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Другие исследования об авангарде


Krystyna Pomorska

Maiakovskii and the Myth of Immortality in the Russian Avant-garde*


The quest for the relation between the word and the thing, and for their direct parallel – the relation between art and life – was an imperative at the turn of the century. The avant-garde movements in various European countries accepted the challenge. In fact, these movements came into being because of that quest; for its obverse side is the quest for the sense of life.

Russian literature, inspired by the dichotomy Dichtung und Wahrheit, persistently posed this question throughout the nineteenth century. It was not by chance that the mature Pushkin obstinately demonstrated how literary fiction deceives and hurts those who take its "lies" seriously. Turgenev, who revived the romantic tradition in the 1840s, echoed Pushkin.

At the turn of the century a similar question reemerged. This time the complaint against the rupture between art and life signaled a general crisis in culture. The prophets of the crisis, Lev Tolstoi and Aleksandr Blok, expressed its essence in the most symptomatic way. In the comments to his poem "Vozmezdie" ("Retribution"), Blok laments the fatal "disjointedness" (nesliiannost') of the fundamental units of the Russian life in his century. Time, its character and its role in human life, was the critical factor responsible. In numerous poems Blok points to the endless alternations of things, both in life and after death. This nerazmykaemyi krug – in Hegelian terms, "bad infinity" – deprives existence of its sense. A similar question of nesliiannost' tormented and angered Tolstoi, who pointed at the rupture between the polysemantic word and its monosemantic referent, and within this framework between art and reality. As I have shown elsewhere (Pomorska 1982),1 Tolstoi was already searching for means to radically change his art in order to liquidate this rupture in the period of War and Peace. Tolstoi, like Blok, directly related the problem of time to the sense of life. While in the 1860s Tolstoi accepted the cyclical course of life as a form of immortality, in his


later years he rejected this seeming solution and searched anew. His correspondence with V. I. Vernadskii,2 who studied various forms of life (later called "biosphere"),3 and his interest in the mystical materialism of N. F. Fedorov4 are indicative of Tolstoi's great sensitivity to the problem of death as a proof of the senselessness of life. His attempts to resolve this problem and that of reducing art to the simplest system of signs were unsuccessful. Tolstoi rejected art altogether because of its highly semioticized character. His equally mythologized antidote for nesliiannost' – to live a simple life – failed as well, and he escaped from Yasnaya Polyana.

The Russian avant-garde struggled essentially with the same problems that Blok lamented and Tolstoi attacked. These creators of visual and verbal art proposed a radical solution to the relation of art and reality: they considered art larger than life. In their view, the role art had been playing proved that it transcends the phenomenal world. However, to transcend reality does not mean to be detached from it. On the contrary, Kazimir Malevich claimed that art is more concrete than objects. While the quotidian, repetitive usage of objects obliterates human communication with them, art serves as a means of intimate communication with the phenomenal world. This occurs because in art the texture and the geometrical and temporal dimensions of an object are exposed to be felt and experienced. Thus, while the utilitarian side of the phenomenal world makes it abstract and illusory, art changes this world in an opposite way. Malevich argued further that only an artistic object never diminishes in value; moreover, art constitutes a firm link between generations, and therefore between entire historical epochs.5

In the sphere of verbal art, experimental poets such as Kruchenykh and Khiebnikov pronounced the same principle; Kruchenykh's watchword, "slovo shire smysia" ("the word is larger than meaning"), and his supporting arguments parallel Malevich's theory of art. To put it briefly, poetry should become a realm of self-sufficient signs; that is, a system in which the sign stands for the referent itself. In consequence, the poet makes new referents. The next step is the general acceptance of those referents and their inclusion into the rest of the world. In this context Maiakovskii's and other artists' stubborn rejection of byt as the sphere of trivialities becomes clear, as does the struggle for the omnipresence of art and poetry. Maiakovskii demanded: "Why should literature occupy its own special little corner? Either it should appear in every newspaper, every day, on every


page, or else it's totally useless." Or, he said, 'The commune is a place where bureaucrats will disappear and where there will be many poems and songs" (cited in Jakobson 1987, 280).

Consequently, the task of poets is to make a new language. The radical side of this task was the theory of zaum' or the "supracon-scious language." Its shape and practice have been exhaustively analyzed, and its main creators and representatives are well known: they are first and foremost Velimir Khiebnikov, Aleksei Kruchenykh, and Vasilii Kamenskii.6 Although Maiakovskii did not belong to the zaumniki (supraconscious poets, transrational poets), his concern about how to make the language of poetry is still important; and perhaps it was more significant in the struggle for the literary policy of the 1920s.

Maiakovskii's first long poem, A Cloud in Trousers (Oblako v shtanakh, 1916), contains important passages expressing the difficulties of finding proper words or actually creating them. The frequently quoted lines "ulitsa korchitsia bez"iazykaia – / Ei nechem krichat' i razgovarivat'"7 ("The tongueless street merely writhes / for lack of something to shout or say;" Maiakovskii 1975, 75) need to be elaborated. Maiakovskii further urged his fellow poets not to simplify their task by choosing words from the existing "language of the streets," which is poor and drained of content. The poets should destroy the cliche words and create their own, like God confused the tongues at the tower of Babel. The confusion of tongues thus becomes a symbol of the task of all poets – the perpetual struggle with God for a new word:

Городов вавилонские башни,
возгордясь, возносим снова,
а бог
города на пашни
мешая слово.
(PSS I:182)

In our pride, we raise up again
the cities' towers of Babel,
but god,
confusing tongues,
cities to pasture.
(Maiakovskii 1975, 76-77)


Another prominent declaration concerning the poetic workshop are the verses Maiakovskii wrote in the midst of his actual struggle with the authorities, in 1926, "Razgovor s fininspektorom о poezii" ("Conversation with a Tax-Collector on Poetry"). Its gist, again, is the making of words in poetry rather than using "somebody else's." Maiakovskii varies this leitmotif in a number of magnificent witticisms, to finish with a challenge containing the essence of his argument:

А если
        вам кажется
                        что всего делов –
это пользоваться
                    чужими словесами,
то вот вам,
                            мое стило,
и можете
(PSS 7:126)

And if
        you think
                    that all I have to do
is to profit
            by other people's words,
                here's my pen.
    a crack at it
(Maiakovskii 1975, 206-7)

Finally, the article "Kak delat' stikhi" ("How Verses Are Made"), of the same period, speaks about identical questions using the language of discourse.

As a consequence of creative efforts, according to the theory of the avant-garde, the transcendental gives way to the phenomenal world. The program of Le/and Novyi Lef (from 1923, with intervals, to 1928, when the journal was closed) reflects this belief. The theory of the "literature of fact" was considered the realization of this


process. After the artists (significantly, the futurists allied with the constructivists) successfully performed their creative act, reality itself grew up to the rank of a self-sufficient artifact. What was once the "word as such" now became the "fact (thing) as such." Thus the annoying gap between the sign and the thing had disappeared. They merged into one, thanks to the creative efforts of both the "toilers of revolutionary art" and the workers of the new social order. The frequent declarations by Maiakovskii that writing poetry involves labor as hard as that of a worker acquire an important significance. The logic implied in the process wherein the artistic creation precedes the "hard fact" is a typical mythological activity. God's fiat gave shape to things. The artist's word functions in the same way. And the disjecta membra merge into a whole.

Among Maiakovskii's earliest poems, "Poslushaite!" ("Listen!"), of 1914, reflects the same mytho-poetic concept. If stars are being lit up, it means that man needs it. It is man who calls "these spittles pearls"; stars exist because man wants them to exist. The poem contains still another mythological feature characteristic of Maiakovskii's poetry: its thematic framework and the symbolic system relate man to the cosmos. Stars are "indispensable" for man to exist ("eto neobkhodimo, chtoby kazhdyi vecher nad kryshami zagoralas' khot' odna zvezda!" [PSS 1:61; "it's indispensable that each evening at least one star light up over the rooftops!"]). Man rebels against the absence of stars and implores God to give the stars back to him.

The cosmological theme appears in Maiakovskii's poetry from the start – in 1913, the year Malevich proposed his theory of su-prematism and revealed to the public his suprematist canvases.8 Roughly during the same period Khiebnikov wrote a fragment, known as "Mrachnoe" ("Something Gloomy"), which, like a number of his other poems and fragments, depicts the poet's cosmic flight and, simultaneously, his cosmic vision.9 The famous play Pobeda nad solntsem (Victory over the Sun), composed collectively by A. E. Kruchenykh as author, Kazimir Malevich as designer, and Mikhail Matiushin as composer, was also staged in 1913.

Suprematism was conceived as a theory of visual dimensions suitable for the cosmic era. Khiebnikov's "Something Gloomy" links the poet's suicidal death and resurrection to the principal celestial body – the sun:



Когда себе я надоем,
Я брошусь в солнце золотое,
Крыло шумящее одем,
Порок смешаю и святое.
Я умер, я умер, и хлынула кровь
По латам широким потоком.
Очнулся я иначе, вновь
Окинув вас воина оком.

When I get tired of myself,
I'll hurl myself into a golden sun,
I'll put on a rustling wing,
I'll mix together vice and what is holy.
I've died, I've died, and the blood has rushed
Down my armor in a wide flood.
I've woken up differently, again
Casting a warrior's glance at you.

Victory over the Sun demonstrates people's efforts to destroy the sun and thus to change the nature both of the cosmos and of man. As in all the ancient mythologies, from the Babylonian to Christianity, the avant-garde also directed its efforts to the rendering of the cosmological system and the relation of man to the system.

Roman Jakobson showed back in 1930 that of all his fellow poets, Maiakovskii created the most complete, coherent, and daring myth of a poet. His poetic myth was indispensable to the cosmological one. The epoch itself inspired the creation of new myths. The empiricism of new facts related to time made people realize once again the relative yet obligatory character of time, and induced philosophers and thinkers to rethink the space-time controversy;11 and it urged artists to rescue the confused world with a holistic concept of mythology.

The data and dates of scientific and technical discoveries of the epoch speak for themselves and ought to be recalled here. A number of inventions – the telephone, the wireless telegraph, the bicycle, the automobile, and the cinema – were made between the 1880s and 1914. In 1884 the Prime Meridian Conference in Washington established Greenwich as the zero meridian, and thus determined the standard time (cf. Kern 1983). All these facts made people realize, in a hitherto unattainable fashion, the practical consequences of the


character of time, and simultaneously the impossibility of changing or fighting its consequences. Responses protesting the tyranny of time appeared both in scientific and fictional literature (Kern 1983, chapter I). Joseph Conrad in Secret Agent, written in 1907, describes such a protest. His protagonist's task is to blow up the Greenwich observatory and thus destroy "a centralized public authority" in the domain of time. The Russian avant-gardists shifted the ground of the struggle from the earth to the sky. Kruchenykh et alia did not attack the man-made instrument of time but its generator, the sun. It would therefore be more exact to say that those artists were creating a new mythology by destroying the old ones.

All his life Maiakovskii consistently attacked established cosmologies – whether he talked about the past or the imaginary thirtieth century. His work presents simultaneously both myth and anti-myth, Utopia and anti-Utopia. The first typical instance of such a double approach is Maiakovskii's attitude to the living myth of America, as opposed to his own extension of the same myth. In 150,000,000 he attacks Woodrow Wilson as the most eminent bourgeois in the world, and at the same time he describes Chicago – the "capital" of the world bourgeoisie – as a fairy-tale miracle of the twentieth century, attractive because of its bourgeois character ("u kazhdogo zhitelia ne menee general'skogo chin / a sluzhba – v barakh byt', kutit' bez zabot i tiagot" [PSS 2:130; "each resident is at least a general / and his job is to be a master, to carouse without worries and burdens"]).

The most profoundly and eagerly studied part of Maiakovskii's cosmology has been his concept of time.12 After all, time is the prominent component of all cosmologies and of those philosophical theories which deal with mythology – from Plato to Bergson and Spengler; the idea of time generates questions of spiritual life, including immortality. Maiakovskii attacked the problem of time by directly addressing celestial bodies.13 As scholars have noted, the poet's chief enemy was the sun.14 In the early poetry the protagonist either begs the sun, his father, to take pity on him, or challenges "the Emperor of heavens," a tyrant who kills the poet and all the people.15 In 150,000,000, and especially in the renowned poetic "fairy tale" "Neobychainoe prikliuchenie" ("Extraordinary Adventure," 1920), Maiakovskii explicitly accuses the sun of generating time – that vicious circle, the senseless succession of days and nights (cf. Pomorska 1983).


An immediately related motif is that of festivities. Maiakovskii expressed animosity to holidays and rituals both in his poetry and in his life. Beginning with the 1916 poem "Khvoi" ("Pine Trees"), the poet continued to attack holidays. In Pro eto (About That) the Christmas celebration is presented not only as repulsive but also as the main obstacle to saving a human life. In a satirical play, Kto kak provodit vremia, prazdniki prazdnuia (How People Spend Their Time, Celebrating Various Holidays), he wants to abolish holidays altogether since they amount to nothing but nonsensical "spending of time" (vremiapreprovozhdenie). This animosity is rooted in the fact that holidays, to use Durkheim's term, provide the "rhythm of social life"; that is, "the division into days, weeks, months and years ... correspond to the periodical recurrence of rites, feasts and public ceremonies."16 This is, in Durkheim's conception, the measurement of "social time." "Social time" is thus another form of a cycle – for Maiakovskii a vicious circle. Simultaneously, the poet considered another alternative – a linear approach to time. In his poem on the suicide of Esenin "Sergeiu Eseninu" ("To Sergei Esenin," 1926), Maiakovskii expresses a belief characteristic of his perception of time as a linear continuum. Roman Jakobson demonstrated that the final lines of the poem,

В этой жизни
                                не трудно.
Сделать жизнь
                    значительно трудней.
(PSS 7:105)

In this life
            to die
                    is not hard.
To make life
              is considerably harder,

closely paraphrase Esenin's own lines written immediately before his suicide:

В этой жизни умереть не ново,
Но и жить, конечно, не новей.

In this life to die is not a new thing,
But of course, to live is not newer.


As Jakobson showed (1931), despite the seeming difference, Maiakovskii in fact shared Esenin's conviction that life in its present shape (eta zhizn') equals death. Thus the alternation of life and death constitutes just another causal chain, the same "bad infinity" that Blok once lamented. A similar idea occurs among his short pieces written even before Maiakovskii wrote the celebrated poem for Esenin. In 1925, during his American trip, following habit as well as "social demand," Maiakovskii wrote a poetic travelogue. The trip, incidentally, almost became a journey around the world: the poet visited not only the United States but also Mexico and central and Mediterranean Europe. The poem is entitled "Melkaia filosofiia na glubokikh mestakh" ("Some Shallow Philosophy in Deep Waters"). In these verses, whose humoristic title is only a cover for the devastating hopelessness of the text's contents (a device typical of Maiakovskii), observations on the journey are presented as a series of senseless opposites, embracing the entire world:

        океан был злой,
                                как черт,
                        голубицы на яйцах.
Какая разница!
                все течет ...
все меняется
(PSS 7:17)

            the ocean was mad
                                        as hell,
        it's meeker
                        than a dove on her eggs.
What a difference:
                            everything's flowing ...
everything changes.

The concluding distich, a parody of both cliche Marxism and cliche Heraclitian philosophy, accentuates the general spirit of the poem. The final stanza,


Я родился,
                        кормили соскою, –
                  стал староват ...
Вот и жизнь пройдет,
                                как прошли Азорские
(PSS 7:19)

I was born,
                        was fed with a nipple, –
                    became a bit old ...
Thus life will pass
                        As have passed by
the Azores,

sums up the sense of the poet's life as common, empty, and accidental. Once more life is juxtaposed to death as equally common and senseless.17 Even more interesting is the passage in which the passenger observes two boats moving – one his own, and another one coming from the opposite direction:

                медленней, чем тело тюленье,
пароход из Мексики,
                                а мы –
Иначе и нельзя.
(PSS 7:18)

                more slowly than a seal,
a ship from Mexico,
                                and we're
                                                going there.
Can't do it otherwise,
                                    a division
of labor.


Among the senseless opposites this one is of special interest. The passing of the two ships in the course of a round trip illustrates that both linear and cyclical movements are equal with respect to time. The idea was obviously evoked by the "roundness" of the ocean and by the simultaneous dreary moving forward.18

All his life Maiakovskii considered time a trap, and all his life he was looking for a way out of this trap. In this struggle he had to consider man himself, who, in Bergson's terms, is "an ever advancing boundary between the future and the past" (Kern 1983, 43), or, according to biologists, is a storehouse of memory. Virtually every student of Maiakovskii's oeuvre has observed that his theme is man's alienation in time and space. It would be closer to Maiakovskii's poetics to say that man does not fit the frame of his existence in terms of his physical and bodily dimensions.

"Chelovek iz miasa ves' " ("Man, all made of flesh") is the poet's protagonist. In the initial part of Chelovek (Man), Maiakovskii describes his own body in the following terms:

Кто целовал меня –
есть ли
слаще слюны моей сока.
Покоится в нем у меня
красный язык.
(PSS 1:248)

The one who has kissed me –
will say
whether there are
juices sweeter than my saliva.
In him there is to be found my
red tongue.

About his heart:

у меня
под шерстью жилета
необычайнейший комок.
(PSS 1:248)


In me
under the wool of my waistcoat
there beats
a most unusual lump.

According to the reminiscences of Roman Jakobson, Maiakovskii spoke about his plans to describe not a metaphysical but a real man, who "walks, eats, sleeps." In other words, Maiakovskii's man is a "naked fact," in accord with the avant-garde tendency, best illustrated by Khiebnikov's description of the suicide of his Zangezi, or by the depiction of his own resurrecting body ("Iranian Song"). However, man's flesh is "disjointed" from his other physical and mental properties, and from his physical environment. In A Cloud in Trousers love is disproportionate compared with the "zhilistaia gromadina" ("bulging bulk of sinews"; Maiakovskii 1975, 62-63) of the poet's body. The plot of the poem reveals that a huge body can attract only trivial, petty love ("malen'kii, smirnyi liubenochek"). Therefore the poet's "I" tries to jump out of his own dimensions. A short piece from the same period, "Sebe, liubimomu ..." ("To His Beloved Self ... ") presents a variation on this motif: the protagonist's complaint that he is "takoi boPshoi / i takoi nenuzhnyi" ("so large, so unwanted"; Maiakovskii 1975, 62-63). In About That the same complaint comes from beyond the grave: "Byl ia sazhen' rostom. / A na chto mne sazhen'? / Dlia takikh rabot godna i tlia" (PSS 4:182; "I was huge in size / But what's size to me? / For such work even an insect fits"). And also: "Byl ia vesel – / Tolk veselym est' li, / Esli gore nashe neprolazno" (PSS 4:182; "I was cheerful – / What's the point of cheerful ones / If our grief is impassable"). All these and similar disjointed properties of man seem to be a kind of "wasted material" since none of them has an application relevant to the human condition.

How to transcend time was one of Maiakovskii's "cursed questions"; his eagerness to destroy the past in all its manifestations, to ignore or fight the present, and to live only with the future in mind have been carefully analyzed by scholars. How to transcend the human body was a quest matching that of transcending time. The "revolution of spirit" was only a part of the problem. Besides the spirit, the concrete physical shape of man was Maiakovskii's preoccupation. He continued the tradition of Dostoevskii, whose


Kirillov claims: "chelovek dolzhen peremenit'sia fizicheski ili umeret'" (Dostoevskii 1974, 94). In the programmatic poem "Nash marsh" ("Our March"), written in 1917, after the October Revolution, this problem was solved in a simple way. The revolutionaries in art – the people of the future – demand of the Ursa Major constellation "chtob na nebo nas vziali zhiv'em" (PSS 2:7; "that we be taken alive up into the heavens"). This relocation is inseparable from a transformation of the body, and art is organically, even physiologically, connected with this transformation. In the poem, a mythical man of the immediate future is depicted as a self-sufficient resource of art: his heart is a musical instrument ("Serdtse nash baraban"), his weapons are his songs ("Nashe oruzhie – nashi pesni"), all his valuables are embodied in the golden sound of his voice ("Nashe zoloto – zveniashchie golosa"). The man so shaped possesses some of the properties necessary for an immortal being:

he is an invulnerable superman ("nas li szhalit puli osa?") with a copper chest ("grud' nasha – med' litavr"); he is young and full of joy. All these qualities make him akin to a heavenly creature ("esf li nashikh zolot nebesnei?"), and thus he demands to be a part of heaven.

In the programmatic 150,000,000, written two years later, Maiakovskii unfolds the most radical variant of man's transformation. Here, the Revolution is depicted as a total shift of all cosmic components and full dehierarchization of man's and God's hierarchy. Man himself – the maker of the upheaval, together with all animals and all things existing on the earth, including its elements and man-made structures (waters, roads, even districts) – becomes the center of the cosmos; while the cosmos, for its part, observes attentively the events of the Revolution:

Что, слушая, небес зияют уши?
Кого озирает горизонт?
                    на нас устремлены
                                                    глаза всего света.


Hearing what, do the ears of the heavens yawn?
Who does the horizon see?


Because of this
                                the eyes of the whole world
                                                            are directed at us.

In the process of total dehierarchization, the quest for the man-god, presented by Dostoevskii, is to be realized. In his usual terms Maiakovskii challenges such a god to appear:

боже не Марсов,
                            Нептунов и Вег,
боже из мяса –
                        бог-человек ...
        между нами
(PSS 2:123)

god not of Marses,
                            Neptunes or Vegas, god of flesh –
god-man ...
earthly one
                among us
        come forth!

Among the miracles created by man-god ("sami / na glazakh u vsekh / segodnia / my / zaimemsia / chudesami" [PSS 2:123; "we ourselves / in plain sight / we / will get busy with / miracles"]), time will become eternal, an everlasting summer, and man himself will be transformed into the energy of cosmic waves:

и сами
            за этим блестящим виденьем
пойдем излучаться в несметных просторах.
(PSS 2:128)

and ourselves
                            following this brilliant vision
we'll go and radiate out in the uncountable spaces.

In 1917, the year "Our March" was written, Maiakovskii also wrote one of his greatest and philosophically most important works,


Man. In it he examines his personal condition, and the possibility of being "taken alive into the heavens." The solution, however, is neither simple nor optimistic. For the first time the entire complex of antinomies that preoccupied the poet all his life is unfolded: immortality and eternity, eternity and bodily existence, eternity and love, immortality and suicide. The poet, desperate in his earthly prison ("la v plenu ... okovala zemlia okaiannaia" [PSS 1:250]) and searching for a way out, comes to a pharmacist's shop to obtain from him his secret knowledge: how to become free. The poet requests help – "dushu / bez boli / v prostory vyvesti" (PSS 1:257; "to lead the soul / without pain / into space") – and the pharmacist in response offers him poison. Maiakovskii's outraged retort is accompanied by surprise: "Komu daesh'? / Bessmerten ia, / tvoi nebyvalyi gost'" (PSS 1:257; "Who are you giving it to? / I'm immortal, / [I,] your unprecedented guest"). The idea that suicide is incompatible with immortality gives the poet a further impulse to search for freedom. He finds it in his own power to create miracles, transcending the capacity of science. Thus he ascends to the heavens: "Vot zakhotel / i po tucham / lechu zh" (PSS 1:258; "Here – I want / and at once along the clouds / am flying"). So again he goes "alive into the heavens," this time not transformed but as a man, with all his earthly attributes: "v amerikanskom pidzhake / i bleske zheltykh botinok" (PSS 1:258; "in an American jacket / and in the glow of yellow shoes"). Yet dwelling in the heavens with bodiless angels, who are therefore also heartless ("la dlia serdtsa, / a gde u bestelykh serdtsa?" [PSS 1:261; "I'm for the heart, / and where do the bodiless ones have hearts?"]), seems to him unbearable. The sterility of heavenly eternity was always repulsive to Maiakovskii. The antinomies were not to be solved.

It is not surprising that Einstein's theory of relativity so deeply interested the poet. Roman Jakobson's description of a discussion with Maiakovskii is testimony:

When in the spring of 1920 I returned to Moscow, which was tightly blockaded, I brought with me recent books and information about scientific developments in the West. Majakovskij made me repeat several times my somewhat confused remarks on the general theory of relativity, and about the growing interest in that concept in Western Europe. The idea of the liberation of energy, the problem of the time dimension, and the idea that movement at the speed of light may actually be a reverse movement in time – all of these things


fascinated Majakovskij. I'd seldom seen him so interested and attentive. "Don't you think," he suddenly asked, "that we'll at last achieve immortality?" I was astonished, and I mumbled a skeptical comment. He thrust his jaw forward with that hypnotic insistence so familiar to anyone who knew Majakovskij well: "I'm absolutely convinced," he said, "that one day there will be no more death. And the dead will be raised from the dead. I've got to find some scientist who'll give me a precise account of what's in Einstein's books. It's out of the question that I shouldn't understand it. I'll see to it that this scientist receives an academician's ration." (Jakobson 1931; in 1987, 285)

In 1923, in About That, Maiakovskii implemented this theory in his own way. The reversibility of time and thus the possibility of resurrecting people with the aid of science – these prospects were enhanced by the popular ideas of Fedorov.19 The Utopia of the thirtieth century depicted in About That evokes some of Fedorov's concepts. The image of the "broad-headed, quiet chemist" from the "workshop of human resurrection" corresponds to Fedorov's people of the future who are to be "heavenly mechanics" and "heavenly physicists." The poem also evokes Fedorov's cosmic space inhabited by kindred people – all the resurrected forefathers of humanity. Therefore, addressing his mother in the poem, Maiakovskii reproaches her for her narrow, family-confined, egoistic love: "Ne vy – ne mama Al'sandra Al'seevna, / Vselennaia vsia sem'eiu zaseiana" (PSS 4:158; "Not you – not mother Al'sandra Al'seevna, / The whole universe is seeded with family"). In the juxtaposition "sem'eiu zaseiana," the kinship between the words sem'ia and seiat' is paronomastically revived, and thus the image of the cosmos as one family is evoked. The ending again plays with Fedorov's idea: "chtob mog v rodne otnyne stat' / otets po krainei mere mirom, / zemlei po krainei mere – mat'" (PSS 4:184; "that from now on within the family / father could become at least the world / and mother at least the earth").

The epilogue ends on an optimistic note: the poet hopes that in the future he will acquire a planetary family and that the thirtieth century "obgonit stai / serdtse razdiravshikh melochei" (PSS 4:183; "will overtake the flocks / of trivia which had torn the heart apart") and, especially, "nynche nedoliublennoe" ("the now insufficiently loved") will be compensated. Yet the episode that is thematically central, the conversation between the poet and the chemist of the


thirtieth century, does not allow for optimism. At the start, the "heavenly chemist" has doubts about whether his suppliant deserves resurrection, because "nedostatochno poet krasiv" (PSS 4:182; "the poet is insufficiently handsome"). Characteristically, this corresponds directly to the words of the early Maiakovskii who extolled beauty and youth, including his own: "Mir ogromiv moshch'iu golosa, /idu – krasivyi, / dvadtsatidvukhletnii" (PSS 1:175; "I shake the world with the might of my voice, / and walk – handsome, / twenty-two-year-old" [Maiakovskii 1975, 61]) – the self-praise from A Cloud in Trousers. As the condition for resurrection in the expected new world of the future, beauty sounds like mockery, almost a kind of punishment for the false values that the poet preached in his former life, in the former world. Now he is eager to remind the chemist of the quite different values he has come to represent: "voskresi khotia b za to, chto ia poetom / zhdal tebia, otkinul budnichnuiu chush'" (PSS 4:184; "resurrect me if only because as a poet /1 waited for you, I cast aside prosaic nonsense"). He offers his services in any capacity in order to be resurrected: he will become a guard in the zoo, or even a doorman. His only concern is whether there are doormen and zoological gardens in the thirtieth century. He remembers his poetic profession in the former life as something of a Chekhovian "life in a case": too narrow for his scale ("per-yshkom skripel ia, v komnatenku vsazhen / vpliushchilsia ochkami v komnatnyi futliar" [PSS 4:182; "with a pen I squeaked, stuck in a little room / with my glasses I stuck into the case room"]). But, on the other hand, he is seriously concerned about his place as a poet in the new cosmic life. Evidently he will not be welcomed there; the only role he can foresee for himself is that of a Jester: "Malo l' chto byvaet, tiazhest' ili gore ... / Pozovite! prigoditsia shutka dur'ia. / la sharadami giperbol, allegorii / budu razvlekat', stikhami balaguria" (PSS 4:182-83; "All kinds of things come up, a burden or a grief... / Call me: a stupid joke will come in hand / With charades of hyperboles and allegories, I'll / divert you, playing the buffoon in verse").

So, the new world in cosmic space, where time is not an obstacle anymore since people can be resurrected by chemical processes – this much-desired world – is not, after all, the one the poet awaited after casting off "prosaic nonsense"; where he had planned to live by spirit and poetry alone ("ia tol'ko stikh, ia tol'ko dusha" ["I'm only a verse, I'm only the soul"]); to love with the love of a heavenly being ("liubov' k zvezde vzdymaiushchaiasia po luchu" ["love rising to-


ward the star along a beam"]); and to be as tender a cloud ("nezhnyi kak oblako v shtanakh"). This world apparently knows neither poetry nor love – the two factors that for Maiakovskii were equal to life itself. Besides, the new world does not provide the promised togetherness with the forefathers, as Fedorov had imagined it would. Resurrections are performed for certain select people only, and the criteria for selection are strange and unclear. The questions then arise: was it worthwhile to conquer time for this kind of a world? Or perhaps time has not been "extinguished" in the poet's consciousness, the consciousness of a man from the previous century, and is mocking him by keeping alive his memory of the past so that he is forced to apply the old criteria to the new reality and to long for the old world? Already in Man Maiakovskii had referred to memory as to a reminder of a previous, earthly life:

Проснулись в сердце забытые зависти,
а мозг
фантазию выстроил.
(PSS 1:263)

Forgotten envies have awoken in the heart
and the brain
has constructed a fantasy.

In any case, this alternative also fails to provide a "way оut" for the poet.

As Roman Jakobson stated, for Maiakovskii "[resurrection] is indissolubly tied to this [world]," no resurrection is possible for him "without the body, without the flesh itself" (Jakobson 1987, 287). But at the same time bodily resurrection creates a new antinomy. The new body will retain not only its former physical shape but also its "storaged memory" – its habits, feelings, capacities. And again, the poet does not fit into his new environment, his thirtieth century scientific paradise. In 1929 Maiakovskii presented the same idea as a bitter satire in Klop (The Bedbug), a "comedy with circus and fireworks." Its protagonist, resurrected by scientist, remains exactly the same as he was decades ago, at the time he was frozen; does not fit into the new world of science, while that world perceives him as a strange zoological creature.

Interestingly, thinkers like Fedorov, scientists like Tsiolkovskii,


and politicians like Lunacharskii believed that material immortality could be achieved with the progress of science.20 The poets, however, saw that science could not solve man's eternal quest. Like Maiakovskii, Khiebnikov opposed his own Utopia with an anti-Utopia. While in 1913-14 he saw himself resurrected as a new, better, and yet the same person ("I've woken up differently, again / Casting a warrior's glance at you"), in 1921 he changed his concept. "Iranian Song" develops an idea very close to Maiakovskii's concerns. Its image of material resurrection is horrifying. The deceased wakes up "v zemliu vtoptan / pyl'nym cherepom toskuia" ("pounded into the earth / and longing with my dusty skull") and watches the crowds of the future century, now the present, marching with flags "en masse." The image of the awakened body evokes eschatological scenes from medieval frescoes: the souls come to the Last Judgment in the shape they're in as they rise from their graves – as materially unchanged, half-rotten skeletons. The poet himself looks like that, his flesh turned into dust ("moe miaso stanet pyl'iu").21 Yet his "skull" retains his former mind, still grieving about present affairs. This resurrected body does not fit into the future century either.

Despite his awareness that the future bodily resurrection will not solve the central antinomy of human existence for the poet, Maiakovskii continued to elaborate new possibilities. In About That, along with crushed hope for a thirtieth-century paradise, the protagonist desperately tries to become a new man in his own present time and life. The key to this is to get rid of the petty quotidian habits of a proprietor, including the overwhelming feeling of jealousy.

Maiakovskii wrote About That under extraordinary circumstances. He locked himself for two months in his workroom on Liubianskii Passage in order "to think over and change his life," or, as he repeatedly said – to become a new man. Thus, as was typical of Maiakovskii's myth-creating nature, a literary fact, the poem, simultaneously became an extraliterary fact of life – to use Jakobson's terminology. In his key letter to Lili Brik,22 written from this "voluntary imprisonment," Maiakovskii describes his situation in a fashion exactly and amazingly corresponding to the world of the poem. Again, he returns to the concept of death, resurrection, and, after-ward, a new life. His imprisonment is a mortal "agony," which should be followed by resurrection: "Is it possible to live like this at all? It's possible, only not for long. Anyone who lives like this even these 39 days can boldly accept his certificate of immortality" (Jangfeldt 1987,


126-27). In this and his other letters to Lili, and in the poem, he compares his room-prison to a grave. After the exact term of this voluntary isolation is over, he will release himself as "a different man" ("ty poznakomish'sia s sovershenno drugim chelovekom"), and this moment will be "the point from which all the rest begins, the point from which it will be possible to draw out as many lines as I shall wish" (Jangfeldt 1987, 127). In the same letter the poet marks the end of his "old life" in exact terms and, characteristically, with the cross: "The old is finished (3 February, 1923, 9.08)" (Jangfeldt 1987, 126). To emphasize that after this date an entirely new life, and thus a new relation with Lili Brik, will start, Maiakovskii "informs" her about the plans he has for after this date – plans about which she previously knew. Moreover, in discussing their mutual trip to Petrograd, planned exactly for the day of his "release," he says:

I'm going to Petersburg ...
It was an unexpected joy for me that this coincides with a desire on the part of a woman who I like terribly to do a little travelling.

Can there be something between her and me? It's hardly likely. She's never paid me very much attention at all. But then, I'm not completely worthless either – I'll try and make her like me.

And if she does, then what? We'll see when we get there. I've heard it said that this woman tires of everything quickly. That she's surrounded by heaps of tormented loves, that just recently one of them almost went off his head. I'll have to take every precaution to protect myself from such a fate. (Jangfeldt 1987, 128)

So Maiakovskii renders relations with Lili "after" as if she were another, new, woman, to match in this way his own "reincarnation."

In a strict sense, reincarnation is another variant of the protagonist's changes in About That; he is transformed into a polar bear. The image of the same beast, whose skin the poet has now shed, re-emerges in "lubileinoe" ("Jubilee," 1924), written a year later.

In his book on Maiakovskii's symbolic system Lawrence Stahlberger (1964) exhaustively analyzes animal imagery in the poet's work and interprets Maiakovskii's identification with the beasts as a symbol of his alienation from men. Stahlberger also suggests that in keeping with the spirit of the Russian futurists, Maiakovskii regarded animals' primitive existence as superior to civilization. Accepting this concept in its entirety, one can go even further and interpret his identification with animals as a form of or a desire for reincarnation. In conversation with Roman Jakobson, Maiakovskii


suddenly said, referring to his dog: "A Shchenik khoroshii. On kak chelovek, a ne govorit" ("And Puppy is good. He's like a man, but doesn't speak").23 This characteristic statement, in addition to the poetic imagery of animals, complements Maiakovskii's mythological system. As in classical myths, especially those of India, the posthumous return in the form of a beast perpetuates existence as a cycle.

Obsessed with death and immortality, Maiakovskii repeatedly tried to establish in his poetry contact with those who have left our world. He tried to look beyond the limits of life and to learn what actually happened to the deceased. His first such attempt is found in Man: in the "heavenly stronghold" the poet meets his father, who apparently lives now the same grand, yet trivial and sterile, life as the "bodiless angels." Therefore the old man, who did not change his earthly appearance, is longing for the earthly life, for the "Caucasian spring." In the same stronghold the poet welcomes some "newcomers" – acquaintances from his earthly life who have just died. He is curious about the very process of dying: "Nu, kak konchalis'? / Nichego? / Udobno l'?" (PSS 1:260; "Well, how did you die? / Not bad? / Is it convenient?"). He returned to the same theme in the years 1924-26 in three poems, each in the form of a conversation with a dead man. The first, "Jubilee," is a dialogue with Pushkin; the second is "To Sergei Esenin," written in 1926, the year Esenin took his life; finally there are the verses written in the same year and addressed to the Latvian Theodore Nette, a Soviet diplomatic courier killed in the line of duty. The three poems are linked by an inner theme: an examination and assessment of the form of energy into which each man was transformed after the earthly form of energy was no more. With Pushkin the matter is rather complex: like his interlocutor who is still "on this side," Pushkin is immortal. Both poets have "eternity in storage" ("V zapase vechnost'"); both are immortal thanks to their poetry. Yet the only guarantee of their eternal existence in this form of energy is the reader who properly understands their value. At this point Maiakovskii has doubts: is poetry needed at all "in my country?" The absence of readers makes the existence of poetry questionable. Moreover, readers themselves are eager to change poetic energy into "deathliness" ("mertvechina"); they covered Pushkin's poetry with the polish of an official "anthology" ("naveli khrestomatiinyi glianets"), turning him into a "mummy." As a parallel to this situation there stands the most markedly symbolic "mummy" of Pushkin – his monument. Maia-


kovskii's overall attitude toward monuments was one of resentment. He considered them a particular form of antienergy, a "deathliness" harmful to life. Monuments, which represent the hostile past, render not only passive matter but also the duration of death, frozen into a human shape. In concert with the entire avant-garde group, Maiakovskii attacked monuments, both old ones and those erected after the Revolution.

In the year when the poem on Pushkin was written, the journal Lef (of which Maiakovskii was editor in chief) published an article entitled "Ne torguite Leninym," ("Do Not Trade in Lenin"), obviously written by the editor himself, and later censored and confiscated. The article criticized the mass production of busts and other mementos of Lenin. In some places the wording of the article is very similar to the lines from the poem about Pushkin's monument: "Ne bronziruite Lenina. Ne otnimaite u nego ego zhivoi postupi i chelo-vecheskogo oblika... . Lenin vse eshche nash sovremennik. On sredi zhivykh. On nuzhen nam, kak zhivoi, a ne kak mertvyi" ("Do not cover Lenin with bronze. Do not deprive him of a living tread and a human face... . Lenin is still our contemporary. He's among the living. We need him as a live person, and not as a dead man"). Almost identical phrases appear in the verses on Pushkin: "Ja liubliu Vas, no zhivogo, a ne mumiiu" (PSS 6:54; "I love you, but alive, and not as a mummy"). At the end of the poem, war is declared against all monuments, including the poet's own: "Mne by pamiatnik pri zhizni – polagaetsia po chinu. / Zalozhil by dinamitu – nu-ka dryzn'! / Nenavizhu vsiacheskuiu mertvechinu, / Obozhaiu vsiacheskuiu zhizn'!" (PSS 6:56; "I ought to get a monument while I'm living – it's due me according to my rank. / I would put dynamite under it – well up you go! / I hate every kind of dead meat / I adore every kind of life!"). The same animosity toward his own monument is expressed in his last, unfinished poem "Vo ves' golos" ("At the Top of My Voice"): "Mne naplevat' na bronzy mnogopud'e, / mne naplevat' na mramornuiu sliz'" ("I don't care a spit for tons of bronze; /1 don't care a spit for all my marble"; Maiakovskii 1975, 230-31).

Maiakovskii's strong bias against a sculptural rendering of the live human figure had deep roots. The same animosity appears in Pushkin's oeuvre: in a number of his poems a sculptured figure plays a role pernicious to man and destructive of life.24 Not by chance did Maiakovskii discuss monuments in relation to and with Pushkin, whom he put next to himself in the pantheon of Russian poets. The


same motif resounds in the poem about Esenin: cliches, posthumous reminiscences, and cheap verses to honor the deceased poet are compared to the deadly monument that "threatens" to be erected for Esenin. The poem to Esenin starts with a conversation with the poet, who flies "v zvezdy vrezyvaias' " ("cutting into the stars") in the other world. This other world, as in Man, is described as dreary and sterile: "pustota ... / Ni tebe avansa, ni pivnoi. / Trezvost'" (PSS 7:100; "emptiness ... / You don't have an advance, or a beer-parlor. / Sobriety"). Moreover, the same theme in Man is phrased in almost exactly the same way: "bezdna ... / net tebe / ni ugla ni odnogo, / ni chaiu, / ni k chaiu gazet" (PSS 1:259-60; "abyss .. . / you don't have / even a corner for yourself/nor tea, / nor newspapers to read with it").

Another alternative to secure man's immortality appears in the poem dedicated to the murdered Nette. Here, Maiakovskii rejoices because the young Communist has been reincarnated as a ship and will exist in this tough, steady, yet mobile and useful form of earthly matter. "la nedarom vzdrognul. / Ne zagrobnyi vzdor" (PSS 7:162;

"Not in vain I start. / No ghost-tale rubbish, reader")25 – so the poet hails the new image of his friend that suddenly appears before him. The following lines from their conversation result in neither mysticism nor naive stylization. Instead, this is a new realization of the firm belief in the possibility of the extension of life:

Это – он.
            Я узнаю его.
В блюдечках-очках спасательных кругов.
– Здравствуй, Нетте!
                                Как я рад, что ты живой
дымной жизнью труб,
                                            и крюков.
(PSS 7:162)

Yes, it's he
                all in a hurry to arrive,
through those lifebuoy-saucer spectacles
                                                                he looks.
"Hullo, Nette!
                    How I'm glad that you're alive
with the smoking life of funnels,
                                                                and hooks."


Physical similarity between the man and the boat – a face with eyeglasses in simple wire rims and a boat with ring buoys – confirms the identity of the same being in another material form. Maiakovskii converses with the "ship-man," duly attentive to the properties of Nette's new form:

Подойди сюда!
                        Тебе не мелко?
От Батума,
                чай, котлами покипел ...
Помнишь, Нетте, –
                                в бытность человеком
ты пивал чаи
                    со мною в дип-купе?
(PSS 7:162)

Pull up here!
                    I hope it's not too shallow.
        I fancy,
                    boiling all the distance from Batum.
Once you were a man ...
                                                            dear old fellow,
the tea that on a train we would consume?

Accordingly, he reminisces about Nette's existence as a man, and the poem ends with the following assertion:

Мы идем
            сквозь револьверный лай,
в пароходы,
                в строчки
                                и в другие долгие дела.
(PSS 7:164)

[We are] Marching
                            through revolver bark and blast,
when we die,
                    it's to become immortal,
cast in steamers,
                                    and other things that last.


These words are not mere metaphors: Maiakovskii treats "verse lines," "steamers," and "other things that last" as new forms of energy, as a type of material existence after human death. Nette has changed his bodily form into that of a ship; thus he exists as a thing indestructible and useful, an object, about which we do not think in temporal terms. In his poem "Domoi!" ("Homewards!") written one year earlier (1925), the poet himself feels like a "Soviet factory" that produces happiness, receives its "goals for the year," and whose lips are locked after the work is done, as one locks the factory gate. This is his form of reincarnation, his new material existence. A similar idea is expressed in the last, unfinished longer poem At the Top of My Voice. "Perevoploshchennyi v strochki" ("Reincarnated into verse lines"); at the same time the poet will become emphatically material and extratemporal: "Moi stikh / trudom / gromadu let prorvet / i iavitsia / vesomo, / grubo, / zrimo, / kak v nashi dni / voshel vodoprovod, / srabotannyi / eshche rabami Rima" (PSS 10:281; "My verse / by labor / will break the mountain chain of years, / and will present itself/ponderous, / crude, / tangible, / as an aqueduct, / by slaves of Rome / constructed, / enters into our days"; Maiakovskii 1975, 224-27). And so, jumping through uncountable years, "v kommunisticheskoe daleko" ("in the far communist future"), he will break through in a fashion different from other poets: "Zaglusha / poezii potoki, / ia shagnu / cherez liricheskie tomiki, / kak zhivoi / s zhivymi govoria" ("Stifling / the torrents of poetry, / I'll skip / the volumes of lyrics; / as one alive, /I'll address the living"; Maiakovskii 1975, 224-25).

Among the divergent attempts to find a way out of the antinomies of human existence, the poem Khorosho! (Very Good!) occupies a special place. Written in 1927 to mark the tenth anniversary of the Revolution, it is a peculiar variant on the same myth of time conquered, immortality, and the poet's place in the new world – the myth Maiakovskii never abandoned. The critical literature on the poem has virtually ignored its philosophical and mythical aspects. Basically, it has been considered a purely political piece extolling the Revolution and Soviet reality. Yet only the mythic aspect of the poem provides a key to its real meaning.

In accordance with the principle of parallelism, the prologue and epilogue of the poem correspond to each other; besides, as beginning and ending, both are marked constituents of the structure. Thus it is in them that the pivotal themes of the poem are


developed. The first words are: "Vremia – veshch' neobychaino dlinnaia, – / byli vremena – proshli bylinnye. / Ni bylin, ni eposov, ni epopei" (PSS 8:235; "Time's a thing that's unusually long – / there used to be epic times / and these have passed / there are neither epic songs, nor epics, nor epopees"). This statement should not be interpreted (as it has been) merely as a verdict against certain outdated genres; it should also be taken in reverse – as a reference to time itself as a lengthy continuum that was represented by certain genres. Now there are no such genres because there is no such time; now time functions as a shortcut whose corresponding genres are the "telegraphic style" of poetic stanzas ("telegrammoi leti, strofa") and "naked facts" ("Vospalennoi guboi ... popei / iz reki po imeni – “fakt”" ["With burning lips ... drink of/the river named – fact"]). "Eto vremia gudit telegrafnoi strunoi" ("it is time which drones as a telegraph wire") can also be interpreted as a full realization of the instrumental case: time transformed into telegraphs. Thus time has changed its character or ceased to exist altogether. The idea of time so conceived is paralleled by a comment in the last stanza that serves as a solemn epilogue to the poem. In the eulogy for "his young country," Maiakovskii speaks, now explicitly, against time as a historical continuum: "Drugim / stranam / po sto. / Istoriia – past'iu groba" (PSS 8:327; "To other / countries / a hundred apiece. / History – as the maw of the grave"). Past time is viewed as a "lengthy thing" and equated with death. By contrast, the coda of the poem brings about the solution, the way out of the antinomy that has persecuted Maiakovskii until now. The couplet of the final stanza, "Let do sta rasti / nam bez starosti" (PSS 8:328; "We should grow 'til we're a hundred / Without getting old"), is meant to show the possibility of growth without aging. Namely, the rhyme words (starasti) should be read as: "do sta rasti, [no] bez sta rasti"; that is, "grow but do not get old." The poet asks for a miracle, for life beyond the temporal continuum.

The desire that time be not perceived was always present in Maiakovskii's mythology. This idea is stated most explicitly in Man:

Я счет не веду неделям.
хранимые в рамах времен,
мы любовь на дни не делим
не меняем любимых имен.
(PSS 1:162)


I don't keep a count of weeks.
kept safe in the framework of time,
we don't divide love into days
we don't change the names of the beloveds.

Such a miracle is possible now that everything has found its completion in an embodied myth of communist eschatology. The idea echoes directly both the Apocalypse and Dostoevskii's The Devils: according to Kirillov, "[vremia] pogasnet v ume" ("[time] will be extinguished in the mind"). The eschatology consequently brings the solution to all other antinomies of Maiakovskii, the main one still being the problem of time. Life as such is now equated with the poet's life. The poem's title itself bears out this idea in the form of a declaration, a slogan. The epilogue starts with the statement: "I zhizn' khorosha, i zhit' khorosho" ("Life's very good, and to live's very good"). At first reading, this is merely a poetic figure, but in fact it contains the essential concept of the poem's philosophy. The parallelism between the noun and the verb differentiates, and simultaneously equates, the surroundings and the subject living in these surroundings. This appears to be a new variation on the same parallelism known from Maiakovskii's polemic with Esenin. In Esenin's version:

В этой жизни умереть не ново,
Но и жить, конечно, не новей.

In this life to die is not a new thing,
But of course, to live is not newer.

To which Maiakovskii retorts:

В этой жизни помереть не трудно.
Сделать жизнь значительно трудней.

In this life to die is not hard.
To make life is considerably harder.

In each case, basically identical phrases – "v etoi zhizni umeret' (pomeret') ne novo (ne trudno)" – indicate that this life and death are equal. That means that "this life" is not life at all. Real life, suggests Maiakovskii, has yet to be made so that one can live it. Now the two realms are equalized: life is good, so to live is good, too. The former implies the latter. This equation variates the medieval theo-


logical principle esse bonum est. The important difference is that for Maiakovskii to live ("esse") in itself is not a value; it must be accompanied by the proper condition, "life," which can be identified with, or alienated from, an individual's "esse." A good part of the epilogue is filled with a whole set of manifestations of the poet's identification with the new, acceptable life: "Ulitsa – moia. / Doma – moi ... / Stala operiat'sia moia kooperatsiia." "Руl' vzbili ... v moem avtomobile / Moi deputaty ... / Sidite, ne soveite, v moem Mossovete." "Rozovye litsa. Revol'ver zhelt. Moia militsiia menia berezhet" (PSS 8:322-24; "The street is mine / The house – mine ... / My cooperative movement has begun to grow." "In my car ... my deputies / Have raised up a cloud of dust... / Sit, don't drowse, in my Moscow City Council." "Rosy faces. Yellow gun – my militia is guarding me").

In this way the next antinomy is resolved: the antinomy between the poet and life (= byt). The declaration from About That: "Ne priemliu, nenavizhu eto vse" ("I don't accept, I hate all that") is now changed into "Raduius' ia – eto moi trud / vlivaetsia v trud moei respubliki" ("I'm joyful – it is my labor / which pours itself into the labor of my republic") and "Nikogda ne bylo / tak khorosho" ("It has never been / so very good"). Life no longer consists of byt, although the poet glorifies "v oknakh / produkty: vina, frukty" ("in the shop windows / foodstuffs: wines, fruits"), "syry" ("cheeses"), and "snizhennye tseny" ("discount prices"). But everything that earlier bore this cursed name is now viewed as a necessary component of happiness, of "very good." This may be seen not as an acceptance of byt but as its transference into the other category, its poetization, as had already happened in 150,000,000.

This brings us to the next antinomy, now solved: the one between life and poetry. Maiakovskii's real desire that poetry be present "kazhdyi den' v kazhdoi gazete" ("each day in each newspaper") has come true. In the description of the new countryside landscape, labor and the making of poetry are tied together by the full paronomasia: "V derevniakh – / krest'iane ... / Sidiat / papashi. / Kazhdyi / khitr, / Zemliu popashet, I popishet I stikhi" (PSS 8:326-27; "In the villages – / peasants... / Fathers are sitting / Each one is / Clever, / He'll plow some ground, / He'll write some verses"). (The obverse of this idea can be found in the famous "Conversation with a Tax Collector about Poetry," in which the poet argues: "Now my work is like any other work" [Maiakovskii 1975, 190].) The ultimate


paronomasia of the poem's finale equals poetry and the state itself, introducing verses into the Soviet emblem to replace the sickle:

"Slav'te molot i stikh, / Zemliu molodosti" (PSS 8:328; "Praise the hammer and verse, / The land of youth").

Very Good! constitutes the end of Maiakovski's search for cosmic happiness. There is only one thing missing from this paradoxical Utopia hie et nunc – love. But the poet could not conceive of life without love. Three years later he returned to this problem in his comedies. Thus, in The Bedbug all the antinomies that we have seen in About That appear again. And, again, "vykhodov net" ("there are no other ways out"). The only solution left is suicide. And Maiakovskii wrote in his final letter: "drugim ne sovetuiu, no dlia menia vykhodov net' ("I don't recommend it to others, but for me there are no other ways out').



* Воспроизводится по изданию:

Pomorska K. Jakobsonian Poetics and Slavic Narrative: From Pushkin to Solzhenitsyn / Ed. by H. Baran. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 1992. P.158-186.

Разбивка на страницы дана по этой публикации. Примечания в сносках, помеченные "ed.", принадлежат Х. Барану.

Первая публикация:

The Slavic Literatures and Modernism: A Nobel Symposium, August 5-8, Konferenser 16 / Ed. by Nils A. Nilsson. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1985. P. 49-69.

На "Поэзии авангарда" статья публикуется с любезного разрешения Станислава Поморского.



1. See Pomorska 1982.

2. See Mochalov 1979.

3. See Vernadski 1977.

4. See its exposition in Fedorov 1922.

5. See Kazimir Malevich, "Painting and the Problem of Architecture", in Malevich 1971.

6. See Markov 1968; Pomorska 1968. [On zaum', also see Mickiewicz 1984. Ed.]

7. Maiakovskii 1955-61, 1:181. Further references to this edition are given in the text and notes as PSS, with volume and page number. [Translations, unless a specific edition is indicated, are by the author or the editor – Ed.]

8. See Jakobson and Pomorska 1983, chapter 1.

9. The best example is the long fragment known as "Kon' Przheval'skogo" ("Przheval'skii's Horse").

10. [My translation – Ed.]

11. See, for example, Spengler 1920. On Spengler's popularity in Russia around the time of the First World War see Averintsev 1981, 71.

12. See Jakobson 1931; Stahlberger 1964; Terras 1969; and Thomson 1970.

13. The most extensive discussion of this question is in Jakobson 1931; also see Jakobson 1959.

14. See Jakobson 1931; Stahlberger 1964; and Pomorska 1983.

15. See especially "Neskol'ko slov obo mne samom" ("A Few Words about Me") and "Ia i Napoleon" ("I iand Napoleon").

16. Durkheim 1912 – cited after Kern 1983, 19.

17. This ending resembles the findings of the contemporary anthropologists who gater biographical patterns from Indians in Canada. A typical answer by an informant would be: "We are born, we gather corn, we have children, we gather corn – and we die."

18. This mood of the poet, apprently enhanced by the nature of the trip, may have been responsible to a significant degree for his hypercritical attitude toward foreign countries, which he saw as having nothing new to offer. A short work from the same cacle, "Ispaniia" ("Spain"), cjntains striking evidence for this hypothesis. It starts with the characteristic lines: "Ty – ia dumal – / raiskii sad. / Lozh' podpivshikh bardov" (PSS 7:7; "You, I thought / are a Garden of Eden. / – A lie by drinken bards"). It ends with an equally characteristic statement: "A na chto mne eto vse? / Kak sobake – zdras'te!" (PSS 7:8; "And what do I need all this for? / Like a dog needs a 'Hello'").

19. See Pomorska 1983.

20. See Tsiolkovskii 1925; compare, on him, Palii 1981; also Lunacharskii 1908.

21. We may have here an echo of Fedorovs "everything is a dust of the ancestors."

22. Diary letter, date 1-27 February 1923. See Jangfeldt 1987, 124-30.

23. Oral communication by Roman Jakobson.

24. See Jakobson 1975.

25. Here and in subsequent quotations from "Comrade Nette", English translation by Dorian Rottenberg, published in Maiakovskii 1985, 1:191-92.



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