I’d like to present a new project that finds itself in the borderland – between literature, knowledge about literature and knowledge from the perspective of literature. The project is entitled “Beyond the Horizon of Europe” and it endeavours to tell about the place and the context. About a slightly different Belarusian literature – the literature that emerged in the late 1980s. But to tell it in a different way.Being part of this situation, I fail to find a perspective safe enough to allow me to speak impartially.Such perspective is said to be secured by science – but who believes in science today? I can’t help speaking impartially. Just speaking. Testifying.Thus.Literature as a Borderland: contemporary Belarusian literature for everybody and nobody.
CONCEPTS AND DEFINITIONS (1)
It is something that will never prove to be useful in your life. Something you’ll never face. You’ll never see and will never fathom.In your clear arranged life. Life on top. On Everests and Montblancs. Designed especially for you to live long and see far. For you to feel in the centre. To live with a sweet persuasion that it’s only for the sake of the top quality toilet paper in your office that the whole world goes round. And for the sake of a nearby café never running out of cappuccino. Yes, your odds are on.You are in the centre.So don’t be that damn mean.You can’t possess everything. It is necessary to leave something to those at the outskirts of Being – where there dwell the last luring meanings.And that is as it should be. Everything rare is for the rare, – as a German patient wrote in his early book.
The new is something that is new, and modern, and con-temporary.With time going on, the new ceases being new, but remains modern, and thus exclusively contemporary, undertakes an exclusive con-versation with the time.In some cases the new remains indifferent to its epoch, un-con-temporary, but modern, and thus converses with us from inside future.It might also happen so that the new appears in a situation after-the-time, and tries to be contemporary to everything that has come and is only about to come. And then it is called classics.
The new or contemporary Belarusian literature can be defined as an exclusive cultural formation that emerged in the late 1980s and was characterised by a radical split from the Soviet Belarusian literature.The split was not only formal: it manifests itself not only in the fact that the new literature was anti-Soviet, or – more neutrally – post-Soviet.It wasn’t either purely aesthetic: the new literature is the literature that reiterates its urban origins, modernity, sophistication and aestheticism.And neither was it only political: this new Belarusian literature evolved practically without the encouragement of the state.The split was, in the first place, existential: those who got into it were the tempted ones. The new artists mastered the language and culture, attained them consciously, as a new cultural code, in which and through which various curious things could be deciphered. In other words, Belarusian literature is regarded as a project, a place to which one flees and a Utopia.And it has its mark.
The new wave breaks down into three generations.The generation of Tuteyshyia [the local people determined not to identify themselves with any name]. In many ways it is a generation of a split from traditional practices and poetics. In terms of concepts, it is a generation of anti- colonial modernism. To understand what it is one is to imagine Joyce writing his Ulysses – but in the Gaelic language.The generation of Bum-bam-lit, or “the children of revolution”. Tampering with forms and ideas. Joy. When making a choice is impossible. Even when things were already getting back to normal, they were still among opportunities. This generation fits into something that can be called – to some degree of conditionality – postcolonial postmodernism.The third generation. It came after everything had already ended. When the stories of resistance and the songs of the debris could still be heard.They came only to find that there was no clear paradigm left for them, no aesthetics. There was only trash, porno-glamour and comics.None the less, their task is to crown it all up, to be the last to exhaust and accomplish the formation of the new literature dialectically.
Belarus had been a regulatory Utopia of the local artistic avant-garde for a long time. Then everyone woke up.
It is still unclear where we appeared: in a severe nightmare delirium or in a sweet dream on the eve of a sunrise.The critics haven’t still arrived at a common decision. They are still arguing.But there is something doubtless. The derelict cottage/the old hut. The voice “beseeching not to abandon our language, the Belarusian language, for us not to die”. Whose voice was that? It introduced itself as Matsey Burachok. But even then it was obvious that the name was only a pen-name.Some trusted it, broke through. None of them has returned, as yet.
Belarusian literature is small, local, concerned about its survival.Belarusian literature is a global borderland where everything encounters everything.
DEPARTURES AND RETURNS
A place from where one departs to be re-born.In a new country, new language, other conditions.A place to which one returns in order to recall who he had been before he got his shape. Before he came to terms with the world.Coincided with it totally.One returns to this place to evoke the memory of who he had been before he was born.
Something that is discovered when we endeavour to see along with the literature and a bit farther. To see from another perspective, other distance, through other eyes.When we try to avoid the critical tautology – in which attention is focused on the means, on the medium – and try to get to the places where words disclose themselves. When we abate our subjectivity to let the work expose itself – to its utmost. (Subjective experience is the place where art dies, asserts Heidegger, and we agree with him here.) When we, in our hermeneutics, supplement and expand, instead of narrowing and eliminating.When we strive to go through the created – to break through it – and to appear there, where everything began.
What used to be the centre and the core in the times of high modernism, nowadays, at best, occupies the place of another, or different, literature.Not fitting into the new format, rejecting the role of an exotic supplement, it forms its own space.It cultivates its irregularity and estrangement from the accepted norms.Trying to grasp the difference, one realises that it is elusive – just an obscure sense of something different, spilt in the textile of writing.Format literature is always an arranged “naturalness” of the voice, in which one can recognise the genre identity of the narrator.Other writing is an autumn web of words that washes away the comics by its current, released from the social language.
The presence in a small literature bestows the artist with cosiness and a healthy scepticism towards any hierarchies.The great, the distinguished, and the renowned – all that is so conditional, so fake, and so tasteless.A small literature is something like Plato’s dialogues, in which everyone can encounter everyone else, open a bottle of wine, settle under plane trees and – finally – talk in peace and quiet.
To write in a language everyone understands, but no one uses unless there is a special occasion.It does not mean it is the language of a minority – separated, doomed, designated to ghetto: rather it is a hidden, kept opportunity of poetic thinking for the majority.An opportunity that lures and tempts. And occasionally draws the bravest from the tight front lines.
The world has long ago turned into a huge trash bin, where no one is interested in anybody, where there are no separate places.The point is not in the fact that while one thing is hidden the other is exposed, and that while one thing is high and unattainable, the other is under your feet. The point is that this trash bin contains everything.Everything has been thrown to the same heap and now wallows both in the dirt and in the clouds, the high and the low, the rare and the common.But the task of literature is to create contexts, hierarchies, dreams and labyrinths. To create another world.
Everything floated to the surface and everything functions within the logic of global capitalism – the logic of total exchange.Poetry can either agree with the epoch – and then it becomes a dear craft, entertainment, it pads out its experience in slams and clubs.Or it can stay alone; remain without any guarantees, in the emptiness; it collapses into a blind emotion of failure to understand, recognise this world…
“I need a Belarusian novel for my Eastern European collection”, says Sasha I, the owner of the most snobbish and the most aesthetic Moscow publishing house “Ad Marginem”. I enumerate patiently all the books that have appeared over the last decade.“You don’t get me”, says he. “In today’s world of overproduction of signs, it is not the book itself that is sold, not the text first written and then read, but it is the emotion due to arise in the reader in the process of consumption that is sold. What is normally called book promotion is in fact an artificial fostering, breeding of such an emotion; finding the right words and hints that will help the reader to get into the emotion.”“Yes”, I reply, “but the majority of these books, which stand in these arranged publishing lines, do not correspond to their external image.”It is mainly a light unobtrusive trash that only imitates the great range of styles and author positions, and that is further sold as something rebellious, intellectual and metaphysical.The effect: as if the waiters of a Parisian café pushed old overdone hamburgers into the mouths of their visitors by force.
It used to be called mania for writing and located somewhere beyond literature. Nowadays when one becomes indiscriminate, when culture has long ago become waste-free, trash has become a reflexive literary device, employed not only by tabloids. The essence of trash is vividly shown in “Machete” by Rodriguez: anti-capitalistic social message delivered through quotations from B films.
Some authors are invented in our Belarusian show as successful and vogue literary characters that were lucky enough to get into the centre of literary empires. While the “empires” have a contrary image of these characters: poor and unhappy refugees from the last European dictatorship, pursued and chased in their motherland. This situation can be called a post-colonial discord.
HERE AND THERE
Some find it crowded here and they strive to get there. Others find it cold there and they want to get warm here.