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Author of The Ethnic Avant-Garde: Minority Cultures and World Revolution
Thursday, November 29, 2018 - 6:00pm to 7:30pm

Fisher-Bennett Hall, room 135 (Faculty Lounge)


Co-hosted by Mods, Asian American Studies, and Russian and East European Studies.

The “imaginative proximity of social revolution” (Perry Anderson) has long been regarded as generative for modernism, with several scholars noting the frequent, often troubled alignment of artistic and political vanguards.  A key case in point from the New Modernist Studies is Martin Puchner’s Poetry of the Revolution (2006), which presents the Communist Manifesto as a model for world literature—in particular, for avant-garde manifestos throughout the twentieth century.  For Puchner, what distinguishes Marx and Engels’ manifesto is its use of speech acts and theatricality to create a new language-as-action, and its vision of translation as structuring, rather than fetishizing, original texts.  The result is a widely circulating genre of self-authorizing writing, which Puchner uses to expand the spatial and temporal coordinates of global modernism—from Europe and the U.S. to Latin America, and from the early twentieth century to the twenty-first.

This article expands Puchner’s framework by applying it to the 1934 Soviet Writers Congress and Mao Tse-Tung’s 1942 Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art.  Both events marked the subordination of artists and writers to the political vanguard: the Writers Congress formally inaugurated socialist realism, while the Yan’an Forum pressed for accessible works that would serve the masses and revolution.  However, reading the documents from these events as manifestos makes it possible to blur the boundary between modernism and (socialist) realism and, in the process, to expand the reach of global modernism to realms typically closed off from it—Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China. I will show, for instance, how both the Writers Congress and Yan’an Forum embraced folk and minority cultures—an emphasis that I will connect to modernist exoticism, as discussed in such New Modernist Studies titles as Eric Hayot’s Chinese Dreams (2003), Josephine Park’s Apparitions of Asia (2008), and Steven Yao’s Translation and the Languages of Modernism (2002). I will then discuss how the Lu Xun Art Academy, founded in Yan’an in 1938 on the grounds of a Spanish mission, witnessed the often tenuous alignment of modernism, realism, and revolution. And I will conclude with a brief discussion of recent commemorations of the Yan’an Forum—first, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2014 Beijing Forum on Literature and Art, and  then The Hong Show, a 2017 multimedia theater spectacle staged in Yan’an to celebrate the city’s revolutionary past.