Voiceless Vanguard: The Infantilist Aesthetic of the Russian Avant-Garde offers a new approach to the Russian avant-garde. It argues that central writers, artists, and theorists of the avant-garde self-consciously used an infantile aesthetic, as inspired by children’s art, language, perspective, and logic, to accomplish the artistic renewal they were seeking in literature, theory, and art. It treats the influence of children’s drawings on the Neo-Primitivist art of Mikhail Larionov, the role of children’s language in the Cubo-Futurist poetics of Aleksei Kruchenykh, the role of the naive perspective in the Formalist theory of Viktor Shklovsky, and the place of children’s logic and lore in Daniil Kharms’s absurdist writings for children and adults. This interdisciplinary and cultural study not only illuminates a rich period in Russian culture but also offers implications for modernism in a wider Western context, where similar principles apply.
"This monograph presents a persuasive and important argument for the role of the child in the aesthetics of the Russian avant-garde. Weld’s study goes well beyond her four main subjects––Mikhail Larionov, Aleksei Kruchenykh, Viktor Shklovskii, and Daniil Kharms––and even beyond Russian art and literature to the nature of avant-garde art in general. It should therefore be of great interest to scholars and students of late imperial and early Soviet Russian culture, avant-garde art and literature, and childhood studies and children’s literature. Through meticulous scholarship, archival research, and close analysis, Voiceless Vanguard demonstrates the importance of the child to Larionov’s art, Kruchenykh’s and Kharms’s writings, and Shklovskii’s literary and aesthetic theory." ––Slavic Review
"Like the poor, children have been and always will be with us and Weld is right to say that the infantilist aesthetic is by no means confined to the Russian avant-garde: all its other manifestations would be lucky to receive an equivalent book, which, fittingly for a study about fresh perspectives, gives us a new and illuminating way of viewing the period." ––The Modern Language Review
"Pankenier Weld’s impressive book contributes meaningfully to several areas of scholarly research: theory of European modernism and the avant-garde; children’s literature and theories of childhood; and Russian literary theory and history. Finally, Voiceless Vanguard convinces the reader that ‘infantilism is to be found almost everywhere [where] there is a modern aesthetic’. Weld takes the connection between children's art, writing and speech and the avant-garde's radical formal experiments to a new theoretical level." —International Research in Children's Literature
“'My child could paint that!' is a dismissive remark about abstract painting you often hear, say, from a skeptical viewer encountering Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square and its stark minimalism. Yet such skepticism toward modern art just might have a certain validity. As Sara Pankenier Weld compellingly argues in Voiceless Vanguard: The Infantalist Aesthetic of the Russian Avant-Garde, it was through the child’s perspective that so many Russian avant-garde artists nurtured their originality and found their voice... Weld provides an insightful, well-researched approach to Russian avant-garde culture and its underlying emphasis on the child’s perspective... [an] excellent, well-written study." ––The Russian Review