Lecture, 3. November 2021

Guest Lecture – Robert Kaufman: What Was Commitment / Engagement / Compromiso? Critical Aesthetic Autonomy in César Vallejo, Marx & The Frankfurt School

3. November 2021, 18:00 - 20:00
Registration by mail to anna.fees@uni-trier.de
Robert Kaufman

The DFG Center for Advanced Studies “Russian-Language Poetry in Transition” (FOR 2603) cordially invites you to a lecture with Robert Kaufman streamed live via Zoom. Please register by e-mail with Anna Fees (anna.fees@uni-trier.de) no later than November 2nd, 2021, to receive the stream’s access data.

Guest lecture – Prof. Dr. Robert Kaufman, Department of Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley:

What was Commitment / Engagement / Compromiso? Critical Aesthetic Autonomy in César Vallejo, Marx & The Frankfurt School

The Peruvian César Vallejo (1892-1938) is one of international modernism’s greatest and—at least posthumously—most influential poets, known for twinned radical commitments: to artistic-aesthetic experimentation with lyric form; and to progressive and Left politics (a political commitment that eventuated in Vallejo’s intense, complex involvement during the last 15 years of his life with Marxian theory, along with his connected activism in three “fraternally aligned” communist parties: those of France and Spain, and–albeit from the distance of his exile in Europe–his homeland, Perú).

Vallejo is known too as a fascinating, important instance of tensions–seen by some as generative, by others, as worrisome or problematic–between theories of “committed art” on one hand, and the art itself actually made by some of the very artists apparently advocating theories of “commitment.” The clearly-evident tensions  between Vallejo’s brilliant partisan writing as a journalist-critic (often arguing in favor of orthodox Leninist understandings of “commitment theory”), and his own poetry–a poetry which manifests profound sociopolitical motivations, involvements, materials, and so forth, but which nonetheless almost constantly exceeds or even shreds the established concepts or tenets that comprise orthodox, and even some versions of heterodox,”commitment theory”–have made Vallejo’s art, criticism, and life stand out as being among the richest and most generative in longstanding debates and criss-crossed lines of art and influence in 20th and 21st century poetry, poetics, and politics (not least, about precisely our historical and still ongoing “aesthetics and politics” or “culture and politics” debates).

After some introductory overview and presentations of materials, this talk will focus on what are perhaps the two most realized Vallejo poems that take as their materials for form-construction the “grandparental text,” so to speak, of modern Left “commitment theory”: Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach [Thesen über Feuerbach; Tesis sobre Feuerbach]. The talk will offer a reading of the Theses; of the poems; a related contextualization of Vallejo’s approaches to Marxism, society, and art in his work as journalist-critic; and some briefer thoughts about how we might view  Vallejo’s developing stances–especially in his art–towards Marxian and Leninist versions of “commitment” in comparison to adjacent ideas put forward by the Frankfurt School (and especially by Theodor W. Adorno). Turning to the afterlives of Vallejo’s work in today’s worlds of poetry, poetics, and the others arts–as well as in critique–the talk will conclude with thoughts about what el caso de Vallejo may have to tell us about the history of controversies over “commitment” and “critically autonomous art” –and the status of that debate today.