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I'll admit than when I first read Sezgin's introduction a year ago, I reacted against his use of trending concepts in the Art World ("contemporaneity", "conjuncture", "event" etc) and that old standby for mealymouthed mulchers of stale theory, "hegemony". I advised purchasers to rip out the writings from 1924 and 1925 to read, pages conveniently printed on different paperstock. Thus they'd have in hand something truly special and pristine, overturning a century of lies and garbage: Mayakovsky and the Formalists registering their stunned enthusiasm for Lenin's language and politics in the year he died. Throw Sezgin's introduction and Darko Suvin's afterword in the garbage, I cried. But ... I read the introduction again just the other day and feel more, um, sympathetic. Now.
Enthusiastic, even! In fact, Sezgin Boynik has invented new pointy prose in lineage of Marxist discourse! Slow down, folks, you can't skim read what he says because it's knobbly with detail and replete with unfamiliar ideas. Good value, like a P-Funk album. I loved Marco Maurizi's I Was a Teenage Critical Theorist: Zappa, Nagai, Romero (2007) for the way Marco's keen politics, subcultural suss and weird Italian-English slashed new paths through the nettles and briars of institutional cultural studies. Like Jean-Paul Gaultier on Eurotrash, Marco's "wrong" English allowed him to coin internationalist abruptions which exploded Anglo-American hegemony (oops). Sezgin's lingo does the same. He's a Turkish-speaking Kosovan who grew up in Tito's Yugoslavia, hated its break-up into warring states and NATO's bombs, and - bright kid - learned English and international artspeak, spent a significant year in London, published a book on Punk Rock Nihilism in Istanbul, and now runs an imprint in Helsinki named after the mating call of the adult male Mallard, Rab-Rab. Unusually, uniquely (?) he's used this platform, not to spray us with the usual postmodern liquid manure, but to issue hard fast undeniable rebuttals to the idiocies regularly applauded in elite circles. He stabs the authorities in the eye having studied his sources better than they, and to read him it's high-quality gladiatorial watchtime. Watch him box Laclau-Mouffe into a corner! Slay Marjorie Perloff! Diss Boris Groys! Appreciate Craig Brandist! It's a joy to behold. Also, although he's got a bit better at it now, Sezgin doesn't really get the Englander use of "the" and "a", so his prose often comes on like Gru in Despicable Me. His Serbo-Croat coinages makes me "burst laughing", as Tony Cliff used to say. And we're gonna be taught Marxism by this inconvenient hybrid heretic? Yes indeed, ladies'n'gentlemen.
Sezgin understands Lenin as a New Thing, as shocking as Albert Ayler to jazz or J. H. Prynne to poetry (as shocking as Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali to boxing, as Anthony Davies explains it). Lenin cannot be reduced to Marx because, in opposing war in 1914, he broke with all the leading "Marxists" of his time. Telling the truth to the masses was entirely his game, and I have to declare - following Sezgin - that this is in fact the only game worth pursuing in our too short, sordid, pestilential lives (or did I say "lies"?). Leading Russian art theorist Boris Groys is kicked out the window since his account of Lenin omits the greatest thing about his revolution, and the real reason the capitalist moneymakers still can't stand him: it stopped a war, and brought the troops home to build a new society. Academics reduce avantgarde artists in 20s Russia to their own paltry stature, fondly believing that they were pursuing careers; Sezgin reveals that October 1917 gave them a complete and absolute shock: a network of activists previously underground - that's genuinely ignored and underground, i.e. illegal - had seized state power. The Futurists' nihilism towards bourgeois culture suddenly had a rationale, their fierce critique could now become a basis for productive labours ...
The Marxism which developed in Russia in the early twentieth century was uncompromised. It answered questions rather than perpetuating problems and paradoxes like its sad "theoretical" echo today. Read Vernadsky on the biosphers, Volosinov on linguistics, Pashukanis on the law, Lenin on war ... and you get clarity, not fuddle and baloney. The field is cleared for action.
Sezgin describes Lenin's politics as: "strange amalgam of commitment to the revolution, contempt of bourgeois culture, conspiratorial skills to avoid police imprisonment, thirst for learning, unlimited trust in the legitimacy of people's struggles, and genuine internationalism" (p. 85). This describes actually-existing traits and conditions rather than viewing everything through the "lens" of modish abstractions like race, gender and class - which are so broad and clumsy any marketeer can manipulate them to their advantage. Sezgin allows facts to build his theory, reality holds no fears for him, his prose is bracing.
He says: "There is an absence of recognisable patterns that could provide a shortcut, or a means of extracting the real form of Lenin." (p. 85). Lenin's politics did not derive from a concept - that is how religions proceed - but from necessity (Sezgin's sentence is also a good description of integrity in musical construction after Schoenberg, Coltrane and Zappa abandoned templates).
There's an absolutely superb refutation of Halina Stephan's account of the LEF writings on Lenin as "an attempt to secure legitimacy for the avantgarde" (p. 79). This is the myopia of the professional who cannot see beyond grant applications and academic posts, with no inkling of what might constitute a national crisis and a global drama. Any activist who reads Mayakovsky decrying marble busts of Lenin will - as Marx put it in one of his letters to his father - "weep hot tears" to discover such noble spirits were active a hundred years ago. The purely "political" interpretation of Lenin - politics perceived in the bourgeois manner as something done by politicians and reported by journalists - has diminished his reputation among radicals. By presenting these treatments of Lenin by critics working at the cutting edge of formal analysis of pertinent art, we get a Lenin even this Punk can understand. Thank you, Sezgin, for a truly beautiful volume, a wondrous block of heavy blue ... which, by the way, smells of paraffin. Snort this revolution, folks!
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