Il 'Ja Zdanevic (1894-1973)



1. scena da "Asino a nolo" (1918)


From the LP Futura Poesia Sonora (Cramps Records, Milan)

A trio from "Donkey for hire" by Il'ja Zdanevic (1894-1973) exemplifies the extreme formulation, of "zaum"', more organic and radical, but also more abstract, at the limits of absolute incomprehensibility; and of that particular variant of "zaum"' that was developed at Tbilisi by the 41 Degrees company.

"Asel naprakat "(written in 1918 but published in 1919 in one of the few editions of the 41 Degrees company, the miscellany in honour of the actress Sofija Mel'nikova) is the second of die dra - initiatory lemma for theatrical composition, but evidently derived from drama - of which Zdanevic's pentalogy is composed: preceded by "Janko krul albanski" (Janko, Albanian king, 1916) and by "Ostraf Paschi" (Easter Island, 1919), "zga Jakaby "(AS IF ZGA, 1920), and finally "lidantjU fARam" (LidsentU like a lighthouse), which Zdanevic, formerly "Eli Egambjuri", and now finally "Il'jazd", published as an emigrant in Paris in 1923.

From the point of view of semantic decodification, the "zaum" used here by Zdanevic appears as an indistinct phonic chain in which, from time to time, Russian roots or words are barely recognizable, often mangled in their pronunciation and, in every case (beginning with the titles) in their graphic form is an attempt to imitate speech. As has already been pointed out, in "Donkey for hire" the verbal mixture, fundamentally Russian, is enlived by a flavour of languages (thus adopting one of the characteristic Features of "zaum" of Krucenych, the "writing in languages").

Like Zdanevic's other "dra", "Donhey for hire" is a composition for "vertep" (the Ukranian Nativity theatre, in which the sacred action is accompanied by profane anecdotes, similar to the puppet theatre in type): it is known to have been performed in Paris in 1923, in a puppet theatre, the speaking being done by Zdanevic hinself. The mumbling of the four characters (Zochna, the two suitors, the donkey), the sketchy plot, strange and motiveless as those with which even today the Gianicolo puppet-masters entertain the "good children", have the flavour of infantile theatricality,of the primitivism of puppets. The action hinges on the courting of Zoching: one suitor transforms himself into a donkey, for which Zochna falls in love with him; whereupon A and B plan to put a real donkey in his place and Zochna (who appears in bridal dress) flirt with it; A reveals the deception to her, and receives her favours; but it is causes trouble with B and the two kill each other in a brawl, leaving Zochna to bewail her misfortune.

It is impossible not to notice that this infantile, puppet- theatre -type of work contains elements of -harsh sexual caricature: here we have that "anal eroticism", that "small nest of indecent words" which was the Krucenychian variant of Marinetti's anti-feminism. However, speaking of "Donhey for hire", Terentev emphasizes, instead, its tenderness and gentleness, the saliva of love, and even detects an irresolution A la Ibsen ("Rekord neznosti, Memory of tenderness, Tiflis, 1919). This observation, rather than to the plot and motifs, is to be referred to the quality of the "zaum "'employed, and to its orchestration. It is in fact a composition in which the musical effects are absolutely pre-eminent and in which, as in the exerpt here performed, the characters speak simultaneously, giving rise to a subtle interplay of accords and dissonances, underlined by the superimposition in unison of some vowels, or syllables: for example, the braying of the donkey ( I-A-I-A ... ) coincides with B's exclamation "JA JA" (I, I !) and with the vowels i and a of the words pronounced by A, in particular the long conclusion of "onà" (her).

From this singular orchestration of the voices derives the even more singular graphic solution of the printed text (which became the model for the other "dra"), in which, as in a musical score, the words for the three voices are printed in a superimposed manner, with large letters to indicate the phonic community of vowels and -consonants common to two or more voices.

In this way Zdanevic"s page acquires a mysterious and esoteric, but also fascinating, appearance.

We are here at the height of what could be called Russian dadaism.

Ilya Zdanevic(Iliazd) was born at Moscow in 1194 and at a very early age frequented the first avant-garde poetry groups formed in Moscow. Adopting the techniquie of Chlebnikov's linguistic "iliumism", to which he gave a greater phonetic contrast by isolating it from the lexical panmongolism typical of that poet, in 1919 Iliazd published his first collection of zaumist verses: "Easter Island" (Moscow, 41 Degree editions).

Immediately following the October Revolution he immigrated to Paris where he took part in the activities of the French dada group. On 6th July 1923 he was one of the organizers of the dadaist evening at the Michel Theatre in Paris, when Tristan Tzara's "The gas heart" was performed. In the same year 4 1Degree editions published his fundamental work: "Lidentu like a lighthouse", a dramatic poem in "zaum"' language. This volume remains an unsurpassed example of visually fascinating typographical contrivances and was to exert a decisive influence on the typographical component of international dadaist poetry. After long years of silence in which he was engaged, above all, in the diffusion of the grapic work of Picasso, Iliazd, in Paris in 1949, selected and edited, again for 41 Degree editions, the collection "Poisie des mots inconnus ", which included poems by Akinsemonyin, Albert-Birot, Arp, Artaud, Audiberti, Elall, Beaudin, Dermée, Huidobro, Iliazd, jolas, Klebnikov, Krutchonych, Polavski, Schwitters, Seuphor, Terentiev, Tzara. The volume was illustrated by Arp, Braque, Bryen, ChaFgall, Dominguez, Ferat, Giacometti, Gleizes, Hausmann, Laurens, Léger, Magnelli, Matisse, Misson, Metzinger, Miró, Picasso, Survage, Taueber-Arp, Tytgat, Villon and Wolls. In 1968 he published " Rogelio Lacourière, pêcheur de cuivre - aux quatre coins de la piece", a " zaumist" poem suitable for theatrical presentation, published by 41 Degrees editions under the author's supervision.