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Ornamentation is the body of our thought

Elena Vogman

Dynamography, or Andrei Bely’s Rhythmic Gesture

Published: 11.12.2017

The experience of the Russian Revolution transformed both the perception and the epistemic notion of time. It challenged artistic and scientific modes of production with the invention of new models of temporality. Nonlinear, morphological, and materialist models of time seemed to correspond more precisely to the irruptive event of the revolution. These echoed more the new political constellation than a historicist or purely philosophical notion of a homogeneous time as a condition a priori to any experience. New theories in art and science were inspired by alternative methods of time mediation, such as Marey’s chronophotography, Wölfflin’s comparative Bildgeschichte (image history), Nikolai Marr’s paleontological linguistics, or Pettigrew’s morphological museology.

An experimental poetic and visual approach was undertaken by the Symbolist poet, writer, theorist, and mathematician Andrei Bely. His modernist novel Petersburg, written between 1911 and 1918, is often compared to Joyce’s Ulysses or Musil’s Man Without Qualities. For over five hundred pages it deals with two days in the year 1905, providing a close-up of a temporality affected by the revolutionary consciousness of the epoch. The philosopher Gilles Deleuze compared Bely’s topological approach of time to the archeology of Michel Foucault:

“Foucault is not only an archivist in the manner of Gogol, or a cartographer in the manner of Chekhov, but a topologist in the manner of Bely in his great novel Petersburg, which uses this cortical folding in order to convert outside and inside: in a second space the industry of the town and of the brain are merely the obverse of one another.”1

Later, associating this archaeological time- model with cinema, Deleuze writes about Bely’s “method of critical hypnosis,” wherein all kinds of paranoid inversions serve a sensuous diagnosis of the political:

“Andrei Bely’s great novel Petersburg […] is based on what Bely calls ‘the biology of shadows’ and ‘the cerebral game.’ With Bely, the city and the brain are in topological contact […] a continuum is continuously produced between visceral organic states, political states of society and meteorological states of the world.”2

Producing such equivalents between disparate orders, Bely not only inverted the spatial perspectives of inside and outside, of geography and psyche, but also endangered the linear progression of time through hybrid interrelations, creating heterotopic states and provoking temporal hiatuses, dream-like repetitions, and anachronisms. Bely’s lesser-known experimental activities are paradigmatic of this approach, in which he successively unfolds an...

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Elena Vogman

Elena Vogman

is a graduate Student in General and Comparative Literature with a project on: »Sensorial Thinking. Sergej Eisenstein’s Metod as a Project Towards a New Order of Knowledge«. She is a PhD-fellow of the Research Training Centre »Visibility and Visualisation. Hybrid Forms of Pictorial Knowledge« at the University of Potsdam and at the Cluster of excellence: »Languages of Emotion« at Freie Universität Berlin. Her research interest focuses on forms of visual thinking, practices of montage, interrelation between literature, art and science. She studied General and Comparative Literature, Journalism and Communication in Berlin, »Littérature française et comparée« and  »Lettres, Arts, Pensée Contemporaine« in Paris.

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