The Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures presents a talk in the Slavic Colloquium series, featuring:
“Revolution with Chinese Characteristics: Internationalist Aesthetics and Racial Form in Early Soviet Literature”
Edward Tyerman (University of California, Berkeley)
Professor Tyerman's forthcoming book, Internationalist Aesthetics: China and Early Soviet Culture, reconstructs the encounter with China in early Soviet culture as the period’s key site for experimenting with aesthetic forms that could mediate the political project of socialist internationalism. The central figure in this story, the avant-garde writer Sergei Tret’iakov, journeyed to Beijing in the 1920s and experimented with innovative documentary forms in an attempt to foster a new sense of connection between Chinese and Soviet citizens. The internationalist aesthetics of Tret’iakov and others sought to reconfigure their audience’s cognitive map of the world, overcoming the exoticization of East Asia and positioning China within the same turbulent revolutionary modernity as Soviet Russia. However, this attempt to develop a form of solidarity with cultural others found itself obliged to negotiate the abiding presence of another ideological formation through which to understand that otherness: the racialization of East Asia that took place from the late nineteenth century under the transnational discourse of the Yellow Peril.
This talk explores how these two ideological discourses, internationalism and race, became intertwined in literary form. Tyerman focuses on the figure of the Chinese migrant soldier, a stock figure in literary representations of the Russian Civil War who appears in the work of such prominent early Soviet writers as Isaac Babel’, Artem Veselyi, Boris Pil’niak, Vsevolod Ivanov, Nikolai Ostrovskii, Andrei Platonov, and Mikhail Bulgakov. These migrant workers who fought and died for the Russian Revolution offered a vivid symbol for the possibilities of socialist internationalism. At the same time, a repeated emphasis on the fearlessness of these Chinese partisans preserves the influence of Yellow Peril-era racial discourse, which framed Chinese bodies as physiologically impervious to pain. In the figure of the Chinese migrant soldier, internationalist solidarity and racial difference clash and interpenetrate as ideological modes for understanding the relationship between China and Russia in the early twentieth century.
RSVP here for the Zoom link. Join us on November 10 for the next talk.