Liliia Brik and Vladimir Mayakovsky in a film (since lost) written by Mayakovsky, Moscow, 1918. (hcb/ 360-berlin)

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Brik, Liliia Iur’evna and Osip Maksimovich

Important Soviet cultural figures. Liliia (1891–1978) was active in poetic and artistic circles, while Osip (1888–1945) was a literary theorist and playwright.

Liliia Kagan Brik grew up in the family of a well-known lawyer who specialized in residency rights for Jews living in Moscow. She studied mathematics and architecture and in 1912 married Osip Brik. The pivotal event of her life, however, was her meeting in 1915 with the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky (Maiakovskii), who became her companion, although she did not dissolve her marriage to Brik. Mayakovsky dedicated his works to her, including his love poem “Pro eto” (About This), issued with her portrait by Aleksandr Rodchenko on the book cover. After Mayakovsky’s suicide in 1930, Liliia Brik became his literary executor and the editor of his collected works. Her letter to Stalin (1935) in defense of Mayakovsky’s reputation brought about the poet’s official canonization. Brik retained her influence on the cultural scene into her old age. Characteristic was her close friendship with the repressed film director Sergei Paradzhanov, whom she helped free from prison. Brik committed suicide at the age of 86. In accordance with her wishes, her memoirs came out 25 years after her death, in 2003.

Osip Brik was the son of a wealthy Jewish businessman from Moscow. He was educated as a lawyer but had always been drawn to literature and linguistics. With Viktor Shklovskii, Boris Eikhenbaum, Roman Jakobson, and Iurii Tynianov, he founded the Russian formalist group Opoyaz (Society for the Study of Poetic Language). His most significant pieces on literary theory were the articles “Zvukovye povtory” (Sound Repetitions; 1917) and “Ritm i sintaksis” (Rhyme and Syntax; 1927). In the 1920s, Brik became one of the editors and key theorists of the journals LEF (Left Front of Art) and Novyi LEF (New Left Front of Art), publications in which he defended the principles of revolutionary and futurist art. He fought against what was called proletarian realism, championing in its stead the outmoded “bourgeois” art forms known as the literature of fact and class-determined literature. Among his noteworthy articles were “Blizhe k faktu” (Closer to the Fact; Novyi LEF 2 [1927]) and “Razlozhenie siuzheta” (Laying out the Subject, also published in Novyi LEF). Brik was also a playwright (in 1926 he collaborated with Mayakovsky on Radio-Oktiabr’ [Radio-October]) and a screenwriter (in 1928 for Vsevolod Pudovkin’s Potomok Chingis-khana [The Descendant of Ghengis Khan]).

As emancipated Jewish intellectuals who supported the October Revolution (Osip Brik even worked in the Cheka, the secret police), Liliia and Osip Brik were typical of their time. They fostered the most brilliant artistic salon in Soviet Russia, gathering in their home the masters of Soviet art in its early, fruitful period and exerting a strong influence on its development.

Suggested Reading

Vahan D. Barooshian, Brik and Mayakovsky (The Hague and New York, 1978); Liliia Brik, Pristrastnye rasskazy (Nizhnii Novgorod, 2003); Osip Maksimovich Brik, Literatura fakta: Pervyi sbornik materialov (Moscow, 2000); Bengt Jangfeldt, “Osip Brik: A Bibliography with an Introduction and a Post Scriptum,” Russian Literature (The Hague) 8 (1980): 579–604.



Translated from Russian by Alice Nakhimovsky