We Are Searching – Sergei Tretyakov



From the outset Lef has worked on the problem of the social function of things produced by workers in art. The task is to set aside all the vague and often ostentatious motivations and get at the real social purpose of an art work, at the effect it produces, then to establish the means and conditions, which will enable the artist to achieve this effect most fully and with the utmost economy of force and devices. […]

To the easel painting, which supposedly functions as ‘a mirror of reality’ Lef opposes the photograph – a more accurate, rapid and objective means of fixing fact.

To the easel painting – claimed to be a permanent source of agit – Lef opposes the placard, which is topical, designed and adapted for the street, the newspaper and the demonstration, and which hits the emotions with the sureness of artillery fire.

In literature to belles-lettres and the related claim to ‘reflection’ Lef opposes reportage – literature of fact – which breaks with literary art traditions and moves entirely into the field of ‘factography’ to serve the newspaper and the journal. This is what is meant by Lef prose which we are disseminating through various newspaper articles and publishing in exemplary extracts in the journal New Lef.

On the other hand, Lef continues to promote poetry which it places within a definite agit function, assigns clear tasks in journalism and coordinates with other newspaper material.

These are the two fields from which the Lef formula of art is developing. If fact is needed – old art is no use. Old art deforms fact – to grasp fact use new methods.

If stimulus and agit are needed – assemble all the appropriate material available, but bear in mind that agit divorced from a concrete aim to which it is directed, agit transformed into agit in general, a play on nerves, stimulation for its own sake, is agit aesthetics and operates in society like drugs or dangerous drink. […]

The fixing of fact and agit represent two basic functions. In considering these we must also consider the devices through which these functions can be realized.

The art product operates (chiefly) as either intellectualization or emotionali-zation. In fact these may well represent two functional axes in relation to which the old concepts ‘epic’ and ‘lyric’ are now crystallizing. We consider that with increased precision of work in art, the former will gain ground at the expense of the latter. We are moving towards a time when the intellectual content of facts will give them agit effect far surpassing that of any emotionalized pressuring.

It can be assumed that the schema appropriate to the fine arts will apply equally to the cinema. […]

When Lef theorists analyse formal and material distinctions between the ‘play’ film and the ‘unplayed’ film, Tretyakov proceeds from the film material. Shklovsky from the narrative structure of the scenario. Zhemchuzhny from the shooting arrangements, and so on, hence the apparent variations.

But when the question is the social function of these two categories, then Lef’s orientation emerges immediately and clearly: on the one hand towards the cinema of fact – the news-reel in the widest sense of the term – and on the other hand to the pragmatically orientated, topical, actuality agit-film. […]

Sergei Tretyakov, Novy Lef, no. 11/12, 1927.

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