Theses Doctoral

The Search for an Internationalist Aesthetics: Soviet Images of China, 1920-1935.

Tyerman, Edward

This dissertation examines images of China produced in early Soviet culture, focusing in particular on the mid-to-late 1920s, a period of heightened Soviet involvement in Chinese politics. It argues that China became in this period the primary testing ground for the creation of an "internationalist aesthetics": a mode of representation that might express horizontal solidarity over vertical dominance, and inscribe China into the global map envisioned by Marist-Leninist theories of revolution. Seeking to produce a new China to replace the exotic Orient, Soviet artists and writers experimented with multiple genres and media--reportage, film, theatre, biography--in their search for the correct mode for internationalist aesthetics. The struggle over how to represent the world for a revolutionary society thus coalesces, in this period, around the question of how to represent China.
Such an aesthetics is inevitably interconnected with politics, and internationalist aesthetics encountered and expressed the same ambiguities as the political project of Soviet internationalism: a liberatory, anti-imperial ideology that simultaneously sought to control political and historical narratives from the world revolution's proclaimed centre in Moscow. Consequently, these disparate images are united by an insistence on the privileged position and perspective of the Soviet observer, who looks at Chinese reality with a combination of advanced modern knowledge, sympathy with oppression, and revolutionary experience that is purportedly inaccessible to other Europeans, or indeed to the Chinese themselves. This privileged perspective on China undergirds the claims of internationalist aesthetics to present a true image of the world. The search for an authoritative mode for internationalist aesthetics is hampered, however, by recurrent issues of access, mediation and translatability, and by lingering parallels between this avowedly anti-imperialist discourse and the imperial systems of knowledge production it supposedly replaces.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Slavic Languages and Literatures
Thesis Advisors
Gasparov, Boris
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014