“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.