Table Topics “Art, Literature and Propaganda”

What role did the arts play during the Cold War? Elizabeth Holt (Bard College) and Yang-Wen Zheng (University of Manchester) will discuss Art, Literature and Propaganda at their table, from bourgeois, “high culture” dance to literature and covert intelligence actions.

Mao era art and literature has been dismissed as propaganda, unworthy of scholarly attention, as Zheng Yangwen will point out. This causes problems not just because “all art is propaganda” (George Orwell). Ai Weiwei’s work for example is just as if not more political than Mao era works. Dismissing literary and artistic works of any historical era exposes our own prejudice against aesthetic of a different kind/origin and denies us real understanding of that era.

Maoist ballet is great example. It was inspired by communist politics but politics also inspired innovation. Chinese artists turned a most bourgeois genre into a most revolutionary form telling the story of the proletarian; this demonstrates the flexibility of the genre itself. But this is far from what Maoist ballet can teach us about “the years that burnt” (Michael Dutton). It offers a new and unique window for us to write and understand about many aspects of China’s recent past: from nation making and artistic modernisation to the platform of women’s liberation and what the Cold War meant to the ordinary Chinese.

As a EUME Postdoctoral Fellow of the Freie Universität Berlin this year, Elizabeth M. Holt is researching the network of literary journals supported by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a cultural front in the Cold War covertly founded and funded by the CIA from 1950.  Arguing that the United States inherited the colonial preoccupations of the French and British in the wake of WWII, inaugurating a new mode of area studies, Holt is particularly interested in the CCF’s Arabic journal iwār (1962-67). Holt is writing a book about Arabic literature in the Cold War that situates iwār within the wider ambit of CCF journals in the third world after Bandung, including the Latin American journal Mundo nuevo, Uganda’s Transition, and Nigeria’s Black Orpheus. At the WeberWorldCafé “Globalisation During the Cold War,” she is interested to discuss further the paradox of the CIA’s Cold War propaganda of cultural freedom.

Max Weber Stiftung

The Max Weber Foundation promotes global research, focused on the areas of social sciences, cultural studies and the humanities. Our research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries across the globe with different and independent fields of focus. Through our globally operating institutes, we are able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and our host countries or regions. By promoting academic dialogue and merging academic and non-academic employees from several countries with different cultural backgrounds, the Max Weber Foundation is able to strengthen the internationalization of research.

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