mechanisms animating it become truly visible and sovereign power is “unmasked” as a sheer yet functional illusion.
The main device with which Gogol describes people – is the device of a mask.
Clothing and costumes may serve as a mask first of all (the importance of clothes in Gogol’s description of appearance), an exaggerated appearance may also serve as a mask…
More often, though, Gogol offers a mask “in molten flesh.”34
Baroque intrigue has the ability to fracture and to distort, or, to borrow Tynianov’s term, to deform any image – to make it take on a set of competing meanings, the balance of forces between which changes, depending on the surrounding historical situation. Its errant energy of endless parody contaminates with ambiguity all representations of authority and certainty. It also erodes the confident appearance of pure contemporaneity to reveal the shimmering of the anachronistic presence behind it. Isolating intensive details, which may then begin their semi-autonomous life as masks and fetishes – as is the case with Babichev’s mole – invites a swarm of historical associations into what otherwise might have been a space contending for an image of mastery. By doing this, Baroque invites a form of political and historical critique.
The peculiarity of the Soviet Baroque has to do with the fact that it was nourished by the energy of the Revolution and eventually took on some of the rhetoric of class struggle and dialectical development, without however ever adopting a Marxist “plot” of expected synthesis. Yet, Soviet Baroque’s rejection of the linear, progress-oriented view of history as stadial and universal, together with its propensity for undermining any certainty, made it a fitting model for the period of revolutionary upheaval that celebrated the toppling of dogmas and masters. The same properties, however, rendered it incompatible with the requirements of the Five-Year Plan era ideology that demanded a steady step, trust in the new leaders, and optimism in the legibility of progress. The key difference between Baroque “architecture of false domes” in Olesha that Shklovsky finds inacceptable in the 1930s, and the columns of proletarian classicism, which he endorses, has nothing to do with the stylistic preference—after all, both styles are citational and antiquated. Rather, what Shklovsky is after in the 1930s is the flattening of Baroque ambiguity and historical resonances, collapsing of that gap between an image and its mask that invites critical historical reflection. The centrifugal, dispersive energy of the Baroque image with its welter of competing associations and historical memories is contrasted with the centripetal energy that images of the period of the Five-Year Plan were expected to endorse. Baroque destabilizing anamorphic vision, as has become clear to Shklovsky in the 1930s, was no longer welcome in the Five-Year Plan economy with its Cartesian values of clarity and linear development.
Iampolskii Mikhail , Tkach i Vizioner: Ocherki istorii reprezentatsii, ili o material’nom i ideal’nom v kul’ture. (Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2010).
Kliger Ilya , and Maslov Boris , eds, Persistent Forms: Explorations in Historical Poetics. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016).
Shklovsky Viktor , A Hunt For Optimism. Translated by Avagyan Shushan . (Champaign, London, Dublin: Dalkey Archive Press, 2013).
Shklovsky Viktor , ‘Monument to a Scientific Error.’ Translated by Avagyan Shushan . Context: A Forum For Literary Arts and Culture, 24 (2014): 38–39.
Shklovsky Viktor , ‘O klassitsizme voobshe i o klassikah v kino.’ In Galushkin Aleksander , ‘Nastupaet nepreryvnoe iskusstvo,’ De visu 11 (1993): 25–38.
Shklovsky Viktor , ‘O liudiakh kotorye idut po odnoi doroge i ob etom ne znaiut: konets Barokko.’ Literaturnaia Gazeta (July 17, 1933).
Smirnov I.P. , ‘Barokko i opyt poeticheskoi kul’tury nachala xx v’. In Slavianskoe Barokko: istoriko-kul’turnye problemy epokhi, 335–62. (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo “Nauka,” 1979).
Viktor Shklovsky, ‘O liudah, kotorye idut po odnoi doroge i ob etom ne znaiut: konets Barokko.’ Literaturnaia Gazeta, July 17, 1932, 4.
For a discussion of Eisenstein’s use of Baroque aesthetics in his ¡Que Viva Mexico!, see Masha Salazkina’s book In Excess: Sergei Eisenstein’s Mexico. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2009, 141–180.
On the discussion of clarity in socialist realism see: ‘We Need The Art That Is Necessary For The Masses and Is Loved by Them’ (‘Nam nuzhno iskusstvo, poniatnoe massam i liubimoe imi’) in Literaturnaia gazeta, May 29, 1933 and Shklovsky’s own essay ‘Simplicity is Order’ (‘Prostota – zakonomernost’) in the same publication from June 5, 1933.
See the entry in Korney Chukovsky’s diary from November 11, 1932 (Dnevnik 1922–1935. Moscow: Prozaik. 2011, 495).
Viktor, Shklovsky, ‘O liudah, kotorye idut po odnoi doroge i ob etom ne znaiut: konets Barokko.’
Viktor Shklovsky, ‘Mir bez glubiny (Yuri Olesha).’ Literaturnyi kritik, vol. 5, October 1933, 118–121.
Lydia Ginzburg, ‘Zapisi 20–30h godov. Iz neopublikovannogo.’ Novyi Mir, no. 6, 1992, 174–175.
Dmitry Gorbov, ‘Opravdanie Zavisti (ob Oleshe)’ in Poiski Galatei: statii o literature. Moscow: “Federatsiia,” 1929, 138.
Helen Hills (ed.), Rethinking the Baroque, Ashgate: Farnham, 2011, 4–9.
For a recent discussion of Historical Poetics in English see Ilya Kliger and Boris Maslov, eds. Persistent Forms: Explorations in Historical Poetics. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016.
Mikhail Iampolskii, Tkach i Vizioner: ocherki istorii reprezentatsii, ili o materialnom i idealnom v kulture. Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2007; “Razlichie, ili po tu storonu predmetnosti (estetika Heine v teorii Tynianova)” in Skvoz tuskloe steklo, Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2010; ‘Tynianov’ in Tri Teksta ob Istorii, St-Petersburg: Seans, 2013.
Arkadii Bliumbaum, Konstruktsiia Mnimosti: K poetike “Voskovoi persony” Yu. Tynianova. Moscow: Hyperion, 2002.
For more on the association between the Soviet avant-garde and the Baroque, see Aleksandr Galushkin, ‘Nastupaet nepreryvnoe iskusstvo’ in De visu, issue 11, Moscow: “Alfavit,” 1992: 25–38.
I.P. Smirnov, ‘Barokko i opyt poeticheskoi kultury nachala xx veka’ in Slavianskoe barokko, Moscow, 1979, 353.
Viktor Shklovsky, A Hunt For Optimism. Translated by Shushan Avagyan. Dalkey Archive Press: Champaign, London, Dublin, 2009, 128.
We find a vivid description of the rift that occurred between Tynianov and Shklovsky in Korney Chukovsky’s diaries from 1932, the year that Shklovsky’s article was published.
Entry from 11/21/1932: «B издaтeльcтвe пиcaтeлeй вcтpeтил Tынянoвa….
Tут мы зaгoвopили o Шклoвcкoм: ‘Дa, мы вcтpeчaлиcь пocлe eгo cтaтьи, paзгoвapивaли, нo пpeжнeгo ужe нeт … и нe будeт. Eгo cтaтью я пoчувcтвoвaл кaк удap в cпину … Oн пoтoм пиcaл дpугую, зaмaзывaл, гoвopил, чтo я мacтep, нo нeт … бoг c ним … кoгдa былa у нac oбщaя тeopeтичecкaя paбoтa … тoгдa и былa у нac дpужбa. И cмeшaл мeня в кучу c дpугими, и Oлeшe пocвятил цeлый cтoлбeц, a мнe – вceгo нecкoлькo cтpoк … o тoм, чтo я читaю вce oдни и тe жe книги … Чтo у мeня вooбщe мaлo книг … Этo у мeня-тo мaлo книг!!!’ Bиднo, чтo этoт пункт cтaтьи Шклoвcкoгo ocoбeннo зaдeл Юpия Hикoлaeвичa.» (Korney Chukovsky, Dnevnik 1922–1935. Moscow: Prozaik, 2011, 495).
The quarrel is mentioned again in an entry from 01/15/1934: «Bчepa были у Tынянoвыx. <…> Oпять гoвopил o paзpывe co Шклoвcким. ‘Teпepь я мoгу пиcaть eму пиcьмa: нe ‘пpeдaнный вaм’, a ‘пpeдaнный вами’.’» (Chukovsky, 526).
«Tы, милый, жeлaeшь кoму-тo, кaкoму-тo, кaкoму-тo нoвoму вpeмeни или гpядущeму poкoкo – уcтупить cвoиx знaкoмыx пoд имeнeм бapoккo. B иx cпиcкe я зaмeняю тeбя.» (Cited from Bliumbaum, 180).
Viktor Shklovsky, ‘Monument to a Scientific Error.’ Translated by Shushan Avagyan. Context: A Forum For Literary Arts and Culture, 24 (2014): 38–39.
Viktor Shklovsky, ‘O klassitsizme voobshche i o klassikakh v kino’ in Galushkin, 33.
Viktor Shklovsky, ‘O klassitsizme voobshe i o klassikah v kino’ (1933–1934), 32.
Viktor Shklovsky, ‘O klassitsizme voobshche i o klassikakh v kino’ (1933–1934), 35.
“I swallowed ecstatic tears. I decided to become famous so that someday my wax double, replete with the rumbling of the ages, which only a few would be given to hear, would pose just like that in a green-tinted cube.” (Yuri Olesha, Envy, trans. Marian Schwartz. ny: New York Review of Books, 2004, 30–31).
Yuri Tynianov, Voskovaia Persona in Sochinenia. Moscow: Terra, 1994.
Yuri Tynianov, ‘Literaturnyi fact’ in Poetika. Istoriia Literatury. Kino. Moscow: Nauka, 1977, 263.
Olesha, Envy, 9–10. Russian original: ‘Zavist’.’ In Povesti i rasskazy. (Moscow: Hudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1965, 22).
Walter Benjamin, Moscow Diary, trans. Richard Seiburth. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, ma, 1986, 25.
Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne. Verso: London, New York. 1985, 62.
Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project. Cambridge, ma: The mit Press, 170.
Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 88.
Yuri Tynianov, ‘Dostoevsky i Gogol (k teorii parodii)’ in Poetika. Istoriia Literatury. Kino. Moscow: Nauka, 1977, 202.
Mikhail Iampolskii, Skvoz’ tuskloe steklo: 20 glav o neopredelennosti, Moscow: Novoye Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2010, 122: “A mask is a simple repetition of form, its cast. The difference is communicated through a simple gesture of repetition that reveals the impossibility of an identical self-reproduction of form. The difference in this case, however, is not a negativity, not a non-coincidence, but a positivity.”
Yuri Tynianov, ‘Dostoevsky i Gogol (k teorii parodii),’ 203.