Harsha Ram (UC Berkeley): Khlebnikov, Tatlin, and the Utopian Geopoetics of the Russian Avant-garde
Most models of world literature since Goethe have focused on the spatial grid provided by the dialectic between the territorial nation-state and the deterritorializing force of the market. On the eve of the October revolution of 1917, it is timely to reflect on the promise of world revolution as an alternative if unrealized model of world literature. The utopianism of the Russian avant-garde, in its collisions and collusions with the Bolshevik Party, has long been recognized as a constitutive feature of cultural production during the early Soviet era. Yet the question of aesthetic utopia has largely been studied with respect to the visual poetics of Russian constructivism. My talk seeks to extend this discussion by placing the visual alongside the literary: its focus will be the futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov’s Gesamtkunstwerk Zangezi (1922), a precocious instance of performance art combining lyric fragments, theatrical dialogue and prophetic utterance, staged by the constructivist artist Vladimir Tatlin in Petrograd in 1923. Alongside Tatlin’s unrealized Monument to the Third International, Khlebnikov’s Zangezi may well be the most eloquent example of an utopian aesthetic internationalism which sought to abolish all boundaries, linguistic no less than spatial.
Harsha Ram is associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature at the UC Berkeley.