Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Russian Constructivist Theory and Practice in the Visual and Verbal Forms of "Pro Eto"
by Schick, Christine Suzanne, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2011, 188; 3616250
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation aims in part to redress the shortage of close readings of Vladimir Mayakovsky and Aleksandr Rodchenko's joint project, the book Pro Eto. It explores the relationship between the book's visual and verbal aspects, treating the book and its images as objects that repay attentive looking and careful analysis. By these means this dissertation finds that the images do not simply illustrate the text, but have an intertextual relationship with it: sometimes the images suggest their own, alternative narrative, offering scenes that do not exist in the poem; sometimes they act as literary criticism, suggesting interpretations, supplying biographical information, and highlighting with their own form aspects of the poem's.

This analysis reveals Pro Eto's strong links with distant forms of art and literature. The poem's intricate ties to the book of Genesis and Victor Shklovsky's novel Zoo, written while the former literary critic was in exile in Berlin, evince an ambivalence about the manifestations of socialism in early-1920s Russia that is missing from much of Mayakovsky's work. At the same time Rodchenko's images, with their repeated references to Byzantine icons and Dadaist photomontage, expand the poem's scope and its concerns far beyond NEP-era Moscow. Thus my analysis finds that although Pro Eto is considered to be an emblematic Constructivist work, many of the received ideas about Russian Constructivism—the unswerving zeal of its practitioners, the utility of its production, and in particular the ideology-driven, sui-generis nature of the movement itself—are not supported by the book. Pro Eto's deep connections with art and literature outside of Bolshevik Russia contradict the idea—first set out by the Constructivists themselves and widely accepted by subsequent scholars—of Constructivism as an autochthonous movement, born of theory, and indebted neither to historical art movements nor to contemporary western ones. My analysis suggests that reading Pro Eto through the lens of Constructivist theory denies the work the richness, ambivalence and humor it gains when that theory is understood as being in conversation with artistic practice, rather than defining it.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Clark, Timothy J.
Commitee: Naiman, Eric, Wagner, Anne M.
School: University of California, Berkeley
Department: History of Art
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 75/07(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Slavic literature, Art history, Slavic Studies
Keywords: Constructivism, Illustration, Mayakovsky, Photomontage, Pro eto, Rodchenko
Publication Number: 3616250
ISBN: 9781303830730