June 2021

Devin Fore: Soviet Organizational Science: Aleksandr Rodchenko and Platon Kerzhentsev

The Dividual

Devin Fore’s talk “Soviet Organizational Science: Aleksandr Rodchenko and Platon Kerzhentsev” was delivered at the scholars’ panel “The Russian Avant-Garde: Scholars Respond” on February 8, 2017, as part of the exhibition “A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde” at the Museum of Modern Art. It is worth mentioning the titles of these in detail to emphasize the difference in meaning when framing the centennial events around the Russian, the Soviet, or the Bolshevik revolution. It is hard to see MoMA’s decision to territorialize and make ethnic and national the Communist revolution of the Bolsheviks (which was anything but any of those things) as simply an honest mistake, as it aligns with a century of anti-Communism. This makes the presentations in this panel by Fore, Masha Chlenova, Maria Gough, Christina Kiaer, and Kristin Romberg even more impressive, as these scholars undermine the anti-Soviet premise of the invitation.

In his paper, Fore focuses on Platon Kerzhentsev (1881–1940) and the brighter side of his career. (It is unclear whether it was he or Stalin himself who wrote the scathing review of Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in Pravda, which influenced Walter Benjamin to write “The Storyteller” on Nikolai Leskov, but Kerzhentsev was responsible for the destruction of some prominent careers, including those of Mikhail Bulgakov and Vsevolod Meyerhold.) Among other things, Kerzhentsev initiated bureaucratic invitations (the introduction of a montage-like archival card system of juxtapositions made him a sort of “Eisenstein of administration”) and published programmatic essays. His 1924 book Principles of Organization includes diagrams that provide a template for a scale between the individual and collective. Each way of organizing highlights tendencies and capacities that assume different articulations; therefore, collective accomplishments depend on the social system and group configurations into which the individual is placed. “Self is always a multitude, the individual dividual,” Fore states to describe the attitude of the cultural revolutionaries of the Proletkult. Paving the way for the shock work of the first five-year plan, a complete self with a bourgeois ego psychology had to be replaced by an “inventory of selves that were maximally discontinuous and conflicted.” Revolutionary society, with its associations and organizations, expanded the opportunities for “organizational interface,” which in turn produced discontinuous selfhood—the dividual.

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