Literary (Re)Visions of Time in Eastern and Central Europe – Papers I
Between 15-17 September 2022, the second annual EUTIM (European Times) conference, organised by Alexander Wöll and Bohdan Tokarskyi, took place at the University of Potsdam. At the centre of the conference, entitled “Time Out of Joint: Literary (Re)Visions of Time in Eastern and Central Europe”, were narratives of time and conceptualizations of history in Central and Eastern European poetry, novels, film, and drama. The event featured some of the leading scholars of Belarusian, Crimean Tatar, Czech, Polish and Ukrainian literatures. The conference is especially poignant and pertinent against the backdrop of contemporary historical events, above all Russia’s war against Ukraine that started in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and aggression in the Donbas and that eventually turned into Russia’s full-blown war against Ukraine in 2022. This blogpost is the first part of a summary of the conference contributions, based on the abstracts submitted by the authors.
A Time for Transcendence: Narrative Time after Postmodernism
In his contribution, Raoul Eshelman introduces and develops an epochal concept of performatist (post-postmodern) narrative time. This approach is methodologically opposed to the so-called spatial turn in historiography, which has made it conceptually impossible to define any historical development above and beyond postmodernism. Eshelman argues that performatist or post-postmodern narrative time differs from postmodern time in that it creates a binding unity of sequential time and metaphysical time while simultaneously blocking our access to a psychological or rational justification of that unity. Unlike postmodern narratives, which continuously assimilate the multilinear future mode into the past and present and undermine any apprehension of a higher unity or totality, performatist narrative works by allowing us to vicariously experience whole chunks or units of transcendent temporality. In mimetic or realist fiction this is done through negation, by blocking our access to rational justifications of narrative events. Raoul Eshelman systematically sets forth categories delineating this negative stylization of temporal transcendence using the German philosopher Thomas Rentsch’s work Transzendenz und Negativität (2014) as a source. Special emphasis is placed on analyzing Sergei Loznitsa’s film Maidan, which exemplifies these performatist narrative qualities in filmic form and which has a direct topical connection to the present war in Ukraine.
Raoul Eshelman is Adjunct Professor and Academic Council for Slavic Literature Studies at the Ludwig Maxilimans University, Munich.
Ukrainian Chronoschisms: Subversive Temporalities in Sophia Andrukhovych’s Writing
Drawing upon theories of temporality in postmodernist writing, notably Ursula Heise’s influential volume Chronoschisms: Time, Narrative, and Postmodernism, as well as reflections by historians like Reinhart Koselleck who in works like Sediments of Time looked for the ways to go beyond the linear-cyclical dichotomy in approaching temporality, this paper explores the case study of the prose writing of one of Ukraine’s leading contemporary authors, Sophia Andrukhovych and the innovative treatments of time in it. It considers important predecessors, such as Emma Andiyevska’s A Novel about a Good Person (1973), which develops a fascinating experimental temporality to help narrate the trauma-affected experiences of Ukrainian residents of post-World War II DP camps, before turning to a closer examination of Sophia Andrukhovych’s two latest novels, Felix Austria (2014) and especially Amadoca (2020), and the ways in which temporality is structured and presented in them. Heise coined the term “chronoschisms” to characterize a “sense of time that in its discontinuity, its fragmentation into multiple temporal itineraries and its collisions of incommensurable time scales highlights and hyperbolizes certain characteristics of a culture of time” (5-6). In very different ways, Sophia Andrukhovych’s two latest novels explore the ways in which temporality can be used to explore and confront uneasy histories and multiple traumas that bedevil Ukrainian history in the long twentieth century. Amadoca in particular emerges as a sophisticated and insightful attempt at creatively approaching temporality in a complex and intellectually compelling intervention addressing Ukrainian memories of Stalinist terror and the Holocaust.
Vitaly Chernetsky is Professor of Slavic and Eurasian Languages & Literatures at the University of Kansas.
Collective Present and Future in Belarusian Poetry: Before and After 2020
This paper examines how the present and the future appear in contemporary Belarusian poetry, including song poetry. In particular, it focuses on the collective “we”, which denotes a socially or nationally significant community. The Belarusian revolution of August 2020 became a historical milestone (collective time is divided into “before” and “after”). In this respect, the texts of modern Belarusian poetry of the early 2000s are of particular interest. The present expressed in them is characterized as static, but not idyllic, rather as a crisis. This is a period of “stagnation”, “timelessness”. Poetic scenarios of the collective future are abstract and do not suggest concrete, active action. In the current political poetry of 2020–2021, the collective subject is very frequent. The poet does not separate herself from the collective “we”, this subject is active and committed, but the motifs of anticipation and hope, as well as uncertainty about the future have returned to the poems. The tragic discord with the present crisis was expressed in invectives addressed to the generalized addressee, as well as in images of the Motherland cruel to its children. The ongoing Russian war against Ukraine, which has become a new historical milestone, whose boundaries have not yet been defined, has resonated in Belarusian poetry. Artistic responses are still difficult to put together into a large conceptual whole, but we can already note the predominance of the lyrical “I”, which is characteristic of wartime poetry and cardinally differs from the poetry of revolutions. In the current poems of Belarusian poets, where there are images of collective time, motifs of the absence of future, silence, the convergence of the events of the 2020 revolution and the 2022 war, death and a return to the past are frequent.
Ulyana Veryna was Associate Professor in the Department of History of Belarusian Literature, Belarusian State University, Minsk, until 2021. Since July 2022, she has been a researcher at the University of Oldenburg.
“Time Has Melted”: Poetic Articulations of Soviet Temporalities in the Brezhnev Era
Despite being one of the least studied parts of Soviet history, the twenty-year-long Brezhnev era represented an important turning point: it marked a significant temporal shift from the utopian futures of Lenin, Stalin and Khruschev to the rhetoric of “developed socialism”. The Soviet leadership established a peculiar time order that reflected the Soviet power structures. Yet in response to the official Soviet time rhetoric emerged dissident poetic temporalities that subverted the centralised time regime. This response found a powerful expression in the poetic works of two towering figures of Ukraine’s twentieth-century poetry: Vasyl Stus (1938–1985) who wrote his most accomplished works in Soviet prison and the Gulag; and Vasyl Holoborodko (born in 1945), a leading poet of the Kyiv school of poetry who was pushed by the Soviet regime into underground existence. The two poets pursued their own original ways of subversive writing in the face of a totalitarian system: Stus – through his radically introspective poetry, which goes to the unprecedented degree of the psychological, philosophical and ethical exploration of the self; Holoborodko – through his unique poetic worlds and mesmerising metaphor, turning the mundane into the sublime. In stark contrast to the official Soviet celebration of the contemporary historical moment, both Stus and Holoborodko instead put forward the discourse of the absence of time, whereby “time has melted”. Whilst especially poignant in the context of Brezhnev’s neo-Stalinism, this discourse was also relevant in the bigger postwar historical picture, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. Stus’s reflections on the “dead wave of evolution” are particularly consonant with Witold Gombrowicz’s opposition to history and Mircea Eliade’s concepts of “the terror of history” and “dead time”. Stus and Holoborodko did not only undermine the official temporal model. More importantly, they articulated their alternative poetic temporalities. The two poets developed their own original poetics, through the radical exploration of the self and metaphor respectively. Yet Bohdan Tokarskyi argues that these two approaches could be united by what I suggest calling the poetics of the imperfective: the poetic performance of the very emergence of the world, nature and the self without a closed or fixed identity. Both Stus and Holoborodko disrupt the standard temporal logic embedded in the everyday language and stage the process of formation through various linguistic means such as infinitives, questions, imperatives, and neologisms in the case of Stus; and the imperfective mode of the tense past and present, reminiscent of folklore temporality, in the case of Holoborodko. While critical theory has prioritised the study of narrative time, analysing Stus’s and Holoborodko’s poetic temporalities provides insight into the unique nature and possibilities of lyric time.
Bohdan Tokarskyi is a EUTIM Postdoctoral Researcher and a Lecturer at the Institute of Slavic Studies at the University of Potsdam.
Colonial Times: Literary Representations of the “Fountain of Tears” of Bağcasaray (Bakhchisarai)
In his keynote presentation, which directs special attention to Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar literatures, Rory Finnin explores the collision of empires, peoples, and temporalities in literary representations of the most magnetic cultural site in Crimea: the “Fountain of Tears” of Bağcasaray (Bakhchisarai). A video recording of the talk will be published later.
Rory Finnin is University Associate Professor of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Cambridge
Paper abstracts of the second and third conference days are available in a second blog entry.