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An excerpt from Russian Cosmism by Boris Groys

Biocosmist Poetics

Alexander Svyatogor

Prologue, or The First Step

We have important tasks ahead of us, and this is why we are overturning current beliefs and ideas. The future is already indebted to us in our struggle to overcome prejudices. For us, deference simply doesn’t exist and the majesty of natural necessity doesn’t impress us one jot. The current balance within the natural order is, in fact, our first and last enemy. Should we, like Judas, betray our existence to the power of necessity for the sake of a few silver coins, and the world, too—a bunch of flowers, whose scent we inhale?

Now let’s get down to the question of how to realize personal immortality!

It is time for us to dispense with the necessity of death and the balance that includes natural death. Every law is indeed only an expression of the temporary balance of particular powers. You have only to introduce new forces or remove some of the existing forces to destroy a given balance (harmony). If we set the forces of immortality in motion, then, even in the face of opposition, these forces will be able to destroy the balance that includes death, replacing it with immortality. Indeed, every life strives for immortality above all else.

Our agenda also includes “victory over space.” Let’s not refer to it as aeronautics—it is not enough—but rather space travel. Our Earth must become a spaceship steered by the wise will of the Biocosmist. It is a hor- rifying fact that from time immemorial the Earth has orbited the Sun, like a goat tethered to its shepherd. It’s time for us to instruct the Earth to take another course. In fact, it is also time to intervene in the course taken by other planets too. We should not remain mere spectators, but must play an active role in the life of the cosmos!

Our third task is the resurrection of the dead. What concerns us here is the immortality of the individual in the fullness of his spiritual and physi- cal powers. The resurrection of the dead involves the full reconstruction of those who are already dead and buried. That said, the quagmire of religion or mysticism is not for us. We are too grounded for that and are in fact in the process of waging war on religion and mysticism.

These are, then, our Biocosmist ideas. Biocosmism is, undoubtedly, extremely daring. But everything great or audacious is offensive to others and we can already detect a vague but obvious aversion to it, since Biocosmism denigrates every idea and every ideology. But we are optimists, not madmen. Madmen are those who want to make men free and excellent without recourse to Biocosmism. They resemble Robespierre, who wanted to make mankind happy but ended with the idea to destroy it. Every idyll that promises “happiness on Earth” without Biocosmism is the most harmful of illusions and is at the root of the most monstrous tyranny.

Supremely important tasks lie before us. But do we really look as sanctimonious and dour as monks or dictators? No, we have an altogether different psyche. We feel extremely unpretentious and happy as we travel along the path of Biocosmism, in this respect surpassing even Aristippus of Cyrene, the happiest of men. We are creating Biocosmism like a little boy who merrily rolls his hoop along, singing. We are realizing immortality joyfully, happily, smilingly, beckoned by the cemeteries and ready to go to the docks where the Biocosmist ships are waiting for us.

We are creators. We have already founded a “Creatorium of Biocosmists.” Ignoramuses think that “creatorium” sounds like “crematorium,” and they are probably right. Indeed, we need to incinerate an awful lot—if not every- thing. Biocosmism is the start of a totally new era. All previous history, from the emergence of organic life on Earth to the massive upheavals of the past few years, constitutes one age: the age of death and petty deeds. We are in the process of embarking on a new age—the age of immortality and infinity.

And what about our aesthetics?

Our aesthetics does not stem from observation and the registering and analysis of already-existing forms. In spite of its importance, descriptive aesthetics cannot also be prescriptive. All its attempts in this direction con- stitute an ill-founded departure from its essential domain and a usurpation of rights that do not belong to it. Indeed, it is impossible to define what is desired or might be by establishing what actually is.

Our essential ideas concerning style derive from the Biocosmist ideal. It is our method and the criterion of our analysis. We cannot accept the aesthetics of the symbolists or futurists, not only because they are obsolete and out of date but because we have our own criteria. We don’t want to fall into any philological or stylistic mousetrap: Potebnya, Veselovsky, Pogodin, or others like them do not interest us. Rather than historical or psychological aesthetics, teleological aesthetics is of central importance to us. We care even less about today’s semiliterate compositions than we care about the old prejudices.

There is also the question of form and content. What should come first and which is more important? We cannot say that content means everything and form nothing. Attaching meaning to form alone betrays a lack of elementary scientific and philosophical education. Idea is immanent to form, but form is not always equivalent to it. Form often contradicts the idea, and the idea may have more than one form. But this isn’t the point. We aren’t really interested in the age-old debate (about form and content) from the era of German idealism, which is trotted out all too readily nowadays. We have an entirely new axiom.

It’s not a question of the primacy of form or content, but of my attitude to ward them. What we are concerned with here is the proud independence of creativity.

And what about our style?

Our style does not start from an isolated word, even if it is artistically defined, but from series of words. Instead of individual words, series of words are of central importance to us—not so much etymologically as syntactically. And, for this reason, creating these word series involves various combinations of their constituent elements.

We do not create images, but organisms. The image of a word is based on external visual perception, on surface. An image is only an impression, only a description, and is therefore inadequate. Images that do not occur in combination only equal chaos. A sound creative path passes from image to series. For the poet, making the image of paramount importance is tantamount to taking a step backward rather than forward. The series is the beginning of the cosmos. We are not bearers of images, but creators of series.

Do we really scorn words or are they all the same to us? Some words are dead, there is a glimmer of life in others; but only rarely do we find words that are really rosy-cheeked. We love words with a degree of punch and breathe life into dead ones. But the resurrection of words is not a matter of revealing the original image; rather, it lies in the skillful choice of prefixes and suffixes. We are also interested in the various guises words can assume; we are attracted to words with the ability to transform themselves, like werewolves or people at a masked ball.

The word escapes its original meaning, breaks away and puts on a mask. In fact, the word is like a mask: it comes to life in a series of words, and the more ingenious the series, the more expressive the words. A series makes words more colorful, emphatic, elastic, and varied. The creator’s artistic will forces words in a series to take on a different role. Words in a series are form that changes its scope and content, with the very same word ending up in different layers. In a series, words play, as though with balls, with what is concrete. The creation of series of words represents the transformation and resurrection of words.

We are, in fact, pregnant with new words. Thus, we are able to intuit the exclamation uttered by a man as he rises from his tomb. A million exclama- tions are waiting for us on Mars, as well as on other planets. We believe that these Biocosmist exclamations (in the broad sense of the word) will give rise to a Biocosmist language, shared by the whole world and the entire cosmos. (It goes without saying that this isn’t Esperanto, which is noth- ing but a pointless joke. The language of barbarians is of an immeasurably higher order, since it is organic). We believe that the expressive quality of verbs is the most important thing. Should we really limit ourselves to the indefinite mood, like the futurists? We are too concrete, too contemporary for that, and with four moods, even we have too few. Tens and hundreds of moods are still too few! We need a mood for the cosmos and a mood for immortality!

Our style begins with the series. The series is either straight or curved, and is traced by the movement of the creative spirit. But it does not really equate to meter. Meter is an external scheme, and the Biocosmist spirit is by no means restricted by it. The Biocosmist spirit traces another sort of scheme altogether. As poets, we have in mind series composed to accord with the rhythm of Biocosmism, which is teleological, to be in tune with its movement, intonation, expression, weight, tempo, and temperature. We are hostile to any given linguistic stabilization in language. We need a new syntax built around the parallelism, intersections, and parabolism of Biocosmist series. We need sentences created to accord with geometric principles. Grammar is, after all, only failed mathematics. We are determined to become the Lobachevskies of grammar!

We are series creators, but as far as we are concerned, series are only living cells for organisms to create. The artistic organism is our ultimate goal. It is not only an aggregate of series, but also a living whole in which particular parts cooperate with others. Apart from its content and the content it acquires according to its position within the series, a word in a series is fertilized and blossoms forth as a more complex organism—through the weight of the whole artistic organism. All the characteristic attributes of a series can be completely understood and interpreted only within this con- text, within the artistic organism. The latter pulsates and breathes, smiles and laughs like the most perfect creation. It represents our supreme goal and deepest meaning.

Death is tireless. It devotes every second to its vile task: the execution of living creatures. A poet—a Biocosmist poet, that is—is both an activist and a singer in a band in revolt against death and the dictatorship of space. A Biocosmist poet creates his living organisms on the subjects of immortality, space travel, and the resurrection of the dead. How can he become an idolater when he destroys every temple and altar? Should he wade through a mire of petty deeds, sit out office hours, or trade in trinkets when he should be tearing half-witted brains apart in order to sow the seeds of Biocosmism within them? How can he saunter peaceably along with his eyes shut when he should, in fact, be armed to the teeth with telescopes? Should he nod off whimpering miserably when he is being summoned by the supreme creation of which no creator, no enthusiastic brain, has as yet even dreamed?

As Biocosmists, we are united in our movement. But as comrades, we agree chiefly on what constitutes our great aim. Each one of us has his own individual path. In Biocosmism alone is the creator able to reveal his own personal depth. For me, this involves the restructuring of types that have come down to us over millennia (through adaptation), namely, types of animal. Types of animal are superior to types of man. Thus, it was more appropriate for a deity to be portrayed as an animal, rather than as a man. A god personified as an animal is superior to a god with a human form, with Apis being superior to Jesus. Central among beasts, the Rooster represents Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts. It comes as no surprise, then, that Socrates’s last words contained a reference to a Rooster. The Horse is also great as is shown in my poem “Gospel According to the Mare,” which is superior to the Gospel according to John. For man there is no greater praise than being likened to a horse. So, in “Yeruslan Lazarevich,” we find “Ivashko, the gray horse.” I introduce my collection of poems Stallion (1919) as follows:

Zikeev, my friend and chestnut horse,
Into your manger I pour these little rhymes
In token of the times
We spent whinnying together
Accompanied by the snickers
Of coarse pygmy ninnies.
No less great is the intuitive sage, the Dog:
... And what of Bergson? As blind as a bat,
His philosophy’s nothing but rot.
My advice, then, is “learn from the Dog.” Indeed he is known to be wise.
For him is the bag of secrets untied, Mysterious and undefined.
Turn to the dog for a lesson,
Free, gratis, and for nothing.
Down on all fours then,
And let out a bark.
Or, the image of the Pig, spat on and despised: Is not the pregnant Pig
A marvelous phenomenon?
Her udder’s as tender and pink
As the vessel of dawn ...
...
... And is not her udder a cup,
Bright like the stars and celestial?
Whether down or up
Her udder’s pink and perpetual.

Note that the duplication device characteristic of Biocosmist organisms is being used here. This is an example from the poem “Moon”:

... And only now,
With a different yeast
In a different dough
Did he see
The ball of the Earth as small and much too narrow, That the spirit on the Biocosmist path ...

Suffice it to say that the series of words offered here reflect eternity (lines 1 and 4). They can be limited to a single sound and multiplied infinitely.

The richness of series of words depends primarily on the individual talent of the creator, in whom sprachgefühl is highly developed. Our goal is beyond the confines of language, but for the time being we are allowing Biocosmist language to remain within current linguistic boundaries. We are, however, already in the process of creating series of words as a cosmic leap—a leap into immortality, with series of words, as linguistic leaps, constituting a departure from language as we know it.

In conclusion to this prologue, I think that, unfortunately, vulgarization is unavoidable in Biocosmism. Corrupted by theoreticians of “proletarian art,” inferior poets with no dignity or integrity are appropriating our great ideas and distorting them. It is true that, for the purposes of Biocosmist propaganda, such rhymesters are not entirely useless, treating “syllables as soldiers—fit for muster.” But ... in a word, the gates of “Biocosmist Creatoria” are open to all, and to become a Biocosmist poet, one needs an honest, original, and exceptional talent.

Translated by Caroline Rees

Notes

1. The isolated word or “The Word as Such” (samovitoe slovo/“slovo kak takovoe”) is Velimir Khlebnikov’s conceptualization of poetic language, as expressed in the eponymous publication from 1913, coauthored with Kruchenykh and illustrated by Kasimir Malevich and Olga Rozanova. Khlebnikov conceived of “the word” as neces- sarily unconstrained and opposed to its ordinary, purposeful, and universal usage. He did this by experimenting with Russian as well as other Slavic languages whose roots it shares, through sound symbolism arising from the Cyrillic alphabet and its letters, as well as a profuse invention of neologisms.—Ed.

2. It is worth noting here that Svyatogor referred to himself as “the Rooster of Revolution.” See George M. Young, The Russian Cosmists (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 197.—Trans.

3. Zikeev was also a Biocosmist. He is mentioned by George M. Young as being a “now forgotten figure.” Young, The Russian Cosmists, 198–199.—Trans.

4. The quote used by Svyatogor here is from Pushkin’s poem “Domik v Kolomne.” The translation is by Antony Wood, from a collection of translations of Pushkin’s verse forthcoming from Penguin.—Trans.