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Kevin Platt (University of Pennsylvania)

Kevin Platt

Kevin Platt
Image Credit: Karina Sotnik

Fellow in Research Area 1: “Competing Communities”

May 2023

Cultural Arbitrage in the Age of Three Worlds 

Cultural Arbitrage in the Age of Three Worlds is a study of cultural relations between the developed West, the socialist states and the decolonising world during the Cold War. The project focuses on the shifting value and meaning of art and literature when they crossed boundaries between world zones – either through official exchange via cultural diplomacy and book and film exports, or through unofficial and illegal channels via book smuggling, Voice of America broadcasts, etc. An example case is Andrey Sinyavsky’s absurdist works, written in the 1950s, which were perceived as oppositional in the USSR and were therefore unpublishable and of no official economic value. Their appearance in unsanctioned and underground publications prompted the Soviet state to hunt down, prosecute and imprison the author. However, smuggled to the West, these works were perceived as expressions of political and aesthetic freedom and published to great acclaim, bringing high economic returns for publishers and eventually for the author himself when he was freed from incarceration and allowed to emigrate from the USSR. In this and many other cases that enter into this project, the differing systems of political, aesthetic and economic value relating to opposed world zones are intertwined in a complex, entangled web. The Cultural Arbitrage project presents a historical and theoretical explanation of how such cases of exchange in fact constituted and reinforced the aesthetic systems of distinct world zones of the late twentieth century. 


Kevin Platt is Professor of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his BA from Amherst College (1989) and his PhD from Stanford University (1994). He has been the recipient of grants from IREX, NEH, NCEEER, Fulbright-Hays and other programmes, and was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2011–12. Dr Platt works on history and memory in Russia and Eastern Europe, Russian lyric poetry and global socialist and Russian cultures. His new book, Border Conditions: Russian-Speaking Latvians Between World Orders, is forthcoming from Cornell University/Northern Illinois University Press. Dr Platt is the author of Terror and Greatness: Ivan and Peter as Russian Myths (Cornell UP, 2011) and History in a Grotesque Key: Russian Literature and the Idea of Revolution (Stanford, 1997; Russian edition 2006). He is the editor of Global Russian Cultures (Wisconsin UP, 2018) and the co-editor (with David Brandenberger) of Epic Revisionism: Russian History and Literature as Stalinist Propaganda (Wisconsin UP, 2006). He is the organiser of “Your Language My Ear”, a periodic Russian–English poetry translation symposium that takes place at the University of Pennsylvania. He has also edited and contributed translations to a number of books of Russian poetry in English, most recently Verses on the Vanguard: Russian Poetry Today (Deep Vellum, 2021), F Letter: New Russian Feminist Poetry (Isolarii, 2020), and Orbita: The Project (Arc Publications, 2018).