“Communist World Poetics”
October 5, 12:00 PM-1:30 PM EST

Convener: Sam Hodgkin

In recent years, the conventional polarities of world literature studies, which model institutionalized world literature as a phenomenon emerging from literary transactions between the Western metropolis and the colonial peripheries, have been complicated by a number of studies focused on the communist bloc and on leftist literary internationalisms in the decolonizing world. These studies have begun to construct a new institutional history of world literature, in which communist writers’ organizations and their journals of literature in translation defined the early infrastructure for non-European writers to claim a place in world literature, whether considered as a symbolic system or a practical publishing network. Furthermore, the Soviet multinational literary system, with its writers’ unions, plenums, periodicals, and petitions, provided a model for a range of national and international literary organizations, whose politics were not always pro-Soviet or even leftist.

The emergence of this counternarrative gives us an opportunity to consider communist world literature as an intelligible unit beyond the history of literary institutions, that is, to consider the distinctive poetics that emerged within this system. This task differs from the more ubiquitous tradition of scholarship that focuses on the political dimension of Soviet and Soviet-aligned high modernism, which preceded the emergence of large-scale non-Western communist literary internationalism. More relevant is a strain of recent scholarship that has reconsidered the turn away from literary high modernism in the global 1930s, and the broader politics and poetics of “peripheral realisms.” As a primarily recuperative project, however, this line of investigation has set aside the less appealing characteristics of global “party literature”: its modularity, instrumentality, and the synchronization of literature with bureaucracy. These are, however, among the most crucial legacies that communist world literature bequeathed to the globalized postcolonial literature of the present day. They continue to shape how writers, publishers, and readerships represent and imagine collectivities, national and otherwise.

“Art, Cultural Diplomacy and the ‘Global South’”
April 28, 12.30PM-2PM EST

Conveners: Christine Ho, Cristian Nae

From Fu Baoshi, Albums of Visits to Czechoslovakia and Romania (1957)

This session focuses upon the role of exchange exhibitions in producing the geographies and structures of knowledge of socialist globalization, or what has been described the “South as Method.” In exploring connections between Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa, the session asks: how do exchange exhibitions suggest alternative ways of thinking about the relationship between nationalism, transnationalism, socialist internationalism, and globalization? How did exchange exhibitions broker new modes of encounter and exchange, especially toward new forms of cultural independence? Finally, how might exhibitions map modes of connection that contested cultural imperialism? While exhibitions have received renewed focus in the last few years under the age of Biennales, this session will move beyond the rhetoric of official claims to examine cultural translations and mistranslations.

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“The Many Faces of Socialist Leader Portraits”
March 4, from 12.30PM-2PM EST

Presenters: Douglas Gabriel, Yi Gu

This meeting will confront a cross-section of socialist leader portraits, a genre deemed by Igor Golomstock to constitute the most privileged of themes in the topography of totalitarian art. More than classifying the similarities and divergences that present across different iterations of leader portraits, our chief aim will be to track how the circulation and appropriation of such images have, at different junctures, unsettled their perceived rigidity. Seen from this angle, one and the same portrait might be shown to operate simultaneously as a brutally oppressive signifier in one context, and as a marker of international solidarity and anti-imperialist commitments in another. Moreover, we will consider leader portraits in an expansive sense, unpacking, for example, the sometimes curious portrayals of a figure like Lenin in a recently translated 1924 memoir-style sketch by Anatoly Lunacharsky recollecting the Soviet leader’s encounters with and musings on various art forms.

A presentation by Douglas Gabriel will explore the diverse employment of Kim Il Sung portraits in the Black Panther newspaper in the 1960s. A text by Eldridge Cleaver reflecting on a visit to Pyongyang serves as a supplement to the presentation, and as another instance of a textual leader portrait, this time in the form of a missive intended to be reprinted across multiple platforms and circulated internationally. A second presentation by Yi Gu will examine official portraits of Mao and their scholarly evaluation.

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Reading Materials

“Hegemony and Subalternity”
February 10, from 12.30PM-2PM EST

Conveners: Karen Benezra, Sven Spieker
Presenters: Karen Benezra, Polly Savage, Sven Spieker

The session deals with the problem of subaltern and popular culture in Gramsci’s recently translated Notebook 25 (1934) and in Amílcar Cabral’s “National Liberation and Culture” (1970), complemented by Pier Paolo Pasolini’s poem “The Ashes of Gramsci” (1954) whose last section (VI) develops its own idiosyncratic take on subalternity. Together with Peter Thomas’s forceful and polemical reinterpretation of Gramsci’s theory of the state, Gramsci’s mature thinking on culture and politics provides a framework for approaching the relationship between hegemony and subalternity–and the role of art and ideology within it–first staged in his earlier formulations “On the Southern Question” and on the concept of the “national-popular.” In his 1970 speech, Bissau-Guinean anti-colonial leader Amílcar Cabral takes up these ideas to denounce the cultural violence of colonial rule, and outline future cultural strategies for the liberation struggle. Pasolini’s poem, for its part, has the poet profess an attraction to mythical, premodern proletarian life and culture, both alongside and against Gramsci’s de-mythifying project. Short presentations by Karen (Notebook #25); Polly (Cabral); Sven (Pasolini).

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“Modernism and Socialist Realism”
December 3, from 12.30PM-2PM EST

Conveners: Sven Spieker, Monica Popescu, Christine Ho
Presenters: Kevin Platt, Łukasz Stanek

The meeting will parse the relationship between Realism and Socialist Realism in a transnational context, and across a variety of disciplines that include architecture, literature and art. Of special interest will be the problem of decolonization and its reflection in realist art and fiction. As part of our meeting, we look forward to a presentation by Kevin Platt about a text by Russian art historian Ekaterina Degot that concerns Socialist Realism in the former Soviet Union, and its complex relationship with realism (see below). Monica Popescu offers a commentary and introduction to a text by Lewis Nkosi about realism and postmodernism in South African literature, and Łukasz Stanek will make a brief presentation about “gifted buildings” in the Socialist world. Additionally, we ask that you consider reading a supplementary text by Nikolas Drosos and Romy Golan, “Realism as International Style.”
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“How To: Manuals for Mass
Mobilization in Literature and Art”
September 30, 2021 @ 12.30pm-2pm EST

Curator: Sam Hodgkin & Presenter: Yi Gu

Literature Lesson at the school associated with the Krasnyj Bogatyr Factory (early 1930s).

The workshop will consider translated selections from manuals produced in the 1920s to train Soviet Russian and Uzbek worker-correspondents and peasant-correspondents, some of them newly literate, to write essays, poetry, and prose fiction for publication in newspapers and journals. The foundational Uzbek literary reformer ‘Abd al-Ra‘uf Fitrat (1886-1938) The poets Georgy Shengeli (1894-1956) and Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) engaged in a bitter polemic about literary training, and their manuals (both from 1926) present two very different conceptions of what you need to know to start writing poetry. A 1927 manual by the Uzbek proletarian writer Anqabay (Khudayvahidov, 1905-1938) draws on Fitrat and Shengeli’s manuals, while transforming Futurism, too, into a masterable set of poetic techniques. Each of the texts imagines, in its own way, a process of literary cadrification capable of producing a proletariat that writes for itself without intelligentsia guidance or mediation. Yi Gu will start the discussion with a presentation of her own research on manuals and training programs for amateur artists in Maoist China.

“Objects of World Socialism”
September 17, 2021 @ 12.30pm-2pm EST

Curators: Samuel Hodgkin, Sven Spieker
Presenters: Samuel Hodgkin, Sven Spieker, Group Members

This meeting aims to introduce the Working Group members to each other. After a short introduction we are hoping that each member of the Group might briefly present an object of their choice, to give everyone an idea of their current research interests.