Spring 2017: Lee Abstract

Global Media as Comintern Aesthetics
Steven Lee
Associate Professor, English
University of California, Berkeley

My talk finds both a precursor and counterpoint to contemporary globalization in the leftist revolutionary networks of the early twentieth century. My focus will be on the cultural networks emerging from the Third Communist International, or Comintern, which Vladimir Lenin founded in 1919 to coordinate world revolution. Crossing the boundaries of East-West and North-South, these networks, I argue, brought forth a shared radical aesthetic that drew from a variety of media (e.g., literature, film, painting) as well as forms (both “modernist” and “realist”) for the sake of forging collective, mobilizing emotions. The aim here is to recapture a long-lost moment in which the aesthetic could not only transform perception, but also articulate an anti-colonial, anti-capitalist world imaginary—one that, today, helps us to de-center Western notions of world literature and culture. To illustrate the circulation and persistence of what I’m calling “Comintern Aesthetics,” the talk revolves around two works of art: Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International (1920), and Ai Weiwei’s 2007 homage to Tatlin, Working Progress (Fountain of Light).

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