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Osip Maksimovich Brik ( ), (January 16, 1888–February 22, 1945), Russian avant garde writer and literary critic, was one of the most important members of the Russian formalist school, though he also identified himself as one of the Futurists.

Brik grew up in Moscow, the son of a wealthy Jewish jeweler. In the university, Brik studied law; his friend Roman Jakobson wrote: "For his doctoral thesis he wanted to write about the sociology and juridical status of prostitutes and would frequent the boulevards. All the prostitutes there knew him, and he always defended them, for free, in all their affairs, in their confrontations with the police and so on." But he soon found himself far more interested in poetry and poetics and devoted all his time to it, becoming one of the founders of OPOJAZ and writing one of the first important formalist studies of sounds in poetry, Zvukovye povtory ("Sound repetitions," 1917). He had a strongly anti-author stance, once going so far as to say that if Pushkin had not written Eugene Onegin, somebody else would have; he wrote that "there are no poets or literary figures, there is poetry and literature." He was also interested in photography and film: "In 1918, Brik was a member of IZO Narkompros (Visual Arts Section of the People's Committee for Education). ... Brik was especially close to Aleksandr Rodchenko and did much to make his photographic work known." He was also active in films and wrote several screenplays, including one for Potomok Cingis-khana (The Descendant of Genghis Khan), directed by Vsevolod Pudovkin (1928).

He met his future wife, Lilya Kagan, when he was 17 and she 14; they were married March 26, 1912. (Her sister Elsa was Louis Aragon's wife and a notable French writer.)The daughter of a prosperous Jewish jurist, the handsome, erotically obsessed, highly cultivated Lili grew up with an overwhelming ambition prevalent among women of the Russian intelligentsia: to be perpetuated in human memory by being the muse of a famous poet. ... The two made a pact to love each other "in the Chernyshevsky manner" — a reference to one of nineteenth-century Russia's most famous radical thinkers, who was an early advocate of "open marriages." Living at the heart of an artistic bohemia and receiving the intelligentsia in the salon of his delectable wife, Osip Brik, true to his promise, calmly accepted his wife's infidelities from the start. In fact, upon hearing his wife confess that she had gone to bed with the famous young poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, Brik exclaimed "How could you refuse anything to that man?" ... In 1918, when Mayakovsky and the Briks became inseparable, he simply moved in with them. Throughout the rest of his life, he made his home at a succession of flats that the Briks occupied.Mayakovsky's sexual relationship with Lili lasted from 1917 to 1923, and afterwards he continued to have a close friendship with the couple: "For the rest of his life, 'Osia' Brik remained the poet's most trusted adviser, his most fervent proselytizer, and also a co-founder with him of the most dynamic avant-garde journal of the early Soviet era, Left Front of Art," or LEF, which was also an official publication for the group with the same name, and a platform for Russian Constructivist art. (Later the magazine was renamed Novyi LEF.)

Brik was not only a literary modernist, he was strongly left-wing in politics, and on June 8, 1920 he joined the Cheka.

Jakobson wrote of this period:

It was from Bogatyrev, who visited me in Praguemarker in December 1921, that I learned Brik was in the Cheka. And he told me that Pasternak, who often visited the Briks, had said to him: "Still, it's become rather terrifying. You come in, and Lili says: 'Wait a while, we'll have dinner as soon as Osja comes back from the Cheka.'" At the end of 1922 I met the Briks in Berlin. Osja said to me: "Now there's an institution where a man loses his sentimentality," and began relating to me several rather bloody episodes. This was the first time he made a rather repulsive impression on me. Working in the Cheka had ruined him.

After Stalin's rise to power, the Communist regime openly encouraged exclusively socialist realism methods and initiated a campaign to stamp out all culture the Communist Party perceived as dangerous. Most avant garde artists and thinkers suffered persecution, and Brik did not escape this fate. In the 1930s he eked out a living writing articles on Mayakovsky and book reviews; he died in 1945 of a heart attack while climbing the stairs to his apartment. His works were not republished in Russia until the mid-1990s. Edward J. Brown summed his career up thus: "He wrote little, but his articles on poetic form ... are brilliant formalist analyses of poetic language... and he was probably the most articulate exponent in Lef of the theories of 'social demand' and 'literature of fact.' A man of surpassing intelligence, he was apparently not strong either in performance or in principle."


  1. Gershon David Hundert, The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, vol. 1 (Yale University Press, 2008: ISBN 0300119038), p. 237
  2. Francine Du Plessix Gray, Them (Penguin, 2006: ISBN 0143037196), p. 51.
  3. Roman Jakobson, My Futurist Years (Marsilio Publishers, 1997: ISBN 1568860498), p. 43.
  4. Graham Roberts, The Last Soviet Avant-Garde: OBERIU - Fact, Fiction, Metafiction (Cambridge University Press, 2006: ISBN 0521028345), p. 28.
  5. Diane Neumaier, Beyond Memory: Soviet Nonconformist Photography and Photo-related Works of Art (Rutgers University Press, 2004: ISBN 0813534542), p. 172.
  6. Jurij Striedter, Literary Structure, Evolution, and Value: Russian Formalism and Czech Structuralism Reconsidered (Harvard University Press, 1989: ISBN 0674536533), p. 266.
  7. Francine Du Plessix Gray, Them, pp. 51-52.
  8. Francine Du Plessix Gray, Them, p. 51.
  9. Roman Jakobson, My Futurist Years, p. 45.
  10. Vahan D. Barooshian, Brik and Mayakovsky (Mouton, 1978: ISBN 9027978263), p. 122.
  11. Edward J. Brown in Victor Terras (ed.), Handbook of Russian Literature (Yale University Press, 1990: ISBN 0300048688), p. 278.


(in English)
  • Two Essays on Poetic Language, Ann Arbor, 1964

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