Jaunā Gaita nr. 84, 1971

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JG 84

Almost the entire issue of JG 84 is, once again devoted to the literature and art of Soviet Latvia; however, all the critical essays are by writers living in the West. Some reasons for this emerge in the first part of Dr. Rolfs Ekmanis' (Arizona State U.) survey of the literary trends in Latvia during 1970. Analyzing Latvian literature in the context of the entire Soviet Union, Dr. Ekmanis concludes that in recent years, the Soviet ideologues have tightened their stranglehold on free artistic expression and intensified their battle against "nationalistic chauvinism" or cultural autonomy for the non-Russian republics. The tiresome old slogans have been repeated again and again: literature must serve the state; it must not criticize man and society in general, must not express a sense of futility, doubt, or pessimism; it must not portray the Soviet citizen as anything less than an active, responsible, patriotic worker. Any liberal literary trend is a threat to the state, and therefore all literary creativity must be forced into a strictly regimented stylistic and ideological framework. One of the consequences has been the undermining of literary criticism, which in Soviet Latvia remains a neglected and backward genre. The official critics are mostly incompetent, ignorant, and, unfortunately, even more intolerant and dogmatic than those in other Soviet countries. The creative writers, however, are continuing to fight against conservative restraints on their free choice of theme, style, and form. That they are, to a certain extent, succeeding, is evident from the selections published here.

Marģers Zariņš' "A Midsummernight's Dream" is simultaneously a socialist-realistic story and a hilarious parody of socialist realism. The Shakespearean themes of mixed-up lovers, thespian rustics, and mischievous, lovelorn spirits are transposed to a Latvian setting, and blended with sly pokes at revered Latvian literary classics and the contemporary socioeconomic situation. The result is a dizzying tour de force of literary ironies and allusions. By contrast, Aivars Kalve's "Plummeting Stone Bird" is dark and pessimistic. His protagonists make a last grasp at life, but are overwhelmed by the terrors of the past, by fate's black ironies, or by their own faults and insufficiencies. The form and style of all the stories are fairly conventional by Western standards; nevertheless, the use of ambiguities, symbols, and allusions conveys a sense of metaphysical possibilities that cannot be explained by socialist realism.

The poetry reprinted here is modern in style and full of explicit and implied allusions to just that nationalistic chauvinism and abstract, humanistic values decried by the ideologues. In Olga Lisovska's poems, a narrow plank bridging a stream, or a fish braving the perilous return journey to its breeding shores, become symbols for her own quest for truth, integrity, and her national heritage - things one must strive for, even at the risk of perishing. Jānis Peters, in a cycle of poems dedicated to the linguist Arturs Ozols, asserts the value of preserving and studying folklore tradition, folk poetry, and grammar, for they form the bases on which literature is to be built; by example, he incorporates them into the technique and expressive mode of his poems. Another cycle about Georgia conveys the poet's sense of strangeness and isolation in any part of "the great homeland" other than his native one.

Valda Melngaile (Boston College) analyzes the poetry of two of Soviet Latvia's foremost poets, Vizma Belševica and Imants Ziedonis. Melngaile asserts that both poets treat very similar themes - such as man's nature and his quest for truth, the conflict between life and art, and between spiritual and materialistic values. However, they develop these themes in stylistically opposite ways. Belševica is noted for her economy of words, her attempts to find one perfect form of expression, and her use of silence as a symbol for emotions too powerful to be expressed. Ziedonis' poetry is characterized by amplitude and flow of words, thoughts, and images, and by numerous parallel ways of describing and defining thoughts and emotions. Melngaile concludes that Ziedonis is a meditative, introspective poet who analyzes and questions rationally, finally accepting life as it is. Bēlševica does open battle with life; she is more intense, instinctive, emotional, and addresses herself to man's conscience and his innate qualities. Ziedonis is represented here by three fragments from his Epiphanies - short, imagistic prose pieces the author describes as "neither essays nor caprices", unique in form and style, culminating in moments of spiritual insight and revelation.

Laimonis Mieriņš' (Leeds, England) essay on developments in Latvian art during 1970 paints a rather bleak picture. Painting, sculpture, and graphics are still dominated by socialist realism. Artists tend to be even more conservative than their contemporaries in neighboring Baltic countries; abstract art is tabu; there is no contact with the artistic developments in the West. Mieriņš notes some hope of changing trends, however, in the revival of interest in pre-Soviet abstract painters. By contrast, A.I. gives a very favorable review to a Scandinavian exhibit of ceramic sculptures by Olita Āboliņa. She is described as having found a perfect compromise between modernity and ancient folk elements. Her miniature human figurines are psychologically individualized, and so expressive that the clay seems alive.

Along with the regular sections, this issue also includes another installment of Uldis Ģērmanis (Stockholm) monograph The Commander' From Zemgale. The author discusses the social and national factors which after the February Revolution helped change the boundaries of the Russian Empire.

The cover is by Ilmārs Rumpēters.


I. Š.-L.

Jaunā Gaita