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Voiceless Vanguard

The Infantilist Aesthetic of the Russian Avant-Garde

Sara Pankenier Weld

Publication Year: 2014

Voiceless Vanguard: The Infantilist Aesthetic of the Russian Avant-Garde offers a new approach to the Russian avant-garde. It argues that central writers, artists, and theorists of the avant-garde self-consciously used an infantile aesthetic, as inspired by children’s art, language, perspective, and logic, to accomplish the artistic renewal they were seeking in literature, theory, and art. It treats the influence of children’s drawings on the Neo-Primitivist art of Mikhail Larionov, the role of children’s language in the Cubo-Futurist poetics of Aleksei Kruchenykh, the role of the naive perspective in the Formalist theory of Viktor Shklovsky, and the place of children’s logic and lore in Daniil Kharms’s absurdist writings for children and adults. This interdisciplinary and cultural study not only illuminates a rich period in Russian culture but also offers implications for modernism in a wider Western context, where similar principles apply.

Published by: Northwestern University Press


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Title Page, Series Page, Copyrigt Page, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-2

The existence of this book depends on support from many sources that contributed significantly to its development and realization, including countless scholars and scholarly works that have inspired it. First and foremost, I owe thanks to Monika Greenleaf, as well as Lazar Fleishman, Gregory Freidin, Seth Lerer, and Gabriella Safran, who advised my doctoral dissertation and generously enriched this book during my graduate work and in subsequent years. I also am indebted to colleagues, friends, and mentors who read or...

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Introduction: From Voicelessness to Voice

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pp. 3-16

THE IDEA OF INFANCY as an unspeaking state beyond the limits of language and pregnant with potentiality has captivated philosophers since the time of Saint Augustine (354– 430 a.d.). In the First Book of Confessions, Saint Augustine describes his own transition from the state of the speechless infant to that of the speaking child who has gained the symbolic capacity of language. He meditates on the acquisition of simple signification and observes how it grants the possibility to utter one’s will and...

Part I. Infantile Primitivism

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Chapter One. Infant Art: Mikhail Larionov, Children’s Drawings, and Neo-Primitivist Art

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pp. 19-61

BORN IN THE CREATIVE FERMENT between the beginning of the twentieth century and the impending upheaval of the 1917 October Revolution, the Russian avant- garde came of age in a uniquely tumultuous space and time. In its confrontation with the new age defined by modernity, and later by revolution, the Russian avant- garde sought a radical disruption with the past in its search for the new art of the future. Defining themselves as ‘avant- garde,’ originally a militaristic term for the vanguard...

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Chapter Two. Infant Word: Aleksei Kruchenykh, Children’s Language, and Cubo-Futurist Poetics

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pp. 62-102

IT FLIES IN THE FACE of chronological time to do as Kronos did—castrate one’s father and consume one’s children in order to defy fate and stake sole claim to the future. Yet both bloodthirsty acts credited to this Titan of Greek mythology apply equally well to the exploits of the Russian Futurists, who themselves defy their forefathers and the traditions of the past in order to stake their claim to the future of poetry. The devouring of children, or ‘pedophagy,’ to borrow the neologism of Lovejoy and Boas in...

Part II. Infantilist Aesthetics

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Chapter Three. Infant Eye: Viktor Shklovsky, the Naive Perspective, and Formalist Theory

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pp. 105-155

IN HIS FIRST PUBLICATION, “The Resurrection of the Word” (“Voskreshenie slova”; 1914), the budding Formalist critic Viktor Shklovsky recovers the lost poetry buried in the morphology of words by using an example that proves particularly provocative in the context of my study of the infantile aesthetic of the Russian avant- garde. Like thinkers from Saint Augustine to the present day, Shklovsky seizes upon the etymology...

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Chapter Four. Infant Mind: Daniil Kharms, Childish Alogism, and OBERIU Literature of the Absurd

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pp. 156-207

IF HENRI BERGSON first links laughter and the comic to “a revival of the sensations of childhood,”1 then Sigmund Freud pushes this thought to its logical conclusion when he links the comic to the infantile state of mind. In Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious (1905), Freud traces the development of wit to the impulse “to elude reason” and “substitute for the adult an infantile state of mind,”2 while in his theoretical discussion of “The Infantile and the Comic,” he defines the comic as “the awakening of...

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Conclusion: The End Point of the Infantilist Aesthetic

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pp. 208-216

IN MANY SENSES, the work of Kazimir Malevich, like the late 1920s painting Black Circle (figure 43; Chernyi krug), represents an extreme, if not chronological, end point of avant- garde aesthetics. As with the Suprematist art of Malevich, the infantilist reductionism of form also leads toward the most basic, minimal, and fundamental components of art and signification, as might be represented by this perfect circle.1 If poetic language has been characterized as being babble, doodle, charm, and riddle, then...


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pp. 217-272


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pp. 273-296


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pp. 297-303

E-ISBN-13: 9780810167728
E-ISBN-10: 0810167727
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810129849
Print-ISBN-10: 0810129841

Page Count: 318
Illustrations: 45
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 884652618
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Voiceless Vanguard

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Russian literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Avant-garde (Aesthetics) -- Russia (Federation) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Literature, Experimental -- Russia (Federation) -- History and criticism.
  • Arts, Russian -- 20th century.
  • Voice in literature.
  • Children in literature.
  • Children in art.
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