Between cosmopolitanism and nationalism : print, national identity, and the literary public sphere in the 1920s Petersburg and Buenos Aires

Potoplyak, Marina
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In Russia and Argentina modernism arrived well before the advent of socioeconomic modernization, and found societies with restricted civil liberties, only nascent middle classes, and virtually non-existent public spheres. Despite these factors, within a span of some fifty years, Petersburg and Buenos Aires turned into vibrant literary capitals rivaling London, New York, and Paris as centers of literary modernism. This dissertation offers a new understanding of the period by exposing the critical role of publishers and cultural patrons in this extraordinary cultural advancement. I argue that they were able to reformulate their countries’ historically ambivalent positions vis-à-vis Western European civilization by working closely with avant-garde literary groups and viii promoting their literary works that combined sometimes contending, sometimes complementary cosmopolitanism and nationalism. My analysis of the interrelated processes of the development of print culture, national identity, and the literary public sphere in Russia and Argentina is informed by Benedict Anderson’s thinking about nationalism and print culture, Pierre Bourdieu’s treatment of publishers as key participants in cultural production, and the concept of the public sphere as seen by Jürgen Habermas. Close reading of select literary works of the 1920s shows that Russian and Argentine “peripheral” experiences, once transformed into artistic creation, became consonant with cultural practices of international modernism precisely because they combined both cosmopolitan and nationalist tendencies. Each of the writers considered—Jorge Luis Borges, Roberto Arlt, Veniamin Kaverin, and Konstantin Fedin—was able to formulate highly original and yet unmistakably national response to modernity. Following the writers’ trajectories from early literary experiments to the works of the late 1920s, when they renounced their youthful deviations and joined the literary (and sometimes even political) establishment, I show how these literary texts renegotiated the issues of national identity by reworking diverse and often “foreign” literary traditions into authentically Russian and Argentine prose.