The End of the Affair: On the Ruins of Soviet-Third-World Literary Engagements
Speakers): Rossen Djagalov, New York University
In the 1970s, translations of African and Asian literature could be seen in many Soviet bookstores, literary guests from these continents were frequently sighted in Moscow and Tashkent, and the USSR underwrote (and participated in) a whole Afro-Asian Writers Association. Little is left today of these once-thriving engagements, except for library books that few now read, area studies academic institutes that are a pale shadow of their former selves, and sharply contested memories of different types of readers. For some of them (for example, inakomysliashchie intelligenty), these engagements, if not Afro-Asian literature as a whole, amounted to an unwelcome imposition by the state, while for others (Central Asian writers and readers), they comprised the main form of internationalism available to them under the Soviet division of cultural labor. Beyond ruins, however, we have to think of the intellectual legacies of these engagements: from a civilizational dismissal of non-Western cultures one can all too often encounter in Russian cultural production and scholarship to postcolonial studies in the Anglo-American academy, which took off precisely at the moment when Third-Worldist and Soviet-aligned anti-colonial discourses were fading away. As a whole, this Third-World perspective can help challenge some of the standard narratives of Soviet and post-Soviet literary history.
Rossen Djagalov is an Assistant Professor of Russian at New York University. His interests lie in socialist culture globally and, more specifically, in the linkages between cultural producers and audiences in the USSR and abroad. His forthcoming manuscript, Premature Postcolonialists: Soviet-Third-World Literary and Cinematic Encounters in the Age of Three Worlds, reconstructs the Soviet genealogy of postcolonial literature, film, and ultimately, theory. His second book project, The People’s Republic of Letters: Towards a Media History of Twentieth-Century Socialist Internationalism, examines the relationship between the political left and the different media (proletarian novel, singer-songwriter performance, political documentary film) that at different times played a major role in connecting its publics globally. Before coming to NYU, he taught at Koc University, was a postdoctoral fellow at the Penn Humanities Forum, a tutor at Harvard's History and Literature program, and a Ph.D. student at Yale’s Comparative Literature department. He is a member of the editorial collective of LeftEast.