Jaunā Gaita Nr. 82, 1971

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JG 82

Is art a specialized pursuit which can be separated from prevailing social and political interests? A considerable part of JG 82 is devoted to the exploration of the relationship of art and politics and the problem of artistic freedom and integrity. In his essay „Art and Politics", Dr. Gundaris Pone (S.U.N.Y., New Paltz), himself a noted composer of avant-garde music, argues that art and politics have common dialectic roots; therefore, art has great radicalizing potential as a reflector of political consciousness. However, the ruling class, interested in preserving the status quo, is determined to prevent the artist from becoming a political influence in a political society, and revolutionary art is suppressed. Instead, the rulers would like to see art ritualized into traditional, ever-recurring, predictable patterns, thus turning it into a commodity with market value dependent upon the norms of supply and demand. The author states that the bourgeoisie, having become the ruling class in the Western world, has also assumed the role of the class of art patrons. Consequently, it attempts to reppress any trend in art contrary to its capitalistic interests, and has even appropriated the 19th century aesthetic theory of „art for art's sake" as a myth to aid in the defusing of art of its inherent revolutionary potential. The author is equally critical of the present artistic policies in the Soviet Union, but holds out more hope for the advancement of revolutionary art in the People's Republic of China.

By contrast, Dr. Andrievs Ezergailis (Ithaca College), in his introductory essay to a selection of Russian poetry and prose, points out that the movement for intellectual freedom in the Soviet Union has as yet seen no separation between artistic and political concerns. The selection itself, published here in order to honor Alexander Solzhenitsin upon his receiving the Nobel Prize, includes prose by Solzhenitsin and Andrei Amalrik and poetry by Anna Achmatova, Osip Mandelshtam, Bulat Okudzhava, and Boris Pasternak. Amalrik, in his letter to Anatoly Kuznetsov, who defected to the West in 1969, demonstrates an uncanny understanding of the dilemma of intellectuals both in the Soviet Union and in the West. Amalrik describes politics and art as irreconcilable opposites, recalling to mind Thomas Mann's statement that the artist is not a political being but an aesthetic one, and stresses the value of inner (artistic) freedom over external (political) liberty. Dr. Ezergailis points out that it is this sense of inner freedom, or ability to set incorruptible standarts of personal and artistic integrity, regardless of political oppression, that pervades the poetry of Achmatova, Mandelshtam, Okudzhava, and Pasternak.

Dr. Ezergailis also analyses the Paris-based Polish periodical Kultura and a recent anthology of writings drawn from it. He describes the ideological tendency of Kultura as ecumenical. It advocated the transcending of Eastern European ethnic barriers and emphasizes that a political struggle necessitates the formūlation of ethical and aesthetic premises. The author calls the magazine anti-marxist, yet careful not to undervalue marxism; against Western chauvinism, yet aware of Poland's Western heritage. Kultura accepts neither Soviet social realism nor Western anti-rationalism, but claims that Eastern Europe must find its own independent cultural destiny.

Art and politics clash in the continuing debate over the value of cultural-literary exchange with Soviet Latvia, first triggered in these pages by the publication of an interview with the distinguished poet Velta Toma. (JG 78) In this issue, Valēntīns Pelēcis effectively rebuts Pāvils Klāns' criticisms (JG 80) of her trip to Latvia. Pelēcis points out that Klāns' claims about the dangers of departing from the collective ideology and dogma of one's peers recall similar criticisms levelled by Soviet bureaucrats at writers such as Solzhenitsin; and argues for the right of individuals like Toma to follow their conscience and be above petty political consideration.

Of political and historical interest is the sixth installment of Uldis Ģērmanis' monograph The Commander from Zemgale, his study of Col. Jukums Vācietis, The Latvian-born first Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army. In this issue Ģērmanis discusses the role played by the Latvian batallions of the Czarist army in the Offensive against German positions in 1916. Ģērmanis also describes the German-supported social democratic movement among the Latvian riflemen, which caused the Russian government to send Latvian representatives to London in order to inform the English of Latvian loyalty to Russia in the war against Germany.

Apart from politics, descriptive prose is represented in JG 82 by Benita Veisberga's "Angel City Notes", an impressionistic, almost terrifying, and yet poetic evocation of dust-and asphalt-bound Los Angeles, a city the angels have apparently deserted. Prose fiction is represented by Arturs Baumanis' "The Return".

The poetry section is headed by „Dark Night, Green Grass", a richly complex, poem by Valda Dreimane-Melngaile. Included also are poems by Ilze Skrupšķele-Kleinberga, Valdis Krāslavietis, Eduards Freimanis, and Lidija Dombrovska-Larsena.

JG 82 concludes with some marginal notes on recent events both in Soviet Latvian and émigré Latvian literature, thus recalling once more the issue of the relationship of politics and literature. The author of these notes comments on the recent death of Andrejs Upīts, probably the Latvian communist author most acclaimed in the Soviet Union. While recognizing Upīts' literary achievement regardless of his politics, the author points out that Upīts was able to voice his communist beliefs in the novels he published in pre-World War II Latvia because of the relative freedom under the order he criticized. Some statements recently made by various Latvian intelectuals on both sides of the Iron Curtain are examined, and found to be reeking of political and literary hypocrisy.


Jaunā Gaita