TALKS TUPI OR NOT TUPI Тупі трупи – Tupi trupy
de en

Тупі трупи – Tupi trupy

Тупий - tupyj – “stupid, dull” in Ukrainian, трупи – trupy – Ukrainian for “corpses”.

In his Anthropophagic Manifesto (1928), Oswald de Andrade called for European literature and culture to be metaphorically devoured in protest at Europe’s continued cultural dominance in Brazil. The manifesto clearly distinguishes between the colonised and the colonisers. Andrade juxtaposes the logos of European reason with “anthropophagic reason”, whereby body and spirit are combined. Andrade and his disciples were interested in a new form of art which would stage a resistance against the European values of the colonisers, at the same time as unapologetically embodying its own sensual values.

A decade earlier, the First World War had come to an end in Europe, resulting in the dissolution of the Habsburg, Russian and Ottoman Empires, and the emergence of many new states in their wake. War continued in Eastern Europe as Poland, Romania, Russia and a nascent Ukraine fought over the redistribution of their territories. With the Romanian invasion of Bukovina, the occupation of Galicia by Polish troops and the victory of the Bolsheviks, Ukraine’s territory was swallowed up by Romania, Poland and the newly founded Soviet Union. The efforts of the Ukrainian nationalist movement and its troops to create a sovereign Ukrainian state with space for an autonomous culture, identity and nation to develop had been in vain.

Everyday life was marked by the disintegration of institutions and a pervasive violence directed against a rotating cast of people as power continually changed hands, drawing in civilians without mercy.

Under these conditions of violence, dissolution and revolution, new avant-garde voices in war-torn Eastern Europe sought – just like Andrade in Brazil – to promote art and literature as a way to break down hierarchies and create a form of art which might encroach upon life. Vocal proponents of the Ukrainian avant-garde also called for confrontation with – and departure from – the practices of Russian colonialism.

The victory of the Bolsheviks prevented the creation of a sovereign Ukrainian state. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union was founded as a federation rather than a unitary state. Its constituent territories were supposed to largely mirror the ethnic composition of each area. Ukraine was thus allocated its own territory when the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was founded in 1922. This federalisation went hand in hand with the promotion of national cultures, not for their own sake, but rather as means of developing and expanding a supranational proletarian Soviet culture. As Martin Schulze Wessel argues in his book Der Fluch des Imperiums (‘The Curse of Empire’): “In 1920s Ukraine, this policy came up against a lively literary scene with a substantive rather than instrumental interest in developing its own national culture.”1

The empire therefore changed tack in pursuit of its original goals. During its existence as Tsarist Russia until 1917, it had assimilated most Ukrainian territories through military conquest under the auspices of an unfolding and unbridled Great Russian chauvinism. Publication bans and forced assimilation led to Ukrainian literature and culture being devoured almost entirely. The Bolsheviks, meanwhile, wanted to develop a homogenous proletarian Soviet culture. They regarded elements of national culture as remnants of the disintegrating bourgeois society which was destined to disappear with the emergence of the Soviet people and Soviet society. The dictates of Soviet proletarian culture (Proletkult) would ultimately prove to be just as devastating for Ukrainian national culture as the Great Russian chauvinism of the Tsarist Empire.

But the new nationality policy under the Bolsheviks did permit Ukraine a certain lassitude whereby efforts to engender aesthetic innovation, artistic intervention in everyday life, experimental language and soci(et)al goals could overlap, giving rise to a productive polyphony.

Territorial assimilation initially led to intellectual rebirth.

Proletarian Art: Panfuturism

The leading voice in the aesthetic renewal of Ukrainian art and literature was Mykhail Semenko (1892-1937). In 1914, he had already published the first Ukrainian futurist manifesto in the foreword to his poetry volume Derzannia (“Daring”), entitled ‘ja sam’ (“I alone”). Here, he polemicised against the Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861):

“…Oh, you make me terribly sad… I don’t want to talk to you. You raise your greasy Kobzar and say: Here is my art. Man, I’m embarrassed for you … You bring me debased ‘ideas’ about art and it makes me sick. Man, art is something, you haven’t even dreamt of. I want to tell you that where there is a cult, there is no art. And most importantly, it [art] doesn’t fear attack. Quite the contrary. It is strengthened when attacked. But you’ve latched onto your Kobzar, which smells of wagon grease and lard, and so think that your reference has killed it and there is no way to resurrect it.”2

In the early 1920s Semenko developed his theory of panfuturism, which drew a connection between artistic renewal and proletarian revolution. In his ‘Panfuturist Manifesto’, he no longer opposed traditional national art, but did distance himself from Western art. Rooted in the capitalist system, this art could not achieve renewal because it lacked the involvement of the proletariat. Semenko condensed his theory of panfuturism in the formula: facture = material + form + content. He elaborated on this as follows:

“The artistic process, the process of creation, has a dual character: it consists of an internal component (i.e. facture) and an external component (ideology). Ideology is the corrective element in art, guided by will, identical to the philosophy of the epoch (and not the content which is the theoretical basis for proletarian art promoted by theorists today). Which ideology can serve as a corrective in the transitional epoch on the way to communism? The proletarian one. The art of the transitional epoch must, therefore, be proletarian. The concept of facture is the synthesis of material plus form plus content. Each element of facture is derivative, dependent and not absolute. Content, material and form are relative qualities. The composite concept of ‘facture’ is absolute. Together with ideology, facture shapes what we consider to be art, which for the transitional epoch is proletarian futurism – panfuturism.”3

Semenko took the concept of class as a central category from the ideological framework of the Bolsheviks. He defined the proletariat as the sole supporter and essential precondition for the artistic renewal which would simultaneously drive the renewal of society. In his manifestos, Semenko exclusively focused on rejecting the West as Other, as a sign of disintegration and destruction, without explicitly addressing the Russian futurists. National belonging and emancipation were not relevant to him. Nor did he discuss practices of imperial hierarchisation.

Proletarian Art: Breaking free from Moscow

Unlike Mykhail Semenko, for whom aesthetic renewal in the form of proletarian art was central to his thinking, the writer and political and cultural activist Mykola Khvylovy (1893-1933) was interested in reviving the Ukrainian culture as a national one and raising the cultural and educational level of society as a whole. For him, pursuing this was inherent to the development of a socialist proletarian society. Khvylovy identified role models in Western Europe, not just in relation to cultural and literary development, but also with regard to the structuring of the nation state. He turned his back on Moscow and lamented the Russian sense of superiority which persisted despite a new nationality policy purportedly based on equality.

He also decried the pre-emptive obedience of many Ukrainians prepared to allow the continued dominance and leadership of Russian literature and culture. Khvylovy criticised Russian literature as a literature of suffering and passivity and described the dynamics in the national literatures of the countries belonging to the newly founded Soviet Union. He called for Ukrainian intellectuals to distance themselves from Russia and forge their own paths to creativity. The constitution of the All-Ukrainian Federation of Proletarian Writers and Artists co-founded by Khylovy stated: “The industrial proletariat in Ukraine is emerging from the continual influx of the rural population. Addressing this proletariat only in Russian would obstruct its cultural development, turning it into a sea of uncouth Ukrainian turncoats of low culture. In our workers’ and peasants’ state under the dictatorship of the proletariat, we find liberation from enforced Russification. This enables the proletarianized peasant to become a conscious, productive member of communist society.”4

Khylovy outlined his conception of Ukrainian proletarian literature in his pamphlet Ukraine or Little Russia? in which he advocated for Ukrainian writers to disengage from the Russian-speaking sphere and turn towards European literature. Khylovy vehemently defended the idea of having one’s own nation (modelled on the new states founded in Europe in the nineteenth century and after the First World War) and considered it an absolute imperative. To him, absorbing Russian culture risked counterrevolution. He vehemently criticised Russia’s continued pursuit of great power and argued that it ought to be destroyed: “Destroying Russian messianism would not only give a green light to the creativity express, in whose wake a true People’s Spring may begin, but also free the youth of Moscow from hundreds of years of superstitious belief in destiny as a great power.”5

Khylovy called for Ukrainian authors to reorient themselves, turning away from Russia and towards Europe. His polemic was encapsulated in the slogan Het’ vid Moskvy (“Away from Moscow!”) which would become legendary. It was redeployed to great effect by the democratic protest movements in Ukraine in both the 2000s and the 2020s.

Khylovy opposed the assumption that Ukrainian literature could only become truly international and proletarian when using Russian literature as a substrate. Such a view implied subordination, imitation and loss of originality. He polemicised against Russia’s attempts to maintain its old hegemony under the guise of internationalism and the development of a new proletarian literature: “[This is evident in] the statements that Ukrainian culture can only develop on the basis of Russian culture (how does one culture growing from another even work if all culture is supposedly rooted in the economy?), that “Russian is the language of Lenin”6 (why not the Mordvinic or Kyrgyz languages?), that Russian culture is the culture of the proletariat in Ukraine (so why do the statistics say that the simpler trades consist of double the Ukrainian proletariat compared to the Russian and Jewish combined?), that it is necessary to walk side by side with the Russians, that all peoples are brothers, and so on.”7

Khylovy recognised that the old mechanisms of colonialism had not withered away under the new relations of power, but instead continued to be deployed without a second thought.

mystectvo je pereżytok mynuloho. Pryvyd blukaje po Evropi -
Мистецтво є пережиток минулого. Привид блукає по Європі -
Art is a relic of the past. A spectre is haunting Europe -

pryvyd futuryzmu. Futuryzacija mystectva je zahybelmys-
привид футуризму. Футуризація мистецтва є загибель мис-
the spectre of futurism. The futurization of art is the demise of

tectva. Panfuturyzm je likvidacija mystectva. Smertmystectva.
тецтва. Панфутуризм є ліквідація мистецтва. Смерть мистецтва.
art. Panfuturism is the liquidation of art. The death of art.

Qaj żyve panfuturyzm! Pohlybl’ujuxy revol’uciju v mystectvi,
Хай живе панфутуризм! Поглиблюючи революцію в мистецтві,
Long live panfuturism! By embedding revolution in art,

panfuturyzm hotuje grunt dlja konstrukciji. Konstrukcija
панфутуризм готує грунт для конструкції. Конструкція
panfuturism prepares the ground for construction. The construction of

metamystectvo. Metamystectvo je syntez deformovanoho my-
метамистецтво. Метамистецтво є синтез деформованого ми-
meta-art. Meta-art is the synthesis of deformed a-

tectva zi sportom. Proletars’koho mystectva ne może buty, bo
тецтва зі спортом. Пролетарського мистецтва не може бути, бо
rt and sport. There can be no proletarian art because the

proletariat je rasa majbutn’oho, v majbutn’omu ż nemaje miscja
пролетаріат є раса майбутнього, в майбутньому ж немає місця
proletariat is the future race, and the future holds no space for

mystectvu. Todi bude metamystectvo, a zaraz – panfuturyzm – prodovżenn’ja futuryzmu
мистецтву. Тоді буде метамистецтво, а зараз – панфутуризм – продовження футурузму
art. Meta-art will emerge, now there is panfuturism, the continuation of futurism,

mystectvo pereqodovoji doby. Qaj żyve metamystectvo – „mystectvo“ komunistyxnoho
мистецтво переходової доби. Хай живе метамистецтво – „мистецтво“ комуністичного
art of the transitional epoch. Long live meta-art, the “art” of communist

suspil’stva! Qaj żyve panfuturyzm – bojovyj frontmajbutniq metamystciv! Geo Wku
суспільства! Хай живе панфутуризм – бойовий фронт майбутніх метамистців! Ґео Шку
society! Long live panfuturism – the front line for the meta-artists of the future! Geo Shku

rupij, Myqail‘ Semenko, Julian Wpol, Oleksa Slisarenko, M. Irxan, Mark Terewxenko
рупій, Михайль Семенко, Юліан Шпол, Олекса Слісаренко, М. Ірчан, Марк Терещенко
rupii, Mykhail Semenko, Yulian Shpol, Oleksa Slisarenko, M. Irchan, Mark Tereshchenko8

Combining Latin letters with Ukrainian pronunciation created a new order of signs and signification which broke away from previous writing conventions and attempted to forge new connections between signs, graphic representation and sound. This originality served to reject both the traditional Latin and Cyrillic alphabets.

The new nationality policy introduced by the Bolsheviks also heralded the promotion of national languages. Until 1917, a restrictive language policy had prevailed, under which publications in national languages were largely forbidden. In Ukraine, this paradigm shift bolstered a movement towards linguistic emancipation that had already begun around the turn of the century. It became fashionable to write in Ukrainian, and given its linguistic closeness, native Russian speakers also felt compelled to write in Ukrainian, even if they did not have a perfect command of the language. This also included leading figures of the Russian avant-garde like Alexander Bogomazov/Oleksandr Bohomazov and Kazimir Malevich. Their written Ukrainian was not flawless. Bohomazow, for example, wove Russian words into Ukrainian texts like “заказчик” instead of “замовник” (“client”), mangled the spelling of Ukrainian words which sounded identical to Russian ones, e.g. “діскусія” instead of “дискусія” (“discussion”), ignored deviating word formation patterns: “волевий” instead of “воловий” (“will”) and deployed grammatical constructions that do not occur in Ukrainian, such as present participles.

Some avant-gardists used the permeability of the languages to write bilingual poetry, including the Russian constructivist Ilya Selvinsky and the Russian poet and co-founder of the ego-futurist movement Vasilisk Gnedov.

But some Russian authors regarded this turn towards Ukrainian as a sign of an intensifying nationalism which might undermine the proletarian revolution, and wrote of Ukrainian in derogatory terms. As Maxim Gorky wrote in response to Oleksa Slisarenko’s request to translate his novel Mother into Ukrainian: “Dear Alexei Alexandrovich, […] I do not believe that a translation into Ukrainian dialect is necessary. I find it surprising that people who share in the very same goals not only emphasise idiomatic differences, but also attempt to turn a dialect into a ‘language’, and further humiliate the Great Russians who are in the minority in the region of that vernacular.”9

This is a striking example of the deliberate continuation of colonial practices under the auspices of a new ideology.

The liberalised language policy had an impact not only on literature, but also expanded the use of other national languages like Polish and Yiddish in Ukraine. The author Majk Johansen (1895-1937) had a Baltic German father and a Ukrainian mother and could claim German, Russian and Ukrainian as his native languages. In the late 1920s, he took several trips as a journalist around southern Ukraine, visiting the Jewish colonies in 1928. As a linguist, he had a strong interest in the languages spoken there by autochthonous and migrant groups alike. On their command of Russian, he wrote: “Russian is spoken in a form that textbooks label ‘The Esperanto of Lokhvytsia and Odesa’. I have noted the following words: «вопрос» (“question”) (here everyone thinks that all issues are a «вопрос» in Russian), «на сегодняшній день» (“at present”), «создавшее положеніе» (“the resulting situation”), «плюс к етому» (“in addition”), «почему я должен страдать» (“why should I suffer?”), «спрашівається» (“the question arises”), as well as two or three more expressions which the Chair of the Committee of Unwealthy Peasants – a hunter and fisherman – took to mean that the Jews and Ukrainians around Nikopol speak Russian.”10

Johansen noted these Russian expressions using Ukrainian orthography to indicate that these speakers were not at all fluent in Russian, and merely wove the few words they happened to pick up into Yiddish and Ukrainian without altering the pronunciation.

This multilingual reality did not just reflect the permeability of the languages, but also indicated the intense forms of exchange that occurred across all areas of life and art during the 1920s. At least for a time, the constructed hierarchy of languages under which Russian was favoured while Ukrainian was dismissed as a dialect melted away. The diversity of the resulting texts shows that writers had a strong urge to experiment and were open to the creative opportunities provided by these two closely intertwined languages.

Mychail Semenko

Mykola Chwyljowyj

Majk Johansen

Assimilation or death

Unlike in Brazil, everyday life for those in the eastern European territories during the 1920s was marred by constant violence and despotism. This daily experience left a clear mark on language, and not only during the war. In his Futurist Manifesto (1909),11 Marinetti had already deployed an aggressive, militaristic style which would later be taken up by the Ukrainian futurists.

Many Ukrainian futurist manifestos featured imagery of war and battle. Metaphors like enemy, struggle, corpse and death were pervasive, as in Geo Shkurupii’s ‘Marinetti’s Manifesto and Panfuturism’12 and Semenko’s telegram to Mayakovsky:

Moscow, to Vladimir Mayakovsky – Futurist.

It’s all a dead end. How can we go on? Save yourself, Mayakovsky. Get out. Art is a living corpse. Deal a fatal blow. Long live panfuturism which shall liquidate art! Long live meta-art, the synthesis of art and sport! Panfuturism is the active liquidation of art – that is, special panfuturism (revolution, destruction, futurization). Panfuturism is the creation of a meta-art, an after-art of the future – that is, general panfuturism (construction, communist development). Kamenski = Balmont = dead. Khlebnikov, the others – looking for the fourth dimension = necromancers and chiromancers = anachronism. Mayakovsky is panfuturist or dead. There is a way out. The choice is yours. Answer by telegram. Mykhail Semenko – Panfuturist.

Kiew, Proresnaja/Prorisna, 16-I.13

The war had subjected language to its violent authority. And not long after, this violence would rear its head in reality too.

When the Moscow leadership noticed that the colonised intended to use their freedoms to achieve decolonisation and national emancipation, it returned to the tried and tested tools of enforced conformity and oppression. On 23 April 1932,14 the Central Committee of the Communist Party decreed that all artistic associations would be dissolved: artistic freedom had come to an end. The Party forced socialist realism onto artists in its place. In the ensuing wave of arrests and repression, artists in the republics of the Soviet Union faced accusations of nationalism. Mykola Khylovy died by suicide in 1933. Mykhail Semenko was arrested and shot dead in 1937, like countless other Ukrainian authors. The colonisers came back with force: the metaphors of death came back to life.


©Friedhelm Albrecht, Universität Tübingen

Claudia Dathe, born in 1971, studied translation (Russian, Polish) and business administration in Leipzig, Pyatigorsk (Russia) and Krakow. After working abroad for several years in Kazakhstan and Ukraine, she has worked as a literary translator and cultural manager since 2005. She translates literature from Russian and Ukrainian, including works by Andrei Kurkov, Serhiy Zhadan, Ostap Slyvynsky and Yevgenia Belorusez. In 2020, she was awarded the International Literature Prize together with Yevgenia Belorusez for the book "Glückliche Fälle" and in 2021 she was awarded the Drahomán Prize for the translation of Serhij Zhadan's poetry collection "Antenna" and the novel "Märchen aus meinem Luftschutzkeller".

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