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Cultural Origins of the Socialist Realist Aesthetic

1890 1934

Gutkin, Irina

Publication Year: 1999

In The Cultural Origins of the Socialist Realist Aesthetic, Irina Gutkin brings together the best work written on the subject to argue that socialist realism encompassed a philosophical worldview that marked thinking in the USSR on all levels: political, social, and linguistic. Using a wealth of diverse cultural material, Gutkin traces the emergence of the central tenants of socialist realist theory from Symbolism and Futurism through the 1920s and 1930s.

Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory


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pp. xi-xii

As writing is necessarily a lonely and grueling affair, so the more I feel a debt of gratitude to those who helped me in carrying out this project. I am grateful to Boris Gasparov, a teacher and mentor, for recognizing a historian in me and for steering me away from temptations of abstract theorizing about metafiction by putting my mind to work on the challenging problem in Russian cultural history to which this book is devoted...

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pp. 1-6

WHAT IS-OR RATHER, WAS-socialist realism? Where did it come from? And what is the context in which it should be understood? Though it was hailed within the Soviet Union, from its official promulgation at the First Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934 right up until that country's demise, as the most historically advanced aesthetic method and the only appropriate one for Soviet culture, its origins and indeed its very essence went more or less undefined in official discourse...

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Chapter One: The Emergence of the Soviet Project: The Two Avant-Gardes and Two Utopias

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pp. 7-11

Addressing the problem of "ideological fashions" in Russian culture in "The Idea of Superman" ("Ideia sverkhcheloveka," 1899), Vladimir Solov'ev (1853- 1900), a poet and philosopher whose ideas became a pivotal influence in the revolutionary period, made a penetrating culturological observation: He noted that the "fashions" for borrowed philosophical systems-indeed, the very ways in which they were inevitably distorted...

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Chapter Two: The Road to Socialist Realism: Culture in Search of a Life-Transforming Aesthetic

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pp. 38-80

The most well-known, as well as the most paradoxical, tenet of socialist realism is the imperative to show life "truthfully, in its revolutionary development." The requirement seems less paradoxical if "truthfully" is understood to mean not life "as it is" but only in its revolutionary development. The requirement of truthfulness was always thus qualified...

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Chapter Three: The Struggle with Byt as a Problem of the Relationship between Art and Life

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pp. 81-106

A derivative of the verb "to be," going back to medieval times in its original meaning, the word byt was used to designate household belongings-utensils, furniture, and other quotidian material objects. Even though by the beginning of the nineteenth century the word came to mean more generally a combination of customs and mores manifest in the forms...

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Chapter Four: Revolutionary Paradigms of Ideal Humanity

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pp. 107-130

THE BELIEF THAT the Soviet community must constitute an ultimate historical society composed of an unprecedented and superior humankind was a well-known basic component of the Soviet worldview. As an important tenet of the officially articulated...

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Chapter Five: Avant-garde Patterns of Gender Relations: The Construction of the New Woman and the Symbolic Meanings of the Love Plot

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pp. 131-149

In Katerina Clark's study of the Soviet novel, the love plot receives scarce attention because, in her opinion, love in general, either erotic or platonic, plays but a modest role in the socialist realist novel,1 Citing John Bayley's observation in his book The Characters of Love that "it has become difficult...

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Conclusion: Historical Lessons of Socialist Realism

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pp. 150-154

I HAVE ATTEMPTED to establish a connection, a genetic link, between the visionary theories of the two Russian revolutionary avant-gardes and socialist realism during the revolutionary period that stretched from the 1890s to the beginning of the 1930s. For all their differences, the Bolsheviks and the successive artistic avant-garde movements shared the ideal of attaining a future ideal society...


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pp. 155-214

Works Cited

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pp. 215-232


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pp. 233-243

E-ISBN-13: 9780810165823
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810115453

Page Count: 244
Publication Year: 1999

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

OCLC Number: 794701036
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Cultural Origins of the Socialist Realist Aesthetic

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Subject Headings

  • Aesthetics, Modern -- 20th century.
  • Aesthetics, Russian -- 20th century.
  • Socialist realism.
  • Socialist realism.
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