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Russian Constructivist Theory and Practice in the Visual and Verbal Forms of Pro Eto.

  • Author(s): Schick, Christine Suzanne
  • Advisor(s): Clark, Timothy J.
  • et al.

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.

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