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Automatic for the Masses

Automatic for the Masses: The Death of the Author and the Birth of Socialist Realism

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Automatic for the Masses
    Book Description:

    InAutomatic for the Masses, Petre M. Petrov offers a novel, theoretically informed account of the transition from modernism to Socialist Realism, tracing their connections through Modernist notions of agency and authorship.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-1693-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-34)

    This book is an attempt to write the doctrine of Stalinist socialist realism into a story of modernism and modernity. The provisional title of that story is “The Death of the Author” – provisional, because it merely focuses under a single theme several different yet closely linked questions. That title will become dispensable once the issues to which it alludes and which supply all its substance are properly grasped. In placing socialist realism within the framework of modernism, nothing can be further from my intentions than to accuse the latter of being an incipiently totalitarian enterprise. A meaningful relationship between...

  4. Part One

    • Chapter 1 The Imperative of Form
      (pp. 37-54)

      In the writings of those who have come to be known as the Russian Formalists,¹ “form” is the conceptual space in which the death of the author occurs, even if it is not announced in quite so dramatic a fashion. It has traditionally been argued that in their pursuit of “scientific” objectivity, the Formalists sought to eliminate the subjective factor both from the history of aesthetic phenomena and from the analysis of specific texts – that they arrived at something like “system” by taking language as their model and jettisoning the stuff of genetic explanation, intellectual speculation, psychological conjecture, and...

    • Chapter 2 The Imperative of Content
      (pp. 55-69)

      It is bound to seem a scandal of sorts that in my approach to the culture of socialist realism the first step should be Russian Formalism – a movement that was to be forcefully extinguished at the end of the 1920s, a movement whose name was to become that of a heresy in both aesthetic criticism and artistic practice during Stalin’s time.¹ Perhaps it would have been more prudent to head straight to some properly Marxist aesthetic doctrine, which, whatever its shortcomings or unorthodoxies, could not but prove more akin to the spirit and the letter of socialist realism. After...

    • Chapter 3 Knowledge Become Practice
      (pp. 70-89)

      Thinking as a modern, which is to say, being part of intellectual modernity, often meant finding oneself as an actor in a scene of dissimulation similar to the ones described in the previous two chapters. It meant regarding particular fields of experience as fields of false appearances whose falsity was, even so, a moment of truth. Grasping truth, then, was a matter of showing how appearances are generated, laying bare the device that has produced them and ordered them. It involved proceeding, by rigorous method, from the manifest to the latent actuality of “this,” steering one’s way, for the most...

    • Chapter 4 The Organization of Things
      (pp. 90-109)

      Largely left out of the previous chapter was Bogdanov’s theory of culture, which constitutes a distinct and important aspect of his oeuvre and is certainly the main focus of interest for students of Soviet culture. Part of the reason for this omission is that Bogdanov’s view of culture is simply a variation of his view of knowledge. Literature and the arts are for him elements of the ideological sphere, just as scientific cognition is. All of these participate in the scenario of dissimulation that plays itself out over the entire course of human history. And just as with cognition, the...

    • Chapter 5 The Organization of Minds
      (pp. 110-128)

      So far we have been following a cultural act of “organization” that deals with people and things as things, a kind of praxis aimed at the revolutionary transformation of the world’sobjecthood. To the extent that “man” is thematized at all in the (anti-)artistic doctrines of the avant-garde, he appears as determined by his own “thingness” and by the thingness of the world. As he labours, Gastev’s man is composed of muscular forces, expenditures of energy strictly quantified in accordance with the task at hand, movements tailored (Taylorized) to the operations of the machine. As he acts, Meyerhold’s man is,...

  5. Part Two

    • Chapter 6 The Anonymous Centre of Style
      (pp. 131-153)

      In the first part of this study, I plotted out several episodes of cultural-theoretical imagination. From the very outset, the assumption was that these imaginations had something in common. And it is this commonality that has justified my referring in the singular to a “plot,” a “cultural act,” a “symbolic performance,” and, of course,thedeath of the author. The story I set out to (re)tell, in a specific national context, was about the anonymous centre that Rilke proclaimed to be the source of all genuine artistic activity. The theories discussed on the previous pages interest me insofar as they...

    • Chapter 7 The Unbearable Light of Being
      (pp. 154-172)

      The first epigraph, taken from Panferov’s epic of collectivization, is meant to give us a first taste of a distinctly new mode of cultural creation. The taste has something of bland pleonasm to it. Comrade Arnol’dov’s painting, his creation, reflects what is created by “our creators.” This is its value and distinguishing quality. Some of those creators are seated around him: a tractor driver, akolkhozworker, an aviator, a party activist – a miniature model of the new social world. The person speaking is an old Bolshevik, Bogdanov. He is announcing the arrival of a present in which the...

    • Chapter 8 Ideology as Authentication
      (pp. 173-193)

      There is a well-known painting by Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, hanging in the Zimmerli Art Museum, titledThe Origin of Socialist Realism. It belongs to the Nostalgic Socialist Realism series of the early 1980s. Stalin, clad in the white parade uniform of a generalissimo, is seated, expressionless, on a settee. The Muse, a half-undressed figure with long, lustrous hair, holds him gently under the chin. Stalin is the model, the Muse the artist. The palatial neoclassical interior is illuminated by a single oil lamp. The light from it casts an almost perfectly opaque shadow of Stalin’s figure onto the...

    • Chapter 9 The Blind, the Seeing, and the Shiny
      (pp. 194-219)

      The theoretical credo of Althusser and Žižek – the objectivity of ideological belief – was the practicalmodus operandiof the Stalinist ideological regime. As E.P. Thompson remarked, the latter did not develop its own original theory of ideology. In practice, however, this regime consistently sought to demonstrate that personal convictions are merely the coming-to-consciousness of objective circumstances that shape the lives of individuals. Insofar as consciousness did not always keep up with its objective determinants, it was possible for people not to realize just how happy they were, just as those leading cadres Stalin was addressing in 1937 did...

    • Chapter 10 Life Happens
      (pp. 220-234)

      In the previous chapter, I presented the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers as a complex performance in which the agents of representation – Soviet writers – were notreallyagents but rather pieces in a larger show, during which they were required to show themselves as “moved” by the force of self-revelatory immanence. I hope I have made it clear that the case of the socialist-realist author under Stalinism was, in fact, an instance in the broader problematic of subjecthood, and that the motion of being moved to vision was an instance of a more general movement reaching beyond...

  6. Notes
    (pp. 235-280)
  7. Works Cited
    (pp. 281-300)
  8. Index
    (pp. 301-316)