Monday, June 9, 2008

Velimir Khlebnikov

The Russian Futurist poet Khlebinkov was known by his friends to have been pathologically careless with his own manuscripts: Mayakovsky described how he had a habit of filling a pillow case full of papers, and then losing it. Even his great 'Incantation by Laughter' was rumoured to have been salvaged from the floor by his friend David Burliuk.
Moreover, Raymond Cooke has described how for Khlebnikov, the act of burning books or manuscripts evolved into a complex, but usually anti-authoritarian, gesture. In the comic poem ‘Malusha’s Granddaughter’ he calls for a ‘joyous fire’ to be made from the books which are tormenting young people like ‘fierce chains of penance’ - “thus does he characterize Marxist literature” wrote the critic Boris Yakolev in his attack New World (1948). Nor did he just attack Marxist writers like Kautsky and Bebel, but a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a historian, a medical bacteriologist, and so on: the line is ‘vse gorite! / Ogney slovami - govorite!’ (which Cooke translates as: ‘ all burn away! In words of fire - have your say!’
The ritual burning of books turned into something of a particular theme for Khlebnikov. In ‘Conversation Between Two’ (1913) a brief attack on Immanuel Kant turns into a more general call for book burning: “I long for a great bonfire of books. Yellow sparks, rapid fire, translucent ash which disintegrates when touched or even breathed upon, ash on which it is still possible to make out individual lines, words of boasting or arrogance, - all this is transformed into a black, beautiful flower, illuminated by fire from within, grown from the book of people, as the flowers of nature grow from the book of the earth.”
Raymond Cooke, Velimir Khlebnikov: A critical study (Cambridge University Press, 1987)

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