24 May 2012

WCCL Report #3


I'm in Seattle for a CCL meeting. This conference is entitled "Belief and Unbelief in Postmodern Literature." Here is a report on the fourth round of papers I attended. 

[Note: I'm not reporting yet on the panel in which I participated; I might fill that in later]. 

Belief & Unbelief in Soviet-Era & Post-Soviet Era Literature & Art

Jeremiah Webster began by reciting an Auden poem from memory, as a powerful way so saying these authors have been forced to look into empty skies, and try to discover how to be loving and Christlike.

Novel as Cenotaph: Bohumil Hrabal's Defiant Love Story”

Painful assessments of depravity, presentations of authoritarianism. Incarcerated, tortured, committed suicide, exiled. Human resistance & dignity. A literature of philosophy, witness, and loss. These are works of recovery. They are rebuilding the world again.

Cenotaphs are public metaphors for private grief. The literatures of Eastern Europe are cenotaphs.

These novelists are not activists. They are not policy-makers. Social sphere of witness, concerned with liberty and metaphysics. Complicated questions of morality and faith. Conscious reactions to the imposed order of centralized government.

Two types: Traditional prose style, or surrealist experimental work. Both are valid approaches.

Hrabal's novel is surrealist. Countering oppression. Published underground. Embraces the transcendent. The main character saves artifacts from the burning of wastepaper. His is a work of recovery. It is a defiant affirmation of Plato's concept of the form, and of Truth. Affirms that “the highest law is love” (Schopenhauer). Affirms that “No man can create who does not believe that man's soul is immortal” (Yeats). “Any book worth its salt point up and out” (Hrabal).

This novel is a cenotaph. It says the invisible counts.

Andrea Rossing McDowell & Grace Mahoney
Pelevin, Bulatov, & the Poetics of Za: The Dynamic and the Infinite, Calling to Russia's Contemporary Crux”

Pelevin = author; Bulatov = conceptual artist.

Russian modernism moved faster than its European counterpart. If 1917 hadn't ended experimentation, what might have happened?! Stalinism was an ice age. 1970s, ice began to thaw. Postmodernism without post-modernity. Post-futurism? After the breakup of the USSR, Russians were left floundering. Lit. represents this chaos.

Pelevin suggests metaphysical agency; an alternative to pessimistic relativism. An optimistic search for meaning. He & Bulatov allow for the existence of the beyond, or the “za.” They offer hope, if not answers. Za-ism moves beyond postmodernism by including spirituality. Their novels and paintings offer a way out, a way up, a path towards liberty. They reveal the deceptive nature of the surrounding world. The mind seeks for freedom and meaning, and for forward momentum. They emphasize agency, not helplessness. Even if only the mind has agency, it can strive towards “za,” a spirituality.

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