Review: Bengt Jangfeldt, “Med livet som insats: berättelsen om Vladimir Majakovskij och hans krets

Photo shot by yours truly, as found on the ground one day en route to work

My favourite biography of all time is probably Boy George’s “Take It Like A Man“. The second might be “Mohammad Ali“, by Thomas Hauser. But, this is a contender to beat them both. Never before have I read a biography that is both extremely well-researched and subtly written, where I think it usually is a matter of either/or.

The intellectual cultural climate in 1920s Russia was a very explosive time, when several small groups of young, agitated Russians questioned, destroyed and leaped from the old climate in a political atmosphere where even God was refused and denied. The Russian futurists craved something else than the everyday porridge that stated that Rembrandt’s paintings, Mozart’s music and The Bible in writing were the epitome of art, and in the process wanted to reinvent themselves completely by questioning these standards and themselves. Among all of the Russian poets, Mayakovsky‘s texts seemingly stand solitary and often absolutely brilliant, not only floating far beyond his country-people, but all previous poets across the globe.

Jangfeldt goes far by being fluent in Russian. As such, he has himself translated (with aid) Mayakovsky ‘s poetry into Swedish, and has since decades personally interviewed people who knew Mayakovsky and has written several works on him. He’s accessed previously censored state files on Mayakovsky and drawn his own conclusions on many events throughout Mayakovsky’s life, painstakingly delivering a very subtle, simply put, yet desirably complex picture of a man plagued and blessed through extreme throes in all aspects of his life.

Mayakovsky’s abilities to reinvent language and stake his own claim through all types of media – poetry, plays, copy, slogans, and letters – are featured here. The same is said for his somewhat nonsensical political statements, but you can’t have it all, can you?

From his life as a young boy in the middle of Russian nowhere, to an aspiring career as an artist to developing an interest in poetry, his humble beginnings gently explode as he reaches adolescence and then grows into a manboy, forever trapped as a seventeen-year-old, according to Viktor Sjklovsky. Thing is, I think Mayakovsky never allowed himself to grow stale, which is a mantra he often repeated in different forms, not least in his eccentric relationship with Lilya and Osip Brik.

Mayakovsky loved a few things in life, and went beyond every barrier to live those things in every aspect, at times threatening to destroy the people around him in the process. Still, he prevailed in a way, even though his ending is the saddest part of his tale.

This book is worth purchasing in any available language, and will be re-read repeatedly by myself throughout life. It’s not heavy, it’s not light, but is very well-written, long and so fantastically delivered that it feels short, despite its near-600-pages. Nothing stopped it, and there is no filler; most of what’s in this book – which did happen, I sometimes had to remind myself during my reading – is so jagged and at the same time polished, it felt like having a really brilliant, laid-back yet intellectual conversation with somebody who’s had a long journey, teaching me a few things in the process.

To quote Mayakovsky: “I love!

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One Response to “Review: Bengt Jangfeldt, “Med livet som insats: berättelsen om Vladimir Majakovskij och hans krets“”

  1. Niklas' blog » Blog Archive » The best books of 2010 Says:

    […] #1 hit is Bengt Jangfeldt’s epic biography on Majakovsky, as I’ve reviewed here. Then, discovering who is my #2 favourite poet of all time1 – Emily Dickinson – is […]

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