We are a working group on the literature and arts of the socialist world. The group considers the art and literature produced in the multinational USSR and the PRC, in Soviet satellite states and other communist and socialist countries, and by writers, artists, and institutions affiliated with the international communist movement in one or another of its variants. Our group is made up of scholars whose collective range of expertise allows us think about   world art and literature as a richly diverse object of study, and it operates in the context of a crop of recent monographs, edited volumes, and symposia that have solidified conversations in Slavic, East Asian, and Global South studies that stake a claim for the role of international communism in creating the institutions of world literature and art as we know them today. It is to these institutions and the actors behind them that we want to turn our attention, but also to the literary and artistic production that occurred in their ambit.

For the foreseeable future, the group meets online three times per semester. Participation is by invitation. However, it is our intention, in due course, to convert our group into an institute, to be housed at one of our home universities, which will hold symposia and talk series, organize group publications, and provide a directory of interested scholars.

“Uneven and Combined Development in Slavic and East European Culture”
Friday, March 10, 2023, 12.30PM – 2PM EST

Presenters: Djordje Popović/Lilla Balint (UC Berkeley); Zach Hicks (UC Berkeley); Branislav Jakovljević (Stanford); Dominick Lawton (Stanford); Katja Perat (Iligsavik College)

The theory of uneven and combined development (UCD), in its various formulations from Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky through the more contemporary work of Immanuel Wallerstein, Giovanni Arrighi, and the Warwick Research Collective, opens a perspective on culture that grasps the world in its totality and does so because of—not despite—the irregularities manifest in its historical development. Geographers and world-systems theorists have focused on the spatial dimension of UCD to map global social relations in terms of periphery, semi-periphery, and core. No less important, however, is the temporal conception of UCD: a philosophy of history that perceives the “synchronicity of the non-synchronous” (in Ernst Bloch’s terms) in the simultaneous coexistence of “archaic” and “modern” cultural forms produced by the variable dynamics and topography of the modern economy (for example in the work of Harry Harootunian or Benita Parry).

Though our individual contributions address different times, places, and often media, all our work returns to the part of the world in which UCD was first articulated: East Europe, the most geographically immediate periphery of Europe’s imperial core. Our goal is to consider how UCD shapes the region’s cultural forms—-national traditions, genres, individual works—-and, conversely, how artistic production gives form to the phenomenon of UCD. Rather than searching for uniquely East European modern/ist phenomena, we identify how global modernity, as such, came into being in East Europe; the truth that “revealed itself” in the so-called “destiny of the backward countries”—to use Trotsky’s own expression—had nothing to do with “destiny” or “backwardness,” and was instead directed precisely against historical inevitability, cultural particularism, and the core leading the periphery.