Soviet epistemologies and the materialist ontology of poor life : Andrei Platonov, Alexander Bogdanov and Lev Vygotsky

Chehonadskih, Maria (2017) Soviet epistemologies and the materialist ontology of poor life : Andrei Platonov, Alexander Bogdanov and Lev Vygotsky. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis provides new perspectives on the epistemic conditions of pre- and post-revolutionary Soviet thought (1910s–early 1930s) and constructs a transdisciplinary entry point into a materialist ontology of ‘poor life’. The concept of poor life engages contemporary debates on class composition and individuation from the materialist viewpoint of self-organising labour causality and social mediation. The thesis opens with a critical examination of the ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ divide in Marxist philosophy and shifts discussion from the official doctrine of Bolshevism to the under-represented epistemologies of Empirio-Marxism and Spinozist- Hegelianism in the philosophy and political theory of Alexander Bogdanov, the writings and art criticism of Andrei Platonov and the experimental philosophy and psychology of Lev Vygotsky. A transdisciplinary, post-revolutionary logic assumes that theory should start where Marx ended and that it should act in a Marxist fashion across all conceptual and practical realms. The reconstruction of these epistemological conditions leads to an alternative philosophical genealogy of Soviet avant-garde art and the writings of Andrei Platonov. The thesis explores the connections between the Empirio-Marxism of Bogdanov and the problematic of construction, ‘life-building’ and production in the theories of the Soviet avant-garde. Bogdanov proposes an organisational ontology of the active and productive capacity of labour to compose and construct historically determined ‘life-complexes’ and orders of material relations. In turn, the organisation of sensibility, things and relations, or communist ‘life-building’, becomes the primary theoretical and practical agenda of Proletkult, Constructivism, Productivism and the Literature of Fact. The thesis demonstrates the unique place of Andrei Platonov within these conceptual settings. The core of the thesis is a reconstruction of Platonov’s method and form of writing, the aim of which is to demonstrate the conceptual reciprocity of the problems of ‘lifebuilding’ and ‘poor life’. Platonov stresses the negativity of partition and compartmentalisation within the compositional logic of ‘life-building’. In the experience of social poverty, the selforganising force of labour produces a disjunctive unity of thinking and speech, reaction and act, time and space. Vygotsky’s Spinozist-Hegelianism exposes the structural logic of this negativity. The reconstruction of his system shows how mediation produces a dialectical dramaturgy of individuation out of the compositional materiality of poverty and the given ensemble of social relations. The thesis concludes by outlining a differential unity between the three authors. The Soviet problematisation of poor life links social and ontological degrees of organisation, offering epistemological models of compositional productivity and of the individuating negativity of ‘life-building’. The epistemic conditions that we reconstruct in the thesis may have vanished along with their revolutionary context, but they are likely to resurface in the course of any new experiment in radical social transformation.

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