Conceptualism in Literature

The principles of conceptualism were manifested in Russian literature as well. The stereotypes that the Soviet ideology constantly “bombarded” consciousness of people with were revealed in conceptualists’ poetry, which was made emphatically detached, insensible, and mechanized. M. Epstein, the researcher of postmodernism in Russia, considers the creativity of conceptualist poets as one of the two main poles of modern poetry: “Time breaks up into extremes to reach its potential … In poetry of every era there is struggle of convention vs certainty, play vs gravity, reflection vs integrity… In the 1970s the same opposition giving dynamics and intensity to poetry, was finding new forms: metarealism vs conceptualism.

… Distinctions between new poets are defined by how much ideas and realities are blended in their creativity. …. Metareality is the limit of their unity, whereas concept is the edge of their contraposition… They carry out two necessary and complementary tasks: peel habitual, false, jaded meanings from words and impregnate them with new polysemy and deep meaning. The verbal fabric of conceptualism is careless, artly defective, and broken into pieces, since the task of this movement is to show the decay and senile helplessness of the dictionary that we comprehend the world with. 

Metarealism looks for the higher limits of meaningfulness, immersion of an object into meaning, eternal themes and archetypes. Conceptualism, on the contrary, pinpoints ostensibility of any axiological denominations, and therefore is defiantly attached to the current, the momentary, daily round and the lowest forms of culture, to mass consciousness”. (M. Epstein. Postmodernism in Russia).
Development of Conceptualism in Russia was a predicted and natural phenomenon. The Socialist Realism was creating plethora of defective images illustrating overvalued ideas, which turned to be “the fueler” of Conceptualism.

M. Epstein writes: “… Conceptualism does not argue with incendiary ideas, but inflates them to such an extent that they blow out… Any weapon was powerless against the Gorgon Medusa, who struck her opponents ideologically, so to speak – with her look from distance; the one who in the old manner attacked her with his sword, suddenly froze on the spot. There was one way out: not to look directly in the monster’s eyes, but approach it while looking at its reflection in the mirror… Mirroring shield is a reliable weapon against the Gorgons of the 20th century: to double the mighty opponent and win over it with the charms of its own image. Modern Conceptualism is a smart weapon of Perseus in the battle against modern Gorgons …”

Conceptualists deal with concepts – jaded language and visual clichés – which are invariable weapons of totalitarian ideologies. The concept is an idea or abstract concept, a peculiar label to reality that it does not meet, and thus causes alienating, ironical or grotesque effect with this incongruity. Concepts as they appear in texts by the poets Prigov and Rubenstein are reflected images of injured consciousness, which plays with them and thus nullifies them.

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