A tribute to Vladimir Mayakovsky

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I present to you a Mayakovsky mega-post, for your delectation. Not only was V-Mak kind of a hunk; he was also the consummate poet. All too often he is remembered as a prettyboy, not a serious lyricist. Contemporary critics tended to rank him quite highly, however. Shklovsky called him “a poet’s poet.” Roman Jakobson’s admiration, as will be seen, ran even deeper. Trotsky identified him as “a colossal talent,” even if he criticized some of his poems.

Bengt Jangfeldt wrote a detailed biography of Mayakovsky back in 2007, which was translated last year and published by University of Chicago press. You can download it below, along with a volume he edited of recollections by Jakobson of his youthful involvement with the avant-garde movement in Russia titled My Futurist Years. Jakobson is particularly excellent, but both are great reads.

Moreover, I’ve taken the liberty of assembling a number of high-quality images of the great poet, as is my wont. These were scattered across the web, made all the more disparate by the varied ways his name is transliterated into Latin in different European languages. Following the images, Jakobson’s excellent 1931 essay “On a Generation that Squandered Its Poets” appears. Here are the books for download.

  1. Bengt Jangfeldt, Mayakovsky: A Biography (2007)
  2. Roman Jakobson, My Futurist Years
  3. Roman Jakobson, Language in Literature

On a generation that squandered its poets

Roman Jakobson
Mayakovsky’s Death
Berlin, Germany: 1931

Killed; —
Little matter
Whether I or he
Killed them.

Mayakovsky’s poetry — his imagery, his lyrical composition — I have written about these things and published some of my remarks. The idea of writing a monograph has never left me. Mayakovsky’s poetry is qualitatively different from everything in Russian verse before him, however intent one may be on establishing genetic links. This is what makes the subject particularly intriguing. The structure of his poetry is profoundly original and revolutionary. But how it is possible to write about Mayakovsky’s poetry now, when the paramount subject is not the rhythm but the death of the poet, when (if I may resort to Mayakovsky’s own poetic phrase) “sudden grief” is not yet ready to give in to “a clearly realized pain”?

During one of our meetings, Mayakovsky, as was his custom, read me his latest poems. Considering his creative potential I could not help comparing them with what he might have produced. “Very good,” I said, “but not as good as Mayakovsky.” Yet now the creative powers are canceled out, the inimitable stanzas can no longer be compared to anything else, the words “Mayakovsky’s last poems” have suddenly taken on a tragic meaning. Sheer grief at his absence has overshadowed the absent one. Now it is more painful, but still easier, to write not about the one we have lost but rather about our own loss and those of us who have suffered it.

It is our generation that has suffered the loss. Roughly, those of us who are now between thirty and forty-five years old. Those who, already fully matured, entered into the years of the Revolution not as unmolded clay but still not hardened, still capable of adapting to experience and change, still capable of taking a dynamic rather than a static view of our lives.

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The Mel’nikov house [Дом Мельникова]: A retrospective evaluation

An embarrassing admission: I’ve never been too keen on the Mel’nikov house.

This may seem odd coming from someone who just signed a petition calling for the preservation of Mel’nikov’s works and heritage. Not least among these is his famous house, which the experts say is presently “under threat.” A campaign to restore and maintain the aging structure — spearheaded by a talented young photographer currently residing in Moscow, Natalia Melikova — has already managed to muster a great deal of publicity. Coverage of this effort has not been limited to Russian press, either, though several articles have recently appeared in well-established news outlets like Известия (an old heavyweight, now in an online edition). Even before they began reporting in the vernacular, however, Sophia Kishkovsky ran a story on it for The New York Times‘ ArtBeat section back in April.

Unsurprisingly, the motion to preserve the Mel’nikov house has enjoyed an outpouring of support from a number of high-profile scholars and architects. Many readers of this blog are no doubt that my own stance on this issue has been one of deep ambivalence, despite my reluctant signature and endorsement of the letter. Basically, my reservations were as follows:

As a student of history and a great admirer of Mel’nikov’s architectural corpus (built and unbuilt), I am of course in favor of maintaining and restoring the many iconic examples of his work that remain. But knowing that pitiless, unsentimental attention to the demands of technical turnover and the imperative to overturn obsolescence formed part and parcel of the worldview animating Soviet modernism, it is impossible to deny the irony of the wish to preserve buildings that no longer serve any meaningful function — except, perhaps, as a physical reminder of the project that was once underway in Russia. Nothing would seem so preposterous to an avant-garde architect of the time than to cling to the past out of melancholy or nostalgia, let alone museumify it.

Whatever the reasons or principles I invoked, these are not the subject of today’s post. Just having stumbled upon a trove of rare images showing the building’s plan, a bisectable small-scale model of its proportions, and some rare photographs of its construction and eventual realization, I thought I’d post them along with some reflections on its strengths and weaknesses vis–à–vis housing projects by other architects of that time, as well as its place within Mel’nikov’s own corpus. Since I suspect my opinion belongs to that rather tiny, discordant minority of Soviet architecture geeks who don’t instantly kvell over the Mel’nikov house, we’ll first offer an expiation in advance of the outrage that might follow. And so, without any further ado, here are some of the plans and sketches for the house.

Plans, paintings, sketches

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Enough already: What’s not to like about the Mel’nikov house? Continue reading

Models and Sketches from Nikolai Ladovskii’s Studio at VKhUTEMAS-VKhUTEIN (1922-1930)

The following models and sketches were produced by students at VKhUTEMAS (1921-1928) or VKhUTEIN (1929-1930), under the supervision of Nikolai Ladovskii, in his famous classes regarding architectural problems and formal solutions, unbound by physical constraints.  Though I will not be adding captions for each individual piece, I will say that they are in roughly chronological order:

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Lev Rudnev’s “City of the Future” (1925), before his turn to Stalinist neo-Classicism

Modernist architecture archive

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IMAGE: Lev Rudnev’s City of the future (1925),
before his turn to Stalinist neoclassicism

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An update on the Modernist Architecture Archive/Database I discussed a couple posts ago.  I’ve begun work on it, and have uploaded almost half of the documents I intend to include.  Only a few of the Russian ones are up yet, but I’m hoping to post them over the next couple days.  There are many more on the way.

Anyway, anyone interested in taking a look at this archive (arranged as a continuous text) can access it here.

However, this might not be the most convenient way to browse through it all.  For a more manageable overall view of each of the individual articles (detailing the author, title, and year of publication), click here.