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.

Erik Bulatov, Horizon, 1971-72

“The Ocean in Socialist Studies”
Friday, December 8, 2023, 11.00AM – 12:30PM EST

Conveners: Douglas Gabriel and Nico Volland

The emerging field variously called the Blue Humanities, archipelagic studies, and oceanic studies, calls on scholars in the humanities and social sciences to critically interrogate the epistemic models and analytical categories informing our research. Rather than focusing on continents and their supposedly stable borders, water-based ontologies propose fluidity, relationality, and increasingly also embodied experiences and engagement with the ocean. Maritime histories, archipelagic approaches to literature, memory, and diaspora, as well as studies of “wild blue media” are transforming a wide range of disciplinary practices.

Where is the ocean in socialist studies? Can socialism take to the seas? The American empire in the Pacific has been characterized as an archipelago of bases and alliances. Did the socialist world ever get their feet wet? Are there socialist cultures that dip their toes into the waters (or maybe even ride the waves)? This session is a provocation, calling on members to explore what studies of world socialist cultures and the blue humanities may have to say to each other (if anything). The conveners propose to jumpstart our discussion with a set of primary texts and visual materials from the People’s Republic of China and North Korea. In “Sons and Daughters of Hsi-sha” (1974), the novelist Han Ran leaves the firm ground of rural revolution and dives into the raging South China Seas. Meanwhile, a short presentation by Douglas Gabriel will explore how the seas have been depicted in North Korean paintings and infused with anti-imperialist sentiments. We propose these materials as a starting point for, hopefully, broader reflections that could and should include case studies from other geographic and temporal contexts.


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