Dartmouth Events

The Aesthetic Cold War: Decolonization and Global Literature.

A public lecture giving a revisionist account of superpower involvement in literature by Peter J. Kalliney, William J. and Nina B. Tuggle Chair in English at the Univ. of Kentucky.

Thursday, May 2, 2024
5:00pm – 6:30pm
Dartmouth Hall 104
Intended Audience(s): Public
Categories: Arts and Sciences, Lectures & Seminars

The Aesthetic Cold War: Decolonization and Global Literature

How did superpower competition and the cold war affect writers in the decolonizing world? In The Aesthetic Cold War, Peter Kalliney explores the various ways that rival states used cultural diplomacy and the political police to influence writers. In response, many writers from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean—such as Chinua Achebe, Mulk Raj Anand, Eileen Chang, C.L.R. James, Alex La Guma, Doris Lessing, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and Wole Soyinka—carved out a vibrant conceptual space of aesthetic nonalignment, imagining a different and freer future for their work.

Kalliney looks at how the United States and the Soviet Union, in an effort to court writers, funded international conferences, arts centers, book and magazine publishing, literary prizes, and radio programming. International spy networks, however, subjected these same writers to surveillance and intimidation by tracking their movements, tapping their phones, reading their mail, and censoring or banning their work. Writers from the global south also suffered travel restrictions, deportations, imprisonment, and even death at the hands of government agents. Although conventional wisdom suggests that cold war pressures stunted the development of postcolonial literature, Kalliney’s extensive archival research shows that evenly balanced superpower competition allowed savvy writers to accept patronage without pledging loyalty to specific political blocs. Likewise, writers exploited rivalries and the emerging discourse of human rights to contest the attentions of the political police.

A revisionist account of superpower involvement in literature, The Aesthetic Cold War considers how politics shaped literary production in the twentieth century.

Speaker Bio:

Peter J. Kalliney is the William J. and Nina B. Tuggle Chair in English at the University of Kentucky. He is most recently the author of The Aesthetic Cold War: Decolonization and Global Literature (Princeton University Press, 2023) which was awarded the Modernist Studies Association best book of the year award. Kalliney is also the author of: Cities of Affluence and Anger: A Literary Geography of Modern Englishness (U of Virginia P, 2007), Commonwealth of Letters: British Literary Culture and the Emergence of Postcolonial Aesthetics (Oxford UP, 2013), and Modernism in a Global Context (Bloomsbury, 2016). His essays have appeared in Modernism/modernityModern Language QuarterlyModern Fiction StudiesPMLAResearch in African LiteraturesTimes Literary Supplement, and elsewhere. His research has been recognized with fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the National Endowment of the Humanities. He is co-editing the anthology “Anticolonial Thought and Writing” with Harris Feinsod and Leah Feldman.

This event is organized and moderated by Preeti Singh. (Preeti.singh@dartmouth.edu). Please kindly contact her, if you have any questions and anyone needs disability accommodation.

Sponsored by the Department of Asian Societies, Cultures and Languages (ASCL) and the Bodas Family Endowment for South Asian Studies at Dartmouth College. 

Co-Sponsorships: The South-South Forum and Leslie Center for the Humanities’ Venn Vision Grant (Infrastructures of Race, Knowledge, and Aesthetics).

For more information, contact:
Preeti Singh

Events are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.