Latin America and East-Central Europe: Comparisons, Bridges, Entanglements
The literary entanglements between Latin America and East Central Europe from the 20th century to the present are politically, culturally, and literarily diverse, but never random: Critical examinations of terms such as "post-imperial", "marginal", or "peripheral" are reflected in their respective intellectual fields and literary productions that negotiate transatlantic "elective affinities", while competing for recognition within the history of world literature.
The international conference explored literary history, poetics, intellectual networks, and aesthetic theory on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The participating scholars discussed the situatedness of the literatures and actors of the regions and reflected on their transcultural and transareal convivialities.
Organisation by Agnieszka Hudzik, Jorge Estrada, Patricia Gwozdz and Joanna Moszczynska
Organisational support: Guillermo Romero von Zeschau and Lynh Nguyen
Protocol: Tara O’Sullivan
EXC 2020 Temporal Communities, Freie Universität Berlin
Research Area 1: Competing Communities
History, Literature and Politics
How to re-think the past from the perspective of the future? With this question Guillermo Zermeño Padilla (El Colegio de México) framed his discussion on the necessity of a new theory of history and the practice of historiography in the era of globalization. It circled around the question of how to think of those regions in their specificity and variety while also making observations on their reciprocity within the horizon of their historical developments. The presentations tried to introduce an alternative view into the academic field, characterized by its multi-perspectivity while also questioning the tradition of a eurocentric perspective dominating the academic field and stressing the necessity of a change in perspectivity that would allow new writings of (hi)stories, such as finding alternative ways of rethinking the web of relations in literary history, poetics, intellectual networks, and aesthetic theory. It included critical examinations of terms such as "post-imperial", "marginal", or "peripheral" that negotiate transatlantic "elective affinities", and reflections on different communities competing for recognition within the history of world literature. Most of the talks focused on the literary entanglements between Latin America and East-Central Europe from the 20th century to the present.
Tomasz Pindel (Pedagogical University of Cracow) discussed literary resonances between Latin American and East-Central European works of literature by writers such as Olga Tokarczuk, Danilo Kiš, Marin Malaicu-Hondrari, Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Roberto Bolaño. Pindel reconsidered the application of the term "literary inspirations" within the field of those writer's literary production.
Keynotes with Open Discussion
The conference then proceeded with two Key Lectures held by Ottmar Ette (Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften) and Anette Werberger (Europa Universität Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder). Ette's lecture focused on an analysis of the novel A Polaquinha (1985), written by the Brazilian author Dalton Trevisan. With this novel as a parting point, embedded within Ette's theory of "TransArea Studies", the lecture introduced a discussion on the topics of migration and conviviality.
In her lecture, Anette Werberger presented her research on Literary Historiography and her concept of "Literary History as Entangled History" ("Literaturgeschichte als Verflechtungsgeschichte"). Instead of doing literary history from the perspective of national history, Werberger proposes a theory that intends to describe asymmetrical cultural relations and intercontinental literary linkages. "Literary History as Entangled History" could therefore transgress the description of separate cultures and focus on the interaction between cultures and the genesis of literary topoi, poetics and topics in the process of cultural interaction. In her talk about this form of literary historiography, Werberger included a comparative literary study between Latin American and East-Central European regions.
Beyond Conflict and Alliance?
The conference continued with the panel "Beyond Conflict and Alliance?", moderated by Rebecca Seewald (Universität zu Köln), and a lecture on the subject of "conflicting memories", in which Anna Ratke-Majewska (University of Zielona Gora) focused on the Polish-Chilean clash of trauma commemoration culture and examined the discourse on narratives of memory about the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile and its reception by Polish researchers. The conflict that originates in the process of narrativization of memories, was introduced through the lens of an account of a research trip Ratke-Majewska had documented in photographs.
Crossing Borders, Closing Gaps I: Traveling Intellectuals
Ana Davis González and José Luis Nogales Baena, both scholars from the Universidad de Sevilla, concentrated on Latin American intellectuals and the journeys they had undertaken to the Soviet Union and Europe in the 20th century. Both discussed the influence such journeys have had on the writing and political ideas of these intellectuals and emphasized the emergence of the literary subgenre of travelogues of journeys to the USSR, "which since the 1920s had advocated the communist future of humanity", as Nogales Baena pointed out.
Pablo Sánchez (Universidad de Sevilla) presented the case of two intellectuals, Pablo Neruda and Miguel Ángel Asturias, and the literary treatment of their travels to the socialist countries in the co-written volume of poetically elaborated essays: Comiendo en Hungría (Sentimental Journey Around the Hungarian Cuisine, 1969). Davis González, Nogales Baena and Sánchez also introduced their research project ELASOC (Literatura y sociedad: Escritores latinoamericanos en los países socialistas europeos), based at the University of Sevilla.
Rodrigo García Bonillas (Potsdam/Berlin) continued the discussion around traveling intellectuals from Latin America and the cultural transfers between Latin American regions and the Eastern Bloc during the 1950s. Víctor Manuel Sanchis Amat (Universidad de Alicante) introduced his case study on the Mexican writer and journalist Luis Spota and his work El Viaje (1973). It unites the impressions Spota had collected throughout his journeys around the world, travelling as a member of the national delegation under the mandate of President Luis Echevarría. The talk foregrounded the Soviet chronicle integrative to the author's writing, which he had treated through techniques of fictionalization, developed in tension with the political constraints of his time. Michal Zourek (Mendel University in Brno) also focused on voyages of Latin American intellectuals to East-Central Europe and lectured on communist Czechoslovakia as an area of reference and interest for these travelers.
Literature and Life Writing
Aleksandra Tobiasz opened the panel on "Literature and Life Writing", presenting the case of Witold Gombrowicz and his work as “life writing”, elaborating two concepts of time (Chronos and Kairos) which are crucial factors structuring Gombrowicz's writing. Tobiasz deduced the predomination and interaction of different concepts of time to the writer's experience of having emigrated to Argentina. She described Gombrowicz's encounter with new cultural singularities during his residence in Buenos Aires. Geishel Curiel Martínez presented the case of two female Mexican writers of the contemporary literature scene: Karen Villeda and Aura Penélope Córdova. Both authors explore East-Central European regions, using different literary strategies for giving form to their perception of the region's cultural topographies. They point us to what Curiel Martínez described as the "marginal". In building bridges between Latin American and East-Central European regions, they "create a space of encounter through movement", as Curiel Martínez pointed out.
Crossing Borders, Closing Gaps II: Translations
The panel "Crossing Borders, Closing Gaps II: Translations", moderated by Javier Toscano (Berlin), circled around the question of how processes of literary translation promote the cultural entanglement and trans-areal exchange. Monika Dąbrowska (Universidad Internacional de la Rioja) presented the case of the Mexican writer Sergio Pitol and his role as a "cultural agent" who contributed to the circulation of Polish literature in Mexico in the 20th century, mainly through translating works of Polish literature into Spanish and the publication of an Anthology of Polish short stories in 1973 (Antología del cuento polaco contemporanéo). In his presentation "Notes about mid-19th Century Chilean Translators of Polish Literature", Claudio Soltmann (Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität Mainz) centered on processes of translation initiated by Chilean poets in the mid-19th Century through "intermediary translation".
Prof. Dr. Susanne Klengel (Freie Universität Berlin, EXC 2020) gave her Key Lecture on "A Problem (not only) of Art History. Invisible women artists and the issue of belonging: The case of Angelina Beloff's creative (and tragic) passage from East to West". Klengel introduced the figure of Angelina Beloff, pointing out how her work had remained unnoticed within art history until recently. With her presentation, Klengel achieved the release of Beloff from her mere role as "the first wife of Diego Rivera" and presented her as the artist she was in her own right.
Images and Imaginaria on the Move
In the last panel, "Images and Imaginaria on the Mov", Jaša Drnovšek (Slovenia) introduced the work of Alma M. Karlin and concentrated on the "Images of Peru" the artist created in her writing, which also documented her experiences as a solo female traveler who had undertaken a perennial round-the-world-trip after the First World War. In his presentation on the author Moacyr Scliar, Robert Schade (DAAD/Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul) demonstrated how the Brazilian author wrote about the exile of Ashkenazic families and Jewish migration to Brazil in his novels and novellas. He described the arrival of those who were exiled in Brazil, after having fled mainly the Russian Empire during the pogroms at the beginning of the 20th century.
Bernhard Chappuzeau (University of West Bohemia in Pilsen) presented the case of the filmmaker Béla Tarr and the reception of Hungarian film in South America. Discussing different examples of reception, he aimed to show how the development of the Hungarian cinema – from the period of the Cold War up until the release of Tarr's last movie in 2011 – significantly influenced the renewal of South American film-aesthetics.
Mónika Szente-Varga (Ludovika – University of Public Service in Budapest) demonstrated the impacts of the works of László Passuth on the imaginary related to Mexico. She focused on the historical novel The Rain God weeps over Mexico (1939) which she considered as a bridge between Hungary and Mexico. The presentation examined the sources Passuth used and discussed which factors contributed to the popularity of the literary motive of the Rain God in socialist Hungary.
The participation and inclusion of various scholars incorporated in the academic field of Germany, Latin America and East-Central Europe into the three-day conference at the Cluster of Excellence "Temporal Communities: Doing Literature in a Global Perspective" at the Freie Universität Berlin, demonstrated the complexity and the manifold points of reference within the circulation and interaction of historical and cultural phenomena affecting the relationship between Latin American and East-Central European regions. In her talk, Curiel Martínez reminded us that "one has to transgress the margin, in order to arrive in a different place". The lectures and lecturers at the conference set out in a similar movement, trying to transgress the margins of the traditional academical field in creating encounters, stressing entanglements, and building bridges, as an attempt to form a new field of research that allows to confront the gaps we are still facing within the humanities. It could facilitate the refinement of a diverse perspective on the interaction between Latin America and East-Central Europe while breaking with traditional academic schemes and introducing alternative forms of doing literary studies. The scholars intend to collaboratively pursue this common field of interest, engaging in further research and maintaining an open discussion.