Jaunā Gaita nr. 102, 1975

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JG 102

Most (but not all) of this issue is devoted to literature, the arts, and intellectual trends in Soviet Latvia during 1973. The descriptive articles and critical interpretations, as in past JG issues focusing on Soviet Latvia, are by authors living in the West, while Soviet Latvian writers contribute poetry, drama, a short story, and even an essay on chess.

One of the more prominent and certainly popular cultural events during 1973 was the Song Festival. When first organized in 1873, it became a milestone event in Latvian history as an expression of growing national consciousness and pride in the nation's musical and literary heritage. Reprinted here is a fragment by Ilze Šķipsna (USA) which captures the almost mystical significance and fascination the occasion exerts on Latvian imagination still today, as well as a satirical recreation by Marģeris Zariņš (Soviet Latvia) of an episode at the 1873 festival in which sentimental religious prejudice clashes with fiery enthusiasm in the evaluation of folk poetry and music.

Latvian folksongs (dainas) are more than a literary tradition; they represent a vast national heritage in the fullest sense of the word - writes Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga (U. of Montreal) in "Echoes of Dainas in the Poetry of Contemporary Latvia." Although Soviet Latvian poets recognize this, and folksong influences appear in some of their works, they avoid directly imitating the style. In fact, most attempts to copy the dainas' unique, four-line, trochaic form have not been very successful artistically. Influence of folksongs can be seen in allusions, associations, implications, symbols, metaphors; perhaps above all in the pervasive use of images drawn from nature that reflect a deep-rooted reverence toward it, and in a certain laconic restraint and understatement, in contrast to the glorification of technology and direct, propagandistic style of much of Soviet poetry. Freiberga cites from poems by Imants Aužiņš, Ojārs Vācietis, Jānis Peters, and others.

One poet who often combines, with great virtuosity, themes, images, and rhythms from folksongs, folklore, and history with modern attitudes and stylistic innovations is Māris Čaklais. As the examples reprinted here show, Caklais sometimes seems to be toying with words, yet the philosophical implications are of great complexity. Two other poets, at opposite ends of the age spectrum, are represented.

Elza Stērste was born in 1885 and published her first collection in 1913; time seems to have only distilled the purity of form and control of language in her work. Lelde Stumbre (b. 1952) combines simplicity of diction with a kind of nervous energy and unusual perception that is quite effective.

For the first time abroad, JG is publishing an exerpt from a contemporary Soviet Latvian play, Gunārs Priede's Fire by the Station. In some ways, it seems a very conventional work, and such themes as generation conflicts and the constant references to features of contemporary life vs. the past are boring. There are some very interesting aspects, however. The monotonous, ordered life in a Latvian provincial town is disturbed by the arrival of gypsies, whose nomadic, irresponsible lifestyle violates every tenet of the socialist ethic. Nevertheless, the gypsies come to represent the frightening, yet attractive fascination with freedom, romance, and dreams of something beyond regimented, convention-bound existence; and it is obvious that the author's sympathies do not lie with their detractors. Eriks Kūlis' short story, "A Devilish Business", is wryly humorous, and the rather unexpected, yet totally believable character reversals at the end show subtle, unobtrusive psychological insight.

The first installment of Rolfs Ekmanis' (Arizona State U.) annual survey of Soviet Latvian literature is devoted to literary sholarship and criticism. Ekmanis concludes that, although those disciplines still leave much to be desired, 1973 nevertheless produced several interesting scholarly works, such as Dzidra Vārdaune's Tragedy in Latvian Literature, Vitolds Valeinis' Latvian Lyric Poetry 1900-1917 and Rainis' Dramatic Art by Viktors Hausmanis. A number of poets, notably Skujenieks, Strauss, Auziņš, and Čaklais are also publishing excellent critical essays.

Laimonis Mieriņš' (Leeds, England) essay on art draws heavily on quotations from Soviet Latvian critics. These quotes are interesting per se - they are dominated not by cries for adherence to socialist realism, but demands for new revelations, pure, aesthetic forms, modernity. Mieriņš believes that one of the more important characteristics of Soviet Latvian art is the insistence on separating fine arts (painting, sculpture, graphics) and decorative arts (ceramics, tapestries, etc.). The former are more vulnerable to party demands that art be used as propaganda for socialism; but even there works bearing the stamp of socialist realism are in the minority. While there have not been any striking, innovative events in 1973, and complaints that the arts seem to be stagnating have much basis in fact, progress nevertheless is steady - though quiet.

Pre-World War II art and artists appear in Jānis Siliņš' essay on Ansis Cīrulis. Prof. Siliņš (whose comprehensive history of Latvian art has long been awaited) describes Cīrulis as one of the most individualistic and versatile figures in Latvian art during the last forty years.

The cover is by Zīle Zichmane.


I. Š.-L.

Jaunā Gaita