Serapion Brothers

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The Serapion Brothers were a group of poets and writers who insisted on the political autonomy of the artist and the affirmation of imagination and creative art. They argued that in order to remain authentic, the writer's voice needed freedom from all social or political constraints. They denounced the use of literature for utilitarian purposes and never adopted a specific model of literary production.

The Serapion Brothers began meeting in 1921 at the Petrograd House of Arts at the suggestion of Viktor Shklovsky. The group, which eventually included Konstantin Fedin, Ilya Gruzdev, Vsevolod Ivanov, Veniamin Kaverin, Lev Lunts, Nikolai Nikitin, Elizaveta Polonskaya, Vladimir Pozner, Mikhail Slonimsky, Nikolai Tikhonov, and Mikhail Zoshchenko, adopted its name after a tale by E. T.A. Hoffmann. Shklovsky occasionally participated, and Maxim Gorky supported members with material assistance and help in publishing their work. The group met weekly to read and discuss one another's work, focusing on the refinement of the craft of writing and leaving each member to develop his or her own message, sometimes engaging in heated debates about the purpose or meaning of literature.

The closest the Brotherhood came to publishing a manifesto was Lev Lunts's "Why We are the Serapion Brothers" (Pochemu my Serapionovy Bratya, 1922), in which he proclaimed that "Art is real, like life itself. And, like life itself, it is without goal and without meaning: It exists because it cannot help but exist." This statement of the group's purpose sparked a sharp debate with Marxist critics who insisted on the utilitarian use of literature for common ideological purposes. Lunts, however, stressed the autonomy of literature from political purposes or control and, simultaneously, the preservation of diverse ideological positions within the brotherhood. The one collective work the group published, the First Almanac (Serapionovy Brat'ia. Al'mankh pervy, 1922) demonstrates this wide range of style and philosophy. Throughout the 1920s they promoted a nonpolitical approach to literature, tolerance, and friendship, and their connections continued after the group's dissolution in 1929.

See also: cultural revolution


Hickey, Martha Weitzel. (1999). "Recovering the Author's Part: The Serapion Brothers in Petrograd." Russian Review 58(1):103123.

Kern, Gary, and Collins, Christopher, eds. (1975). The Serapion Brothers: A Critical Anthology. Ann Arbor: Ardis.

Elizabeth Jones Hemenway