From Movement to Consciousness: Tectonics, Reflexology, and Biomechanics in Soviet Avant-garde Film Theory

Mon, Apr 2, 2018, 12:00 pm
161 Louis A. Simpson Building

Lunch time talk by Ana Hedberg Olenina, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Media Studies at Arizona State University.

As per Karl Marx’s dictum, the material conditions of life and the prevalent mode of production determine consciousness. Taking this pronouncement as a call to action, the Soviet avant-garde artists attempted to revolutionize their fellow citizens’ worldview by creating a new kind of material culture, one that encouraged a pro-active attitude towards labor and challenged habitual schemes of perception. Filmmakers of the 1920s contributed to this experiment by structuring novel sensory experiences geared towards transforming the spectators’ consciousness. In this paper, I will analyze the theoretical foundation of this program by tracing its links to Aleksandr Bogdanov’s empiriomonism and tectonics, Vladimir Bekhterev’s reflexology and energitism, and Nikolai Bernshtein’s biomechanics and psychotechnics of labor efficiency. I argue that by highlighting the role of movement for the brain’s ability to know and master the environment, these authors paved the way for the utopian discourse on remodeling the New Soviet Man’s daily habits on a sensori-motor level. I further trace elements of this discourse in films and essays by Lev Kuleshov, Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, and Abram Room, with a special attention to their conceptions of movement articulated in relation to such issues as optimizing the actors’ performance,  adapting film form for effective conveyance of movement, imparting new models of bodily behavior, and triggering kinesthetic empathy in the viewers.  


Ana Hedberg Olenina is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Media Studies at Arizona State University. Her main research focus is the Soviet avant-garde, and her broader interests lie at the juncture of early film history and media theory, with an emphasis on historical configurations of sensory experience, emotional response, embodiment, and immersive environments. Dr. Hedberg Olenina is currently finalising her monograph, entitled Psychomotor Aesthetics: Movement and Affect in Russian and American Modernity. Her essays on the Russian Formalists, modern dance, and film spectatorship have appeared in Film HistoryDiscourseKinovedcheskie zapiski, and several anthologies in Russia and the USA. She holds a PhD. from Harvard, and an M.Phil. from Cambridge University.


Bodies of Knowledge Working Group

Thu, Dec 13, 2018, 12:00 pm
Location: 16 Joseph Henry House