The Caucasus is often introduced as the site of a nineteenth-century Russian orientalist imaginary, caught between Europe and Asia and the intelligentsia’s oppositional imperialist nationalism. However, a period of revolutionary upheaval and civil war, and the Soviet annexation of the former imperial territories, made the Caucasus once again a critical geopolitical zone for Soviet eastern expansion. In the words of the Azerbaijani Soviet politician Nariman Narimanov, this process involved an opening of the Soviet “window onto the East.” This talk takes up this period of Soviet imperial returns through the construction of a Muslim communist aesthetic and political commitment, and examines its role in forming of a vision of an Eastern International. Discussing Azeri and Russian theatre, Feldman focuses in particular on Jalil Memmedquluzade’s reinterpretation of Gogol’s classic The Government Inspector in his 1909 play The Dead, as well as essays on politics and art that frame this image of a revolutionary Soviet East.
Leah Feldman is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago. Her research explores the poetics and the politics of global literary networks, focusing on critical approaches to translation theory, semiotics, postcolonial theory, and Marxist aesthetics. Her current book project, On the Threshold of Eurasia: Orientalism and Revolutionary Aesthetics in the Caucasus, 1905-1929 exposes the ways in which the idea of a revolutionary Eurasia informed the interplay between orientalist and anti-colonial discourses in Russian and Azeri poetry and prose. Tracing translations and intertextual engagements across Russia, the Caucasus, and western Europe, it offers an alternative vision of empire, modernity, and anti-imperialism from the vantage point of cosmopolitan centers in the Russian empire and Soviet Union.