The Two Bodies of Kalevipoeg: the Estonian National Epic as the Core Text of National Identity

Marin Laak (Estonian Literary Museum)

The representation of national epic in different historical periods has always been affected by its environment, which, due to the changing contexts of interpretation, has demanded new re-writings. My approach is related to the reconstructive study started with the newest representations of Kalevipoeg (Kalev’s Son) in the 21st century. The ideas forming the basis for my paper stem from a long-term investigation of the textuality and intertextuality of Kalevipoeg in the context of different literary representations. My research has led to surprising results; e. g. instead of grand visions, microscopic levels of the epic came to the fore. It became possible to trace how the interpretation of the separate smaller textual units in Kalevipoeg was dependent on the socio-cultural circumstances of different historical periods, and the opposite, how the new cultural units, intertextual threads, are independent and observe only the rules of poetic meaning. In my current paper I shall transfer the focus of the analysis to the context of the post-war period of Estonian history and ask how cultural environments have influenced the semantic meaning of the national epic in the context of the two bodies of Estonian culture – in occupied Estonia and the regions of the diaspora as a global multicultural environment. The paper inquires into the changing meaning of the text of the epic, and the hypothesis of my approach is that the Estonian national epic Kalevipoeg will also preserve its status semantically as the core text of national identity the next twenty years despite the changing cultural contexts.

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