Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 33, 1992
Edited by Jenny de Reuck & Hugh Webb

The critical aesthetic: reappraisal of Ukrainian literary history in the works of Valerii Shevchuk

Anna Berehulak

In this paper I discuss the use of archaic texts in the historical prose of the contemporary writer Valerii Shevchuk, to reveal implicit post-colonial arguments in his works. I propose that his use of archaic literature forms an imperative for a new aesthetic consciousness in his contemporary literary context, at the break of glasnost and through the 1980s, and which still has relevance for Ukrainian identity in the post-colonial situation. By critically treating archaic texts and bringing forward their themes and issues, Shevchuk emphasises their relevance for contemporary concerns, and their relationship to the origins of Ukrainian culture. Whether as the frame of Shevchuk's narrative, or as elements within his stories, Shevchuk's multi-levelled interpretations of old texts reaffirm the potential of the archaic to reinvigorate contemporary Ukrainian prose.

Although post-colonial studies have traditionally focussed on texts from former English and French colonies, dealing with cultural transition after the fact of political decolonisation, literatures of cultures newly decolonised from the former Soviet Union are also proper subjects for this discipline. As in other cultures of former colonies, the development of a post-colonial identity in the former republics is a process which has as its aim, not the achievement of an ideal "nation-state", but a newly culturally and politically self-determining entity, taking into account the heterogeneity of the populations within their borders (a consequence of politically motivated resettlements within the former Empire), and their recent colonial history.

In Ukraine, for example, the vote for independence in the November 1991 referendum was won with an overwhelming majority of over 90%, which must have included a significant proportion of Ukraine's ethnic Russian population, numbering around 20% of the total population. The election for President was also convincingly won by the former incumbent, Leonid Kravchuk, whose policies underwent a shift from Kremlin loyalty, to support for the independence movement. Kravchuk's recent prominence in the international arena has manifested itself through his negotiations over the military and economic responsibilities and rights of Ukraine within the Commonwealth of Independent States with Russian leader Boris Yeltsin. Such high media exposure and bargaining power of Ukraine among the CIS is an indication of the shifts in polarities in the political arena which have accompanied the process of post-colonialism. While the old structures and personalities have undertaken new objectives and priorities, it is this combination of the colonial past and the future possibilites of post-colonial identity which determines the present political and cultural concerns of such post-Soviet societies.

Even before decolonisation, however, literatures of cultures which argued for a post-colonial status also form a legitimate area of study within postcolonialism: in such cultures, the desire for a post-colonial condition was argued for implicitly, because of structures of cultural and political repression still in place. Nevertheless, postcolonial features were already often evident in texts produced in such cultures. Such features include the veiled undermining of the dominant cultural and political ideology, arguments for reinstating cultural values lost or repressed through hegemonic practice, and the renewal of literary forms immobilized by narrow aesthetic and ideological criteria.

The archaic, for purposes of this discussion, is the imagined re-creation of a period in history which embodies values attri buted to the origins of contemporary culture. These values may be sought in old texts and art forms, such as those of the Medieval and the Baroque, and can be traced through successive periods of reception. For Valerii Shevchuk, the archaic is not something static, or beyond criticism and enquiry. On the contrary, the incorporation of the archaic into his texts raises questions regarding the critical potential of archaic values, and opens up the possibility of a criticism and interrogation of the archaic from positions within contemporary aesthetics. Shevchuk widens the parameters of the definition of the archaic from those previously determined by the Soviet literary and cultural process and expands its productive potential for Ukrainian literature, while at the same time reinstating values originally associated with the archaic which had been lost or repressed.

The importance of texts from the Medieval and Baroque periods lies in their pre-colonial status in the Ukrainian literary tradition, in the value they hold as points of origin for Ukrainian culture, and because they date from before the loss of Ukraine's political and cultural autonomy to the Russian Empire in the eighteenth century. It is also these texts which, in the colonial era of Ukrainian history (from the eighteenth century to the present), have been ignored and repressed. From the end of the eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth, Ukrainian culture was marginalized as "provincial" by Russian hegemony. Although a movement of cultural activity followed the post-revolutionary period of the 1920s, Stalinist repressions during the 1930s curtailed national revival, and effectively reinforced Ukraine's ongoing colonial status within a Soviet empire. Symptomatically, the images of the archaic in Soviet literary history have become highly stereotyped and ideologized. For example, although the medieval Paterikon of the Kievan Caves Monastery is a veritable icon in the gallery of texts described in the Ukrainian Academy's History of Ukrainian Literature, its analysis there noticeably lacks original criticism, beyond the mandatory social and ideological discussion of the text.1

The Soviet Ukrainian literary critic Iurii Isichenko has recently affirmed that there has been little scholarship on Ukrainian hagiography,2 a fate which has befallen Ukrainian Baroque literature as a whole: the product of a non-colonial culture, the baroque posed an ideological problem for Soviet scholarship and was consequently neglected from the 1930s to the 1950s. Interest was re-activated - or, perhaps, sanctions were lifted - only after the Fourth International Congress of Slavists in Moscow, in 1958.3 During this time of neglect, research into the Ukrainian Baroque was carried out by the emigre scholar Dmytro Chyzhevs'kyi, who affirmed the value of the aesthetic and cultural achievements produced in this period of Ukrainian history.4

The Ukrainian Baroque lasted from the early seventeenth to the late eighteenth centuries. In the field of culture, its ethos was expressed primarily in literature, philosophy and architecture. According to Chyzhevs'kyi, the cultural and political accomplishments which made possible the flourishing of the Baroque in Ukraine were the re-establishment of the Orthodox hierarchy in Kiev in 1610 and the founding, in 1615, of the Kievan Academy, which soon became the most important school of higher learning, not only in Ukraine, but in all of East and South Slavdom. At the Academy Baroque poetics were taught and nurtured.5 The main representatives of the Baroque were the new Orthodox bishops, who were often professors of the Academy.6 The literature they produced was primarily of a religious nature, and their favoured genres included poetry (especially heraldic and epigrammatic verse), drama, and sermons. Among the representative figures of the period was the philosopher Hryhorii Skovoroda (1722-94), a writer of interest to Shevchuk. The death of Skovoroda coincided with a change in the Ukrainian literary language from Old Church Slavonic to the vernacular,7 the wane of the Baroque era, the beginning of the process of secularization, and Ukraine's absorption into the Russian Empire.

During the 1960s, in connection with the short-lived cultural liberalisation under Khrushchev, work by Soviet scholars on Ukrainian Baroque literature was renewed. It was during this time that Valerii Shevchuk, too, discovered the cultural and literary heritage of the Baroque. Born in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, in 1939, and trained as a historian at Kiev University, Shevchuk researched Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque literature. This may well have been the foundation for his deep knowledge of the texts, which then led to a major creative project, centred upon the archaic as theme and text in a cycle of historical novels. In an interview with the literary critic Mykola Zhulyns'kyi, Valerii Shevchuk described the motive behind this project as the desire to "trace the history of the human soul throughout the whole history of my nation."8 His interest in the spiritual values of the archaic, and the relationship between these values and those of contemporary society, expresses itself in a series of prose works. The cycle begins with Na poli smyrennomu (On a Submissive Field,1982), a critical re-reading of the 13th century Paterikon of the Kievan Caves' Monastery, followed by a series of stories set in the 16th century and the early Baroque - Misiachnyi bil'' (Lunar Pain), Mor (Plague), and Ptakhy z nevydymoho ostrova (Birds from the Invisible Island), which were published together with On a Submissive Field, in 1989. The novel-triptych Try lystky za viknom (Three Leaves Behind the Window, 1986), in which the narrative progresses through two centuries from the high Baroque to the Enlightenment and Romantic periods of Ukrainian cultural history, represents the culmination of Shevchuk's project.

In these works, various forms of archaic literature are integrated into Shevchuk's texts, from the Paterikon stories in On a Submissive Field, to Baroque drama and poetry in the later works. This use of archaic texts in contemporary works by Valerii Shevchuk can be approached from three perspectives. First, Bakhtin's notion of the genre of the novel, which can accommodate a multiplicity of voices (raznorechie) within its world of ideas, is appropriate for the consideration of texts which articulate the themes and ideas of archaic literature through "authorial speech, the speech of characters and inserted genres."9 The resulting dialogisation is a potent means of breaking down cultural hierarchies and changing polarities in the text. Liberation of the voices of the archaic, through the contemporary narrative of Shevchuk's prose, creates a dialogue which brings about a criticism of hierarchy and ideology.

Secondly, we can examine the narration of the historical past and the importance of narrative self-consciousness in the representation of history in the novel. Borgmeier and Reiz's definition of the genre is a useful starting point for such a line of enquiry. In their view:

the historical novel is characterized by the turn to history in the consciousness of the temporal difference between the present process of representation and the past reality represented, which is actualized within the immanent poetics of the fiction. 10

David Roberts' response, that "the attraction of such a definition is that it is sufficiently open and formal to include both the synchronic and diachronic axes of the historical novel,"11is useful to keep in mind when dealing with a narrative, which, as in On a Submissive Field, is conscious of both the ideological and historical position of the narrator himself. To continue with Roberts, the synchronic and diachronic axes of the historical novel are represented by:

both the internal poetic hiatus of fact/fiction and the external historical hiatus of past/present. The consciousness of the temporal difference focusses as much on the (present) narrative point of view as on its (past) object. 12

Such an approach is particularly important for understanding the interplay of narrative voices in Shevchuk's prose with the voices of the archaic texts. Shevchuk's conscious rewriting of the medieval Paterikon and the claims or disclaimers made by the first person narrative about the ability to portray the "truth" of the past, raises questions of representation and of the critical potential that is often seen to reside in the historical novel. In the novel On a Submissive Field, the narrator Semen qualifies his own ability to portray the "truth" of the stories told by the monks in the medieval monastery and claims only to tell the stories heard by him "as accurately and as truthfully as possible,"13without deliberately changing details according to the ideological directives of the abbot. In On a Submissive Field, there is not as clear a distinction between "fact" and "fiction" in the Paterikon stories, as a revelation of the gap between what might have happened and how it was portrayed in the archaic text. Shevchuk's reception of the Paterikon is thus productive in its openness to doubt about, and qualification of, the narrative. The Medieval text is widened by the provision of added possibilities and by the story of the narrator of the "anti-Paterikon" himself, which releases further meanings for the twentieth-century reader through subtextual argument. When he is discovered to be writing alternative versions of the Paterikon, Semen is forced to confess his "heresy", and is forbidden to write. From this point of view, On a Submissive Field is also a comment upon the restrictions placed upon the writer in a closed cultural and political system, and thus, a subtextual protest against Shevchuk's own cultural and political environment. The narrator is thereby shown to be conscious of the problem of representing history according to ideology, and of representing the past through stories from various sources. Such a representation of the past through a series of narratives, and the critical potential of a narrative which is conscious of the ideological positions of previous tellers of the "same" tale, is analogous to Shevchuk's own critical awareness in his historical novels.

Furthermore, Shevchuk's representation of the Medieval and the Baroque is not "history as it was", but an opening up of possibilities ignored by previous representations. His representations of the archaic in his novels are deliberately intertextual, while at the same time reinforcing the authority of the archaic text by revealing its ability to yield further stories. Inasmuch as the archaic texts themselves present the opportunity for a deconstruction of the interests behind their production, their incorporation into the narrative of a contemporary work of fiction gives rise to a paradox: the archaic is represented through an un-reading of an archaic reading of the past. The consciousness of releasing the voices of the archaic is reinforced by the awareness of the danger of an unqualified acceptance of archaic texts as bearers of truth in history.

Thirdly, aspects of postmodernist theory shed light on some formal features of Shevchuk's prose. We must distinguish first between the Western cultural situation of post-modernism and the uses of post-modernism in the former Soviet context. In Western culture, according to Umberto Eco, the need to quote arises from the problem that everything has been said before, and that there is no longer any possibility for naive expression. According to Eco, it is not possible for a man to say, "I love you madly" to an intelligent woman. To be taken seriously, proclaims Eco, the man must say, "As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly."14 In the Soviet Ukrainian context, on the other hand, Shevchuk's use of quotation arises not from a cultural situation where seemingly everything has been said before, but one in which what he is saying is new in the contemporary literary and cultural context, because of the repression and neglect of Ukrainian literary history. Quoting from archaic texts asserts a collective cultural ownership of a tradition which has been so neglected that the contemporary reader is entitled to a naive reception of it. This return to local cultural autonomy and knowledge through stories which had formerly been repressed and denied legitimacy is a manifestation of what Lyotard's definition of Post-modernism refers to as an "incredulity towards metanarratives."15It parallels the dismissal of universal grand narratives of history and scientific knowledge in favour of local knowledge and "little narratives."16

Matei Calinescu defines post-modern pluralism as a "re-enchantment of the world," which makes possible:

seeing the past as a storehouse of alternatives, of stories and counterstories, of smaller and larger narrative scenarios, involving not only individuals but also groups, societies, beliefs, ideas, emotions, myths, and ultimately worlds and ways of worldmaking. 17

This describes well Shevchuk's relationship to the past. By opening up possibilities ignored by previous representations of the Baroque and the Medieval, Valerii Shevchuk presents the contemporary reader with new readings of traditional myths, discovering stories in archaic texts which he expands and questions in line with contemporary concerns. He searches for themes able to "re-enchant" a literary public, and help shape a new cultural consciousness. Shevchuk's strategy is, however, far from didactic. By presenting a plurality of stories and possibilities, and denying any absolutism of ideology or "truth", he demonstrates that the past is not closed, and that the archaic is valuable as origin and source of a variety of narratives, myths, and ideas, which can be further developed in contemporary narrative scenarios. In Calinescu's terms, Shevchuk's prose suggests the possibility of other worlds to be created, retrieved and explored in the contemporary literary and cultural context.

Of course, given the repressive structures of the cultural and literary process in the former USSR, the invocation of "other worlds" by Soviet authors was a way of articulating dissent. Even after the advent of glasnost, the writer and critic Iurii Shcherbak noted the lack of "sharply critical" prose, attributing this lack, firstly, to the over-bureaucratization of the Soviet literary industry and secondly, to the lack of a cultural atmosphere favorable to such change.18 In an interview with Mykola Riabchuk, Iurii Shcherbak stated:

It is not enough to write a sharply critical piece, or even publish it: there must be a demand, so that the whole social atmosphere becomes receptive to the birth of such a work...The system of selecting and evaluating literary works volleyed away any desire by writers to exercise criticism or take risks: there were no chances for publication of such critical works. 19

As a case in point, Shcherbak referred to the work of Valerii Shevchuk:

The fact that he does not write provocatively critical works and expresses himself through mythological themes - is this not a symptom of a Party-administered literature? 20

Although Shevchuk's protest is not overtly articulated, his use of myth and fantasy in order to speak about contemporary problems is a highly critical feature in his prose, as, for example, in the third part of his novel-triptych, Three Leaves Behind the Window (1986), which can be read as a satire on Soviet bureaucracy. Another example of Shevchuk's protest is his attack on literary stereotypes. As Marko Pavlyshyn has argued, Shevchuk's use of myth in Dim na hori (The House on the Hill, 1983) creates a world that negates the popular Gogolesque image of Ukraine as trivialized and provincial, and promotes new values which reaffirm the prestige of a Ukrainian cultural identity.21

Shcherbak's criticism of his contemporary literary situation in Ukraine implicitly distinguishes between a literature of overtly articulated protest, and a literature which avoids reference to the "present" because of the dangers of doing so in a controlled culture. Shevchuk's prose belongs to the latter category: it still articulates protest within the limits of the former "Party-administered literature": that is, through a sub-text.

In addition to its dissident dimension, Shevchuk's use of fantasy and myth, both of which are associated with the archaic, also provides an imperative for contemporary Ukrainian aesthetics. The creation of a complex polemical structure of retrieving stories and values formerly repressed as an argument against their repression allows the archaic texts incorporated into Shevchuk's prose to "speak for themselves"; in yielding new stories, they are activated as a productive source for contemporary Ukrainian literature. Thus, the post-modern feature of quotation in Shevchuk's texts restores legitimacy to elements of the literary tradition which potentially have value for the twentieth century reader. By placing the archaic into the context of contemporary prose, Valerii Shevchuk also argues for a reinvigoration of Ukrainian literature which would enable it to articulate cultural, social and political complexes on various levels, rather than simply overtly, as advocated by glasnost, or through subtextual opposition, as during the pre-glasnost period. Without directly criticizing the literary status quo, through his multi-levelled treatment of archaic texts and his opposition to ideology Shevchuk creates new frames of reference for the Ukrainian cultural heritage, and offers new possibilities for expression in Ukrainian literature.

Three Leaves Behind the Window, a novel in three parts, is the main text in which Shevchuk presents such possibilities. He uses a number of stories from archaic texts in the first of the three narratives, "Illia Turchynovs'kyi," which unfolds as a Bildungsroman: the hero Illia, a person of the Baroque period, writes about his adventures and travels as a young student in the search for knowledge of life. Shevchuk's text is, in fact, based upon the autobiography of a real Illia Turchynovs'kyi, an 18th century priest, whose narrative Shevchuk uses for the main plot incidents in his own rendition.22 The narrative of Illia Turchynovs'kyi in Three Leaves Behind the Window is more complex than the straightforward recounting of adventures in the original text: it is also concerned with the evolution of the yearnings and thoughts of Illia who, like Skovoroda, desires to know the world by wandering through it. Illia's narrative is informed by a Baroque worldview, where truth is visible and all pervasive, and all perishable things in nature have eternal meaning.

Shevchuk utilizes Baroque inputs in many different ways: he borrows from the plot of an actual archaic text; he builds on the original Turchynovs'kyi plot, using Baroque ideas and his own constructions upon Baroque ideas, to arrive at new situations and images; and he incorporates into his novel quotations from existing archaic texts. The theme of wandering is expressed in an epigraph at the beginning of Shevchuk's text, which is, a pastiche of quotations from Skovoroda:

The world is insatiable when it does not impart happiness.

Eternity is insatiable when it does not impart pain...

And I am now as I have always been: a wanderer! 23

The epigraph is a point of reference for the reader, to be questioned and interpreted throughout the story in the light of the discoveries and adventures of the hero Illia. Skovoroda's dialogue, "Prytcha, narechenna Erodii" (Parable, entitled Erodii), from which Shevchuk drew the first two lines, expresses the philosophy of rejecting earthly matters and finding fulfillment in the heart and inner self.24 The insatiability of a world which fails to impart happiness is what Illia periodically encounters, experiencing changes of fortune in an unstable reality. The second line, initially more puzzling than the first, may be seen to argue that because deprivation of pain is evidence of the insatiability of eternity, grief and pain are necessary parts of human existence. Indeed, Illia achieves wisdom through consciousness of the polarity of happiness and pain.

An important structuring device in Three Leaves Behind the Window is the interplay of various levels of narration. Illia writes as an old man, but his younger self is evoked during the narrative of his journey. A vision of himself as a youth visits him at the outset of the narrative, to question him about the purpose of wandering. This encounter symbolizes not only the beginning of Illia's reappraisal of life, but also the interplay of Baroque forms in the text - a dialogue which interprets the various themes raised in the course of the narrative and within the archaic texts quoted and created by Shevchuk. Baroque texts "speak" in Shevchuk's text by actively "testing" the various principles and themes that arise in the course of Illia's adventures.

The texts drawn upon by Shevchuk vary in form: apart from the quotations from Skovoroda and the autobiography of the real Turchynovs'kyi, Shevchuk includes his own mannered imitations of Baroque poetry, parable, and drama, as well as the story of a saint from the Paterikon of the Kievan Caves Monastery. This story may be seen as an example of a text successively tested in various episodes and genres. It is both presented in parable form and incorporated into a drama, carrying the title, but not the content (which is Shevchuk's own) of a genuine Baroque school drama - Mudrist' predvichna (Pretemporal Wisdom, 1703). The narrative exists outside of Shevchuk's novel as a traditional story from the medieval Paterikon. A saint called Moses is taken captive, and sold to a woman whose temptations he resists to the point of accepting torture rather than marriage. The life of Moses represents the monastic ideal of asceticism and the denial of life for the higher goal of salvation, a theme frequently taken up by the writers of the Baroque, as in the drama Oleksii, cholovik Bozhyi (Oleksii, Man of God, 1673-74). Illia's rendition of the story recreates the dialogues between the woman and Moses, in which Moses uses arguments from the scriptures in order to justify his refusal to marry. What opens the narrative, and allows for its future interpretation is the ambivalent end to Moses' life in the Kievan Caves' Monastery: Moses spends the rest of his life in silence, and after his death, his spirit visits some monks and many ordinary people. The folk he tries to persuade to join the order (chorne dukhovenstvo), and the monks to return to ordinary life.25

The next stage in the interpretation of the Moses story is Illia's drama. The drama consists of a series of parables and intermedii (comic episodes used as intermezzos between the acts of serious plays), which he writes as a way of coming to terms with his various adventures, which include being attacked by two fellow travellers, his rescue, and his fear of retribution from the rogues throughout the rest of his journey. He hopes that his production of the drama will embody all the wisdom that he has learnt through his experiences: the need to restrain oneself from revenge in order not to multiply evil, the value of wandering, and the meaning of free will. Illia stages his play in front of an audience, some of whose members are hostile to his Orthodox faith. In this threatening situation, Illia at first derives consolation from the fact that he is acting the role of Moses, because of the saint's ability to resist all temptation and fear. In the course of the performance, however, Illia begins to question Moses' attitudes, realizing that single-mindedness is restrictive and found in those for whom "the world is that which lies before [their] eyes"26 - that is, the literal-minded. Moses's own denial of life Illia then comes to understand as a cowardly response. In thus going against the grain, both of the traditional meaning of the story, and of his own previous reception of it, he (and Shevchuk with him) explores a new possibility of interpreting the archaic text.

Identification with the character of the saint is part of the process by which Illia uses events in his own life as springboards for reflections which we recognize as a personal reading of familiar Baroque philosophical notions:

Yes, today I was Moses, and this new persona united me with my thoughts. Was it not the delusions of this world, against which Moses is fighting, that led me to wandering? (The audience breathed tensely, watching my sufferings.) On the other hand, no! I was not Moses, because the sun-bird had, after all, fallen upon my face. Large and hot, it burnt my eyes with its prickly sunray-claws and ignited in them the fire of defiance. Restraint is not defiance, I thought. Restraint is escape, it is fear! Suddenly I saw him: Fear was sitting in the front row and smiling smugly. His whiskers pointed upwards and twitched mockingly. 27

Fear and the sun-bird are both symbols which are active on various levels and in various places in Illia's text. They recur in the various actualizations of archaic literary genres in the narrative.

Illia dreams of the sun-bird at the beginning of his journey, and the bird sings him a song about wandering and the danger of following false trails, which Shevchuk presents in the form of Baroque verse.28 The co-existence of doubt and defiance in the song of the sun-bird (which celebrates wandering and warns of false trails) is the philosophy with which Illia identifies. The creative qualities of doubt are also reflected in the narrative's successive interpretations of the story of Moses and in the tensions between the sun-bird's Baroque verse (which portrays the many different alternatives or paths in the journey of life) and the Medieval Paterikon (which portrays the story of Moses as ideologically unilinear). For the twentieth-century reader, Shevchuk's argument here may appear to be a protest against the certainty of ideology and an affirmation of the value of the archaic text as a means of finding a personal position on ethical questions which takes into account the original values of one's culture as well as one's contemporary situation.

The hope and enthusiasm represented by the bird, however, is undermined by Fear, and by Illia's own uncertainty about the wisdom learnt in his travels when he encounters his enemies in the audience. Illia's retreat from certainty has implications for his philosophy. The oppositions between multi-valent symbols of Baroque literature, and between the different genres that express them, lead to a variety of possible interpretations of the texts. The multiplicity of admissible interpretations is the intended result of the Turchynovs'kyi narrative, but it also leaves the danger of an unqualified and unrestrained play of forms, and the possibility that one interpretation will undermine another without creating a new value-system. The archaic text has potential, therefore, to work against the main narrative and create tensions which can be productive, as shown above, or destructive.

The problem of an empty play arising from deconstructive practice, outlined in theories such as Derrida's, is pointed out by Matei Calinescu, who sees it as manifested in a "negative monism" - an attempt to fragment, displace, and decentre, without returning to origin, authority and truth.29 For Calinescu, such theories have little to offer, since they argue for a disruption of the One and not the affirmation of the Many, resulting in a negative pluralism and empty play.30 To deal with the problem of Truth, displaced by the anti-Enlightenment strategies of Postmodernism, Calinescu argues for alternative criteria of consistency and "rightness," beyond a universally recognized set of rules. Lastly, Calinescu advocates the need for a dialogic pluralism: a "creative evolution without any objectively pre-established telos or eskhaton."31

Calinescu's discussion of the problem of empty play and the loss of a centring of origin, truth, and authority can be widened with reference to Mihai Spariosu's definition of Post-modernism, as a re-evaluation of the connection between power and play. Post-modernist literature points out the "arbitrary and authoritarian nature of interpretation and truth" and:

points to the performative nature of their origin in archaic, power-oriented, pre-allegorical mentality, re-establishing the original, archaic link between power, violence, and play. 32

For Spariosu, there is no answer to post-modernism's revelation of the malevolent nature of rational cultural values, and thus post-modernist texts "shift their emphasis onto the world of the senses, discontinuity, decentring, and play of surfaces."33

The tension between these two views of post-modernism has a relevance for Shevchuk's attempt to re-establish the legitimacy of the Baroque and Medieval as repositories of archaic values and sources for Ukrainian culture. It is chiefly by interpreting archaic values and explaining the play and decentring which must occur before a new polarity and authority is established that Shevchuk's prose argues for a new aesthetic and cultural awareness in Ukrainian literature.

Through both an active reinvigoration of the archaic text and its interplay with the contemporary narrative, the expressive potency of both texts is challenged: the ability of contemporary narrative to develop the themes and philosophy of the archaic is placed into question, as well as the ability of the archaic to stand up to such questioning. Ultimately, Shevchuk's aim is to provide new meaning on the basis of the archaic, not least by exposing the connections between violence and play in the narratives he seeks to deconstruct. This process is often assisted by elements of Baroque aesthetics. The highly abstract level of expression favoured by Baroque poetics, the revelation of essences and truth through antithesis, paradox and ellipsis establishes the conditions for what has been called Baroque illusionism.34 According to Chyzhevs'kyi, the Baroque preparedness to believe that behind the concrete stands something deeper, that the concrete is insubstantial or non-existent, and that art is play frequently leads to a refusal to take the world seriously.35 This "nihilist" Baroque perspective cannot easily be used by any contemporary aesthetic renewal whose aim is more "substantial" than a mirroring of forms drawn from the archaic. By incorporating it nevertheless, Shevchuk opens the issue of responsibility which Calinescu implicitly addresses in his critique of "empty pluralism."

Shevchuk's aesthetics do not surrender to a Baroque or post-modern relativism. The problem is raised especially through the personification of Fear in Illia's narrative. Following Illia throughout his journey into the world, Fear reminds Illia of his weaknesses. During his performance of a monologue in Illia's drama, Fear proclaims the impotence of the human race to order itself, claiming that, without the fear of God, everyone would cut each other's throats. Fear then steps out of the frame of the stage and commands the audience to dance, disrupting the order of the theatre and taking control of the proceedings with a mocking assertion:

I come to you at every moment, at every moment in a different guise. Each moment I invent a new game for myself. 36

This moment of Fear's dominance over the proceedings of Illia's drama is a metaphor of an unmasked amorality; it renders visible the connection between play and power which, according to Spariosu's definition of post-modernism, is part of the archaic order repressed by, yet inherent in, the rational discourses of human culture. In Shevchuk's novel, allegorical figures in the traditional Baroque drama provide spectacle and symbolic performance, the playfulness of which is taken advantage of by Fear, resulting in a subversion of forms which themselves have a strong subversive potential.

The figure of Fear in Shevchuk's novel can be seen as part of an argument against institutionalised repression and "rationalised" violence. This structure culminates in the episodes following the staging of the drama. Illia is attacked for his "schismatic" religion by the Dominican church organist of Shklov and his friends, and almost thrown into the Dnipro river to drown.37 He is saved, however, and decides to take matters into his own hands, by assuming the persona of Fear himself and taking revenge against his enemies, contrary to the principles presented in his earlier contemplations. In the chapter titled "Probudzhennia leva" (The Lion's Awakening), which contains the climax of Illia's adventures, the symbol of the lion is taken from a parable written earlier by Illia in order to discuss the problem of freedom.38 Freedom is interpreted by Illia, through the parable, as the liberty to take only creative action, but when the organist attacks him, Illia re-interprets the lion's awakening in the parable as a symbolic act of self-affirmation. Illia sets out for the tavern in Shklov in order to wait for the organist and revenge himself upon him. The tavern is described as a surrealistic setting, and the people there include masks and characters from the interludes of Illia's drama. The scene culminates in Illia's attack on the organist. At this point, Illia removes the man's mask to find his own face beneath, which undermines his second interpretation of freedom as including the right to violence, but reaffirms his original conviction that freedom entitles him to creative action. This Illia explains in a passage that also reflects self-consciously on his symbolic style:

Do not wonder, dear reader, at this description, and do not think that I have partially lost my mind. I hope that you will understand its symbolic meaning. I could have told the incident in the tavern simply, without poetic figures, but then you would have received lenten broth for your use. I reason in the way in which I enjoy best, and how I was taught in the collegium. And my thought is this: when you scorn someone, even in revenge, you kill yourself. It was bitter for me, afterwards, and do you know why? My lion, dear reader, jumped out, but he who threw a clod at it was not my enemy, but I myself. I feel that you could laugh at me, you could scornfully smile, but that is how I am, - in my breast pity has exploded, like a siege mine. 39

Although it appears that Illia's intentions are defeated in his attempt to avenge himself, this episode effectively re-establishes his spiritual equilibrium, in reaffirming that inner peace can only result from creative action, an interpretation brought to fulfilment by Illia's reflection upon his whole life in his autobiography. For the twentieth-century reader, the play of forms reveals that the process of self-analysis and search for identity is creative when applied conscientiously and with a self-awareness. Illia's achieves a new perspective on the past through forms, such as the drama, which had originally "failed" him and had undermined his creative and philosophical attempts, but which, in the end, are productive of meaning.

Illia is able to re-establish a new interpretation of the concepts of freedom and revenge, demonstrating that the Baroque aesthetic is capable of accommodating a process of deduction which works through playfulness and abstraction, but which nevertheless arrives at meaningful solutions. We are reminded of Calinescu's post-modern advocacy of "rightness" rather than "truth" as the appropriate objective for any pursuit of meaning: Illia arrives at a sense of the "rightness" of his conclusions and Shevchuk demonstrates the value or "rightness" of the archaic text for the contemporary age.

In summary, Bakhtinian "dialogization" provides the mechanism for the affirmation of a new cultural polarity. Through the genres and "voices" of archaic texts, the articulation of corresponding concerns between the archaic text and the main narrative "reinvigorates" the archaic and reaffirms its values in a clear yet understated way. The main narrative is also accompanied by a digressive voice that evaluates the process of narration, and fulfils the requirements of Borgmeier and Reiz's definition of the aesthetics of the historical novel. The narrator's consciousness of the gap between the past "reality" represented and the "present" process of representation is evident in Illia's self-conscious references to his symbolic style and his intention of evaluating the incidents of his journey in philosophical terms. The informed reader is also aware of the existence of the original Baroque Turchynovs'kyi narrative, and may reflect upon the complexity of Shevchuk's interpretation of this text, as not merely a "fleshing-out" of the plot with added detail, but a questioning of the text through other literary forms and philosophies. Thus, Shevchuk creates a "new" narrative with its archaic roots substantially explored and acknowledged.

The retrieval of old stories and the creation of new ones from their source is important for the aesthetic renewal of Ukrainian literature. Shevchuk "re-enchants" his literary public by liberating the repressed forms of the archaic, providing an anti-ideological argument, and demonstrating the expressiveness of archaic literature. As we have seen, Calinescu's definition of post-modern aesthetics is useful in illuminating these aspects of Shevchuk's prose, where new narrative scenarios are opened up, and aesthetic and ideological polarities changed by retrieving and questioning old texts and values. This analysis is useful for Three Leaves Behind the Window, and Shevchuk's use of myth in the novel The House on the Hill. On a Submissive Field, on the other hand, is more a straightforward "against-the-grain" reading of an archaic text (that is, the medieval Paterikon) than an opening and development of narrative possibilities, such as we find in Three Leaves Behind the Window. While the text On a Submissive Field portrays the situation of a writer in a 'closed' culture, and thus may be read as an allegory of the author's then-Soviet environment, Three Leaves Behind the Window presents arguments on a variety of levels. By opening up the archaic and exploring its themes and forms in the light of contemporary concerns, Shevchuk reinvigorates and extends the archaic within the narrative of a text that captures the Baroque ethos from a variety of perspectives.

In a cultural context which had formerly rejected the large bulk of the Ukrainian literary tradition, and which remains unresponsive towards the texts which have been rehabilitated, Valerii Shevchuk has undertaken to articulate the need for a higher cultural awareness of the Ukrainian literary heritage, through a criticism and a reaffirmation of the texts within his historical novels. As we have seen through the text Three Leaves Behind the Window, Shevchuk co-opts aspects of post-modern aesthetics in order to retrieve stories lost or repressed, but stops short of a relativisation and empty play of forms. In the post-colonial context, moreover, Shevchuk's novels stand as an argument for a legitimate, pluralised, and non-ideological Ukrainian identity.

Monash University


1 Istoriia ukrains'koi literatury, Vol.1 (Kiev: Naukova Dumka, 1967), pp. 124-30.

2 Iu. A. Isichenko, Kyievo-Pechers'kyi pateryk u literaturnomu protsesi kintsia XVI-pochatku XVIII st. na Ukraini (Kiev: Naukova Dumka, 1990), p.11.

3 Isichenko, p.10.

4 See Dmytro Cyzevs'kyj, A History of Ukrainian Literature, ed. George S. N. Luckyi, trans. Dolly Ferguson, Doreen Gorsline, Ulana Petyk (Littleton, Colorado: Ukrainian Academic Press, 1975), pp. 260-362.

5 Cyzevs'kyj, p.276.

6 Cyzevs'kyj, p.276.

7 Cyzevs'kyj, p.276.

8 Mykola Zhulyns'kyi, Nablyzhennia: Literaturni Dialohy (Kiev: Dnipro,1986), p. 228.

9 Mickail Bakhtin, "Discourse in the Novel" in The Dialogic Imagination ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: Texas Uni. Press, 1981), p. 259-422, here p. 263.

10 David Roberts, "The Modern German Historical Novel. An Introduction," in The Modern German Historical Novel ed. David Roberts and Philip Thomson (Oxford: Berg, forthcoming), p. 1-17, here p. 3.

11 Roberts, p. 3.

12 Roberts, p. 3.

13 Valerii Shevchuk, "Na poli smyrennomu" in Ptakhy z nevydymoho ostrova (Kiev: Radians 'kyi Pys 'mennyk, 1990), p. 7.

14 Umberto Eco, "Reflections on the The Name of the Rose," Encounter 44(1985), No. 4, p. 7-19, here p.17.

15 Jean-Francis Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi, foreward Fredric Jameson (Manchester: Manchester Uni. Press, 1984), p. xxiv.

16 Brian McHale, "Some Postmodernist Stories," in Postmodern Fiction in Europe and the Americas ed. Theo D'haen and Hans Bertens (Amsterdam: Rodopi; Antwerpen: Restant, 1988), p. 13-25, here p. 14.

17 Matei Calinescu, "From the One to the Many: Pluralism in Today's Thought," in Innovation/Renovation. New Perspectives in the Humanities ed. Ihab Hassan and Sally Hassan (Madison, Wisconsin: Wisconsin Uni. Press, 1983). p. 263-88, here p. 286.

18 "Pro chas, mystetstvo, pravdu i pro sebe. Dialoh krytyka M. Riabchuka z psymennykom Iu. Shcherbakom," Sotialistychna Kultura 796 (1987), No. 1, 2-5, here p.3.

19 Sotsialistychna Kultura 769 (1987), No.1, 2-5, here p.3.

20 Sotsialistychna Kultura 769 (1987), No. 1, 2-5, here p.3.

21 Marko Pavlyshyn, "Natioal Idioms in Soviet Literature? The Case of the Ukrainian Whimsical Novel," in Literature and National Cultures ed. Brian Edwards (Geelong: Deakin University, Centre for Studies in Literary Education, Typereader Publications, No. 3), 1988, p.109-16, here p. 112-4.

22 "Avtobiohrafiia iuzhno-russkaho sviashchenika 1-i poloviny XVIII st.," Kievskaia starina February 1885. Turchynovs 'kyi's autobiography can also be found in the collection Ukrains'ka literatura XVIII st. (Kiev: Naukova Dumka, 1983). p.572-82.

23 Valerii Shevchuk, Try lystky za vikom (Kiev: Radians'kyi Pys'mennyk), 1986, p. 17. The first two lines of the pastiche are from a philosophical dialogue "Prytcha, narechenna Erodii," in Hryhorii Skovoroda. Tvory v dvokh tomakh Vol. 1 (Kiev: Dnipro, 1972), p. 167-97, here p. 190. The last line is from a letter from Skovoroda to his friend, Ia. I. Dohlans'kyi, "lyst do Ia. I. Dohlans'koho," in Hryhorii Skovoroda. Literaturni tvory (kiev: Naukova Dumka, 1972), p. 384-85, here p. 385.

24 "Prytcha, narechenna Erodii," p. 190.

25 Try lystky za viknom, p.109.

26 Try lystky za viknom, p.110.

27 Try lystky za viknom, p.111.

28 Try lystky za viknom, p.45.

29 Calinescu, op. cit., p. 272.

30 Calinescu, p. 273.

31 Calinescu, p. 274.

32 Mihai Spariosu, "Allegory, Hermeneutics, and Postmodernism" IN Exploring Postmodernism eds Matei Calinescu and Douwe Fokkema (Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1987), pp. 59-78, here p. 61.

33 Spariosu, p. 77.

34 Dmytro Chyzhevs'kyi, "Do problem barokko." First published in Zahrava (Augsburg), 4(1946), reprinted in Suchasnist, 14(1974), No.4, 42-54. Here p. 52.

35 Chyzhevs'kyi, p.53.

36 Try lystky za vikom, p. 117.

37 Try lystky za vikom, p. 120-1.

38 Try lystky za vikom, p. 47.

39 Try lystky za vikom, p. 126.

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