Velimir Khlebnikov

The VELIMIR KHLEBNIKOV House Museum

WHO WAS VELIMIR KHLEBNIKOV?

20th century history: Velimir Khlebnikov in Bolshevik Russia

Under construction: The Shukov radio tower, Moscow, 1920-1922.

The futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov had no direct influence on Noam Chomsky. Yet there is an indirect link. During Russia's revolutionary years, Khlebnikov entranced and inspired Roman Jakobson, whose formalist linguistics in turn made a deep impression on Chomsky when the two became friends in the United States some decades later. For more on Russian formalist roots, see Decoding Chomsky, Chapters 10 and 11.

 

THE RADIO OF THE FUTURE
by Velimir Khlebnikov (1921)

The Radio of the Future—the central tree of our consciousness—will inaugurate new ways to cope with our endless undertakings and will unite all mankind.

The main Radio station, that stronghold of steel, where clouds of wires cluster like strands of hair, will surely be protected by a sign with a skull and crossbones and the familiar word “Danger,” since the least disruption of Radio operations would produce a mental blackout over the entire country, a temporary loss of consciousness.

Radio is becoming the spiritual sun of the country, a great wizard and sorcerer.

Let us try to imagine Radio’s main station: in the air a spider’s web of lines, a storm cloud of lightning bolts, some subsiding, some flaring up anew, crisscrossing the buildings from one end to the other.  A bright blue ball of spherical lightning hanging in midair, guy wires stretched out at a slant.

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Naum Gabo, Project for a Radio Station, 1921

From this point in Planet Earth, every day, like the flight of birds in springtime, a flock of news departs, news from the life of the spirit. 

In this stream of lightning birds the spirit will prevail over force, good council over threats.

The activities of artists who work with the pen and brush, the discoveries of artists who work with ideas (Mechnikov, Einstein) will instantly transport mankind to unknown shores.

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Vladimir Tatlin (with pipe) before a wooden model of his tower, St. Petersburg, 1920.

Advice on day-to-day matters will alternate with lectures by those who dwell upon the snowy heights of the human spirit.  The crests of waves in the sea of human knowledge will roll across the entire country into each local Radio station, to be projected that very day as letters onto the dark pages of enormous books, higher than houses, than stand in the center of each town, slowly turning their own pages. […]

But what now follows?  Where has this great stream of sound come from, this inundation of the whole country in supernatural singing, in the sound of beating wings, this broad silver stream full of whistlings and clangor and marvelous mad bells surging from somewhere we are not, mingling with children’s voices singing and the sound of wings?

Over the center of every town these voices pour down, a silver shower of sound.  Amazing silver bells mixed with whistlings surge down from above.  Are these perhaps the voices of heaven, spirits flying low over the farmhouse roof?  No….

The Mussorgsky of the future is giving a coast-to-coast concert of his work, using the Radio apparatus to create a vast concert hall stretching from the Vladivostok to the Baltic, beneath the blue dome of the heavens.

On this one evening he bewitches the people, sharing with them the communion of his soul, and on the following day he is only an ordinary mortal again.  The artist has cast a spell over his land; he has given his country the singing of the sea and the whistling of the wind. The poorest house in the smallest town is filled with divine whistlings and the sweet delights of sound.

Source: The King of Time: Selected Writings of the Russian Futurian, translated by Paul Schmidt (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985), 155-159.  

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Chomsky responds to my book

Sam Tanenhaus of the New York Times (October 31, 2016) interviews Noam Chomsky:

Chomsky here claims that no 'military or classified work' was being done on the MIT campus during the 1960s. Unfortunately, he has previously admitted the opposite on so many occasions that it's hard to know why he considers this a sensible way to take issue with me:

There was extensive weapons research on the MIT campus. ... In fact, a good deal of the [nuclear] missile guidance technology was developed right on the MIT campus and in laboratories run by the university.
— Noam Chomsky, 2004. 'Language and Politics' (ed. C. Otero), p. 216.
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In fact, as Chomsky explains in a 2009 interview, that claim made by the Pounds Commission was essentially an administrative fiction designed to conceal the fact that MIT's numerous weapons-research laboratories were part of the Institute:   

But the real issue in the Pounds Commission was whether to separate the laboratories from the Institute. There were sort of three views that came out. There was what was called the liberals, who said yeah, we’ve got to separate them from the campus. There were the conservatives who said we’ve got to keep them on campus. There were two or three of us, one student, one me, who were called the radicals. Who agreed with the conservatives. We’ve got to keep them on campus, so that people know what’s going on. It’s a focus of attention and concern, and you think about it, let’s not hide it somewhere – where the same relationships are going to continue, but under an apparent administrative break. Well, we lost, the liberals won. They were formally separated.
— Noam Chomsky interviewed by Karen Arenson in 2009. MIT 'infinite history project.'

Here is how Chomsky describes the true situation in a further 2009 interview:

There wasn’t any classified work on campus, but it was two inches off campus. The labs right next door were doing classified work and people were between them all the time.
— 'Lessons from history'. Edward Carvalho interviews Noam Chomsky. Works and Days, 51//54: Vols. 26 & 27, 2008-09, p. 530.
Knight does the better job of destroying Chomsky’s story by showing a constant, failing effort to make the unshakeable idea work. Wolfe makes the tale more dramatic, but probably less convincing. And Wolfe hangs his drama on secondary issues. He badly misunderstands the whole matter of recursion, for example.
— 'Babel's Dawn'