Upcoming Events

Southern Asia Seminar: Cold War Print Cultures: An Alternative Genealogy of Literary Activism in India

Thursday, April 11, 2024 – 5pm, Foster Hall 103

Laetitia Zecchini, Director of the IRL ‘Humanities’ CNRS, University of Chicago

This presentation discusses the role played by print – and especially periodical – culture – during the Cold War. “Pressing the Fight” (Barnhisel & Turner) often happened via magazines on both sides of the Iron Curtain and in the Global South. My focus here will be on the largely neglected liberal genealogy of the Cultural Cold War in India, and on the publications of the Indian Committee for Cultural Freedom, the ICCF, founded in 1951 in Bombay, and indirectly and covertly funded by the CIA. I argue that the aligned, compromised or “digestible” – also in the sense that digests were an important format through which world literature circulated at the time – literature promoted in the Cold War is a crucial part of the story, but it’s not the only one. It would hence be difficult to define some of the periodicals I work on (such as the journal Quest, published by the ICCF) as “archives of authority” (Andrew Rubin). I rather define them by their minority and their activism, two notions these publications help us reconsider, in part because their minority seems a condition of their activism. Some of these editorial spaces could be used by Indian writers of varying ideological persuasions to make room for a ‘ferment of ideas’ (Nissim Ezekiel) and a ferment of forms (book reviews, essays, poems, translations, etc.), and at times to stand up to authority. I examine especially how Quest cleared a space for modernist voices in India, and how some of the writers and editors involved in these publications were prescient in their belief that sustaining a critical and literary culture was the only way to ‘clear the ground for action against censorship in all its forms’ (Ezekiel).