Inherit the World

Do27Mai(Mai 27)15:00Sa29(Mai 29)20:00Inherit the WorldStrategies of translatio in the Soviet Literary CosmopolisVeranstaltungsartKonferenz


Organised by Susanne Frank, Research Area 1: „Competing Communities“.

Current debates over world literature / global literatures almost never pay attention to the project for world literature as conceived and developed in the USSR between 1917 and 1991, although it was the most ambitious, centralized, and best-resourced effort to date to transform the workings of literary production, circulation, and consumption both at home and worldwide. It is the task of our conference to examine the Soviet project for world literature – “Soviet multinational literature” being an important part of it – and thereby to contribute to the ongoing world literature debate.  Current debates have increasingly substituted “the world” with “a global”, and “literature” is used almost exclusively in the plural to emphasize diversity. But does this new language eliminate the imperial origin of the notion? To lay claims on “the world” – even knowledge claims – has always been an imperial task. As an attempt to fashion a broad domestic and international community of writers and readers laying claim to world literary heritage, the Soviet project was certainly an imperial one. It needs to be studied as such and it needs to be put into a comparative perspective.

The conference will combine a historical approach with a contemporary focus. Together with studying Soviet multinational and world-literature paradigms, we will consider their effect on current literary developments in different regions of the former Soviet Union, including successor states where Russian is no longer the lingua franca, as well as on diasporic Russian-language communities.

To speak of the “(post)soviet cosmopolis” is to follow Sheldon Pollock’s comparison between the Sanskrit world and the Roman “Latinitas” in order to elaborate on the specifically Soviet strategies of claiming the “world” through the formation of a single, universal literary canon to be translated into Russian (and, to a lesser extent, the languages of the republics) and read according to specific interpretative criteria. Soviet strategies included establishing a huge institutional apparatus – extending to research, translation, publishing, international journals, and education – to bring under Soviet organizational and interpretive control whatever can be conceived of as world literature, its history, its multinational canon, its future development and its functioning as an instrument of education. To analyze Soviet strategies is to pave the way for a comparison with other, more contemporary claims on the “world,” such as that of the US, and their particular strategies of linguistic dominance and multinational representation. 

Despite consequent and sustainable institutional implementation ‘from above,’ the emerging Soviet literary community was highly complex and also full of tensions between contradictory interests, e.g. those of the curators and party cadres on the one hand, and those of writers who, unable to publish their original work for any combination of political and aesthetic reasons, used the niches of the system to earn their living as translators. The Russian-language representation of multinational world literature their translations brought forward is the result of the official Soviet project, but it offers a picture that is quite different from the intentions of its founders and the party. The conference will consider the implementation strategies of the normative institutional apparatus, the sphere and scale of its impact in the country and worldwide, as well as the multilayered developments of the community itself, its networks, the practices of its actors, the concept and published canon of world literature, and also the unintended side effects, as e.g., a transnational soviet underground.

The legacy of the Soviet project of multinational and world literature is also an issue in the post-Soviet period. On the one hand, the new literary nationalisms in post-Soviet countries, for all their postcolonial attitudes, have to be evaluated – at least partially – as symptoms of the Soviet legacy. In the Russian literary sphere, on the other hand, there is a confrontation between two new literary communities: that of global authors and critics, who decentralize Russian as a literary language, detaching it from nation, territory and political belonging, and that of “Russkii Mir,” the official state-supported Russian organization which lays claim on the Russian speaking populations and cultural products all over the world. Whereas “Russkii Mir” seeks to identify Russian literature with the Russian “nation” and state in order to enact a kind of neo-imperial Eurasia-building, those who decentralize Russian bring forward new modes of transnational and translingual writing that in the global context can be compared to other, minor, trans- and post-monolingual literary communities, such as those which function in English or German.


Thursday, 27 May 2021 | 15:00 – 20:00
Notions of Cosmopolis
15:00 | Susanne Frank (Professor of East Slavic Literature at Humboldt
University Berlin)
“Heritage as a key to the Soviet Literary Cosmopolis”
16:00 | Zaal Andronikashvili (Researcher at the Leibniz Center for
Literary and Cultural Research (ZfL) and Professor at Ilia State
University Tbilisi)
“Tbilisi as Cosmopolis. A sound-portrait”
17:00 | Sona Mnatsakanyan (Researcher in the EXC Project
“(Post)Soviet Literary Cosmopolis” and PhD Candidate at Friedrich
Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies / HU Berlin)
“The literary text of Yerevan”
18:00 | Polina Barskova (Associate Professor of Russian literature at the
Hampshire College)
„Tatiana Gnedich translates the Siege of Leningrad“
19:00 | Eugene Ostashevsky (Artist in Residence at the EXC 2020
“Temporal Communities” and Clinical Professor at the New York
University) / Maria Stepanova (poet, writer, Moscow)
“Ovid-Variations beyond (Un)translatability”
Moderation: Galin Tihanov (Professor of Comparative Literature at
Queen Mary University of London)

Friday, 28 May 2021 | 15:00 – 20:00
Concepts and Politics of Multinationality
15:00 | Maria Khotimsky (Senior Lecturer in Russian at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT))
“Early Soviet approaches to defining world literature in comparative
16:00 | Samuel Hodgkin (Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature
at the Yale University)
„Romantic Representation and the National Poet: Genealogies of
Second-World Surrogacy“
17:00 | Galina Babak (Postdoctoral Fellow at New Europe College,
Institute for Advanced Study in Bucharest)
“Translation for Modernization: ‘World Literature’ in 1920s Soviet
18:00 | Gulnaz Sibgatullina (Postdoctoral Fellow at Amsterdam School of
Historical Studies)
„Is the translator a double-agent? Liron Khamidullin and the Making
of Tatar Literary Canon“
19:00 | Gesine Drews-Sylla (Professor of Russian Literature at the Julius
Maximilian University of Würzburg)
“African Literature and the Project of Soviet World Literature”
Rossen Djagalov (Assistant Professor of Russian at New York

Saturday, 29 May 2021 |15:00 – 20:00
Translating the ‘World’ as translatio imperii
15:00 | Thomas Lahusen (Professor of History at the Centre for
European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies, University of Toronto)
“Socialist in Form, National in Content? Tologon Kasymbekov’s
Broken Sword and Nikolai Chekmenev’s Seven Rivers”
16:00 | Niovi Zampouka (Research Fellow at the Cluster of Excellence
2020 „Temporal Communities: Doing Literature in a Global Perspective“ /
Free University Berlin)
„From true Socrates to Maximus the Greek: Modern Greek literature
in the Soviet translation project“
17:00 | Kevin Platt (Professor of Russian and East European Studies at
the University of Pennsylvania)
„From Howard Fast to John Cheever: American Literature in
the Soviet Literary World“
18:00 | Ilya Kukulin (Associate Professor at the Faculty of
Humanities/School of Philological Studies at the Higher School of
Economics Moscow)
“Poetic Translation as a Political-Aesthetic Performance in the
Soviet and Post-Soviet Culture: from the 1970s to the 2010s”
Vera Faber (Research Fellow at the Cluster of Excellence 2020
„Temporal Communities: Doing Literature in a Global Perspective“ / Free
University Berlin)
19:00 | Final discussion

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27 (Donnerstag) 15:00 - 29 (Samstag) 20:00

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