English 250

Research Seminars: Comintern Modernisms

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2014 Lee, Steven S.
W 3-6 204 Wheeler

Book List

Clark, Katerina: Moscow, The Fourth Rome; Malraux, Andre: Man's Fate; Platonov, Andrei: Soul: And Other Stories


It has long been common practice to see Western metropolises like Paris and New York as competing centers of global modernism, as capitals of a "world republic of letters."  The aim of this seminar is to posit an alternate mapping of world culture, one that decenters the West through an emphasis on the realms of “really existing socialism,” a.k.a. the Communist Bloc, a.k.a. the Second World.  More specifically, the seminar seeks to reassemble cultural and political circuits that once connected, for example, Moscow, Beijing, Hanoi, Havana, and indeed, Paris and New York.  The common thread here is a shared encounter with leftist vanguards and avant-gardes—that is, artists and writers committed both to modernist experimentation and revolutionary politics.  We will see how Lenin’s Communist International (or Comintern) and interwar Soviet culture inspired such luminaries as Walter Benjamin, Langston Hughes, Lu Xun, Andre Malraux, and Diego Rivera.  We will also trace the decline of these leftist circuits amid Stalinist repression and the emergence of socialist realism.  However, though our focus will be on the interwar years, the seminar will also emphasize how this alternate imaginary persisted and transformed after World War II, and still circulates through such cultural forms as the postcolonial and magical realist novels.  

Most readings will be distributed via bCourses. 

This course satisfies the Group 5 (20th-century) or Group 6 (non-historical) requirement.

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