April 2016

The Prigov Concept

Mark Lipovetsky and Ilya Kukulin, “‘The Art of Penultimate Truth’: Dmitrii Prigov’s Aesthetic Principles”

The article discusses the corpus of Dmtri Prigov’s manifestoes, articles, and programmatic interviews as a manifestation of a coherent theoretical concept. The author of the article argues that Prigov’s theoretical ideas are structured in accordance with his own central artistic category--for which, oddly enough, he did not have a common name. The author refers to this category as performativity, although Prigov himself did not use this word, preferring to discuss the behavioral level, operational modes, characters, images (imidzhi), and so on. Performativity, in this interpretation, permeates the totality of an artistic practice, without exception. Texts, paintings, installations, actual performances, and any public utterance—interviews, for example—become “traces” of performative behavior. It is along these lines that one can speak about the performative life of the contemporary author, about the “behavior that is to be found within a non-playful art form, in which the typical type of conventional professional language does not imply (or rather, until the relevant time period, did not imply) the appearance of the creator, who by his presence relativizes the very value, durability, uniqueness, and self-sufficiency of the language of the objects he made.” It is from this perspective that the author discusses the overarching meaning of Prigov’s oeuvre as the grandiose mockery of societal cultural practices rather than a collection of self-sufficient works. This approach also elucidates Prigov’s programmatic self-modeling as the trickster who can only fulfill the performative as the central category of contemporary culture.

Evgeny Dobrenko, “Prigov and the Gesamtkunstwerk

This article discusses the relation of Prigov’s cultural project to a concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the total work of art. It is not only notable that Prigov was simultaneously a poet, a painter, a sculptor, a performance artist, and a theoretician (and it is hard to say which of these roles he identified most strongly with), but that he also experimented with all possible materials, forms, genres, and types of art. Also remarkable is that openness and intersections are manifest in all his work: text in painting, a visual quality and theatricality in text, text as a score for performance (of the alphabet), philosophizing as an artistic text (premonitions), and so forth. The author traces the transformation of Wagner’s concept from its reception in the Silver Age, to its appropriation by Socialist Realism, and finally to Prigov’s ultimate vision of it. The article analyzes two main directions of transformations of the Gesamtkunstwerk in Prigov’s oeuvre. Firstly, although Gesamtkunstwerk as an idea of shaped formlessness became irrelevant with the loss of traditional conventions and the crisis of modernist strategies of subversion, its practices, since it was itself the product of a modernist breakthrough, proved themselves to be extraordinarily fruitful. One can easily find those very same structural elements in Prigov’s texts and visual works, where functionally they are completely reinvented and form part of a completely different--“de-totalizing”--aesthetic strategy. Secondly, the transformations of Wagnerian mythology became the only possible realization of the totalitarian romantic utopia in contemporary mass society. Prigov took up the idea of the total work of art after the collapse of the utopia, completing the ruins and reconstructing them into an almost “intact” state. But the main thing is that he constructed his total work of art, not from different arts, but from a single subject--Dmitrii Aleksandrovich Prigov. He did not create a synthesis of the arts, but rather a personality synthesis, by carrying out an experiment in the creation of a total work of art after the experience of modernism. Accordingly, we should regard Prigov’s texts not only as an new ideological construct that both defamiliarizes and makes explicit (thereby exposing the totalitarian aspirations of language and ideology), but also as the product of a unique experiment on himself, laying the headstone for not only the totalitarian utopia but also for its creator, the artist-visionary.

Mikhail Iampolski, “Lermontovization, or the Form of Emotion”

This article explores Dmitrii A. Prigov’s “existential urge” to rewrite Pushkin’s Evgenii Onegin in 1992. The urge was “endorsed” by Mikhail Lermontov--a figure who, according to Prigov, allowed him to discuss Pushkin’s successors as romantics, and described his Onegin experiment as a “Lermontovization” of Pushkin. “Lermontovization” constituted a mechanism for the automatic generation of a text in which Prigov could insert one of his two chosen words (“insane” or “unearthly”) in the place of Pushkin’s epithets in a purely mechanical way, thus tackling the underlying mechanisms of artistic creation, in which emotions and affects play an important role. Lermontov’s appropriation by Prigov, and his transformation into a kind of “double” for Prigov can be explained by means of the rather peculiar interpretation of Lermontov offered by Boris Mikhailovich Eikhenbaum in his 1924 book, Lermontov: A Study in Historical-Literary Evaluation. For Eikhenbaum, Lermontov is important as a figure who represents the radical completion of a previous literary period whose potential for development has been completely exhausted. His task was to put an end to the organic form, focusing on the separate, super-emotional elements of poetry that were dislodged from that organic form. Sincerity was replaced by Lermontov’s frank and energetic emotivism, which was combined with shameless borrowing of impressive metaphors and images from other poets. The genre of “Lermontovization,” which was introduced by Lermontov and adopted by Prigov, constitutes a collage in which “authorship” per se is abolished, and the sincerity that accompanies it is, in turn, superseded by a hypertrophied emotivism--a form of affective detachment from oneself. The subjective is transformed into an objective form, and this allows the two poets to destroy the organic semantic structures of their respective preceding traditions.

Nariman Skakov, “Typographomania: On Prigov’s Typewritten Experiments”

This article examines Dmitrii A. Prigov’s cycle “Appeals to Citizens” (1985–87). The first section of the essay, “Message,” explores the discursive attack on the verbiage of the Soviet ideological apparatus. Hundreds of appeals to the Soviet constituency--framed, or rather camouflaged, by the notion of New Sincerity--constituted a desperate democratic cry. This cry is, by and large, as incomprehensible and empty as most cries are: the semantic vectors of messages themselves provide no sense of direction. Though the appeals comprise a void, they still delineate a semantically hollow, yet nevertheless productive space. The second part, “Medium,” examines the conceptual exercise of leaving the stable generic grounds of dissident and avant-garde movements by means of various mediatic reflections. The latter include the epistemic authority, or lack thereof, of the producer of texts; the role of the typewriter as a conceptual writing machine; and, finally, the status of the appeals as graphic-visual signs transcending the standard limits of textuality. The topics presented, in toto, explore a set of productive tensions that are at play in “Appeals to Citizens” and which delineate Prigov’s oeuvre in general. The opposition between the textual and the visual planes, between the message and the medium, and, finally, between the notions of shimmering (merzatel’naia) phantomness (insubstantiality) and acute materiality, all define the semantic and conceptual vectors of the multiple art practices of the meta-project which the artist himself referred to as “Dmitrii Aleksandrovich Prigov.”


Sarah Clovis Bishop, “Bakhtin Attends the Theater: Kama Ginkas’s Chekhov Trilogy”

In the late nineties and early 2000s, Kama Ginkas, one of the most celebrated theater directors working in Russia today, staged three Chekhov stories: “Lady with the Lapdog,” “The Black Monk,” and “Rothschild’s Fiddle. The actors give voice to virtually every word of the literary texts, even in the form of spoken stage remarks such as “he said” and “she said.” While the shows are performed independently, Ginkas views them as a trilogy which he has titled Life is Beautiful. According to Ginkas, the central narrative thrust of all three shows, and of Chekhov’s work in general, is man’s desire and failure to live life fully. He highlights the Chekhovian tension between the beauty of life and the tragedy of how it is lived. Drawing on Bakhtinian concepts, this article examines how Ginkas’s trilogy reveals but does not resolve this terribly beautiful nature of life. By placing Chekhov’s narration into the mouths of his actors, Ginkas actualizes the character zones found in Chekhov’s authorial prose. This does not result in a flattening of the voices, as Bakhtin had feared; instead, Ginkas actively dialogizes the voices through the use of interruptions, repetitions and incongruities between word and action. Ginkas further activates Chekhov’s language by inserting excerpts from an early Chekhov feuilleton, folk songs, and opera into the performances. Through this reaccentuation of the prosaic text and the heteroglossic interpolation of additional texts, Ginkas repeatedly and unexpectedly shifts between the tragic and the comic, the terrible and the beautiful, highlighting the unfinalizability of his performed prose.

J. Otto Pohl, “The Persecution of Ethnic Germans in the USSR during World War II”

The ethnic Germans were the single largest and one of the oldest diaspora groups in the USSR connected to a foreign state. During the Second World War the Soviet government forcibly resettled the German communities living in territory it controlled west of the Urals to Kazakhstan and Siberia. It placed these internal deportees under special settlement restrictions which greatly limited their freedom of movement and choice of residency. The NKVD counted, registered, and instituted a system of surveillance over the special settlers to prevent them from moving from their assigned places of resettlement. This in turn greatly constrained their options regarding education and employment. Initially almost all of the deportees including urban populations from Engles and other cities found themselves settled on kolkhozes and sovkhozes and assigned to unfamiliar agricultural work. The failure to integrate these men and women into productive agricultural work on the kolkhozes led to widespread unemployment, lack of work days, and subsequently severe food shortages. The Soviet solution to integrating them into the economy was to again move them and assign them to extractive enterprises. This took two forms. The first was a second deportation of tens of thousands of ethnic Germans to Siberia northward to work in the fishing industry. These men, women, and children remained special settlers. The second form was the mobilization of ethnic German men and later women into the labor army to work building factories, felling trees, and laying rail lines in NKVD camps, and mining coal, extracting oil, and manufacturing munitions for civilian commissariats under UNKVD supervision. The restrictions on the men and women in the labor army which ultimately comprised over a quarter of all ethnic Germans in the USSR were even more onerous than the special settlement regime and closely resembled the situation of convicted Gulag prisoners. The Stalin regime's policy towards its ethnic German citizens during World War II involved ethnic cleansing, the imposition of apartheid like residency restrictions, and their mass conscription into forced labor detachments.