Jaunā Gaita nr. 85, 1971

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JG 85

A writer cannot exist in a vacuum; not only must he be aware of contemporary aesthetic trends and the work of other writers, he is profoundly affected by ideological, political, and social conditions. In the concluding installment of his analysis of recent literary developments in Soviet Latvia, Dr. Rolfs Ekmanis (Arizona State U.) states that Latvian writers have always recognized the enrichment and value of meaningful contact with the literature of other nations. The Soviet Latvian writer, unfortunately, is limited to personal contacts only with writers of other Soviet republics. There is great dearth of translations from Western writers, an almost total absence of the works of African and Near and Middle Eastern writers, and Latvian writers living in exile are all but ignored. However, the output of Latvian creative writers, especially the poets, has been impressive. The literary watchdogs still dilligently attempt to make poetry subservient to political dogma, but the Party as a literary dictator has largely lost its influence. Poets continue to experiment with form, style, and subject matter and seem determined to cast off all provincialism and move into the mainstream of 20th century poetry. There is increasing emphasis on the idea of freedom as an inner, spiritual reality rather than a political issue; a revulsion against cowardice and "slave mentality"; and a preoccupation with nature as a source of spiritual revival in a technological age. Only love poetry still tends to be sentimental, old-fashioned, and bloodless. Prose writers, however, have been slow to adopt modern innovations in form and style or deal with controversial issues. Dr. Ekmanis attributes this timidity partly to fear of a fate similar to that of Solzhenitsin, and partly to the ideological rigidity and intolerance of Latvian censors, harsh even by Soviet standards. The best writers, of course, have significantly transcended the narrowness of socialist realism; still, their experiments frequently seem like imitations of long-familiar Western techniques. However, Ekmanis' analysis of several recent novels wherein the authors eschew the tendency to skirt around difficult problems, and refuse to succumb to easy psychological, thematic, and stylistic solutions, offers hope of future growth and development.

While the writers in Latvia and other Soviet republics must struggle with ideological oppression, those living in exile are by no means free of difficulties. Two reports of a June 1971 symposium of Baltic writers in Stockholm conclude that the volume, variety, and richness of output by Latvian, Estonian, and Lithuanian writers in exile surpasses what might be expected in literature produced by émigré groups, and their writings have partaken in modern developments in world literature. However, there is always the problem of having to work in countries where their language is rarely understood, and greater contact with writers of the host countries would be highly desirable. Also, exile itself sometimes breeds a sense of isolation, helplessness, and a painful awareness of life's absurdities and illusions.

A contrast to the above-mentioned somewhat politically oriented writings on literature is provided by Lidija Dombrovska-Larsena's essay on art and aesthetics. Larsena argues against the use of such outmoded, objective value judgment in art criticism as the division of art into "abstract" and "realistic" categories. Instead, she would propose a new, integrated, universal system of aesthetics on the level of poetic metaphor.

The poetry included in this issue treats themes that are both purely human and personal and also more broadly significant. Velta Toma's "leprosy" recalls the recent controversy raging about the author. Here the poet symbolically portrays her return from a land poisoned by leprosy; herself now leprosy-stricken, she proudly and defiantly bears the "love-engendered" disease among hostile and uncomprehending men. A poem by Valentīns Pelēcis recalls his recent visit to Rīga; an ancient building in the medieval quarter becomes a symbol for the past and present, the history of every stone blending with the poet's own experience. Lidija Dombrovska's poems evoke nightmare visions of 20th century horrors; the atomic mushrooms and martyrs of this mondo cane blend with motifs of final judgment, of creation and destruction. Gundars Pļavkalns' "In the Sarcophagus", starting with ancient Egyptian motifs of death and regeneration, develops the themes of death in life and life in death. Baiba Bičole's cycle "To Be or Not to Be" portrays experience and emotion, at once intensely erotic and intensely lonely, through metaphysical and nature motifs - space, time, stars, mist, sea, infinity - that intensify rather than blur the experience.

Both of the short stories, Reinholds Millers' "Hangover Breakfast" and Eduards Freimanis' "Nonsense Tales", deal with people who wear masks or put on false fronts to hide or escape from the pain, emptiness, and insecurity of their lives. When some unexpected slight causes the faēade to crumble, the results'are ironic - or bizarre and tragi-comic.

In the current installment of his monograph "The Commander from Zemgale", Uldis Ģērmanis analyses the events following the February revolution in Russia and the growing demands for autonomy among Latvian soldiers and civilian organizations.

The cover is by Tālivaldis Ķiķauka.


I. Š.-L.

Jaunā Gaita