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Fast Forward

The Aesthetics and Ideology of Speed in Russian Avant-Garde Culture, 1910–1930

Tim Harte

Publication Year: 2009

Life in the modernist era not only moved, it sped. As automobiles, airplanes, and high-speed industrial machinery proliferated at the turn of the twentieth century, a fascination with speed influenced artists—from Moscow to Manhattan—working in a variety of media. Russian avant-garde literary, visual, and cinematic artists were among those striving to elevate the ordinary physical concept of speed into a source of inspiration and generate new possibilities for everyday existence.
    Although modernism arrived somewhat late in Russia, the increased tempo of life at the start of the twentieth century provided Russia’s avant-garde artists with an infusion of creative dynamism and crucial momentum for revolutionary experimentation. In Fast Forward Tim Harte presents a detailed examination of the images and concepts of speed that permeated Russian modernist poetry, visual arts, and cinema. His study illustrates how a wide variety of experimental artistic tendencies of the day—such as “rayism” in poetry and painting, the effort to create a “transrational” language (zaum’) in verse, and movements seemingly as divergent as neo-primitivism and constructivism—all relied on notions of speed or dynamism to create at least part of their effects.     
    Fast Forward reveals how the Russian avant-garde’s race to establish a new artistic and social reality over a twenty-year span reflected an ambitious metaphysical vision that corresponded closely to the nation’s rapidly changing social parameters. The embrace of speed after the 1917 Revolution, however, paradoxically hastened the movement’s demise. By the late 1920s, under a variety of historical pressures, avant-garde artistic forms morphed into those more compatible with the political agenda of the Russian state. Experimentation became politically suspect and abstractionism gave way to orthodox realism, ultimately ushering in the socialist realism and aesthetic conformism of the Stalin years.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

In this book, I seek to provide a cultural history of futurist speed and dynamism in Russian and Soviet avant-garde poetry, painting, and film. Throughout my exploration of these subjects, I have used both well-known and lesser-known avant-garde works as examples of speed’s cultural prominence so that my book might have value for a broad array...

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Introduction: The Zeitgeist of Speed

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pp. 3-29

In a 1914 lecture, the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky remarked on a new aesthetic arising throughout the contemporary urban landscape: “Telephones, airplanes, express trains, elevators, rotary presses, sidewalks, factory smokestacks, stone monstrosities, soot, and smoke—these are the elements of beauty in the new urban environment. . . .We, city dwellers, do not know...

Part 1: Avant-Garde Poetry in Motion

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1. Urban Poets on the Move

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pp. 33-66

Our era = an era of aviation, it is speed and the beauty of form,” the futurist poet (and aviator) Vasily Kamensky proclaimed in 1914, articulating speed’s significant contribution to modern existence and futurist aesthetics.¹ Throughout the second decade of the twentieth century in both Russia and Western Europe, dynamism permeated the arts, as avant-garde...

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2. The Accelerating Word

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pp. 67-97

For Russia’s futurists, poetic form afforded a compelling vehicle for the examination and expression of contemporaneity’s overflowing energy. In the 1913 theoretical treatise Futurism Unmasked (Futurizm bez maski), Vadim Shershenevich remarked: “Reproaches to the futurists pour in from all sides for their supposedly inordinate preoccupation with form. And it is...

Part 2: Visual Arts of Acceleration

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3. Light Speed: Rayism in Russia

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pp. 101-128

In September 1913 Mikhail Larionov, Natalya Goncharova, and a small group of fellow avant-garde artists rebelliously dispensed with the traditional canvas. Establishing an unusually personal expression of modern dynamism, Larionov and his colleagues applied futurist designs to their own faces and bodies. These were not tattoos but rather removable...

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4. "Hurry! For tomorrow you will not recognize us": Suprematism and Beyond

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pp. 129-158

On December 2, 1913, the curtain rose on a radical new phase of Russian avant-garde art and its expanding treatment of speed. Staging the futurist opera Victory over the Sun at St. Petersburg’s Luna Park Theater, Kruchenykh, Khlebnikov, Matyushin, and Malevich revealed an unprecedented, abstract vision of the era’s dynamism.¹ Incorporating transrational...

Part 3: Fast Motion Pictures on the Soviet Screen

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5. Early Soviet Cinema: Tricks and Kinesthetics

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pp. 161-190

In August 1922,with the publication of the film journal Kino-Photo (Kino-fot), speed in effect entered early Soviet cinema. A forum for the country’s constructivists who had recently turned their attention to film, this journal presented the dynamism of cinema as a unifying trend of avant-garde art. Through a series of theoretical articles and manifestos that would help...

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6. Soviet Cinema's Great Leap Forward

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pp. 191-229

For Mayakovsky, cinema was the embodiment of human motion, a powerful means toward artistic renewal, and a source of Soviet dynamism. Film, the poet emphasized, signified an accelerated, bold step into a bright future. Yet despite his enthusiasm for cinema’s utopian possibilities, Mayakovsky appeared far less sanguine about the current state of the medium in Soviet Russia. As the futurist...

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Conclusion: The Speed of Coercion

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pp. 230-237

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, avant-garde experimentation with speed conspicuously diminished, as Soviet artists submitted to the pressures of the Stalinist regime. Whereas in the second decade of the century a poet like Mayakovsky could explore the chaotic dynamism of the urban world through his futurist verse, by 1930 he was coordinating his poetry with...


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pp. 239-286


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pp. 287-296


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pp. 297-318

E-ISBN-13: 9780299233235
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299233242

Page Count: 318
Publication Year: 2009