Skip Navigation

Poetics, Pedagogy, and Alternative Internationalisms: From the Early 20th Century to the Present

Esha De, Writing Programs, University of California, Los Angeles; Walter Lew, East Asian Languages & Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles

Sue Fan Email Sue Fan

Project Description

Radical theories of globalization and empire seldom give a role to creative literature
commensurate with its importance in theories of modernity, nationalism, and post-coloniality. If treated at all, 20th-century poetry, for instance, is generally viewed as belonging to a dimming era that also includes such purported symbols of the modern past as Marxist Leninist ideology, psychological depth or unity, and the principles and programs of the United Nations.

It is significant, therefore, that resolutely single-voiced elegaic or lyric poetry and song have become the main genres of creative expression, protest, and controversy in response to the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, the subsequent military campaign in Afghanistan, and the U.S.-U.K. invasion of Iraq—events that, in fact, epitomize the new regime of Empire that has ascended since the collapse of the Soviet Union. (We use "Empire" in Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's sense of a single, ethically empty, global regime that is able to project surveillance and military force almost unopposed across the world; as they elucidate in their book Empire, it supercedes modern and post-colonial notions of imperialism.)  Likewise, when it comes to defining active resistance, some of the most innovative theorizing ultimately resorts to poetical rereadings of rich pre-20th-century texts, whether it is Hardt and Negri's paean to St. Francis of Assisi at the conclusion of Empire ("brother sun sister moon") or Karatani Kójin's use of Kant's playful musings on mysticism as a key to his "transcritical" salvaging of insights in Marx's Capital that Marxist Leninism, Hegelian master-slave paradigms, and deconstruction and cultural studies had overlooked. In their formulations, a new subjectivity is coordinated with ethical, historical, and creative knowledge that is both specific to a community and complexly networked with others around the world. According to Hardt and Negri, resistance will involve, among many other "self-valorizations," having "the right to communicate, construct languages, and control communications networks" while keeping free from exploitation "the social knowledges and affects of reproduction (generation, love, the continuity of kinship and community relationships […])." (Empire, 410; emphasis added). Karatani, in his proposal for a "New Associationist Movement" that would counteract the effects of the "trinity" of nation, state, and capitalism (Transcritique: From Kant to Marx, in press), bases his economics in Kant's transcendental, introspective morality and the subjectivity-oriented aspects of Capital's analysis of the commodity, while encouraging associationists to draw upon the political knowledge of previous, often internationalist movements, such as those devoted to protecting the natural environment and the rights and interests of consumers, women, and ethnic and racial minorities.

The focus of our CIRA project will be the political and ideological relation of the writing and teaching of intimate, "self-valorizing," or local forms of literature, such as lyric 
poetry and community activist theater, to the history and present-day praxis of inter-nationalist, transnationalist, or globally conscious linguistic, political economic, and cultural movements that have not been significantly studied in Western academic research. In only two cases have our proposed topics been the focus of more than a single substantial study in a Western language. We hope to glean lessons from our research, collaboration, and debate that can be applied to contemporary dilemmas arising from the supposedly post-internationalist, apoetical, English-language Empire's perpetual state of crisis and intercultural conflict. It is hardly necessary to mention that much of our sense of urgency about recovering and teaching histories and literatures of alternative inter- and transnationalisms arises from present-day circumstances of actual and threatened war and cultural devastation.

Our participants are professors, graduate students, and poets affiliated with eight different departments and programs at UCLA, the University of California at Berkeley, and Mills College, including Asian American studies, comparative literature, creative writing, cultural anthropology, East Asian languages and cultures, English, ethnomusicology, and women's studies; some of the participants have received graduate degrees in several different disciplines. The regional and linguistic scope of the topics we will cover includes the nations and some of the many languages of India, Japan, Korea, Pacific Island nations like Aotearoa/New Zealand, Fiji, and Tonga, Pakistan, the People's Republic of China, the Philippines, Thailand, and the United States of America, as well as the non-national language of Esperanto. Comparisons and actual historical connections will be drawn between many literary discourses of both liberation and assimilation, such as between African American and Korean Japanese minority literatures and between feminist Korean and nationalist South Asian poetries. Analytic frameworks will include, among others, pan-Africanism and -Asianism, various types of feminism, theories of literary avantgardes and experimentalism, Marxism, and cultural studies. Our historical view stretches from the early twentieth century to contemporary times, and includes movements that speculated about utopian futures. In certain cases, the focus will shift to questions of how we can reform pedagogy and curricular programs to more effectively address the controversial and complex issues that confront us.

In what follows, we give a brief description of each study that the project's partici-pants have proposed to do, very provisionally separated into five thematic areas. As the project unfolds, of course, the participants will be free to modify their topics and we will search for a smaller number of appropriate ways in which to group the papers. In addition, poets and other authors who work in politicized, multilingual forms will be invited to discuss and present their work.
I. Limits of Early or Imperialist Internationalism
HAJIME IMAMASA (Doctoral candidate in sociocultural anthropology, UCLA) will explore
how, starting in the colonial period (1910-45) and extending to the present, a certain dialectic movement of poetic imagination and aesthetic ideology has provided templates for interactions between Japan and Korea. For instance, Yanagi Muneyoshi's folk-art (mingei) movement, inspired by his encounter with Korean folk objects, described Korean artifacts and people as having "spiritual" and "sad" qualities, creating a basis for Japanese imagination of Korea as its Other. Such constructions were sharply criticized by Korean intellectuals from the late 1960s onward, as a populist poetics of the "masses" (minjung) emerged that also targeted U.S. and Japanese neo-colonialism. Alliances of liberal and leftist Koreans, Japanese, and also resident-Koreans in Japan (zainichi) were formed for the first time in the post-1945 period and some have continued to this day, involved especially in the struggle against the rise of imperialist nostalgia and amnesia and the resurgence of Japanese military state power. It can been argued that Japanese multiculturalism succumbed to extreme nationalism not only under the rubric of the colonial era's Great East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere, but also during post-Cold War globalism. Nonetheless, activists in poesis or poets in action are searching for new ways to work with, against, and around each other in Korea and Japan, sometimes beyond bi-national frameworks.

SHENGQING WU (Lecturer, Dept. of Asian Languages and Literatures, U. of Minnesota; doctoral candidate in Chinese literature, Dept. of E. Asian Languages and Cultures, UCLA). Unlike authors who threw away traditional form in order to develop "plain language" and modern genres in the face of modern Western influences during the first decades of the twentieth century, certain highly skilled poets continued to write classical-style verse. Some made extensive accommodations to newly encountered concepts and imagery while others were extremely selective and guarded in what they absorbed. In the process of extending the life of classical poetry, however, they altered its affective and symbolic range. Such poets have suffered neglect from critics' preference for a linear, modernizing narrative of literary history that serves Western cultural models. The complex predicaments of their contention with provocative and powerful cultural changes is, nonetheless, a fundamental, illuminating dimension of Chinese literature.

II. Black Internationalism and its Use of Asian Models
MUNIA BHAUMIK (Graduate student, Dept. of Comparative Literature, University of
California, Berkeley) will map how nationalist poetics traveled from South Asia to Black America, from the Indian and Arab Nationalist movements to the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.  She will give interpretations of the frequent references to Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, and Islam in African-American thought and discuss W.E.B. Du Bois', Malcolm X's, and others' astute criticisms of Orientalism, while undertaking research about other literary connections. Ultimately, Third World solidarity was both imagined and aborted by nationalist aesthetics. Bhaumik hypothesizes that laudable aspirations to an alternative society without Western domination failed to propose more than a nation of Others as a political alternative—one that used a fantasized, particularly distorted representation of the East.

SUZETTE DUNCAN (Graduate student in Japanese literature, Dept. of E. Asian Languages and Literatures, UCLA). Prominent African American intellectuals derived inspiration and ideas from developments in China and Japan, beginning especially with Japan's victory over Russia in 1905. Langston Hughes, A. Philip Randolph, and others also drew hope from such events as Japan's insistence on principles of racial equality during peace talks after World War I and China's long struggles against foreign dominance. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and other pan-Africanists envisioned a united front of colored peoples across the world rising up against white racism and colonial rule, and some U.S. commentators and soldiers during World War II expressed doubts about fighting for a racist nation against a non-white opponent. On the other side, works by authors like Hughes and Countee Cullen were translated and read in East Asia. By the 1940s, however, the actualities of international politics, such as Japan's imperialism, conflicts between nationalist, racialist, and socialist ideologies, and Chinese bigotry created insurmountable dilemmas. Parallels will also be drawn between African American literary discourse and that of ethnic Korean (zainichi) authors in Japan—between, for instance, refusal of strict racially or ethnically dichotomized identities in the work of both Zora Neale Hurston and Yu Miri and between Richard Wright's and Ri Kaisei's experiences with Marxism.

III. Poetry's Use of New and Old International Languages in the Struggle for National Identity and Independence
WALTER K. LEW (Visiting lecturer, MFA Creative Writing Program, Antioch University,
L.A.; graduate student in cultural and comparative studies, Dept. of E. Asian Languages and Cultures, UCLA). As can be seen from the fact that the main Leftist arts and literature organization in Korea during the late 1920s and early 1930s went by an Esperanto title ("Korea Artista Proletaria Federacio"), Marxist internationalism and Esperantists' hopes of providing an easily learned, common language to promote international understanding were clearly joined in the minds of prominent Korean intellectuals during the colonial era. Indeed, the ideals and potential of Esperanto had already been grasped and written about enthusiastically by Korean literati during the early 1920s regardless of its possible synergy with Marxism. There followed a fertile, complex interaction between Esperantist activities in Japan and Korea, Korean linguistics and cultural nationalism, struggles against Japanese rule, and literary translation into Korean of Western and other Asian poetries (Rabindranath Tagore was the most frequently translated poet during the 1920s, albeit from English versions). All of these were crucial to the development of modern Korean poetry. Yet no Western scholarship has investigated the connection between Esperanto and colonial-era literature and there has been no significant South Korean study on the topic since 1976. Lew intends to unearth the history of Esperanto in Korea, which began in the royal court in 1906, placing it within the larger context of the extreme vicissitudes of Esperanto's political history during the first half of the twentieth century, an epic tale of internationalist utopianism and its persecution under Stalin, Nazism, and Japanese imperial rule about which there is only one major study (written in Esperanto and so far untranslated). Comparisons will be made with Esperanto movements in China and Japan.

AAMIR MUFTI (Professor, Dept. of Comparative Literature, UCLA). In the late 1930s, there emerged an Indian literary internationalism whose legacy continues to the present day. Within one year of its inception in 1935 by a group of Indian students in London, the All-India Progressive Writers' Association (AIPWA) became the umbrella organization of nationalist writers in India. Its aesthetics came to be structured around a tension between the "social realist" and political element inspired by European Popular Front policies and Indian nationalism, on the one hand, and the literary and cultural heritage of European modernism on the other. The poetics that emerged from the work of some AIPWA writers transformed the powerful tradition of lyric poetry in Urdu into a distinctly modern body of writing. It does so in part by secularizing the Sufi sources of the classical Urdu lyric in Persian, Turkish, and Arabic poetry into political affiliations in the contemporary world. Mufti's research will trace the reinvention of the relationship of Urdu and Indo-Muslim culture to its classical antecedents in the Middle East as a contemporary relationship between kindred Third World societies involved in struggles against post- and neo-colonial capitalism. The key figures of this move in the 1950s-1970s include Ali Sardar Jafry, Kaifi Azmi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and Habib Jalib. This study will also show that this new post-colonial internationalism draws on the diverse heritage of literary internationalism in the colonial world, such as the pan-Asianism of Rabindranath Tagore and his Bengali contemporaries and the pan-Islamism of Iqbal in Urdu.

IV. Feminist Internationalisms
YOUNGJU RYU (Graduate student in Korean Literature, Dept. of E. Asian Languages and
Cultures, UCLA) addresses internationalism and South Korean Feminist Poetry through the trope of "alternative genealogies." Genealogy is a troubling term for South Korean feminists since the family register is still the most important guarantor of an individual's social identity, reinforcing patrilineal social organization. The resulting importance placed on having a "male heir" feeds the preference for boys in a country that has high rates of abortion among married women.  For South Korean feminist poets of the last two decades, dismantling this patrilineal genealogy has been a critical task; efforts range from Ch'oe Sûngja's declaration of orphanhood to Ch'oe Yôngmi's indictment of fathers creating sons in the tribe of Abraham. Some works, however, seek to establish alternative genealogies rather than forsake altogether the desire for a narrative of descent. One prominent strategy in this attempt is the rewriting of Korean folkloric material; another derives from involvement in international feminist discourse. The history of oppression of women's bodies in both East and West, ancient and modern times, informs recent South Korean feminist poetry, although its models have shifted over time to include not only poets like Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, but also radical Black lesbian authors like Audre Lorde and June Jordan. This study will explore the roles and limitations of international feminist influences in the poetry of Ko Chônghûi, Kim Hyesun, Kim Sûnghûi, Ch'oe Chôngnye, and others, especially in relation to alternative genealogies that foreground rather than erase female corporeality.

ESHA NIYOGI DE (Lecturer, Women's Studies and Writing Programs, UCLA) will extend her
research into trans-status subjects and their relation to gender in the globalization of South and Southeast Asia. She will also serve as a consultant to other studies in the project that examine early twentieth-century theories of world literature and pan-Asianism in India, such as are expressed in the writings of Tagore, about which she has written a chapter in her forthcoming book, Subjects of Community in Metropole and Colony: Mirroring Human Nature, Shakespeares, and Postcolonial Agency. (De's book is a comparative study of dominant and postcolonial humanisms in acting and drama theories produced in modern Britain and colonial India. It looks at Bengali, Hindi/Urdu, and English literature, criticism, and film.)

V. New Praxes of Literary Pedagogy in Marginalized Regions
ELEANOR LIPAT (Graduate student, Dept. of Ethnomusicology, UCLA) notes that, contrary to
endorsements of Central Thai urban culture as the nation's main culture, regional narratives attest to experiences excluded from linear Thai royalist history; to influxes of marginalized ethnic groups from mountain regions and borderlands; to unique performing arts and folklore; to distinct dialects, cuisine, textiles and handicrafts; and to thriving local identities. However, these regions are also defined by grave social problems, such as high unemployment, land ownership disputes, drug use, child prostitution, environmental destruction, and discrimination against minorities, all of which call for locally appropriate solutions that can unite a community. One approach is to inspire dialogue through local expressive art forms. Variously employing slapstick humor, drama, and beauty, the goal of community theater workshops is to actively involve locals, regardless of training, in performances to provide them with a mode of communication and popular platform to address their concerns. This study will document and discuss a three-week tour (summer 2003) of the Makhampom Community Theatre Group through three provinces. Having grown out of democracy movements of the 1970s and ‘80s, Makhampom both performs and trains youths in classical dance drama, popular folk opera, country song, epic production, melodrama, and other contemporary forms as a tool for community development projects. Lipat will accompany the tour as researcher and participant, and anticipates rich dialogue with workshop leaders and community members both on-stage and off. She will also compare Makhampom to political theater in other parts of Southeast Asia, such as the Theater of Liberation in the Philippines.

JULIANA SPAHR (Professor, Dept. of English, University of Hawai'i, Manoa; from Fall 2003:
Dept. of English, Mills College). Tongan author Epeli Hau'ofa has written that it is crucial to see the Pacific not as "islands in a far sea" (dots of land separated by an ocean), but as "a sea of islands" (dots joined by an ocean). The second model, one of hope, sees travel, trade, and migration as prominent parts of Pacific life and is but one example of an emerging Pacific internationalism that figures its islands in dialogue both with each other and with the continents of Asia and America. It is an internationalism that argues forcefully for local concerns as an important part of, even if often resistant to, international concerns. A prime example of this localist internationalism is Pacific poetry. Much, though by no means all, of it is written primarily in English. Yet it often includes passages in other languages that might be known only to a portion of the readership. This placement of languages beside one another points to the ways languages and cultures interrelate in the Pacific (i.e. its internationalism). This gesture is at the same time one of resistance to the colonialism that has so forcefully defined the region, for it highlights the always-present relationships of power between languages and cultures that are especially intense in colonial situations (its localisms). Spahr's research will argue for a more multilingual creative writing classroom, one that more deeply contextualizes writing in local political movements and their international connections.
MUNIA BHAUMIK. Graduate student, Dept. of Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley.
ESHA NIYOGI DE. Lecturer, Women's Studies and Writing Programs, UCLA.
SUZETTE DUNCAN. Graduate student (Japanese literature), Dept. of E. Asian Languages and
 Literatures, UCLA.
HAJIME IMAMASA. Doctoral candidate (Sociocultural anthropology), Dept. of Anthropology,
WALTER K. LEW. Visiting lecturer, MFA Program in Creative Writing, Antioch University,
 L.A.; graduate student (cultural and comparative studies), Dept. of E. Asian Languages and Cultures, UCLA.
ELEANOR LIPAT. Graduate student, Dept. of Ethnomusicology, UCLA.
AAMIR MUFTI. Professor, Dept. of Comparative Literature, UCLA.
YOUNGJU RYU. Graduate student (Korean Literature), Dept. of E. Asian Languages and
 Cultures, UCLA.
JULIANA SPAHR. Professor, Dept. of English, University of Hawai'i at Manoa; beginning
 from Fall 2003: Dept. of English, Mills College.
SHENGQING WU. Visiting lecturer, Dept. of Asian Languages and Literatures. University of
 Minnesota; doctoral candidate (Chinese literature), Dept. of E. Asian Languages and Cultures, UCLA.

Additionally, during either the workshops or public conference, we anticipate inviting discussants from several fields to expand the context of our critique. Scholars to whom we have made initial inquiries, or with whom participants are already closely working, include:
Maria Damon. Professor, Dept. of English, U. of Minnesota.
Karatani Kójin. Professor, School of Literature, Arts and Cultural Studies, Kinki University
 (Osaka, Japan).
Namhee Lee. Professor, Dept. of E. Asian Languages and Cultures, UCLA.
Harryette Mullen. Professor, Dept. of English, UCLA.
Mark Nowak. Editor, XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics; professor, College of St. Catherine.
Miriam Silverberg. Professor, Dept. of History, UCLA.
Humphrey Tonkin. University Professor of the Humanities, University of Hartford.
Cecilia Vicuña. Poet, artist. New York.

I. Winter 2004-Summer 2004:
The research group will meet once each quarter (Winter 2004-Summer 2004) for a total of three times during the first year of the grant. Each meeting will focus on: (i) discussion of a set of pertinent readings, photocopied and distributed in advance; (ii) informal presentation by two participants of their research or writing projects, followed by workshop-style discussion and critique by fellow participants.

II. Fall 2004-Spring 2005:
If necessary, there will be an additional fourth reading discussion, research presentation, and workshop meeting during fall quarter of 2004. Those who intend to make presentations at the public conference will present rough drafts for discussion during one winter quarter, 2005 meeting. The conference will convene at UCLA in spring quarter, 2005.

III. Summer 2005-Fall 2005:
Presentations will be revised, distributed to workshop members for final comments, and then prepared for submission to possible publishing venues. The project's chief investigators, being experienced in a variety of categories of publication, will in the meantime seek out interested publishers or journals and convey news or inquiries between the authors and the publisher.


To print this page, select "Print" from the File menu of your browser.