Jaunā Gaita nr. 90, 1972

JG 90

Alexander Solzhenitsyn stated in his Nobel lecture that art and literature "possess a wonderful ability: beyond distinctions of language, custom, social structure, they can convey the life experience of one whole nation to another." And, in touching upon the old debate "whether art and the artist should be free to live for themselves, or whether they should be forever mindful of their duty towards society and serve it," Solzhenitsyn pleaded - "let us not violate the right of the artist to express exclusively his own experiences and introspections, disregarding everything that happens in the world beyond." These same themes - literature as a potential bridge-builder among nations, and the problematic relationship between artistic and social and political concerns - are discussed in two articles in JG 90 - an interview with Estonian poet and literary critic Dr. Ivar Ivask (U. of Oklahoma) and the first installment of Dr. Rolfs Ekmanis (Arizona State U.) analysis of literary trends in Soviet Latvia during 1971.

Prof. Ivask is since 1968 the editor of Books Abroad, the oldest (46 yrs.) regularly appearing literary journal of international orientation in the English language; its stated purpose has always been to further international understanding by disseminating information about literature while remaining detached from any partisan political interests. During Ivask's tenure as editor, Books Abroad has been instrumental in setting up the annual Oklahoma Conferences on Writers of the Hispanic World and, in view of the frequent political controversy surrounding the Nobel Prize, in establishing the Books Abroad / Neustadt International Prize for Literature. This prize (first awarded in 1970 to Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti) emphatically rejects any political, racial, or social considerations; the jury members are selected among leading writers all over the world, and have included such names as Heinrich Bll, Jan Kott, Allen Tate, Andrei Vozhnesensky, Odysseus Elytis, Kenneth Rexroth, as well as writers from South America, India, and Africa. Regarding the likelihood of a writer from a small country receiving the award, Ivask stresses that his work should be available in competent translations in one of the leading world languages.

Ekmanis states that in the Soviet Union the ideologues still keep stressing that the role of the artist - especially the writer - is to educate the masses in class consciousness and socialist ideals; however, the influence of the Party as literary dictator is progressively weakening. One year ago, Ekmanis wrote in JG 84 that the emphasis on the written word as a conduit for ideology was partly responsible for the sorry state of literary scholarship in Soviet Latvia. Since then, matters seem to have improved a little. While the "official" critics still busily decry the poets' tendency to write about vague, personal, subjective themes, the better scholars are beginning to move away from applying sociological criteria to works of art and pay more attention to the analysis of form, style, and structure.

The prose works in this issue include Benita Veisberga's poetic, impressionistic "Improvisation"; Eduards Freimanis' analysis of incipient schizophrenia; "A Daredevil's Diary", and Andrejs Leie's "Hill of Memories", an evocation of Bohemian life in Rīga before World War I. Much of the poetry (by Baiba Rirdāne, Ausma Jaunzeme, Margarita Ausala, Inta Purva, and Jānis Kļaviņ) is permeated with nature motifs, references to the process of poetic creation, or concerned with the probing of man's reactions to the world around him. Rirdāne (England), who is a painter as well as a poet, also contributes some brief comments on art and literature and reproductions of one of her paintings. A New section devoted to art criticism debuts in this issue; its editor Gvīdo Augusts makes some rather harsh statements about the conservatism and provincialism of many Latvian painters.

Political concerns dominate the second installment of Pāvils Klāns' (Denmark) essay "The Silent Counterrevolution"; Klāns analyses some of the dubious motives behind Soviet propaganda promoting repatriation and visits to Latvia. And some still-painful political debates of the past are touched upon in Valentīns Pelēcis' discussion of a volume of the memoirs by former Latvian statesman Alfreds Bērzin. Pelēcis feels that numerous factual assertions in Bērziņ' book are of dubious veracity, and that many of the patriotic statements sound rather false and strained.

The concluding section of Part I of Uldis Ģērmanis' (Stockholm) monograph The Commander from Zemgale brings out the crucial role played by the red Latvian soldiers and workers (as well as other non-Russian peoples) in assuring the success of the October Revolution. While specially chosen Latvian bolshevik divisions responded to Lenin's call for help in maintaining "revolutionary order" in St. Petersburg, many other regiments gradually left their native country and dispersed all over Russia to fight in the front ranks of the red side in the Civil War. Meanwhile, however, the movement for national independence and self-determination in Latvia was gathering force.

The current book review section is intemational in outlook. Gunars Irbe reviews a translation of Swedish writer's Ivar Lo-Johanson's autobiographical novel Analfabeten, and Juris Silenieks discusses the Latvian literature sections in Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, praising their high quality. Rolfs Ekmanis reviews a new edition of Garlieb Merkel's 1802 poem Wannem Ymanta - Eine Lettische Sage and a new collection of Shakespeare's comedies in Latvian; Ekmanis finds the translations excellent, but the preface tendentious and inappropriate. Also reviewed are Gunars Janovskis' novel Roland and Edward Huggins' translations of Latvian fairy tales into English.

 

I. .-L.


Jaunā Gaita