Visual and Verbal Self-Referentiality in Russian Avant-Garde Picturebooks

Sara Pankenier Weld


The early Soviet picturebook arose in an age of propaganda that conceived of children’s literature as a “forgotten weapon” in the battle to train a new populace to inhabit the new post-revolutionary world. For this reason, one can detect a variety of rhetorical aims in early Soviet picturebooks. This article examines visual and verbal self-referentiality in Russian avant-garde picturebooks along aesthetic, educational, and political axes, focusing first on avant-garde self-referentiality evident in works by Vladimir Mayakovsky and Daniil Kharms that typify the avant-garde movement and then turning to picturebook self-referentiality exemplified in works by Samuil Marshak and Ilya Ionov, which reflect increasing consciousness of the picturebook as genre. It argues that avant-garde self-referentiality must be considered within a broader avant-garde context, while the peculiarities of picturebook self-referentiality in this period illustrate the establishment of the early Soviet picturebook as a new branch of culture, as well as material conditions, cultural shifts, and power consolidation after the revolution. Early Soviet picturebooks employ the child reader in building a vision of the future, although the nature of that world and of the child fit to be its citizen diverges widely, showing how this time period represented a significant aesthetic and political crossroads.


self-reference; metatextuality; metalepsis; visuality; rhetoric; Soviet; children’s literature; ideology; politics; aesthetics

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Barnboken – Journal of Children's Literature Research eISSN 2000-4389
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