Category Archives: Literature

The Sense of Place in Latvian and American Latvian Literature

Aija Poikāne-Daumke (University College of Economics and Culture, Riga)

This paper examines both the sense of place and the meaning of landscapes in Edvarts Virza’s text Straumēni (1934), Edmunds Valdemārs Bunkšes autobiography Geography and the Art of Life (2004) and Andra Kins’s Coming and Going: A Family Quest (2005). Through close readings of these texts, I will demonstrate that Latvians in exile – Bunkše and Kins – attempt to reconstruct their lost homeland, using their imagination and knowledge about Latvia. “Their” Latvia resembles Virza’s Latvia, where Latvians, depicted as God-fearing, hard-working, and “pure” people, live in harmony with nature. The old farmstead “Straumēni” becomes a symbol of Latvian national identity glorifying pastoral life. Bunkše expresses a similar point of view. He recalls his grandparents’ farmstead – sounds and smells surrounding the homestead. The fragrance of freshly baked rye bread symbolizes not only his lost identity but also his longing for Latvia. When he returns to Latvia in the 1990s, he sees that the familiar and dear to him landscapes and his grandparents’ homestead have been destroyed by the Soviet regime. Andra Kins, in her turn, grows up with the stories about Latvia told to her by her grandmother and mother. When she goes to Latvia to visit her relatives, she realizes that Latvia is an unfamiliar place to her.

Keyword: Poikane

Theatralization and its Specific Manifestations in Latvian Modern Drama and Theater

Viktorija Zelavska (University of Latvia)

The aim of this research is to show the relationship between the basic tendencies of theatralization and the aesthetic principles of modernism in Latvian and European modern drama and theatre. The chosen research subject is a little studied theme in Latvian literary and theatre theory. Unrealistic representations (which are connected with theatralization) are key features of modern drama that manifest themselves in different ways in each of the modernist movements. The most important features of theatralization that will be discussed are commedia dell’arte, the East theatre technique, the Medieval theatre form – stylization or restoration in modern drama and the principle of theatre in theatre or play in play; balagan, life and art balaganization; circle aesthetics; people ‘dummization’, etc.  Many of the 20th century writers and theatre directors with stylization techniques in their plays and productions began to portray the world as a theatre, which, together with the theatralization processes found not only in theatre but also in life, shows people as marionettes, with naturalness being replaced with the artificial. People are represented as dummies, as constant masks (or types), who do not know psychological trials, feelings of love and obligation, and are not related to any particular religion epitomizing the infernal, metaphysical and mystical. The principle ‘theatre in theatre’ becomes important in drama. Theatrical forms are restored and renewed in theatre, which accentuates non-psychological theatre dominance and its importance in modern art.

Estonian Literature after Postmodernism: The Challenge of “New Sincerity”

Piret Viires (Tallinn University / Estonian Literary Museum)

Several researchers have stated, in describing the cultural situation of the early 21st century, that the heyday of postmodernism has passed. Postmodernist theory has exhausted itself and has failed to describe the contemporary world adequately in the early 21st century.

So, the present question is: what comes after postmodernism? The umbrella term “post-postmodernism” is generally used to describe the cultural situation following postmodernism. There are also more specific terms: neomodernism, metamodernism, hypermodernity, automodernity, digimodernism, performatism, critical realism, etc. Most of the new definitions are characterised by their attempt to oppose postmodernism, i.e. postmodernist cynicism, playfulness and irony. Instead, they try to offer something new to replace the existing clichés, such as truth, simplicity, clarity and beauty: all values that postmodernism had abolished.

Similar theoretical treatments are supported by cultural phenomena called “new simplicity” and “new sincerity”. The question that is addressed in this paper is whether we can find “new sincerity” in contemporary Estonian literature. I will argue that “new sincerity” is not an altogether alien concept in Estonian literature, and there are writers who write “new sincere” texts.

In conclusion, we can declare that the postmodernist “age of irony” is over and literature that values truth and beauty is on the rise. At the same time, we are currently in a transitional period. One era, the postmodern, has ended, and the next has not quite started. What actually happened in our era will only be established afterwards, when we will be able to look back at the current moment.

The Reception of Uku Masing’s Translations

Aile Tooming (Tallinn University)

Uku Masing (1909-1985), one of Estonia’s greatest religious poets and a theologian, was a polyglot and erudite in many fields.  From the 1940s he was one of the most influential Estonian intellectuals “in internal emigration”. Masing translated poetry, prose, and theological literature from many languages, distant cultures and times.  He became known as a translator in the 1930s; just before the beginning of the Soviet regime two very important Masing’s translations were published – Tagore’s Gitanjali and The Gardener –- and a new translation of the Bible (he had been one of the three translators.) During the 1940s and 1950s Masing was suppressed, although at that time he intensively worked on several translations (in addition to theological work and poetry writing.) Beginning from the 1960s several of his translations and some reviews of these were published. At the same time that covert reception of Masing’s works was constantly increasing, Masing was the authority for several young theologians and poets, influencing them by his translations alongside with his other works.  The real “(re)discovering” and (re)publishing of Masing’s works (among them, translations) began some years after his death in 1988 with the political liberation of Estonia, and it has been continuing up to the present day. This paper focuses on the public and covert reception of Masing’s translations in Estonia and also in exile and on the role and possible influence of his translations on Estonian culture.

The Silent Languages of Alphonso Lingis, or Dangerous Translations

Dalia Staponkute (University of Cyprus)

Allusion to one of Alphonso Lingis’s works, Dangerous Emotions, in the title of this paper highlights the processes pertinent to language and translation in an era of globalization. Lingis´s philosophical travel writing reveals that travel in a world of diverse languages and cultures is fraught with difficulties and dangers in an era of globalization and a prevailing Anglophone communication.

This paper will explore the relation between travel, language and culture in Alphonso Lingis`s philosophical travel writing from the point of view of translation theory. The focus will be on the traveller as translating agent and intercultural mediator, as well as on the creative tension in the elaboration of culture and identity.

In his philosophical travel writing Lingis exiles himself from the rational language of philosophy.. Focusing on the insufficiency of language in the transmission of meanings, Lingis expresses a critique of rational translation and points to spontaneity in translation as bodily performance—highlighting the importance of the remainder or surplus in translation by emphasizing ways of knowing that are channelled through taste, touch, vision, smell and (non-verbal) sound.

Lingis´s work also inspires the reader to envision wider problematic and specific/personal cases of translation in changing mother-tongues as cultural mother-child bonds, and the consequences of this  for language, culture and the human world at large.

Keyword: Staponkutė

Kristijonas Donelaitis: In the Clutches of Stereotypes

Žavinta Sidabraitė (Klaipėda University)

When analysing the works of Kristijonas Donelaitis, one should not forget the utilitarian purpose behind them – to form the Lithuanian peasant into an honest, enlightened person.  Donelaitis knew  from his studies at the university that the rhymed word is often more effective and more memorable than the unrhymed. Thus, it was in the field of poetry that Donelaitis’ professional interests as an educator and priest and his innate talent for creating came together. At that moment, there was a very distinct line drawn between the verbal and written languages of European countries, but in Prussian Lithuania such a divide did not exist. Of course, when writing, Donelaitis was, without a doubt, influenced by his education, literary experience, and learned poetic skills, but the innovation of his work in the universal literary context of Europe had to do with the audience to whom it was directed: the very conservative “non-modern” Lithuanian peasant of Prussia. This ability to understand and adapt to his listeners was one of Donelaitis’ major literary strengths. It is often overlooked in the resilient clichés and stereotypes that still tend to dominate our understanding of Donelaitis as a writer whose work stems primarily from a very conservative, provincial mindset. In fact, Donelaitis was quite progressive for an educator of the time. Modern readers of his work often look only at the works themselves without understanding the motivation of the writer and the social background of his listeners.

Keyword: Zavinta

Keyword Sidabraite

The 1990s and After: Migrations of Theories

Virve Sarapik (Estonian Literary Museum / Estonian Academy of Arts)

My presentation attempts to offer a comparative overview of some processes that occurred in the literary culture and art world after Estonia regained independence.

In particular, I am interested in the spread of ideas in literary and art criticism. It can be said that the different intellectual currents of the 20th century have found their place in local cultural consciousness in a fragmented, hybrid and mimicking form. The underlying reasons are certainly ideological (the need to hide, to refer to issues implicitly, to read between the lines), but not entirely. The 1990s are especially characterized by the arrival and intermingling of different theories. There are notably two positions: one that maintains that the theories of a certain school of thought are already well known and it’s time to move on, without recognizing the fact that the very first encounter might well have been superficial and skewed (which is, for instance, the case in the attitude towards postmodernism and existentialism), and the second position, which makes a fresh start in introducing certain schools of thought, as if the earlier experiences were forgotten; this gives way, on a positive note, either to a new reading or, on a negative note, to a totally new raw rendition of the thought. Especially ambivalent is the attitude among leftist thinkers. The practice during the 1990s was to integrate Marxist theories ‘without’ Marxism, apolitically. This initial reaction has undergone an evolution in the 21st century, but a certain fixation, the inclination to associate oneself with one or another extreme, has remained.

Textual Problems in Translating Petras Cvirka’s Frank Kruk

Elizabeth Novickas (Independent scholar, USA)

Petras Cvirka’s controversial role in Lithuanian literature is reflected in the three available versions of his first novel, Frank Kruk, first published in Kaunas in 1934. An extant copy of a book marked up by the author for the Latvian translation (published in 1941) shows Cvirka attempting to correct some of the factual mistakes critics had pointed out in his descriptions of America. Later, after Cvirka’s notorious trip as part of the delegation to ask for Lithuania’s incorporation into the USSR and his appointment to head the Lithuanian Writer’s Union, he began re-editing the novel before its next publication. These edits were included in all subsequent editions of the novel published during the Soviet period. The paper analyzes both sets of edits and discusses some of the problems inherent in selecting a version of a text for translation.

Ilze Šķipsna’s Prose and Women’s Writing: Woman and Double Exile

Zita Karkla (University of Latvia)

Ilze Šķipsna was born in 1928 in Riga. She left Latvia preceeding the second Soviet occupation toward the end of 1944. After spending her ”displaced person” years in the refugee camp in Fischback, Germany, she left for the United States where most of her life was spent in Texas. Šķipsna died in January 1981. Her major prose texts include two volumes of short stories: Wind Flutes (1961) and The Middle Reality (1974) and two novels: Beyond the Seventh Bridge (1965) and Unpromised Lands (1970).

Double exile in Šķipsna’s prose is not only physical exile living outside one’s homeland, but also the marginalized situation in which a woman is found when living and writing in patriarchal society. Being at the periphery, women might have an experience of exile that differs from that of men.

Šķipsna, inscribing in culture woman’s experience in exile, subverts fixed meanings in favor of plurality and diversity. Women in Šķipsna’s prose are living in double exile, both outside their homeland and in patriarchal society. In this situation, Šķipsna looks at the process of searching for one’s true identity where the ambivalent mother – daughter relations, the notions of woman’s language, woman and silence and woman’s space are important as they talk about balancing one’s past and present in order to reach a continuity and to be able to live a full life in the present.

The Newest Literary Trends in Contemporary Lithuanian Women’s Prose

Daiva Litvinskaitė (Institute of Lithuanian Language, Vilnius)

After Lithuania’s restoration of its independence (1990), a distinct divide emerged in the literature written by women in Lithuania. In this new tradition, women distanced themselves from the truths proposed by contemporary tropes of literature and instead imitated the real world, with stories of the everyday and the intimate. These texts, in which close attention is paid to descriptions of social realities, women’s everyday life, the search for identity, or the physical body, are frequently labeled as popular literature and, therefore, are not taken seriously.

Using feminist criticism, my presentation will focus on the question of why Lithuanian women writers have departed from literary truths and forms, as well as to understand their tendency to choose to imitate reality. I will also examine how contemporary Lithuanian women writers understand and portray their identity as women, subjectivity and sexuality, in contrast to how women were represented in the social and political discourse of the former Soviet past and pluralistic present.

Keyword: Litvinskaite