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Aesthetics of Alienation

Reassessment of Early Soviet Cultural Theories

Evgeny Dobrenko

Publication Year: 2005

This provocative work takes issue with the idea that Socialist Realism was mainly the creation of party leaders and was imposed from above on the literati who lived and worked under the Soviet regime. Evgeny Dobrenko, a leading expert on Soviet literature, argues instead and offers persuasive evidence that the aesthetic theories underpinning Socialist Realism arose among the writers themselves, born of their proponents' desire for power in the realm of literary policymaking. Accordingly, Dobrenko closely considers the evolution of these theories, deciphering the power relations and social conditions that helped to shape them.

Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory


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p. ix

Translator’s Note

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvii

This book arose at the crossroads of two interconnected projects examining the sociology of the literary process in Soviet Russia: a history of the shaping of the Soviet reader1 and a history of the birth of the Soviet writer.2 In the attempt to understand the social origins of Stalinist culture and to discover the social dimension of Socialist Realism, I immersed myself (in the book about the reader)...

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1. The Academy of Poetry and Russian Society

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pp. 3-9

THE FATE of Aleksandr Leonidovich Chizhevskii is conspicuously unusual and, at the same time, amazingly familiar. Graduating in 1917 from the Moscow Archeological Institute with the title of Archeologist, he defended his dissertation, “Russian Lyrics of the 18th Century,” the following year. He was then actively researching in the area of the natural sciences, particularly focused on the activity of the sun...

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2. Proletkult: "The Music of Revolution" ; or, Creation Without Creators

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pp. 10-30

WHEN TALKING about various kinds of projects, utopias, manifestos, and theories of creativity, one should keep in mind that they are all the products of complex historical combinations. Their realization might seem as simple as this: they are conceived in the minds of theoreticians, then they fall into the hands of popularizers and then of ideologues...

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3. RAPP: The Aesthetics of Restraint; or, Worldview as Creation

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pp. 31-51

IDEAS REQUIRED by the times begin to move according to their own orbits with a constant acceleration—and they become radicalized. This process is distinctly visible in the situation we are examining. In theories of creation, revolutionary culture rationalizes and objectivizes itself, and in them one can discern a not unsuccessful attempt at self-realization...

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4. LEF: The Third Factory as "New Aesthetic Enterprise"

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pp. 52-74

The key phrase in this passage from Shklovskii’s The Third Factory was immediately snatched up by contemporaries: “There is no third path. But we need to follow it.” To change—mix oneself—change—mix oneself. . . . The path that does not exist. “Then there will be literature”—Shklovskii. Mayakovsky wrote at about the same time, “I clean myself in view of Lenin...

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5. Pereval: "Organic Creativity" ; or, Hands for the Hourglass

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pp. 75-88

PROBABLY THE MOST DRAMATIC aspect of the 1920s literary groups was the striking blindness of their ideologues. Proletkult continued to work at creating its collectivist homunculus, not only while understanding full well (judging from Bogdanov’s opinions) the character of the revolution that had taken place, but also while knowing the uncompromising attitude of the leader of this revolution...

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6. The “Social Mandate” ; or, Flexion in an Inflexible Time

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pp. 89-108

REVOLUTIONARY CULTURE is traditionally distinguished from postrevolutionary (Socialist Realist) culture by its absence of norms and a canon. In fact, revolutionary culture had many different “aesthetic norms,” proclaimed by various literary groups. But if we factor all of these “norms” down to a common denominator, we can see from what the Socialist Realist canon later emerged...

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7. Socialist Realism: The Perfect Utopia

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pp. 109-126

THE UTOPIAS OF CREATION that the Revolution engendered were not “transcended” in Socialist Realism, but were assimilated by it. In the Socialist Realist theory of creativity we find fragments of practically all the aesthetic projects of the revolutionary era. The populism of Soviet art is inconceivable without the contribution of the RAPPists who continued...


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pp. 127-140

Works Cited

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pp. 141-148


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pp. 149-152

E-ISBN-13: 9780810165809
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810120259

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2005

Edition: 1
Series Title: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory
Series Editor Byline: Gary Saul Morson See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 607611373
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Aesthetics of Alienation

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Russian literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Socialist realism.
  • Aesthetics, Russian -- 20th century.
  • Socialist realism in literature.
  • Communism and culture -- Soviet Union.
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