Office hours with… Jinyi Chu

The Russian modernist literature expert discusses his two new book projects, the first Russian novel he fell in love with, and watching the crisis in Ukraine.
Jinyi Chu

Jinyi Chu

In 2020, while co-teaching a course called “Eurasian Entanglements: Russia and China in the 20th century” for the Yale Alumni Academy, Jinyi Chu listened to former students reminisce about the courses they took on campus 40 or more years earlier. The experience, he said, reminded him just how far-reaching undergraduate education is. Chu, who is currently on sabbatical, says he’s eager to return to the classroom this fall to hear new perspectives “from the fresh eyes” of his students.

In this edition of “Office Hours,” a Q&A series that introduces newcomers to the Yale faculty to the broader university community, Chu discusses two book projects he’s working on, the first Russian novel he fell in love with, and what it’s like to watch the current Ukraine crisis.

Title Assistant professor of Slavic languages and literatures
Research interest late 19th- and early 20th-century Russian literature, Russo-Chinese cultural relations, poetry and poetics, historical fiction, science fiction, translation studies
Prior institution Stanford University (Ph.D.)
Started at Yale July 2019

How would you describe your scholarly research?

My research revolves around two axes: Russian modernism in the period of late 19th- and early 20th-century and Russo-Chinese cultural relations. My book projects emerge from the areas defined by these two axes. Now I am completing a book manuscript, “Fin-de-siècle Geopoetics: Russia, China, and Translated Modernism,” about how Russian writers and artists reimagined the universal by engaging with China. Modernism at large is a culture of translation and expanding global consciousness.

I have also begun my second project, “Socialist ’80s: Aesthetics of Reform in the Soviet Union and China,” in which I explore how the idea of “reform” was aestheticized in Soviet and Chinese cultural productions. Soviet and Chinese reforms were not just westernization and marketization; many intrasocialist world networks and common patterns shaped a “socialist” 1980s.

What inspired your interest in these topics?

In general, I am interested in the transnational factors of the national cultural formation. I firmly believe that no culture takes its shape now in isolation.

What is the first book that you fell in love with?

The first Russian novel I fell in love with is Mikhail Sholokhov’s “Quietly Flows the River Don,” a four-volume epic novel about the fate of Don River Cossacks amidst revolutions and wars. It is not an often-taught Russian novel in American classrooms today, but the situation should change.

What’s one thing you like to do for fun?

I really like karaoke!  

Do you have a go-to karaoke song?

Plenty. “Back In The U.S.S.R.” by the Beatles, or a song called “Uchkuduk” by the Soviet Uzbek band Yalla, to name just a couple of favorites.

You’ve lived in Russia both for study and research. What is it like for you to watch the current situation in Ukraine?

It is so heartbreaking to see how people are impacted by the war. I hope that the world can go back to the track of peaceful communication.

Do recent world events feel stranger than some of the most fantastical science fiction you appreciate?

I’ve talked to many science fiction writers about the latest events of the world. They, too, are concerned with the fact that the reality becomes more fantastical than science fiction. Particularly, since the advent of the age of metaverse, the blurring of reality and fiction has become a heated topic. Such a topic not only fascinates scientists, but also humanists.

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