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From Sobjectivity to Pussy Riot

By Harriet Staff

Over at Jacket 2, Vanessa Place has published a fascinating conversation between Canadian poet Derek Beaulieu and Russian poet Natalia Federova. They begin by discussing the question of representation, focusing on the ways Conceptual writing locates problems inherent in representation (both linguistically and politically) from Western and Russian positions. For Federova, the recent Pussy Riot trial is central to this discussion:

Derek Beaulieu Both my concrete poetry and my conceptual writing focus on distancing myself from subjective representation. I am fascinated by Place and Fitterman’s idea of the Sobject and by Goldsmith’s proclamation that “I am interested in subjectivity, just not my own.” Goldsmith argues that Conceptual writing is only the 2nd truly international writing movement, coming approximately 50 years after the formulation of Concrete Poetry.

Natalia Federova Sobjectivity translated into the post-soviet reality will read: “re-politicization of the form” as a key tendency in reanimating conceptualist ostranenie of the language from the official propaganda. History is recycling itself in the absurd Kafka-esque Pussy Riot trial that calls for the same methods today as in the Soviet times.

Frighteningly similar insipid discourse of the official media requires the rigour of conceptualist action (not accidentally Judge Surova doesn’t allow laughter in the court room, and people who laugh or smile are expelled immediately by the officers). Indeed, in the age of twitter and Facebook revolutions, an idea implemented into action, a catchy internet meme can be as important in mobilizing the human force, as military power. Laboratory of Poetry Actionism, a workshop of poets, artist and philosophers from St-Petersburg, recently became famous for the authorship of the after December parliamentary elections protests’ slogan: «Vy nas dazshe ne predstavliaete» (“You don’t even represent us/You cannot even imagine us”), alluding to both absence of representational democracy and the changes that are about to happen in Russia. According to Susan Moore, “Pussy Riot are essentially conceptual artists. This is what makes them threatening—it is not possible to imprison a concept.”

One of the main goals of the communist revolution was the establishment of equality not only between rich and poor, or between men and women, but also between subject and object. Subject-object relationship is rooted in the exchange and property. The subject-object border had to be eliminated through the “re-education” of the artwork so it would acquire a “conscience,” become a non-alienated subjectivity, a “comrade-thing.” In The Communist Postscript Groys explains:

“In Soviet communism, every commodity became an ideologically relevant statement, just as in capitalism every statement becomes a commodity. One could eat communistically, house and dress oneself communistically—or likewise non-communistically, or even anti-communistically. This meant that in the Soviet Union it was in theory just as possible to protest against the shoes or eggs or sausage then available in the stores as it was to protest against the official doctrines of historical materialism.”

It probably can be said that Moscow conceptualism had to deal with already conceptualized reality. When Western conceptualism takes objects from reality and turns them into art, Moscow Conceptualism steps out into something other than art: the Soviet socialist reality.

In modern “capitalist” Russia the aim of Laboratory of Poetic Actionism is again “reverse alienation from daily routine by filling the city space with poetry”, embodying the protest energy of the left movement in slogans and poems, or slogans of poems that could become political actions as read by people in the street.

Much more to ponder. Make the jump here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, August 13th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.