Literary (Re)Visions of Time in Eastern and Central Europe – Papers II

Between 15-17 September 2022, the EUTIM conference “Time Out of Joint: Literary (Re)Visions of Time in Eastern and Central Europe” took place at the University of Potsdam. At the centre of the event were narratives of time and conceptualizations of history in Central and Eastern European poetry, novels, film, and drama. This blogpost is the second part of the summary of the conference contributions, based on the abstracts submitted by the authors. The first part can be found here.

“Vertical Time” in Recent Belarusian Literature: The Example of Belarusian Poet Ales’ Razanaŭ
Gun-Britt Kohler and Kristina Kromm

The working title and central subject of this paper refers to the title of the first German-language anthology by the Belarusian poet Ales’ Razanaŭ (1947–2021), published in 1995. Razanaŭ, who is considered one of the most important poets of contemporary Belarusian literature, explores the universal in the everyday (Rakusa) and for this purpose develops various genres that are new to Belarusian literature (punctuations, quantems, gnomes, etc.) The main hypothesis is that the rupture that Razanaŭ’s poetry from the 1970s onwards represents in relation to Soviet (Belarusian) and Socrealist literature becomes evident through the model of “vertical time” (and the opposition between vertical and horizontal time is thus implied). The “vertical time” focuses on the now, in which the present, the past and the future fall into one; it is therefore not linear and certainly not utopian and thus can be understood as a counter-concept to the Soviet imperial model of time. But, as it affirms the present (Hlobus), it also negates the concept of “rupture” as such. In their paper, Gun-Britt Kohler and Kristina Kromm aim to reconstruct the concept of “vertical time” (nowhere explicitly defined) in Razanaŭ’s work, tracing in particular the correlation between time and literature (can literature be a crystallisation point of “vertical time”?) in the given context. As the second step, an attempt is made to work out further models of “vertical time” (and their poetological relevance, as well as their context) using the example of some younger authors (Hlobus, Babkoŭ, Mort, Hapeeva). The paper investigates some of the important ways in which Belarusian literature (as a young literature affected by historical ruptures in a specific way) generally experiences time.

Gun-Britt Kohler is Professor of Slavic literary studies and Director of the Institute for Slavic Studies at the University of Oldenburg.

Kristina Kromm is a PhD Student and Research Associate at the Institute for Slavic Studies at the University of Oldenburg.

“Countries of degraded form”: Reading Witold Gombrowicz in 2022
Aleksandra Konarzewska

Witold Marian Gombrowicz (1904-1969) was a Polish-Argentinian novelist, dramaturge, and essayist. He belongs to the most important authors of the postwar decades, sometimes compared with Jorge Luis Borges, Eugene Ionesco, or Samuel Beckett. To the issues for which Gombrowicz’s work is mostly known belongs his caustic critique of nationhood (“Polishness”). He himself often explained his skeptical approach towards the category of nation as an element of his suspicious attitude towards any kind of “Form” (Form with a capital letter). The “Form” is this kind of identity that is not only created or chosen solely by us, but also is given or implemented by the external forces on which we have no influence. The “Form” also drives us to behave in a particular way. The problem is, there is no clear distinction between external and internal; the “Form” is not a mask or piece of clothing that can be changed or removed. It is a bit like the aging process: we can influence it, but at the end of the day it is impossible to escape the process of physical decay. Gombrowicz was thus one of the very first Polish writers who saw the world in subversive categories.
That the issue of the “Form” appeared so often in the context of the nationhood question is hardly surprising: in this part of Europe, in the first part of the twentieth century, exactly the national questions were essential. National identities remained in the center of heated debates and discussions, and nationality was the reason that could decide whether someone had chances to survive or not. Having that in mind, Konarzewska proposes to re-read Gombrowicz’s prewar and postwar work and to contextualise it within the global literary and intellectual history.

Alexandra Konarzewska is a Postdoctoral Researcher and Lecturer at the Slavic Seminar at the University of Tübingen.

Televisual Deconstructions of Stalinist Totalitarianism and the Return of the Religious in Andrzej Wajda’s Film “Man of Marble”

Fabian Erlenmaier

In his paper, Fabian Erlenmaier aims to show how Andrzej Wajda’s film Man of Marble (Człowiek z marmuru, 1977) deconstructs Stalinist totalitarianism through the medium of television. His argument starts with the plot of the film: Agnieszka tries to make a “touching” television film about the Stalinist “model worker” (przodownik pracy) Mateusz Birkut. Especially in a key scene that takes place in the dark and locked basement of the National Museum one can see that the plot is based on the peculiar constellation of Stalinism (as a quasi-religious, secret, unobservable object) and television (as a “tactile” instrument of observation). Agnieszka’s failure to make a television film about Birkut can be considered as a consequence of this constellation. However, Wajda’s film develops with Agnieszka’s attempts a mosaic of flashbacks into the past of the 1950s and a complex metaphorical structure. This mosaic of the Man of Marble reveals the Stalinist myth of the “model worker” as “handmade” and shows with references to the New Testament a “rebirth” of the Religious (as it can be observed in the emerging Solidarność movement of that time.) Based on these findings, Erlenmaier argues that the “Postutopian Arts” of the 1970s and 1980s do not only refer to the “Total Art of Stalinism” and its “internal logic and true nature” (Boris Groys 1992 [1988], 75-112, here: 75), but rather have an epistemological sensitivity for an ideological transformation that can be traced back to television (Jurij Murašov 2021, 218-260). In this context, he discusses if television can be regarded as a historical force for the Solidarność movement that has recently been described as part of a “Revolution der Erinnerung” (Florian Peters 2016, 92-161; 427-467) and “Zeitenwende” (Frank Bösch 2019, 61-94).

Fabian Erlenmaier is a EUTIM Doctoral Researcher at the Institute of Slavic Studies at the University of Potsdam.

Changes of Time in Selected Novels by Jáchym Topol

Andrea Králíková

In her contribution, Andrea Králíková explores the representation of time in the work of Jáchym Topol (born in 1962), one of the leading writers of contemporary Czech literature. The main focus is on Topol’s two novels, namely the debut novel Sestra (1994, German tr. Die Schwester, 1998, English tr. City Sister Silver, 2001) and his most recent novel Citlivý člověk (2019, German tr. Ein empfindsamer Mensch, English tr. Sensitive Man). Both novels have acquired a distinctive position in the context of Czech (and more broadly Central European) literature. The debut novel Sestra was referred to as a novel of the “Wild Nineties” (“Wenderoman”). This novel powerfully captures the sense of dislocation that followed the Czechs’ newfound freedom in 1989. For certain reading circles, this text has become not only a generation’s testimony, but also a cult book. In addition, Topol’s debut book was published within the frame of the representative edition “The Czech Library” (2019) and it has become part of the Czech national literary canon. Topol’s most recent novel, Citlivý člověk, has been described by a literary reviewer as a fundamental “political novel of the present”; one of the most reflected questions has been whether the atmosphere of the present is depicted here in a similar way to the spirit of the post-revolution era in Sestra. The paradox of these evaluations, Topol’s writing, but also of literary expression as such is that texts with high aesthetic value with often weakened coherence become representations of cultural memory and have the potential to become documents of time and history.
What features of these novels cause this reception effect? The paper aims to serve as a case study of the concept of time and temporal turning point through the example of Jáchym Topol’s novels, which, in Králíková’s opinion, may represent an important approach in Czech and more broadly Central and Eastern European literatures. Králiková aims to describe and compare the narrative strategies constructing the category of time in both novels. This contribution focuses on the role of the narrator, and it does so through the exploration of the fictional world, verbalisation of time and memory experiences and the genre’s contradictions (the specific position between the lyrical subject and the narrator). In her analysis, Králíková uses, inter alia, the framework of cognitive narratology. In particular, the paper tries to answer the following question: How do both novels influence our perception of time and can be considered as evidence of a change in the conception of cultural time’s representation in the period from the “Wild Nineties” to the “Elusive Present”?

Andrea Králíková is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Czech Literature and Comparative Studies at Charles University, Prague.

Creating Authenticity by Amalgamating Time in Contemporary Ukrainian War Poetry: “iak perezhyty te shcho vzhe vidbulosia”

Alexander Wöll

In his paper, Alexander Wöll aims to introduce the term “amalgamation” to denote a conjunction of different times in the process of reading poetry by activating simultaneously intertextual topoi from cultural memory. According to the dictionary definition, “amalgamation” is the process of combining or uniting multiple entities into one form. Taking Raoul Eshelman’s theory of “performatism”, Wöll argues that in contemporary Ukrainian war poetry we can analyse literary strategies of how to overcome postmodernism towards new forms of sincerity, authenticity, truth, responsibility, and seriousness. These poems manage to create a binding unity of sequential and metaphysical time while simultaneously blocking our access to a rational justification of that unity. In Alex Averbuch’s third poetry collection “Zhydivskyi korol” (The King of the Jews, 2021) it is genealogy and family ties that primarily represent a higher unity or totality. In all three parts of his collection Averbuch temporally invokes topoi of Jewish and Roman Catholic religion from the past to create a kind of higher presence of a “united family”. In addition to this, Averbuch uses Ukrainian, Bible Hebrew, Yiddish, Suržyk, Russian, German, and Polish to establish a transcendent “holy” community in a world of disturbed non-community, destroyed by violence and murdering. Wöll proposes to place these poems in the European tradition of mysticism: Averbuch avoids syntactic rules of dots, commas, capitals, and punctuation marks in general; he creates a flow/stream of consciousness with an extensive use of negations for expressing the inexpressible “holy essence” of life. In maintaining this poetic style, he does not go back to the Romantic longing for unity; instead, he is able to create non-essentialist, instable moments of temporal authenticity with even non-binary gender roles. Therefore, the paper argues that time is the central tool for creating authenticity in his poetry collection. The rich network of intertextuality would be an argument in the direction of postmodern arbitrariness, but the negation (and definitely not annihilation) of one cultural and literary myth against the other is reminiscent for Wöll of Kafka’s liberating strategy to overcome stereotypes from temporal myth and history, for instance in Kafka’s story “Das Schweigen der Sirenen” (“The Silence of the Sirens”). In comparison to Isaac Babel’s “Konarmija”, Wöll argues that, like in “Pan Apolek”, the functions and purposes of art are redeeming and healing. Finally, Wöll compares Averbuch’s poetic strategy with the Ukrainian war poems “Viina” (“War”) by Vasyl’ Machno and “Viina ne pochnetsia zavtra” (“The War Won’t Begin Tomorrow”) by Daryna Gladun to analyse similarities and differences between these Ukrainian war poems.

Alexander Wöll is Professor and Chair of the Department of Cultures and Literatures of Central and Eastern Europe at the University of Potsdam and a Principal Investigator in the EUTIM project.

“A perad hėtym… a paslia”: Time Gaps and Time Ruptures in Ukrainian and Belarusian Poetry since 2014

Mariya Donska

Mariya Donska’s paper focuses on the emergence and significance of time gaps and ruptures in the poetic works of three authors: Oleh Kadanov’s Ne ja a toj (2018), Liubov Iakymchuk’s Abrykosy Donbasu (2015), and Julia Cimafiejeva’s Rot (2020). The first two authors are from Ukraine, and the third is from Belarus. Donska approaches these texts with two central questions. First, she considers the gaps and ruptures in relation to the storyworld, asking: How can a reader fill in these gaps? What do the gaps cover and what do they reveal? Does a gap always mark a traumatic experience, such as war (like in Iakymchuk’s “Vid starosti”), Chernobyl (in “1986” by Cimafiejeva) or past acts of violence and murder (in Kadanov’s work)? How does the past itself weave into the present moment – in the form of tradition, memory, or even emancipation from this past? The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine – at the time when the books were published, this was the war in the Donbass – and the repressions in Belarus build a pretext for better understanding of the literary imaginations and revocations of the past in these poetic works. The second part of the analysis explores how the surfaces of the poetic texts deal with time gaps and ruptures: what words and syntactic constructions are used? Are there specific compositional devices or enjambments? The analysed books – all of them written in vers libre – show different poetic strategies to answer these questions. In the poem “pasliadoŭnasc’” (“sequence”) by Julia Cimafiejeva, for example, constant jumps between before (perad) and after (paslia) can even be considered the main narrative device to tell a – traumatic – story.

Mariya Donska is currently a Lecturer of Russian and Ukrainian languages and literary studies at the University of Graz and Invited Lecturer at the University of Klagenfurt.

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