Culture as Organization
in Early Soviet Thought
Bogdanov, Eisenstein, and the Proletkult
John Biggart, Vesa Oittinen, Giulia Rispoli, Maja Soboleva.
This anthology sheds new light upon historical and contemporary tangential points between early systems thinking and the arts in Russia during the first decades of the twentieth century. It focuses on two thinkers: the filmmaker Sergei M. Eisenstein and the systems theorist Aleksandr A. Bogdanov.
The original "Spherical Book" was a visionary pre-hypertextual conception of Sergei Eisenstein. The form of the anthology depends upon the unique perspective created by your selection of themes.
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Welcome to explore with us the paths of filmmaker Sergei M. Eisenstein and the systems theorist Aleksandr A. Bogdanov, two pioneers in their own fields.
Read Editorial Introduction.
We are a multidisciplinary group of thinkers. Learn more about us.
This anthology "Culture as Organization in Early Soviet Thought" brings together a group of film researchers, historians, political scientists and systems scientists to discuss historical and contemporary tangential points between the sciences and the arts in Russia during the first decades of the twentieth century. All chapters provide new insights into linkages between the arts, philosophy and other disciplines during this period. Tangential points between early Russian systems thinking and approaches to montage that were being developed within the film community are examined in detail. The contributing authors focus on two thinkers: the filmmaker, Sergei M. Eisenstein and the systems theorist, Aleksandr A. Bogdanov.
In the early years of his career as a theatre and film director, Eisenstein worked within the Proletkult, a cross-disciplinary movement the objective of which was to create a new 'proletarian culture' by fostering the values of 'collectivism' through tuition on literature, theatre, the graphic arts and the sciences. Bogdanov, an economist, culturologist and physician was the principal founder of this movement. Bogdanov delivered regular lectures in the Proletkult and in other educational institutions in which he expounded his tektological ideas of organization as universal mechanisms in nature, society and thought. At one time the closest collaborator of Vladimir I. Lenin, Bogdanov soon became his most feared rival, and his systemic ideas were fated to vanish from Soviet history until their re-discovery in the 1980s.
Most of the papers in this anthology were delivered to an international art and science conference "Tangential Points" organized at the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture in 2014. This scholarly meeting was convened to reflect upon apparent similarities between the systemic thinking of Eisenstein and Bogdanov, as hypothesized in the book Enactive Cinema: Simulatorium Eisensteinense (Tikka 2008). This work, in turn, was grounded in publications that had introduced Bogdanov's systemic thinking to the English speaking world in the 1980s and later. These works are listed in the references of many of the chapters.
The principal inspiration for the conference, however, came from the work of the author of The Origins and Development of Systems Thinking in the Soviet Union (1982), the Finnish scholar Ilmari Susiluoto (1947 – 2016), to whom this anthology is dedicated.
By taking the work of Eisenstein and Bogdanov as case studies we were able to search for tangential points between early systems thinking and the creative arts at a level beyond mere generalization. Oksana Bulgakowa invites the reader to follow her on an expedition into Eisenstein's systems thinking: Eisenstein rejected linear logic and seeked for forms of a hypertext that in his eyes were closer to the associative, spherical, and labyrinthine thought structures, ideas that to date have only found expression in modernist art experiments. In John Biggart's "Sociology of Arts" one learns how Bogdanov integrated the arts into his general theory of the evolution of social formations. Jutta Scherrer analyzes the historical genesis of Bogdanov's conception of proletarian culture. The concern of Maja Soboleva is Bogdanov's theoretical understanding of culture and its tektological foundations. The chapter by Vesa Oittinen opens a window upon the theoretical dispute between Bogdanov and Lenin, between the 'Machian' and the 'orthodox Marxist' and highlights the centrality of Kantian 'things-in-themselves' (Ding an sich) to this dispute.
Peter Dudley discusses the Proletkult as an adaptive systemic environment, created for supporting the self-organization of the proletariat for radical social change. Giulia Rispoli joins the cohort of systemic thinkers in the anthology: referring to biological, ecological and cognitive levels of cybernetic organization, she highlights the contemporary relevance of Bogdanov's tektological polymorphic idea of the environment and of knowledge creation. According to Simona Poustilnik, Bogdanov's tektological conceptions of 'personality-organization' and 'assembling' provided Soviet Constructivists with a scientiﬁc rationale for their 'production art'. Fabian Tompsett describes the impact of Bogdanov and Otto Neurath upon the German Figurative Constructivists and points to the relevance of his tektological ideas to political-art movements in the age of digitized information.
Among the specific issues addressed is the extent to which Eisenstein's theoretical work on montage systems was influenced by the systemic thinking of Bogdanov.
Daniela Steila applies metaphors of photography and cinema to explain the difference between the views of human perception represented by Lenin and Bogdanov, enabling us to detect traces of Bogdanov's systemic ideas in the thinking of Eisenstein. Lyubov Bugaeva identifies further potential linkages between the two main subjects of this anthology, in a chapter which investigates the relations between Bogdanov's notions of the affectional, Eisenstein's theory of expressiveness, and the emotional script as conceived by Eisenstein and realized by Rzheshevskiy.
Some answers are offered to those who might ask what role the Proletkult movement played in the careers of the two. John Biggart and Oksana Bulgakowa examine aspects of how both Bogdanov and Eisenstein challenged traditional modes of thought, integrating modern thinking into their respective disciplines. In different ways this brought about the expulsion of both from the Proletkult movement.
As a feature of the anthology, we offer original translations of texts by Eisenstein and Bogdanov. Bogdanov's "Science and the working class" (1918), translated by Fabian Tompsett comprises fourteen 'Theses' for a lecture delivered by Bogdanov to the First All-Russian Conference of the Proletkult in 1918. "An open letter to A. Bogdanov" by Franz Siewert (1921), translated by Fabian Tompsett, brings to life one critical response to Bogdanov's concept of 'Proletarian art', as expressed by a contemporary.
Two texts by Eisenstein enable the reader to grasp Eisenstein's original writing style, a style that resembles a line of thought captured on the fly and passed down to us in textual form. Introduced by Oksana Bulgakowa and John Biggart, Eisenstein's "Cinema of the masses" (1927), translated by Richard Abraham, offers a comprehensive and popular explanation of what Eisenstein understood to be his original contribution to the art of ﬁlm. A few months before his death, Eisenstein recapitulated in "The Magic of Art" (1947) translated by Julia Vassilieva, several of the key themes that recur throughout his theoretical output. Bogdanov, like Eisenstein, was aware of the power of art to influence the thinking of the proletariat. James D. White examines the philosophical dimension of Bogdanov's utopian novel Red Star, drawing attention to themes that appear in his more avowedly theoretical works. Red Star was written in order to familiarize workers with Bogdanov's understanding of the 'culture of the future': it is made clear that this culture would entail an assimilation and mastery of Bogdanov's 'organization science'. Indeed, Bogdanov's thinking in the field of organization science evolved and matured at the very time that he articulated his utopian vision in the form of a novel.
The reader might ask, how far are these early systemic ideas present in the media art theories of the present day? Clea von Chamier-Waite's practice-based chapter leads the reader from the rhythmic montage pioneered by Eisenstein and the Soviet avant-garde cinema of the 1920s, to the present day and to her conception of somatic montage for immersive cinema, experienced through the navigation of a four-dimensional cinematic space - a Sphere.
The "Spherical Book" was a visionary invention by Eisenstein of a new book form that anticipated hypertext. Whereas in the traditional book form articles were read sequentially, following a linear narrative, the content of the "Spherical Book", as Eisenstein called it, was to be perceived as a whole, instantaneously, with essays arranged in clusters, each oriented in different direction but circling around a common theme.
Our implementation of this idea enables the readers make their own book-montages by emphasizing the themes that are, for them, most important. In response, the Spherical Book algorithm will organize all chapters into a cluster around the chosen themes.
The interactive "Spherical Book" platform provides readers and authors with a platform for creating, sharing, and cultivating a multiplicity of perspectives around a variety of themes. By prioritizing amongst a multitude of themes, readers may download and print a "Spherical Book" that is in accordance with their thematic preferences. With open access online, the "Spherical Book" platform enables the reader to adopt a unique point-of-view, and to reorganize the material of the Book whenever preferences change.
Pia Tikka (Editor-in-Chief)
John Biggart, Vesa Oittinen, Giulia Rispoli, and Maja Soboleva (Editorial Board)
The work has been supported by The Federation of Finnish Learned Societies, Aleksanteri Institute at the University of Helsinki, and NeuroCine research project at the Department of Film, Television and Scenography and the Department of Media at the School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Aalto University, Finland.
General Editor: Pia Tikka
Editorial Board: John Biggart, Vesa Oittinen, Giulia Rispoli, Maja Soboleva.
Spherical Book, Tangential Points Publication Series (Aalto University 2016)
The book is inspired and dedicated to Ilmari Susiluoto (-2016) and his career as a Finnish political scientist, professor at the University of Helsinki, senior advisor at the Foreign Ministry of Finland since 1982, an expert in Russian and Soviet history, politics and society, and an author of a number of books in this area.
John Biggart (MA, BLitt, PhD) studied Russian and French at the University of Glasgow, and History in the University’s Institute of Europe and Asia Studies. He taught the history of Russia, of Poland and of the Czechs and Slovaks in the School of History of the University of East Anglia until 2000, when he diversified into technical assistance for public administration reform in the Russian Federation. He is the co-editor with Eric Homberger, of John Reed and the Russian Revolution: Uncollected Articles, Letters and Speeches on Russia, 1917-1920 (St.Martins, 1992); with Georgii D. Gloveli and Avraham Yassour, of Bogdanov and His Work. A Guide to the published and unpublished works of Alexander A. Bogdanov (Malinovsky) 1873-1928 (Ashgate, 1998); and with Peter Dudley and Francis King, of Alexander Bogdanov and the Origins of Systems Thinking in Russia (Ashgate, 1998). He is currently working on a financial history of Bolshevism; an anthology of Bogdanov’s works; and on the propaganda theory of the cell-biologist, Pavlovian, “Taylorist”, and founder-member of the Smena vekh circle, Sergey Stepanovich Chakhotin (1883-1973)- see: this page
Oksana Bulgakowa, Professor of Film Studies at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mayans, published several books on Russian and German cinema (Sergei Eisenstein: Three Utopias. Architectural drafts for a Film Theory, 1996; FEKS – The Factory of Eccentric Actors, 1997; The Adventures of Doctor Mabuse in the Country of Bolsheviks, 1995; The White Rectangle. Kazimir Malevitch on Film, 1997 (English Edition 2002); Sergej Eisenstein. A Biography. German Edition 1998; English edition 2003;Factory of Gestures, Moscow 2005; Soviet Hearing Eye: Film and its Senses, Moscow 2010; Resonance-Space: The Voice and The Media, Berlin, 2012), directed films (Stalin – a Mosfilmproduction, 1993; The Girl who kissed Stalin, SR, 1995; The Different Faces of Sergei Eisenstein, 1998), curated exhibits (film section of an exhibit Moscow – Berlin, Berlin – Moscow 1900-1950; Eisenstein’s Mexican Drawings, Antwerp 2009) and developed multimedia projects (a website The Visual Universe of Sergei Eisenstein, Daniel Langlois-Foundation, Montreal, 2005; DVD „Factory of Gestures. On Body Language in Film”, Stanford Humanities Lab, 2008). She taught at the Humboldt University and Free University, Berlin, Stanford, UC Berkeley and the International Film School in Cologne. In 2012-2012 she received a Fellowship at the Stanford Humanities Center and is working on the book Voice and Traces of Time: Russian Archive of Vocal Memory.
Lyubov Bugaeva is Dr. Hab., Associate Professor at St. Petersburg State University, Russia. She is the founder of the Kinotext Group in St. Petersburg, the author of Literature and rite de passage (St. Petersburg, 2010) and of more than 150 articles (in Russian and English), and co-editor of Ent-Grenzen: Intellektuelle Emigration in der russischen Kultur des 20. Jahrhunderts (Frankfurt am Main, 2006). She is a member of the editorial board of the “International Journal of Cultural Research”, “Human Affairs”, “Pragmatism Today”, and COLLeGIUM. Fields of Research: film studies, literary theory, cognitive narratology, embodied cognition, and philosophical anthropology.
Peter Dudley is a freelance academic and management consultant. He holds a PhD in Management Systems and Sciences (cybernetics) from the University of Hull, and is a visiting fellow of the University of Manchester Business School (MBS) and an associate of the York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA). Peter was the editor and team leader of the group that brought the first complete translation of Bogdanov’s Tektology, Book One, into English, as part of his collaboration with the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute for Systems Analysis, and continues to integrate ideas from the Tektology into his current work.
Vesa Oittinen is currently Professor of Russian Philosophy and Intellectual History at the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki. His dissertation was on structuralist and post-structuralist interpretations of Spinoza (1994). He has published mainly on the history of philosophy (Spinoza, classical German philosophy and Scandinavian history of ideas), Russian and Soviet thought and Marxism. Latest publications: Dialectics of the Ideal. Evald Ilyenkov and Creative Soviet Marxism (together with Alex Levant), Brill 2015; Activity Approach in Late Soviet Philosophy (together with Andrey Maidansky, Brill 2016. Vesa Oittinen is also the editor of the anthology Aleksandr Bogdanov Revisited (Helsinki: Kikimora 2009).
Simona Poustilnik, PhD, studied History of Science at the Institute for the History of Science and Technology, Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. Her PhD Thesis : Biological ideas of A.A.Bogdanov’s Tektology: To Genesis of General Systems Theory, Her main research interests are in the history of 20th-century Russian science, particularly, systems theory, evolutionary theory and Bolshevistic science. Her special interest is Bogdanov’s Tektology, Russian Darwinism and development of proletarian science during the first post revolutionary decades. She works at Communicaid, London, UK, member of the British Society for the History of Science and the Authors and Publicists International Association (APIA)
Giulia Rispoli is a postdoctoral fellow at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. She also collaborates with the Philosophy Department of the University of Rome "La Sapienza" where she earned her Ph.D in History and Philosophy of Science (2015). Before moving to the Muséum, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre Alexander Koyrè in Paris. Moreover, she has been visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, at The Centre for Complex Systems Analysis of the University of York (UK) and at the National University of Science and Technology in Moscow. Giulia has extensively worked on the history of systems thinking and cybernetics, especially as applied to global ecology and evolutionary theories. Her current research deals with the history of Biosphere studies and the development of global environmental governance during the second half of the 20th century.
Jutta Scherrer is Director of research at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris since 1980. She is teaching Russian history and is particularly engaged with analysis of socio-cultural, philosophical and political phenomena of the 19th and 20th centuries. She has published extensively on Russian intelligentsia, Russian Marxism, Russian orthodoxy and religious philosophy. Her more recent research deals with identity construction in post-Soviet Russia, historical memory and « politics of history ». She is member of the scientific council of the Institute for the Study of Eastern Europe in Leipzig (GWZO), of the German Historical Museum in Berlin and the German-Russian Museum in Berlin-Karlshorst.
Maja Soboleva studied chemistry in St. Petersburg and philosophy in St. Petersburg, Erlangen and Marburg. She received a doctor’s degree in chemistry in 1992, a PhD in philosophy in 2000, and habilitated in philosophy 2005. In 2008/09 she was the Mildred Miller Fort Visiting Scholar in European Studies at Columbus State University (USA). 2010 she rehabilitated in the Philipps-University of Marburg. Since 2007 she was a lecturer and research associate in the Philipps-University of Marburg (Germany). In 2013 she has won a visiting fellowship award in Russian and Eastern European studies from the Aleksanteri Institute in Helsinki (Finland). Now she is professor of theoretical philosophy at the University of Klagenfurt (Austria).
Daniela Steila is Professor of History of Russian Philosophy at the University of Turin (Italy). She studied in Turin, Saint Petersburg, and Paris, and received her PhD at the University of Florence in 1991. She wrote on Russian Marxists (Plekhanov, Bogdanov, Gor’kij, Lunacharskij), Russian reception of empiriocriticism, Russian philosophical historiography, the philosophical implications of L. S. Vygotskij’s thought, Merab Mamardashvili and Aleksandr Zinov’ev. Her research interests include the interactions between Russian and European philosophies since the 19th century, the quest for “Russian identity”, and the history of Russian and Soviet thought. Among her books are Genesis and Development of Plekhanov’s Theory of Knowledge (Kluwer, 1991) and Scienza e rivoluzione (Le Lettere, 1996), recently translated into Russian (Nauka i revoljucija, Akademicheskij Proekt 2013).
Pia Tikka, PhD, filmmaker, has directed features Daughters of Yemanjá (Brazil-Finland 1996),Sand Bride (Finland 1998), and worked in international film productions. The author of Enactive Cinema: Simulatorium Eisensteinense (2008), Enactive Cinema project Obsession (2005) awarded with Möbius Prix Nordic prize, and co-author of interactive film-game Third Woman exhibited in Galapagos Art Space, NY (2011), she is also a founding member of research project Enactive Media (2009-2011), Aalto University Finland. Currently, Tikka is affiliated in the Aalto School of Arts, Design and Architecture and holds a Title of Adjunct Professor in University of Lapland. Her research team NeuroCine combines filmmaking practice with the methods of neuroimaging in order to study neural basis of cinematic creativity.
Fabian Tompsett has been active as a publisher and translator of Left Communist texts through such publishers as Rising Free, Unpopular Books and Transgressions: A Journal of Urban Exploration since the 1970s. He combined the roles of printer – publisher – distributer/bookseller in the pre-internet age, but is now active on the internet, particularly with Wikipedia. The success of this vernacular encyclopaedia led him to research earlier approaches to encyclopaedism, focusing in particular on Bogdanov's Workers' Encyclopaedia and Neurath's International Encyclopaedia of the Unified Sciences. He was thus well-prepared when he discovered he was approaching the German Left Communist movement, albeit from a new perspective. This work complements previous research he has done as regards Asger Jorn, looked at in terms of the conjugation of Art, Science and Politics.
Clea von Chamier-Waite is an intermedia-artist, scholar, and experimental filmmaker whose somatic, cinematic works explore proprioception through immersion, stereoscopy, somatic montage, interactivity, and sensual interfaces — as well as one inter-species collaboration with several hundred spiders. Her research investigates the correlations between art and science with projects focusing on particle physics, astronomy, climate change, water ecology, and the history of science — as juxtaposed with mythology, poetry, literature, and pop culture. She has been a Humboldt Fellow, a Radcliffe Institute Fellow, and a fellow at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne. She was Professor of Digital and Artistic Montage at the Academy of Film and Television Babelsberg. She graduated from the MIT Media Laboratory and is currently an Annenberg Fellow at USC pursuing her PhD in Media Arts and Practice.
James D. White is Professor Emeritus at the University of Glasgow. Formerly a member of the Department of Central and East European Studies at Glasgow University, he taught Russian and Soviet History. He has published on various aspects of the history of the Russian Revolution and the revolutionary movement in Russia in such journals as Soviet Studies, Studies in Soviet Thought, Revolutionary Russia, Europe-Asia Studies and Voprosy filosofii He is author of The Russian Revolution, 1917-1921: A Short History (Routledge, 1994), Karl Marx and the Intellectual Origins of Dialectical Materialism (Palgrave Macmillan, 1996) and Lenin: The Practice and Theory of Revolution (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002). He is currently working on an intellectual biography of Alexander Bogdanov and a history of Marxism in Russia.
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