Alexander Vvedensky: An Invitation For Me To Think (Paperback)
Alexander Vvedensky, co-founder with the poet Daniil Kharms of OBERIU, a small avant-garde collective in late-1920s Soviet Leningrad, is the least known of major Russian twentieth-century poets. He stands apart like a dark star in a constellation that includes Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Pasternak, Tsvetaeva, Mayakovsky, and Khlebnikov. Younger than these poets by a decade, Vvedensky came of age under the Soviet system, when the language used to describe reality appeared to have lost all literal meaning. He saw his task to be “the poetic critique of reason” and claimed “time, death, and God” as his main themes. His poetry is suffused with a philosophical lyricism that recalls the ending of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. It can also get quite hilarious: the author had a day job as a children’s writer. After incarceration from 1931 to 1933 for “literary sabotage,” Vvedensky kept his poetry private, sharing it only with Kharms and others in their tiny underground circle of writers and philosophers. When war broke out in 1941, the authorities rearrested the pair as potential subversives: Kharms died in a prison asylum and Vvedensky in a prison transport. Both were only thirty-seven years old. Their manuscripts were published during the collapse of the Soviet Union, half a century after the deaths of the authors; An Invitation for Me to Think is Vvedensky’s first collection to appear in English.
About the Author
Alexander Vvedensky (1904–1941) was born into the liberal intelligentsia of St. Petersburg and grew up in the midst of war and revolution, reaching artistic maturity just as Stalin consolidated control over Russia. After attending a progressive high school, Vvedensky spent a year working at the State Institute of Artistic Culture (GINKhUK) as a researcher in a lab devoted to Futurist abstract poetry. Along with Daniil Kharms, he then became a major figure in the short-lived underground avant-garde group OBERIU (a neologism for “the union for real art”). Unable to publish his poetry—by the 1930s there was no tolerance in the USSR for work of such shimmering invention and provocation—Vvedensky made a living as a writer of children’s literature. In 1931 he was arrested for his so-called counterrevolutionary literary activities, interrogated, and sentenced to three years of internal exile. He was detained again in 1941, and on February 2 he died of pleurisy on a prison train, leaving behind his wife and four-year-old son. Though much of Vvedensky’s work has been lost, what remains has established him as one
of the most influential Russian poets of the twentieth century.
Eugene Ostashevsky is the author of the poetry collections The Life and Opinions of DJ Spinoza and Iterature, both published by Ugly Duckling Presse. He is the editor of OBERIU: An Anthology of Russian Absurdism, the first collection of writings by Vvedensky and friends in English translation. Ostashevsky teaches in the liberal studies program at New York University.
Matvei Yankelevich is the author of the poetry collection Alpha Donut (United Artists Books) and a novella in fragments, Boris by the Sea (Octopus Books). His translations of Daniil Kharms were collected in Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms (Overlook/Ardis). He edits the Eastern European Poets Series at Ugly Duckling Presse.
Praise for Alexander Vvedensky: An Invitation For Me To Think…
“Unlike the Symbolists, his aim is neither to create an aesthetic paradise nor to suggest or build a bridge to another world—Vvedensky’s is an aesthetics of martyred aesthetics, of not knowing, of the defeat of ‘poetry’ in the service of truth.... His poetic sensibility combines the Russian Symbolist concern for transcendence, God, and ‘other worlds,’ with the Futurist orientation toward syntactical and semantic deformations that draw attention to the artifices of language.” — Thomas Epstein, The New Arcadia Review
Praise for OBERiU: An Anthology of Russian Absurdism, edited by Eugene Ostashevsky:
"Vvedensky’s poems sear.... Ruminations on faith and loss abound, but there are few
more churning, lacerating and willfully beautiful works in Eastern literature than
the prose poem “Frother,” in which three sons hover and cavort around their dying
father, trying to ascertain the meaning of a mysterious word and a mysterious truth."—The Nation
"[OBERIU] mounted a challenge in the late 1920s and 30s to 'worldly logic' by questioning and confusing the most basic categories through which the world may be rendered coherent and transformed into narrative. They did so by writing subversive poems and stories, while 'trusting in neither thoughts nor words' (Alexander Vvedensky). They practised a kind of silence through words, wearing various comic masks while pointing to inexpressible realities." —The Times Literary Supplement
"The work of Oberiu is as relevant to our moment as when it was written." —The Believer
"It's about time . . . the Oberiu . . . became a household name like the Surrealists, Dadaists and all the rest." —The Brooklyn Rail
"Oberiu is as relevant today as ever." —Bookforum
"For anyone intersted in Soviet literature, this book fills an enormous gap. It also presents some beautiful, heartbreaking poetry." —PW Annex
"Highly recommended. All readers, all levels." —CHOICE
Praise for Vvedensky's The Gray Notebook, published by Ugly Duckling Presse:
"These poems do what solid poems should. They stand against time." — Peter Moysaenko, bomblog
General praise regarding the movement Vvedensky started (OBERIU):
"The OBERIU writers are a revelation, an aspect of Russian modernism in the early Soviet period that has been largely invisible to readers in English.” —Robert Hass
“OBERIU, sometimes called Russia's last avant-garde, is one of the most intriguing--and little known--movements of the years before World War II. The absurdist poets at its center—Alexander Vvedensky, Daniil Kharms, and Nikolai Zabolotsky—belonged to the first generation of writers to come of age after the October Revolution . . . Less interested in coining neologisms than in destroying the protocols of semantic coherence and linguistic realism, these poets have produced a series of inventive, free-wheeling, and often hilarious poetic texts in a variety of forms and genres.” —Marjorie Perloff