The Global South and Cultural Struggles: On the Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization
Duncan Mceachern Yoon
The Writers Bureau anthologies dealt with socio-cultural movements both across linguistic and national boundaries. In many post-independence movements, national consciousness and identity became the primary rubric for understanding modernity. Unfortunately such a nationalized conception of culture ultimately led to a reductionist vision of literary history−at the expense of minorities, whether ethnic, gendered or linguistic−within many postcolonial countries.
However, what ostensibly knit these disparate national spaces and histories together was the necessity to recuperate, on a cultural front, basic ethical imperatives like human dignity and economic development. Fanon’s humanism at the “size of the world“ was part of the initial inspiration for such a national consciousness. In Wretched of the Earth, Fanon urged against the chauvinism and jingoism of not tempering nationalism with a strong internationalism: “But if nationalism is not made explicit, if it is not enriched and deepened by a very rapid transformation into a consciousness of social and political needs, in other words into humanism, it leads up a blind alley“ (Fanon 204). Humanism, for Fanon, means to move past the national context−both in the sense of an active transnationalism, but also, in an inverse movement, to validate minority cultures, histories and languages within a national context.
The first volume of poetry from the AAPSO is the least divisive politically in that there are contributions from the PRC and the Soviet Union. Other nations represented include Ceylon, Congo, India, Indonesia, Korea, Sudan, Tanganyika and Vietnam. Sino-Soviet relations had not deteriorated enough at this point to produce the split in the organization that led to a Beijing led Writers Bureau to form in 1966 as a counter to the Indian and Soviet led third meeting in Beirut in 1967. The Soviet and Indian led faction of the Writers Bureau would continue for many years, founding the journal Lotus and honoring writers with the Lotus Prize, which Alex La Guma, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Chinua Achebe, among others, would receive. However, I would like to focus on the first anthology of Afro-Asian poems, since it provides a possible snapshot of the AAPSO’s definition of humanism before its complete instrumentalized by Cold War realpolitik.
In the preface to the volume the Writers Bureau’s Secretary-General, Ratne Deshapriya Senanayake writes:
The peoples of Africa and Asia have taken a gigantic and courageous step to rehabilitate the traditions of their cultures which were very rich with human values, although they were suppressed, robbed of and poisoned by the imperialists for hundreds of years. We the peoples of Africa and Asia, will create our own progressive cultures to promote and reflect our revolutionary struggles. (Poems vvii)
This project of rehabilitation meant the selection of poems in the volume were not only meant to represent particular national contexts, but also of a larger consciousness of global humanism. The poems take multiple contexts as their themes. They range from nationalistic praise for the motherland, rants against colonialism, but perhaps most interestingly are often focused on visions of other countries from within the second and third worlds.
For example two poems are addressed to the African continent. The first, written by Han Pei-ping is entitled “Drums at Night,“ while the other, written by Mirzo Tursun-Zade is entitled “My Sister, Africa!“ The inclusion of both a PRC and Soviet appeal to an abstract African continent is not only telling in terms of how the region would become a battleground for competing national interests during the 1960s and into the 70s, but it is also indicative of a larger shift in terms of cross-cultural geopolitics.
So much of postcolonial studies is focused on the vertical relationship between colonizer and colonized. However this volume of poetry, while somewhat reductive in its conception of the “other,“ includes horizontal cultural affiliations that obviate the vertical colonial power dynamic.
Tursun-Zade’s poem differs from Han’s in its initial inspiration. The poem is written from the perspective of the poet looking across a map down at Africa: “O my sister, how clearly I pictured you, / far to the South, / With an agonied death-cry distorting your sensitive mouth“ (Poems 141). Most of the poem uses effeminized images of Africa as an “ebony- skinned virgin“ which has been rent “limb from limb [...] by the / pale-featured mob“ (Poems 141).
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From Indian Literature to World Literature: A Conversation with Satya P. Mohanty
by Rashmi Dube Bhatnagar and Rajender Kaur
Asia in My Life
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The Global South and Cultural Struggles: On the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organization
by Duncan Mceachern Yoon
The Fault Lines of Hindi and Urdu
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Reframing Colonialism and Modernity: An Endeavour through Sociology and Literature
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Is There an Indian Way of Thinking about Comparative Literature?
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Modernity and Public Sphere in Vernacular
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West Indian Writers and Cultural Chauvinism
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