Rossen Djagalov

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities

20122013 Forum on Peripheries

Rossen Djagalov

Comparative Literature
Ph.D., Yale University

Premature Post-Colonialists: The Soviet-Afro-Asian Literary Alliance in the Age of Three Worlds

This project juxtaposes two seemingly unrelated fields of literary studies—Russian/ Soviet and post-colonial literatures—in the belief that they have much to say to each other. If scholarship has so far neglected the typological similarities between the two, many twentieth-century writers from Africa, Asia, and Latin America were not only acutely aware of the penchant for social engagement and the spectacular entry into the world literary canon they shared with earlier Russian authors but also looked upon the latter as models.

The relation between the two literatures was not limited to fascination from afar. Between the late 1950s and the late 1970s, it took the institutional form of the Afro-Asian Writers' Association, the literary equivalent of the political Non-Aligned Movement, except that it was aligned. Thanks to its Central Asian literatures, the Soviet cultural bureaucracies successfully claimed a place at the Afro-Asian table. Central Asian cities such as Tashkent and Alma-Ata and Central Asian writers such as Chinghiz Aitmatov played frequent hosts to the Association's congresses. Whatever the intentions of Soviet cultural bureaucracies, who designed many of its institutions, the Association created "the links that bind us," as the Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiongo put it at its 1973 Alma-Ata congress, that is, direct South-to-South literary networks that bypassed the colonial metropoles of Paris and London and consolidated an Afro-Asian literary field. These engagements not only anticipated some of the developments of later post-colonial theory but also left a lasting trace on the narrative forms of Third-World fiction.