Imaginism


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Imaginism

 

a literary group in Russia in the 1920’s.

The imaginists’ first declaration (the journal Sirena, published in Voronezh, 1919, nos. 4–5; the newspaper Sovetskaia strana, no. 3, Feb. 10, 1919, Moscow) was signed by the poets S. Esenin, R. Ivnev, A. Mariengof, and V. Shershenevich and the artists B. Erdman and G. Iakulov; the poets A. Kusikov and I. Gruzinov joined later. The Imazhinisty Publishing House published more than 20 small books written by group members; they also published the journal Gostinitsa dlia puteshestvuiu-shchikh vprekrasnom (Inn for Travellers in the Beautiful; 1922— 24,4 issues). Common in the programs of the imaginists was criticism of post-October-Revolution futurism (its social and journalistic themes and the abstraction of slogan vocabulary) and the insistence on imagery in poetic speech. However, in practice and in its interpretation of the nature of imagery, imaginism is highly diverse. Esenin stands out particularly; he came into the group with his own already formed program (Maria’s Keys, 1918). He oriented his poetry toward the natural imagery (“organic figurativeness”) of the Russian language, the national element, and folk literature. The chief adherents of imaginism, Shershenevich and Mariengof, on the other hand, believed poetry was to be based on artificiality (the construction and combination of images), contrasting it to the reality of life; it was no mere chance that their creative work retained the influence of early futurism.

In the imaginist program the “image as such” and the “rhyth-mics of images” became established as the primary virtue of poetic art. The image was reduced primarily to the “imagery” of the individualword (sometimes to counterbalance its “notionality”) and to comparison, metaphor, and a metaphorical series. The “small images” as ends in themselves and the flaunting of the trope, the poetic association, and the montage were all accompanied in imaginist poetry (and theory) by quick transitions from one image to another and, most importantly, by the cataloging of images not reducible to a single mood or integrating idea. The imaginist program strove toward the creation of form and “art for art’s sake.”

The announcement of intention by the leaders of imaginism propagated antagonism between art and the state. The imaginists’ slogans and their public statements were noted for their intentional insolence and garishness, which evoked harsh criticism from A. V. Lunacharskii. In imaginist poetry itself there was expressed first and foremost an attitude of disagreement with social reality—decadence, loneliness, melancholy, and at the same time bohemian buffoonery and even scandalousness and the perception (for Mariengof) of revolution as bloody anarchy. As early as 1921, Esenin wrote “My brothers have no feeling for the motherland in the broadest sense of the word…. Therefore they love this dissonance, which they have imbibed with its stifling fumes of jesting grimaces just for the sake of the grimace” (Life and Art, 1921, Sobr. soch., vol. 5, 1962, p. 61).

In 1924, Esenin, with whom the renown of imaginism was associated, announced (in a letter to Pravda, August 31) that he was leaving the group, which led to its virtual disintegration (although it existed formally until 1927). The most illustrative specimens of imaginist criticism were Shershenevich’s 2x2 = 5, Mariengof’s Buian Island: Imaginism, and Gruzinov’s Basics of Imaginism and of poetry, Mariengof’s Reality and Blind Legs and Shershenevich’s Horse as Horse. Esenin’s narrative poem The Mare’s Ships is a unique example of imaginist poetics.

REFERENCES

Ermilova, E. V. “Liricheskoe ‘ia’ v poezii realizma i modernizma: Esenin i imazhinisty.” In the collection Kriticheskii realizm 20 v. i modernizm. Moscow, 1967.
Sovetskoe literaturovedenie i kritika: Bibliograficheskii ukazateV. Moscow, 1966. Pages 222–23.

A. E. TROITSYNA

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