Wireless Transmissions: Early Russian Radio and Modernist Poetics

Date of Award

Fall 10-1-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Slavic Languages and Literatures

First Advisor

Brunson, Molly


This dissertation examines the first era of mass wireless communication in Russia, and the ways in which emerging media technologies shaped and intersected with cultural production in the early twentieth century. In this project, I study a series of authors and artists who participated in a growing technological discourse, as they wrote, debated and conceived of methods to achieve “direct” and “instantaneous” communication that exceeded the capabilities of written text. Through their poems, fiction, lithographs and collages, these artists explored the role that wireless telegraphy and radio played in shaping conceptions of spatial and temporal limitations, and how these devices facilitated the creation of new audiences and publics. At the core of this project lies the question of what happens to “old” media (i.e. text) after the introduction of new wireless technology.My project begins by looking at a cultural movement that explicitly modelled itself on the telegraph’s ability to receive remote messages: spiritualism. In my first chapter, I identify a constellation of popular fiction writers, who engaged in experimental methods of communication in the years preceding the Russian Revolution. Through the study of their contributions to mass-circulation occultist periodicals, as well as their engagement with practices like mesmerism, telepathy and automatic writing, I illustrate how these authors created a wireless discourse in the literature of their day. Moving chronologically, I pause to examine a moment in the 1920s that sits between the technological breakthroughs of radiotelephony and the widespread material instantiation of radio networks. Here, I offer an analysis of avant-garde works that speculate on radio’s future capabilities, and link this technology’s success to utopian depictions of social enlightenment and progress. In the third chapter, I explore the culture of amateur radio enthusiasts and a peer-to-peer radio format known as radiopereklichka, that briefly offered an alternative to traditional broadcasting. These ‘unofficial’ practices, I argue, were an integral part of an attempt to link-up the urban and rural populations of the early Soviet period. I conclude the dissertation by discussing the consolidation of broadcasting practices and the emergence of conservative cultural forms during the 1930s. Through its analysis of the connections between media ecology, representation, and Socialist ideology, this dissertation will contribute to the fields of Slavic studies and media studies. It will also challenge the partitioned disciplinary lines of Russian and Soviet culture by tracing a wireless discourse within the broader media ecology of the first three decades of the twentieth century. Moreover, the larger questions about new media addressed in this work cut across different scholarly disciplines and time periods – they apply to the creation and dissemination of print media in the nineteenth century, television and cinema in the twentieth, as well as the digital and social media of our current age.

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