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Reviewed by:
  • From Internationalism to Postcolonialism: Literature and Cinema between the Second and the Third Worlds by Rossen Djagalov
  • Samuel Hodgkin (bio)
From Internationalism to Postcolonialism: Literature and Cinema between the Second and the Third Worlds. By Rossen Djagalov. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2020. 328 pp. Cloth $120.00, paper $35.95.

This book is an invaluable, groundbreaking account of the processes by which postcolonial world literature and film emerged from connections between the Soviet bloc and the decolonizing world. This crucial phase in the creation of international cultural institutions has been too often ignored or written off in the post–Cold War study of world literature and world film because its products often involve such different artistic values than those that determine prestige in the western academy. Rather than attempting to establish their aesthetic autonomy, such artworks are tendentious; rather than following a specifically modernist line of formal experimentation, they are realist (according to the various meanings that designation takes on in specific contexts). Those products of this artistic field that were produced under state socialism have proven even more difficult to rehabilitate, given the durability of the dissident/collaborator dichotomy. Although recent studies of third-world literature and film have advanced defenses of commitment and “peripheral realisms,” it is Djagalov’s panoramic perspective that allows for a fuller provincialization of this Western conception of world literature, by presenting the alternative model against which it was articulated.

From Internationalism to Postcolonialism is divided between institutional history, concentrated in the introduction and Chapters 1, 2, and 4, and essays in literary and film criticism in Chapters 3 and 5. As an institutional history, the book is a masterful synthesis of a wide range of local and international stories, previously told in diverse area studies and comparatist contexts, and some told in English for the first time here. Some of the most important strands of twentieth-century literary and film history, from the All-India Progressive Writers’ Association to Latin American magical realism, are integrated into a single story that is coherent without ever flattening the [End Page 163] complications and contradictions. Chapter 1 sketches out the early development of contacts between writers in the Soviet Union and the colonial and decolonizing world from the early 1920s to the mid-1950s. This took place mostly at the edges of official Comintern literary organizations dominated by Russians, Europeans, and Americans, such as the International Union of Revolutionary Writers (MORP, early 1930s), the Association of Writers for the Defense of Culture (late 1930s), and the Peace Movement (early Cold War). Its writers generally met either through national organizations of proletarian writers or through international institutions for revolutionaries that were not primarily literary in nature, such as the Communist University for Toilers of the East (KUTV, 1921–1938). Chapter 2 focuses on the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association from 1958 through the end of the Cold War, and its literary journal, Lotus. Chapter 4 discusses the international Tashkent Film Festival (1968–1988), suggesting the possibilities and limitations of filmic internationalism through its rise and fall. Chapters 2 and 4 also introduce a helpful dimension of reader- or viewer-response, considering what kinds of works interested the global reading public of Progress Publishers and the narrower viewing public of second-world film festivals, as well as where the art of solidarity failed to appeal to its addressees.

These sweeping, narrative sections of the book fill a longstanding, widely recognized need in world literature studies, and will be undoubtedly cited widely by scholars of second- and third-world literature, relieved that someone else has stepped into the breach. Given the book’s range of languages and geographies, it is inevitable that a few small errors creep in, but those identified by this reviewer (a Central Eurasianist) were few and insignificant. Indeed, what is remarkable is Djagalov’s sensitivity to and generous citing of a wide variety of conversations across area studies in which he has evidently read deeply. For those attempting to write about the systems of world literature while avoiding any regional chauvinism, reliance on secondary literature is always essential, but few are the world literature scholars who pay such sustained attention to...