By Irina Sirotkina
Izd. Evropeiskogo universiteta v Sankt-Peterburge, 2014, 280 pages
There are few topics in Russian history more appealing and perplexing than the avant-garde efflorescence of the first three decades of the twentieth century. The appeal is obvious, and the reason why so many historians (primarily of art) have been driven to explain it: the poetry, painting, music, photography are all stunning, and shockingly generative even today. The perplexity comes next: how is one supposed to account for this flourishing, which corresponds only imprecisely with both the political revolutions in Russia and related modernist trends abroad? For every master narrative someone puts forth, the exceptions swallow the rule. If we are not going to have a single dominant explanation, therefore, we need as many — and as varied — narrative through-lines, guided paths that encompass some of the heterogeneity without striving to reduce it to a simplistic single cause.
It is in this spirit that Irina Sirotkina advances her new book, Shestoe chuvstvo avangard: Tanets, dvizhenie, kinesteziia v zhizni poetov i khudozhnikov (The Avant-garde’s Sixth Sense: Dance, Movement, Kinesthesia in the Life of Poets and Artists). The book is engagingly written and often revelatory, with many of its surprises stemming from the original approach: considering the avant-garde through the lens of an alternative epistemology. The choice of framing several through-lines around questions in the philosophy of knowledge seems natural to Sirotkina, who is one of the most talented historians of science writing in Russian today.
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