Sergei Eisenstein: Beyond the Stars. Part 1: The Boy from Riga and Part 2: The True Paths of Discovery. Edited by Richard Taylor, translated by William Powell

Sergei Eisenstein: Beyond the Stars. Part 1: The Boy from Riga and Part 2: The True Paths of Discovery. Edited by Richard Taylor, translated by William Powell

London, New York, Calcutta: Seagull Books. Part 1 (2018): ISBN 978 0 8574 2 488 4, 574 p.; Part 2 (2019): ISBN 978 0 8574 2 524 9, 382 p.

Author
Helen Grace
Keywords
Sergei Eisenstein; memoirs; auto-biography; montage; global publishing.

Two new editions of Sergei Eisenstein’s memoirs have been published within the last year or so, one in Russian and one in English (which I review here), as part of the global revival of interest in the filmmaker. As a result, Eisenstein’s position, enhanced by its inherent vitalist ‘Bergsonism’, is probably more secure now than it has been any time since the Soviet Union’s collapse. Much new work on Eisenstein is being published by young scholars not carrying the baggage of a tired Cold War cinema studies and a renewed global scholarly circulation of new research in, for example, the establishment of the Eisenstein International Network.

When Beyond the Stars – Volume 4 of the British Film Institute’s Eisenstein Selected Works series – was published in the mid 1990s, something happened with the shipment from Seagull Books, the Kolkata-based company that produced the volume. It is hard to get a clear picture on what went wrong, but the very fat book became hard to find outside of India, where, it turned out, some copies were still available. I managed to obtain my copy through a barter exchange with an Indian friend and film scholar, swapping it for a copy of Tom O’Regan’s Australian National Cinema. When the volume arrived, some pages from the extensive notes section were missing and I longed for those pages because the notes are delicious in their intertextuality.

Now, 25 years later, it is possible to understand how it was that a bunch of pages might have been mislaid in the manual labour of book production and how a simple ‘human error’ reveals so much about the reliance on outsourced labour in global intellectual production. Trying to track down the fresh new two-volume edition from Seagull Books, I discovered a couple of YouTube clips of more recently digitised footage documenting the printing of the 1995 volume in India. A man painstakingly retouches a printing plate by hand, a group of people, sitting on the ground, surrounded by individual printed sections, collates the volume, a woman stitches the sections together, a man glues the cover to the stitched sections and carefully wraps the dust jacket around the completed volume.1 The YouTube clips are a precious link with the history of printing and we might regard them as precursors to the sort of ‘history of printing’ that Greta Gerwick incorporates as a key element in her recent production of Little Women (2019, United States).

Where capital investment makes it profitable, automation replaces all these tasks and people, thus eliminating ‘human error’, but more often than not these jobs do not disappear, they are simply moved somewhere else. For as long as we have relied on the global trade deals that divide territories in publishing, determining what we pay for books in, let’s say, Australia, a British Commonwealth territory, we have been subject to these processes. But the world is changing.

When you type ‘Eisenstein’ into a BFI search window, you no longer get a link to any of the earlier books in the Selected Works series2. It turns out that if you want the new edition and you live in India, you will get it directly from Seagull Books, but if you live in the UK, the US or the rest of the world, then you need to order it through the University of Chicago Press.

As for review copies, it is a good news story: by chance, one Friday afternoon, a direct email to Seagull Books in Kolkata produces an immediate response asking for a shipping address and on the following Monday morning, the two volumes arrive in Sydney. Seagull Books have a long association with the texts of Eisenstein, having first published a number of translations in the early to mid 1980s, an outcome of the Kolkata-based Eisenstein Cine Club’s collaboration with Jay Leyda.3

Design and typography in this 2018 two-volume edition are both much more handsome and elegant than the clunky one-volume 1995 edition of nearly 800 pages. The two-volume format is substantially easier to work with – and best of all, (for me) the missing section of the notes is restored and the mystery solved, even though, very sadly, there is no longer an index. The edition is based on the same text as the 1995 edition, edited by Richard Taylor and translated by William Powell.

The first volume in the new edition, subtitled The Boy From Riga reproduces the Naum Kleiman introduction on the history of the Eisenstein memoirs that opened the 1995 volume. A version of this introduction also appears in the 1988 German edition, without Kleiman’s authorship being attributed4. The thematic division between the two 2018 volumes follows, more or less, the same division in the uncensored 1988 German edition and the 1997 Russian edition5 and both these editions build on material that first appeared in Volume 1 of the six volume Selected Works published in Russian between 1964 and 1970. An expanded edition of the memoirs was prepared following the publication of the Russian Selected Works but went unpublished until its 1988 publication in German. A new expanded Russian edition has only recently been published by the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow.6

The story of Eisenstein’s memoirs is an incomplete and discontinuous narrative, permanently unfinished. Kleiman notes in his introduction, the texts on which they are based were written in the second half of 1946, after Eisenstein’s first heart attack, and consist of fragments and notes. In the evolution of the memoirs, sections of the text had a tendency to migrate between other works, such as his major theoretical text, Method, or the treatise on colour, for example.7 The memoirs present an overall unstable structure, and they form a profound work of self-invention on the part of Eisenstein himself. The Russian philosopher Valery Podoroga calls them “pure cinema”, though perhaps lacking sufficient montage, and regards them also as a kind of self-administered psychotherapy session (Podoroga 2001: 171).8

The production of the memoirs is in itself a work of pure montage, to the extent that the compilation is purely the result of an elaborate editing process by multiple editors and translators – and biographers too, we might say, in a loosely intertextual way. The assemblage is highly successful to the extent that we don’t readily see where the cuts and splices lie and an effective suturing serves to reanimate the subject of the writing and the endless energies of the text, pulsating from one fragment to another. Eisenstein thus seems more alive to us than ever in the infinite potential of the assembled textual particles, and we can now focus more fully on the totality of the work – cinema, theatre, drawing, writing – as well as the originality of the main theoretical texts, Method and Non Indifferent Nature, which are illuminated at every step by the Memoirs.

An example: the fanciful fragment “Pre-natal Experience” in Vol 2 of this edition is pure cinema: Eisenstein is still in utero and his parents are at a party in a Majorenhof dacha; an orchestra is playing, everyone drinks too much, a fight breaks out and someone is killed; his father races off to get his gun to restore order(!); his mother is terrified and there is a chance she will go into premature labour. Ever since the incident, he muses, he has a great love of orchestras and gunshots and “Not one of my films goes by without a murder” (Eisenstein 2018b: 55). It is as glibly Godardian as “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl”. An editorial note tells us the piece was written on July 5, 1946, as part of a possible introduction to Method. The description of the incident ceases to be an anecdote and becomes part of the invention of the method.

The “Pre-natal Experience” piece follows the much more extended “Monsieur, madame et bébé”: the eternal triangle that recurs so often in the broad Eisenstein narrative and in this piece, the author tells us “I sometimes think I am, tous à la fois, monsieur, madame et bébé” (ibid.: 53). Odd and even. This odd-even structure also lies at the heart of the quite remarkable geometrical analysis of “The Awabi Fishers”, an Utamaro triptych and Andrei Rublev’s “The Trinity” icon that Eisenstein undertakes in Method, in the section entitled “Chet – Nechet” / “Even – Odd”9. Eisenstein’s ‘flirtation’ with pre-natal experience is part of his general fascination with “the invisible aspect of being” (ibid.: 56) and with all the stages of human consciousness and thought: logical, pre-logical, sensuous.

To characterise the relation between the ‘automatic writing’ mode of the memoirs and the extensive intellectual influences that inform the work of Eisenstein, Podoroga refers to what he calls “a special type of preconscious optics, almost dreamlike, through which the solipsist-observer explores his own images and other contents of consciousness”10 (Podoroga 2017: 117; my translation).

In a comprehensive and very astute essay on the question of Eisenstein and auto/biography, Natalie Ryabchikova suggests that Eisenstein always played with his biographers, feeding them information, managing at every step the nature of the self-image he was constantly fashioning. So we get the sense that he would have managed very well in a climate of social media and publicity culture, understanding the processes of self-management of self-image. His Twitter feed would have been a montage treat, his Instagram account a constant flow. This is partly the reason why Eisenstein as a figure, endures and why his memoirs are endless as a source. The ‘biography’ of Eisenstein is a retrospective construction, engineered by the author himself, and renovated ever since. The ‘Master’s House’11 is regularly rebuilt precisely because of the instability of the subject that underpins it. This subject constantly eludes fixation and constructs himself using a highly syncretic method, drawing on and incorporating the influences of the whole world.

Helen Grace
University of Sydney
helen.grace@sydney.edu.au

Notes

1 The footage appears on the YouTube channel of Wild Films India, a site with 2.4m subscribers:Clip 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVDRQDd70xU [25.02.2020].Clip 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QeJ220qdaA [25.02.2020].

2 IB Tauris have more recently taken over the publication of these volumes.

3 In order of preparation: Sergei M. Eisenstein, On the Composition of the Short Film Scenario, (1984); Jay Leyda (ed.), Eisenstein 2: A Premature Celebration of Eisenstein’s Centenary, (1985); Jay Leyda (ed.), Eisenstein on Disney (1986); Alan Y. Upchurch (ed.), S. M. Eisenstein: The Psychology of Composition (1987). All these volumes appeared under the Methuen banner in the UK and the US in 1988, with Leyda credited as Series Editor. The first volume of the BFI Selected Works series was published the same year.

4The German edition includes a general introduction by Sergei Iutkevich, one of the principle editors of the 1960s’ Russian edition of the Selected Works.

5 There are also editions in French, Italian, Japanese, and Bulgarian

6 The Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, sponsored by oligarch Roman Abramovich, first opened in Moscow in 2008 in the Konstantin Melnikov-designed Bakhmetievsky Bus Garage, built in 1926. Garage has since moved into a new Rem Koolhaas/OMA-designed development in Gorky Park.

7 This migratory and fragmentary nature of the Eisenstein ‘biography’ is also present in Naum Kleiman, Antonio Somaini (eds.), Sergei M. Eisenstein: Notes for a General History of Cinema (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016).

8 Cited in Ryabchikova.

9 Sergei Mikhailovich Ėizenshtein, “Chet – Nechet: Razdvoenie Edinogo”, in: Metod, Tom Vtoroi, Tainy Masterov (Moscow: Muzei Kino, Eizenshtein-Tsentr, 2002), pp. 150–191.

10 «Особый вид предсознательной оптики, почти сновидной, с помощью которой солипсист-наблюдатель исследует собственные образы и другие содержания сознания».

11 Reference to: Vera Rumiantseva-Kleiman (2018).

Bio

Helen Grace is an artist/filmmaker, writer and teacher, based in Sydney and Hong Kong. She was the Founding Director of the MA Programme in Visual Culture Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong and is now Adjunct Professor in the Department of Cultural & Religious Studies, CUHK and Associate, Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney. She is a member of the Eisenstein International Network.

Bibliography

Eisenstein, Sergei. 1984. On the Composition of the Short Film Scenario. Calcutta.

Eisenstein, Sergej. 1988. Yo – Ich Selbst: Memoiren (2 Bde.). Frankfurt.

Ėizenshtein, Sergei Mikhailovich. 2002. Metod. Tom Vtoroi: Tainy Masterov. Moskva.

Ėizenshtein, Sergei. 2019. Yo. Memuary. V dvukh tomakh. Moskva.

Sergei Eisenstein. 2018. Beyond the Stars, Vol 1: The Boy from Riga. Edited by Richard Taylor. Translated by William Powell. Calcutta.

Sergei Eisenstein. 2019. Beyond the Stars, Vol 2: The True Paths of Discovery. Edited by Richard Taylor. Translated by William Powell. Calcutta.

Ėizenshtein, Sergei. 1997. Memuary. Moskva.

Ėizenshtein, Sergei. 1964-71. Izbrannye Proizvedeniia v shesti tomakh. Moskva.

Kleiman, Naum and Somaini, Antonio, eds. 2016. Sergei M. Eisenstein: Notes for a General History of Cinema Amsterdam.

Leyda, Jay (ed.). 1986. Eisenstein on Disney. Calcutta.

Leyda, Jay (ed.). 1985. Eisenstein 2: A Premature Celebration of Eisenstein’s Centenary. Calcutta.

O’Regan, Tom. 1996. Australian National Cinema. Abingdon.

Podoroga, Valerii. 2017. Vtoroi ėkran. Sergei Ėzenshtein i kinematograf nasiliia. T. 1. Zerkal'naia podporka. Materialy k psikhobiografii. Moskva.

Podoroga, Valery (ed.). 2001. Avto-bio-grafiia: K voprosu o metode. Tetradi po analiticheskoi antropologii №1. Moskva.

Rumiantseva-Kleiman, Vera. 2018. V Dome Mastera: Mir Sergeia Ėisenshteina / In the Master’s Home: The World of Sergei Eisenstein. Moskva.

Ryabchikova, Natalie. 2015. “Eisenstein’s first auto/biography” Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema 9(2): 74–93.

Taylor, Richard and Powell William. 1995. Beyond the Stars: The Memoirs of Sergei Eisenstein. Calcutta.

Upchurch, Alan Y. (ed.). 1987. S. M. Eisenstein: The Psychology of Composition. Calcutta.

Suggested Citation

Grace, Helen. 2020. Review: “Sergei Eisenstein: Beyond the Stars. Part 1: The Boy from Riga and Part 2: The True Paths of Discovery.” Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 11. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17892/app.2020.00011.242

URL: http://www.apparatusjournal.net/

Copyright: The text of this article has been published under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ This license does not apply to the media referenced in the article, which are subject to the individual rights owner's terms.



 

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