The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and Beyond
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From the ruins of communism, Boris Groys emerges to provoke our interest in the aesthetic goals pursued with such catastrophic consequences by its founders. Interpreting totalitarian art and literature in the context of cultural history, this brilliant essay likens totalitarian aims to the modernists’ goal of producing world-transformative art. In this new edition, Groys revisits the debate that the book has stimulated since its first publication.
a break with the past but as an act of activation of revolutionary traditions and visions of the future that were stored in mankind’s cultural memory—and had to be rendered actual and productive. That is why Socialist Realism found the approval of the Communist Party apparatus. For the theorists of Socialist Realism, the vision of the future completely purged of cultural traditions seemed simply impoverished, too one-dimensional, too restrictive, prohibitive and repressive. The transition from
and “made them strange” by deautomatizing perception and rendering them “visible” in a special way was no longer merely the basis of avant-garde art but an explanation of the Russian citizen’s everyday experience. In this unique historical situation the Russian avant-garde perceived not only an undeniable confirmation of its theoretical constructs and aesthetic intuition, but also a singular opportunity for translating them into reality. A majority of avant-garde artists and writers immediately
are many artists and projects and only one can be realized, a choice must be made; this decision is in turn not merely artistic but political, since the entire organization of social life is dependent upon it. Consequently, in the early years of Soviet power the avant-garde not only aspired to the political realization of its artistic projects on the practical level, but also formulated a specific type of aesthetico-political discourse in which each decision bearing on the artistic construction
but as models of a new world, a laboratory for developing a unitary plan for conquering the material that was the world. Hence their love of heterogeneous materials and the great variety of their projects, which embraced the most diverse aspects of human activity and attempted to unify them according to a single artistic principle. The constructivists were convinced that it was they and they alone who were destined to undertake the aesthetico political organization of the country, for although
intimate interrelationship of politics and aesthetics, impressing upon the party the complete opposition between the two currents in art—on the one hand, bourgeois, traditional, counterrevolutionary mimetic art; on the other, the new proletarian revolutionary aesthetics proposing that communism be built as a total work of art that would organize life itself according to a unitary plan. More and more insistently, the artists, poets, writers, and journalists of the avant-garde merged aesthetic and