Jaunā Gaita nr. 180, decembris 1990

JG 180


The events of the past three years in Latvia have resulted in an eruption of interest there in the Latvian exile community, both as an economic and technical "resource" and as a legitimate part of twentieth-century Latvian history and culture. Several articles in this issue are devoted to a little-known aspect of this history: the Baltic University in Pineberg, Germany, that existed from 1946 to 1949, when it was shut down by the British occupation authorities. The university had students and faculty from the three Baltic nations, and was a rare example of Baltic cooperation and coordination in the face of powerful opposition. Modris Zeberiņš points out that the Baltic University was almost a revival of medieval universities, with its unheated and inadequate classes and dormitories and lack of books: The only source of knowledge was the professor's mouth and one's own written notes ... The students who wished to pass the examinations wrote in feverish haste, never lifting their heads." 1991 is the centenary of the birth of Prof. Fricis Gulbis, the president of the Baltic University and a distinguished physicist who taught at McMaster University in Canada after leaving Germany. Imants Sakss contributes his recollections of Dr. Gulbis in Canada.

The major article in this issue is Irīna Ozoliņa's "Serious Reflections on Humour". Ozoliņa examines humour's various aspects (biological, physiological, cultural, social) and the ways that it is generated in literature. For Ozoliņa the secret of humour lies in Kurt Goetz' observation "Humor ist, wenn man trotzdem lacht" (humour happens when we laugh in spite of ourselves.) Ozoliņa has illustrated her article with examples from folklore, classical literature and current political jokes (questioning a child: Who is your mother? - The USSR. Your father? - The KGB. What do you want to be when you grow up? - an orphan). The final part of the article is an enjoyable survey of humour in Latvian literature.

Our poetry section consists entirely of translations from Spanish: the work of Octavio Paz, Federico Garcia Lorca and Jorje Guillen has been translated by Aina Kraujiete, Leons Briedis, Jānis Krēsliņš and Astrīde Ivaska. Astride Ivaska has contributed her thoughts on the art of translating poetry, focusing on the work of Jorje Guillen (1893-1984), and a description of the poet during the last years of his life in a brief article titled "Old Age". She admits that translating from Lithuanian or Estonian to Latvian is not difficult because of our common history and culture, but translating Spanish poetry to Latvian poses a challenge because of the differences in geography, the rhythms of the languages (the accent in Spanish is on the last or second-last syllable, while in Latvian it is usually on the first) and the much higher frequency of abstract concepts in Spanish poetry, which Ivaska attributes to the older (compared to Latvian) literary and cultural traditions of Spain.

Latvian poetry is, however, featured in two articles in this issue. Roberts Mūks interviews Aina Kraujiete, discussing her career as a poet, the creative process, the differences between Latvian poetry in Latvia and abroad, the changes that have happened as a result of the return of freedom of the press in Latvia, and her work as poetry editor of this magazine. Mārtiņš Lasmanis writes about poet Fricis Dziesma (Fricis Forstmanis), who began his literary career during the 1930's and continues to write in Sweden to this day. Dziesma's main inspiration is the Baltic Sea and the lives of the Liv fishermen of northern Kurzeme. (The Livs are a people who inhabit the seacoasts of northern Kurzeme and Vidzeme, speaking a language of the Finno-Ugric group; they have been almost entirely assimilated into the Latvian nation.) We introduce the prose of Evija Liepiņa, in a sketch titled "The Driad".

Aija Janelsiņa-Priedīte reviews Mirdza Krastiņa's Swedish-Latvian dictionary, which the author began working on as a student of linguist Velta Rūķe-Draviņa in Stockholm. The dictionary contains approximately 27 000 entries. Part of the review consists of Janelsiņa Priedīte's interview with Mirdza Krastiņa, discussing the author's choice of vocabulary (which appears to be based somewhat on her personal interests and preferences, judging from the large number of botanic and zoological entries and the exclusion of "taboo" words), the book's genesis, and the work going on in Latvia on a similar dictionary. Mārtiņš Lasmanis contributes a brief review of Mintauts Eglītis' collection of autobiographical stories (Michigan: Gauja, 1990), and Juris Silenieks discusses the eminent literary theorist Harijs Hiršs' latest book, The Poetics of Prose (Rīga: Liesma, 1989). This is the first book Hiršs has written since 'glasnost", and Silenieks notes that Hiršs has dropped most of his ex oriente lux outlook (i.e. that Slavic, especially Russian, literatures are the major influence on the development of Latvian literature and literature in general) - this book takes its examples from the literatures of Westem Europe, the Americas and Latvia, although it still lacks mention of Latvian writers who chose exile over life under the Communist regime or of those who suffered Communist repression. Imants Žūriņš reviews the third segment (1915-1940) of Jānis Siliņš' monumental history of Latvian art, published by Daugava (Sweden) in 1988.

The cover is by Ilmārs Rumpēters and the frontispiece is by Sarmīte Venita Salnāja, who lives in Australia. Nikolajs Bulmanis writes about Semjons Šegelmanis, an artist from Latvia who now works and exhibits in North America, and about Balvis Rubess, a young artist and graphic designer living in Toronto. Our frequent contributor cartoonist Ed. Keišs appears on page 18 with a portrait of Latvian prime minister Ivars Godmanis. Anita Liepiņa and Juris Silenieks have contributed their observations on the XX Latvian Song Festival that took place in Riga this past summer, while Laimonis Zandbergs notes that poet Vizma Belševica, among others, will be appearing at the literary events of the Ninth Latvian Song Festival in Canada this coming summer.


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Jaunā Gaita