Ukrainian avant-garde

I lack access to this level of Project Muse. However:

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Managing the Arts in Soviet Ukraine
  • Uilleam Blacker (bio)

Mayhill Fowler, Beau Monde on Empire’s Edge: State and Stage in Soviet Ukraine. xvi + 282 pp. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017. ISBN-13 978-1487501532. $79.00.

Olena Palko, Making Ukraine Soviet: Literature and Cultural Politics under Lenin and Stalin. xiii + 266 pp. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020. ISBN-13 978-1350230927. $39.95.

Myroslav Shkandrij, Avant-Garde Art in Ukraine, 1910–1930: Contested Memory. xiii +187 pp. Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2019. ISBN-13 978-0644696279. $35.00.

Recent years have seen a renewed interest in Ukrainian culture of the early Soviet period, a topic that has previously enjoyed sparse academic attention among Western and English-language scholars. The landmark studies by eminent North American Ukrainian scholars such as George Luckyj, Oleh Ilnytzky, Myroslava Mudrak, or George Grabowicz have long stood as notable exceptions to this trend.1 Over the last ten years or so, new studies have built on this valuable work, as well as on the increasingly impressive achievements of Ukrainian scholars in Ukraine (Solomiia Pavlychko, Rostyslav Meĺnykiv, Yaryna Tsymbal, Vira Aheieva, and others).2 Of particular significance, and [End Page 389] a forerunner in the most recent wave of interest, was Irena R. Makaryk and Virlana Tkacz’s volume on cultural life in Kyiv in the early 20th century.3 More recently, Harvard Ukrainian Studies published a special issue on Ukrainian modernism to mark the centenary of the Ukrainian revolution, with several important contributions on art, theater, and literature.4 Into this cautiously resurgent environment have come three valuable books, each focusing on different aspects of cultural production in the early Soviet period in Ukraine: Myroslav Shkandrij’s Avant-Garde Art in Ukraine, 1910–1930: Contested Memory focuses on visual arts; Mayhill Fowler’s Beau-Monde on Empire’s Edge: State and Stage in Soviet Ukraine deals with theater; and Olena Palko’s Making Ukraine Soviet: Literature and Cultural Politics under Lenin and Stalin charts the literary landscape.

The pioneer of modernism studies in Ukraine, Solomiia Pavlychko, wrote in 1997 that, at first glance, it may seem that there could have been no such thing as modernism in Ukraine after the first few years of the 20th century: where Ukraine had been at least peripheral to European cultural processes before the establishment of Bolshevik power, afterward it became increasingly isolated; moreover, Stalinist modernization was superficial, lacking key elements of Western modernization, and thus the conditions were hardly ripe for a developed cultural modernist discourse. Yet as her Dyskurs modernizmu v ukrainśkii literaturi demonstrated, if the postrevolutionary period is “read at a slower pace,” we can observe “the existence of cultural dialogue, or several dialogues, a polyphony of ideas, a successful search for new forms.”5 The three books considered here represent precisely this type of “slower,” more careful consideration of an often-unperceived cultural richness. Indeed, as Pavlychko puts it:

Modernism in the West emerged as the art of disillusionment and pessimism, as the processing of the crisis of the breaking of the foundations of life and most of all of the humanist values on which post-Renaissance European civilization had been built. Few countries in the world in the early 20th century could compete with Soviet Ukraine in terms of the scale of inhumanity and, thus, the potential for disillusionment in [End Page 390] the ideals of progress, humanism, and rationality. Grounds for alienation and the dissolution of personality were considerable, although pessimism as a philosophy was soon placed under political prohibition.6

Pavlychko’s underlining of the peripheral and, paradoxically, therefore privileged position that allows Ukrainian culture to critique modernity and engage in modernism chimes with Maria Todorova’s recent assessment of the specific nature of modernism in Eastern Europe. Citing Perry Anderson and others who have argued for the importance of geopolitical margins in understanding modernism, Todorova states that “modernism is not in the core, but always in the periphery, and [those scholars] speak of the modernism of underdevelopment, where culture is one form through which one can belong if one is excluded from modernity. This certainly is very relevant to Eastern Europe, the first and closest periphery to the…

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