Futurism was Russia's first avant-garde movement. Gatecrashing the Russian public sphere in the early twentieth century, the movement called for the destruction of everything old, so that the past could not hinder the creation of a new, modern society. Over the next two decades, the protagonists of Russian Futurism pursued their goal of modernizing human experience through radical art. The success of this mission has long been the subject of scholarly debate. Critics have often characterized Russian Futurism as an expression of utopian daydreaming by young artists who were unrealistic in their visions of Soviet society and naïve in their comprehension of the Bolshevik political agenda.
In The Futurist Files: Avant-Garde, Politics, and Ideology in Russia, 1905–1930
(Northern Illinois University Press, 2018), Iva Glisic
challenges this view, demonstrating that Futurism took a calculated and systematic approach to its contemporary socio-political reality. This approach ultimately allowed Russia's Futurists to devise a unique artistic practice that would later become an integral element of the distinctly Soviet cultural paradigm. Drawing upon a unique combination of archival materials and employing a theoretical framework inspired by the works of philosophers such as Lewis Mumford, Karl Mannheim, Ernst Bloch, Fred Polak, and Slavoj Žižek, The Futurist Files
presents Futurists not as blinded idealists, but rather as active and judicious participants in the larger project of building a modern Soviet consciousness. This fascinating study ultimately stands as a reminder that while radical ideas are often dismissed as utopian, and impossible, they did―and can―have a critical role in driving social change. It will be of interest to art historians, cultural historians, and scholars and students of Russian history.
Aaron Weinacht is Professor of History at the University of Montana Western, in Dillon, MT. He teaches courses on Russian and Soviet History, World History, and Philosophy of History. His research interests include the sociological theorist Philip Rieff and the influence of Russian nihilism on American libertarianism.