Accepted Paper:

Performing Public Poetry: Enchantment for the Future in Russia  


Petra Rethmann (McMaster University)

Paper short abstract:

I build on public poetry readings in Moscow to think about the meaning of aesthetic attunements for a self-identified political and activist anthropology. I argue that it behooves such an anthropology to pay heed to the sensual dimensions of art to produce positive political orientations.

Paper long abstract:

In the last few years in Moscow I've participated in a number of public poetry readings, many of which were performed by those who identify with Russia's "new left." In building on a reading of revolutionary Victor Serge's poetry by Kirill Medvedev, an experimental and political poet who identifies with Russia's "new sincerity" movement, I am interested in the ways in which public poetry readings produce enchantment, by which I mean art's capacity to create particular atmospheres and moods. In Russian public poetry readings, enchantment emerges not solely as an aesthetic affect immanent to a given poetic text, but also through the sensory appreciation of Serge's poetry and words: for example, through the rhythmic flow and cadences of Medvedev's reading.

What does this mean for anthropology, especially for an anthropology that conceives of itself as a form of public and critical intervention? For anthropologists schooled in methods of critique (problematizing, revealing, subverting, and unmasking), positing public poetry readings as a form of meaningful politics can seem strange. The practice appears easily as too aesthetic, as too toothless than to be imbued with real political power. In drawing on Russian artistic traditions, especially as they were developed in the mid-1920s by artists Arvatov and Rodchenko, as well as multispecies approaches suggested by Latour and others, I argue that it would behoove a self-identified political anthropology to pay heed to the sensual dimensions of art to produce "affectively [constructive] attunements."

Panel P019
Art (and anthropology) beyond materiality and representation