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Modernist and Conceptualist Legacies in Contemporary Russian and US Avant-Gardes

Tue, November 26, 8:00 to 9:45am, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 5, Sierra G


Why has twenty-first century avant-garde poetry in both Russia and the United States witnessed a revival of conceptualist approaches of the 1960s and 1970s and the radical modernist media theories and practices of the 1920s and 1930s?

This paper identifies in these parallel developments in contemporary Russian and US poetry a common response to the conditions of the Internet age as presaged in two earlier ages of global media. The online posting and cut-and-paste compositions of some contemporary avant-garde poetries in Russia and the United States might seem to be purely products of the digital era. These poetries are embedded in the world of social media, but, this paper argues, they derive many of their strategies from literary and artistic responses to earlier global media revolutions. The paper asks how and why have contemporary Russian and US avant-garde poets revived and extended poetic techniques and theories from two previous periods of upheaval in mass media and artistic theory and practice: the modernist revolution in media and art in the 1920s and 1930s; and the similar upheaval in media in the 1960s and 1970s to which pop, sots, and conceptual art and writing responded.

The paper assesses the importance of the new media theory and practice of the 1920s and 1930s (deriving in particular from Sergei Tret'iakov and Walter Benjamin) to the new media theory and practice of online poetic avant-gardes in Russia and the United States as evinced by the work of poet-theorists such as Pavel Arsen'ev, Aleksandr Skidan, Kenneth Goldsmith, and Vanessa Place. Both Arsen'ev’s "ready-written" poetry and the "conceptual writing" of US authors like Goldsmith and Place reflect the contemporary media conditions of the Internet while drawing on the responses of artists like Dmitrii Prigov and Andy Warhol to the media of the 1960s and 1970s and on the radical media theories of Tret'iakov, Benjamin, and others from the 1920 and 1930s. Today’s writers renew the playfully appropriative techniques of Warhol and Prigov and the highly politicized literature of fact promoted by Tret'iakov, Benjamin, and others in the 1920s and 1930s. They thereby both illuminate a broader citational or iterative response to new media and globalization and contribute to this response's explicit politicization.