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Communist Mediation and the Force of Writing: V.I. Lenin and Nazim Hikmet

Date and Time: 
Monday, May 9, 2016. 04:15 PM - 06:15 PM
Meeting Location: 
History Corner Building 200, Room 307
Workshop: 
Techniques of Mediation
Meeting Description: 
About the speaker:
Nergis Ertürk is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Pennsylvania State University. She is the author of Grammatology and Literary Modernity in Turkey (Oxford University Press, 2011), the recipient of the 2012 Modern Language Association Prize for a First Book, and the co-editor (with Özge Serin) of a forthcoming special issue of the journal boundary 2 on the topic “Marxism, Communism, and Translation.” Her work has appeared in the journals boundary 2, Interventions, Modernism/Modernity, New Literary History, PMLA, and Jadaliyya. She is currently writing a book on early twentieth-century Turkish and Soviet literary encounters.
 
“Socialism,” Régis Debray has written, “was born with a with a printers’ docket around its neck...Book, school, newspaper: for the party militant, the greatest emphasis lay on the third.” My presentation concerns the imagination of an underground press in the Turkish communist Nazım Hikmet’s fictional autobiography Life’s Good, Brother (Yaşamak Güzel Şey Be Kardeşim), published posthumously in 1964. I argue that this work, about the failure of a group of Turkish communists to establish an effective underground press, should be read alongside a report titled “Gazete Kollektif Bir Teşkilatcı” (“Newspaper: A Collective Organizer”) that Nazım submitted to the Turkish Communist Party in 1925. Drawing extensively on Turkish translations of V. I. Lenin’s 1901 pamphlet “S chego nachatʹ?” (“Where to Begin”) and 1902 booklet Chto Delatʹ? (What Is to Be Done?), Nazım’s report suggested that “the first step to make the Turkish Communist Party have an organization suitable for a communist party is to institute an all-Turkey political newspaper (that will remain secret under the circumstances).” Composed toward the end of Nazım’s life, after the revelations of Stalin’s mass murders and thus in one sense after the death of historical communism, Life’s Good Brother revisits the question of an underground press. Both the young Lenin and the younger Nazım had imagined a communist “underground,” in the broader sense, modeled structurally on writing imagined as a uniform and homogeneous continuum. But in Life’s Good, Brother, Nazım broke with Lenin and with his own earlier formulations, offering an indirect critique of the positivist grammatology of such a model and imagining something else in its place. Dispersed in time and space, this discontinuous, non-national communism can be understood as anticipating and interrupting the “postcommunism” of our own time.

The “Techniques of Mediation” research workshop explores how technologies of inscription, mediation, information, and archives create the social world, by examining a wide range of historical and contemporary assemblages of people, machines, and organizations that have shaped complex diagrams of power and of social life.  The workshop approaches this question through new theoretical understandings of the concept of mediation. The 20th-century legacy that privileged epistemology confined mediation to the status of an inert and transparent subsidiary of representation and interpretation, and has left mediation’s material presence and its capacity of enactment largely unexplored. From index cards to databases, from the alphabet to ASCII, and from the abacus to the algorithm, the workshop will explore concrete cases of mediation’s effectivity, and by doing so expand our assessment of mediation to the status of technically – and materially – determinate processes of world-making and knowledge production.

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