ProjectAttention in Modernism: The Case of Andrey Bely

Basic data

Attention in Modernism: The Case of Andrey Bely
01/02/2024 to 31/01/2026
Abstract / short description:
Explored as a key mental ability since the eighteenth century, attention became one of the central problems of psychology over the next hundred years, which had a significant bearing on modernist art and literature. My project concerns one of the leading figures of modernism, Andrey Bely (1880–1934), for whom attention was a matter of intense reflection shaping his aesthetic views and literary works. I will examine his ideas in the context of a general interest in the psychology of attention which is characteristic of the modernist period, showing how they were integrated into his perception of contemporary culture. Starting with an outline of the problem of attention in modernism, I will consider the roots of Bely’s interest in the subject in his early intellectual biography, which was influenced by the privileged position of psychology amongst the sciences at the turn of the twentieth century. I will analyze the impact of psychological and philosophical ideas of voluntary attention on his aesthetic and political views. Finally, Bely’s literary masterpiece, Petersburg (1913–1914), will be examined as bearing imprints of the author’s preoccupation with the problem of attention. In particular, the focus on this problem helps to deepen our awareness of the anti-Semitic layer of the novel. It was not only the novel’s motifs that bore the imprint of racial ideology, but also its poetics. Aside from expressing Bely’s aesthetic tastes, the extreme complexity of Petersburg, had ideological implications which were related to the merging of two discourses: that of degeneration and that of an “Aryan” renaissance. Whereas the former, regarding Jews as particularly prone to degeneracy, included inattention in its catalogue of degenerative features, the latter offered an image of an “Aryan” culture as completely opposite to the allegedly “Semitic” tendency towards simplification and abstraction.

Involved staff


Institute of Slavic Languages and Literatures
Department of Modern Languages, Faculty of Humanities

Local organizational units

Institute of Slavic Languages and Literatures
Department of Modern Languages
Faculty of Humanities


Bonn, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

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