Utopia after Utopia

a Yale University research initiative

Pointed Words Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions


Legacies of the Left

Participants: Bozovic (chair), Cieply, Golynko, Fenghi, Nizhnik (5-8 mins)

  • The very title of our symposium and workshop, “global present,” points to the temporal paradoxes that haunt/inspire our collective work. Is the global present a euphemism for post-Cold War? Whose global present? What of futurism, of nostalgia?
  • To what extent is contemporary leftist poetry aware of leftist legacies? Does it matter? Is leftist poetry always already historical? Can poets “escape” the legacies of the left? What left, whose left? How do poets (and critics) learn from/carry on/improve upon the past? Do strategies differ on different sides of the (former) Cold War?
  • How does the leftist poetry of today offer resistance against prevailing aesthetic/political forms in contemporary culture? Why has poetry “come back,” why poetry, what kind of poetry, and what is poetry today?
  • Is there a stronger and weaker pulse to politically engaged poetry? How is it different when created within a political system and revolutionary moment, as opposed to in periods of defeat and retreat?
  • When does poetry shade into activism? When does radicalism slide into fascism? How do the poetries of the left navigate gender politics and nationalism? What of militancy and political violence? What of aestheticized politics and charismatic “prophets”?
  • What are the (new) institutions of poetry’s production, dissemination, and reception? What role does the collective and community play, perhaps particularly against a backdrop of rising populism? What of song, slogan, means of mobilization?


Translation and Languages of Empire

Participants: Hunter (chair), Edmond, Figlerowicz, Ostashevsky, Sandler, Toorawa (5-8 mins)

  • How may the translation of poetry in and of itself be considered a political act? What are the political charges/valences of literary translation today?
  • What are the interdependencies of translation and empire? What of the violence of translation and its motivations, and the “world republic of letters” struggles between more or less politically/economically powerful languages? What of World Literature?
  • What is the importance of the local, and of the national today? Does the translation of poetry disrupt traditional relationships and communities? How are spaces and localities translated (and studied, via area studies)?
  • In the era of globalization, do geographical borders influence the contemporary poet, and is there national poetry anymore—especially in such cases as English and Russian?
  • Does poetry require/imagine/create an audience? How so, across languages? How might it create multiple and divergent audiences? What does canon formation look like in contemporary poetry? Who does it, where, how long does it last, and what of competing and counter canons?
  • Does translation demystify the role of the poet, democratize language, draw attention to the relationship between process and product—not to mention individual vs. collective intellectual “property”? What of gender and translation?


Expanded Archive

Participants: Platt (chair), Bradley, Nelson, Raza Kolb, Repp (5-8 mins)

  • Are our archives and museums the “garbage cans of history” (Groys) or armories? What characterizes the archive today, off and online, what of its abandonment and rediscovery? What tensions reign between cultural memory and affective (affected?) nostalgia?
  • If there is not political power without control of the archives, and of collective memory, how are archives used for poetic inspiration? How is the impulse to archive related to survival? Is it still a defining characteristic of the modern era (Merewether)?
  • How does poetry preserve cultural memory, by way of written and performing histories? What of text’s materiality? What new forms of apparatus has poetry acquired? When poetry takes on visual, aural, and theoretical features, has verbal form exhausted itself?
  • Are we witnessing a new spatial turn of poetry? Is poetry as tweet, video, meme, graffiti, installation all part of the society of spectacle? What then of the political slogan, of the poet’s body in protest and performances of subversion? When is poetry therapy, when reenactment of trauma?
  • Who is the subject of poetry? What of voice, gender, number, identity? Where does the poet end and curator or director take over? What distinctions now are there between poet and non-poet, performer and audience, private and public?


Form, Institutions, Economy

Participants: MacKay (chair), Arseniev, Chukhrov, Medvedev, Osipova, Rymbu (5-8 mins)

  • Must a (political) poet today be also critic, theorist, translator, publicist and publisher? What are the institutions of poetry today? In what systems are they embedded, entangled, complicit? What of gender, race, class as categories of identification and resistance?
  • What of intellectual property, of copyright? What of the individual and the collective on either production or reception ends? What of readerships, of “popular” and “elite” forms, platforms, institutions?
  • What of social media and the potential/dangers of the curated audience? What of censorship, self-censorship, and surveillance? Is there a correlation between the short form and digital culture, or short form and escape from large-scale publishing?
  • What makes poetry leftist? Is poetic language somehow less co-opted than other literary forms? Is poetry today always already a type of resistance, theorizing powerlessness (Ngai)? Does genre matter? Does form? What of documentary impulses, remediating impulses, hypermediation? What of rhyme?
  • What is the relationship today between poetic and academic communities? Between poetic and theoretical productions? Can we distinguish between the two, and have such distinctions become symbolic or strategic?
  • What forms, institutions, economies are local and what global? In times of defeat, does poetry’s resurgence correlate with escapes to kitchen cultures, away from the public? What is poetry’s role in creating collectivities—a united front—versus internal critique?



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