Speaker: Kevin Platt, University of Pennsylvania
A century ago this fall, the course of global history was transformed by the allied, twin forces of the October Revolution and a revolution of modernist art and literature. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed amid nearly universal consensus that the communist project had failed, at a moment when artists and philosophers were declaring the death of modernism in the new age of the postmodern. What was the meaning of the revolution as it was commemorated in 1927 in Sergei Eisenstein’s famous avant-garde film October, as artists and writers from across the world looked toward Moscow as the capital of world socialism? What was the meaning of avant-garde art and revolutionary politics forty years later, in 1967, when Yuri Gagarin had already become the first man in space and Marxist revolutions were playing out across the decolonizing world, yet when modernist art was viewed as a suspect western import by much of the Soviet cultural establishment and when western European leftists were still dealing with the shockwaves of revelations of Stalinist brutality? And what is the meaning of the revolution today, when Putin and his oligarchic regime is laboring to commemorate the October revolution, while fearing revolutions from its own people, and when Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot and other radical Russian artists are taking their own inspiration from the revolutionary avant-garde of the 1920s? This lecture will trace the legacy and remembrance of the Russian artistic and political revolutions of 1917 over the course of the past hundred years.