Jaunā Gaita nr. 96, 1973

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JG 96

The late 60's gave rise to many fashionable slogans about the inevitability of "ideological confrontation" and the need for political commitment in art, literature, and theatre. Jaunā Gaita has, in recent years, published a number of articles that have touched upon various aspects of the problem; this issue includes two interviews whose subjects firmly oppose the politization of art. Laimonis Siliņ, discussing his work in American and Latvian theatre, stresses that theatre must reflect the sum total of life and experience, not only a small part thereof; its goal is to help man understand himself better, free the spectator from petrified, stagnant preconceptions about values, not further the cause of political battles. For the same reason, Siliņ seems to regret that too many contemporary Latvian playwrights dissipate their energy in portraying relatively petty, parochial problems, relevant only to a rather limited audience. Valters Nollendorfs describes the aims and principles of the recently founded Latvian Writers' Association (LaRA). It is widely believed that at Ieast a partial factor in the forming of LaRA was dissatisfaction with the older Latvian Press Association (LPB) - not only its failure to set standards of qualification for membership or distinguish between writers and journalists, but also the divisive, even reactionary political ideology of some of its leading members. Dr. Nollendorfs, however, denies that LaRA has any intention to function as the opposing, liberal organization; on the contrary, its aim is to unify, not divide, and political polarization among Latvian writers is deplorable as well as probably imaginary. Instead, LaRA purposes to support the creative efforts, interests, and co-operation of Latvian writers by such means as furthering the mutual exchange of ideas and working toward a more productive collaboration between authors and publishers.

Some of the consequences of using art for political ends are presented in Gvido Augusts' essay on "Jānis Muncis and Latvian Mass Propaganda Theatre." Augusts analyzes the influence of Italian futurists (many of whom were politically active, militaristic Mussolini supporters as well as artists) on 20th century mass propaganda art, with special attention to the theatrical activities of Mayakovsky and Meierhold in Russia, and Jānis Muncis in Latvia during the 30's. Grandiose spectacles to awe the populace into recognizing the might of rulers, so dear to Roman emperors and Renaissance princes, experienced a revival of popularity as the propaganda tools of many modern dictators, especially between the World Wars; and the authoritarian Ulmanis' regime in Latvia, after the May 15, 1934 coup, was no exception. According to its directives, Muncis produced a number of incredible, open-air spectacles, aimed at arousing patriotic enthusiasm, popular support for the regime, and furthering the cult of the leader. It is awe-inspiring to read about the decor, skill, and precision involved in productions which, utilizing casts of thousands, went for hours with clock-like precision; shocking to learn of their unbelievable naivete, pomposity, and leader-adulation. Are Muncis' productions to be evaluated as propaganda - or as art? The same has been asked many times regarding the films of Leni Riefenstahl, to cite only one celebrated example. Augusts leaves the question open.

Andrievs Ezergailis' meticulously researched and documented article about the formation and disintegration of the first Revolutionary Executive Committee -Iskolastrels - of the Latvian batallions (then still part of the Russian army) in the spring of 1917 illuminates some extremely complex and puzzling episodes in Latvian history. Ezergailis devotes considerable attention to the various social democratic and bolshevik movements in the army, and concludes that the attitudes of Latvian soldiers toward bolshevism were uncertain and fluctuating. Nevertheless, Ezergailis believes that the revolutionist ideas and radicalism (including antidemocratic sentiments to further social justice, not democratic rule) in 1917 Latvia, although beginning later than in Russia, soon surpassed the Russians.

In the literature section, two poets - Juris Mazutis and Astrīde Ivaska - embody themes recognizably characteristic of their work in both poetry and prose. Mazutis' poem "On Ties and Travels" is a reply to Richards Rīdzinieks' verse essay on poetry in JG 93, in which Mazutis was advised to find stronger ties with the past; in sentiment as well as style (a strikingly modern adaptation of traditional techniques used by poets admired by Rīdzinieks) Mazutis eloquently denies Rīdzinieks' generalizations. Ivaska exhibits an almost mystical sense of organic unity with nature, in poetry tracing the passage of light and darkness in nature, man's history, and personal emotion, in a poetic prose impression of Finnish summer simultaneously mourning and accepting the transitoriness of life, beauty, of nature. The persistent themes of poetry - love, loneliness, despair, disorder, hope receive vigorous reinterpretation in the poems of Voldemārs Avens, Ivars Lindbergs, and Irma Bērziņa; while Gundars Pļavkalns stresses the impact of all history, all experience, and all emotions - lived or imagined - on all modern men and all poems. The short stories in this issue are concerned with intricate, complex emotional and psychological analysis. Reinholds Millers' "The Great Salt Lake" juxtaposes a symbol of solitude, escape, and emotional emptiness (the salt lake) and the ever-reversing, mutating course of vital human relationships, while Irēne Blumfelde's "The Dancer" explores the often misunderstood or contradictory relationships of art and madness, art and sanity, art and life.

I. .-L.


Jaunā Gaita