Three Worlds as Theory, Reality and Historical Legacy

124. Thursday, 3 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 301, Hynes

Program arranged by the Division on Slavic and East European Literatures

I. Kristine Kotecki, U Texas, Austin
On the Margins of All Three Worlds: Yugoslavia and the Nonaligned Movement”

II. Rossen Djagalov, Harvard University
“The Second World as a Literary Field”

III. John Connor, Colgate University
“Distant-Reading Three-Worlds Literature: The Historical Novel in Britain and Beyond”

Presiding: Jessie Labov, Ohio State U
Discussant: Kevin Platt, U Penn


Once upon a time, the world was divided into first, second and third worlds, corresponding to the "west," "the developing world" and "the Communist Bloc." Or was it? Or perhaps it still is? This panel examines the legacies, across disciplines and global culture, of the imagined or real structures of the era of three worlds. Presentations range from a recovery of Yugoslavia as part of the founding concept of the third world via the Nonaligned Movement, to a mapping of the circulation of literary cultures in the second world, to a reflection on Michael Denning’s pivotal reconsideration of the “Three Worlds” theory as a call and/or return to more sociological and material approaches to literature. Taken together, they push us towards new ways of interrelating theoretical models for research originating in distinct global contexts (post-colonialism, post-socialism), and show the effects of the three-world theory on research into culture and history. 

"On the Margins of All Three Worlds: Yugoslavia and the Nonaligned Movement"
Kristine Kotecki
Vijay Prashad argues that the “Third World” is not a place but a project to fight poverty, oppression, and cultural imperialism. As in the work of scholars like Teshome Gabriel and Aijaz Ahmad, Prashad uses the term “Third World” in its most historically precise sense to mean those nations that formed the Non-aligned Movement (NAM) as a an alternative to colonialism and cold-war bilateralism. NAM developed in response to the call for periphery-periphery relations (Aimé Césaire) in opposition to Western Europe (Franz Fanon). Prashad and Ahmad critique NAM’s trajectory however, and argue that in making local hopes intelligible within the discourse of international relations, these hopes became oversimplified and particular social hierarchies obscured. Keeping this attention to local difference in play, I suggest that Prashad, Ahmad and Gabriel’s Third World depends on a “postcolonial” frame that rests on another oversimplification: Asia-Africa-Latin American solidarity in opposition to Europe. This anti-Europeanness is made most clear by their omissions (Ahmad and Gabriel) or ambivalent treatment (Prashad) of Yugoslavia, one of the three founders of the Non-aligned Movement. In this paper, I discuss how Yugoslavia’s involvement in the Non-aligned Movement troubles the boundaries of a postcolonial “Third World” and “Europe.”

"The Second World as a Literary Field"
Rossen Djagalov

Did official literature in the Second World constitute a field in the Bourdieusian sense of the term? To answer this question, we would need to reconstruct its internal structures and “the rules of the game,” the schemes of domination and interactions with the outside world(s). In this paper, I will seek to reconstruct those indirectly, in the process of describing the dynamic between differential censorship and co-ordinating initiatives that involved all of the above.
The geographical unevenness of censorship in the Soviet bloc emerged with the Soviet bloc itself. Not even at its most Stalinist, early-1950s, version did the Second World ever achieve a homogenous level of censorship, a common understanding of Socialist Realism, or a uniform adoption of Soviet literary institutions. The societies in question and their literatures were no blank slates that could be simply Sovietized. With Stalin’s death, however, the effects of differential censorship reached levels that truly alarming proportions. It’s not only the 1957 publication of Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago in the official Polish literary magazine Opiniii that flustered Soviet cultural bureaucrats or that their Bulgarian counterparts would be similarly unpleasantly surprised by the argument “but that’s allowed in the USSR!” used by Bulgarian writers and publishers to “push through” hitherto unacceptable foreign texts. A major headache for the cultural bureaucracy, this unevenness not only allowed cultural consumers from zones of high censorship access to texts via zones of low censorship (typically Poland, Hungary, or pre-1968 Czechoslovakia) but also engendered general interest in the latter.
            To resolve these problems and synchronize translation and publication practices throughout the Second World, a Co-ordinating Council of Writers’ Unions was founded in the mid-1960s. The transcripts of that council reveal show a beleaguered Soviet cultural bureaucracy trying to diffuse nationalist tensions between the Bulgarian and Yugoslav, or Hungarian and Slovak writers’ unions or stave off demands from other Writers' Unions for translational parity (say, 50 contemporary Soviet novels translated into Romanian in exchange for 50 Romanian ones into Russian, an arrangement that amounted to literary dumping as the largely Western-centric Soviet readership generally had little interest in Second- or Third-World literatures).
            Indeed, one of the more striking consequences of both differential censorship and coordinating initiatives is to see that post-1956 Soviet-bloc cultural bureaucracies ended up interfering with the publishing practices of the Soviet state to a far greater extent than the Soviet state interfered with theirs.
           In the end, we have not been able to answer the question with which this abstract began (for any estimation of the strength of relationships constituting a field is ultimately subjective, and moreover, very different for different periods), but in the process of thinking through it, we have recovered some now-forgotten dynamics among the literatures that once constituted the literary Second World.

“Distant-Reading Three-Worlds Literature: The Historical Novel in Britain and Beyond"
John Connor, Colgate University

As suggested by its first publication in Franco Moretti’s anthology, Il Romanzo (2001-3), Michael Denning’s essay “The Novelists’ International” encourages the same encounter between formal and quantitative methodologies that Moretti has elsewhere championed under the rubric of “distant reading.” Moretti’s provocative sociology of literature is particularly generative for understanding the lives and migrations of genres, and it is on this basis that my paper looks to the mid-century reactivation of the historical novel within the culture of the Communist International as a case-study for a three-worlds literary history. I trace the genre’s resurrection at the convocation of the Popular Front in 1935 and detail its residency in Britain, where over the next thirty years upwards of fifty novels were written by writers affiliated with the organized Left (most prolifically by the Communist Party theorist, Jack Lindsay). I map the genre’s travels under the auspices of the Communist International, and suggest its outcome, not only in the historical novels of the decolonizing Third World and in the emergence of magical realism, but in the rise of radical and subaltern social history. Mine is an exercise in rehabilitation, and as such, a little wary of the dispassionate dellaVolpean scientism that inflects Moretti’s methodological strictures: like Denning, my literary history is motivated by “the promise of the old internationalism.” And it is this motivation that underwrites the impulse to temper a diachronic distant reading (able to marshal minor texts en masse and register the basic elements of form) with the kind of sympathetic cultural study that will situate these texts within the distinctive historical cultures of the social movements that gave them life.


John Connor (Presenter) is Assistant Professor at Colgate University, after receiving his degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010. His research interests include twentieth-century British literature, historiography and the intellectual culture of international Communism. He is at work on a manuscript, titled Mid-Century Romance: Historical Fiction after Modernism, that reads the reactivation of the historical novel in the culture of the organized Left alongside more canonical works of British High and Late Modernism. His most recent publication is a chapter on twentieth-century historical fiction forthcoming in the Blackwell Companion to British Literature (2012).

Rossen Djagalov (Presenter) is a Tutor in the Committee on History and Literature at Harvard University. Having received his PhD in Comparative Literature from Yale University in December 2011, he is at work dividing his dissertation into two separate book-projects: the first one--a media history of twentieth-century socialist culture, and the second one--on literary engagements between the Second and Third Worlds. He has published in English, Russian, and German on topics as diverse as the anti-populism of late-/post-socialist intellectuals, Third-World students in Moscow, GULAG narratives, treatment of memory in Stagnation-era works of Central Asian and Siberian writers, and transnational migrations. He will spend the academic 2012-2013 as an Andrew Mellon Fellow in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania’s Humanities Forum.

Kristine Kotecki (Presenter) is a PhD candidate in the English department at the University of Texas at Austin. She has published articles and presented conference papers on Ethnic and Third World Literature, South-Slavic Literature, and film theory. Her research interests also include narrative form and poetics, public sphere theories, and cultural memory. She is currently writing a dissertation titled “After the Archive: Framing Cultural Memory in Post-Yugoslav Collections.

Jessie Labov (Presider) is Assistant Professor in Slavic & East European Literature at the Ohio State University. She has written on the film industry in Eastern Europe, samizdat, dissent, and underground culture during the Cold War, as well as new models of disseminating culture online after 1989. Her current publishing projects include a co-edited volume of essays with Friederike Kind-Kovacs, From Samizdat to Tamizdat: Transnational Media During and After Socialism (forthcoming Berghahn 2012), and a monograph entitled Transatlantic Central Europe.

Kevin M. F. Platt (Discussant) is Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and Graduate Chair of the Comparative Literature Program. He works on representations of Russian history, Russian historiography, and history and memory in Russia. Additionally, he frequently writes on Russian lyric poetry. He is the author of Terror and Greatness: Ivan and Peter as Russian Myths (Cornell UP, 2011) and History in a Grotesque Key: Russian Literature and the Idea of Revolution(Stanford, 1997; Russian edition 2006), and the co-editor (with David Brandenberger) of Epic Revisionism: Russian History and Literature as Stalinist Propaganda (Wisconsin UP, 2006). Platt has published chapters and articles on Russian history and historiography, film, art and poetry. His current projects include a critical historiography of Russia, a study of contemporary Russian culture in Latvia and a number of translation projects.

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