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Piret Viires, Tallinn

The phenomenon of ethnofuturism in contemporary Estonian literature

Ethnofuturism is a term probably unknown to most of the people dealing with literary criticism. The word was born spontaneously among a small group of young writers and artists in Tartu in the late 1980's. The term was invented to mark their creative method and outlook upon life, but after propagating it, the word established itself quite firmly in Estonian literary consciousness and spread outside Estonia's borders. Besides introducing ethnofuturism the current paper aims to deal with the phenomenon of how the notions marking new literary movements emerge and how they fix into the consciousness of the literary public.

The birth of the notion of ethnofuturism should be connected with two literary organisations - the "Hirohall''-group of young writers acting from 1988 to 1991 in Tartu and the Estonian Kostabi-Society. To understand what the literary group and the Society really meant, the background of Estonian literary life of the 1980's should be explained briefly. The awakening of the national spirit in late 1980's also reached into literature and besides bringing along political freedom it also affected literary life. Literature was in fashion, so were literary societies, organisations and groups. The literary groups which emerged in the late 1980's were formed exactly the same way as these during the first years of the Republic of Estonia in 1917-18, when, for example, the literary group "Siuru" was established. Parallels were quite obvious and deliberate. "Siuru" was considered of an example of an archetyped literary group - scandalous, striking, pertaining to a salon and striving for aestheticism. In their manifestos and works the young writers of the "Hirohall''-group referred back to "Siuru" sometimes even quoting it by their behaviour or in their poems. At this moment the existence of any group was a value itself. The whole of Estonian literature was prepared and waiting for the birth of the literary groupings. Some other groups appeared (e.g. "Wellesto"), but "Hirohall" was the only one with a fixed ideology and creative tendency. In fact the "Hirohall''-group was a small one, with only five members. The group consisted of the poets Karl Martin Sinijärv, Sven Kivisildnik, Kauksi Ülle and Valeria Ränik and the prose writer Jüri Ehlvest. At the same time a broader organisation - the Estonian Kostabi-Society - was formed on the bases of "Hirohall". The Society was established for practical reasons. It was registered in September 1989 as a legal entity with its own statute, bank account and stamp - a status which it still retains today. One of the reasons for forming the Society and "Hirohall" was the euphoria accompanied by the sense of political freedom, the joy of self-acting was overwhelming and realised itself in many different forms. The spirit of the revolutionary period was affecting all the members as they realised the potential inherent in the new world. In 1989 business and art still seemed to be at far extremes. Speaking about money was considered totally improper among the people connected with culture. The Kostabi-Society tried to change this mentality. The spiritual lead was taken from Estonian-American artist, Kalev Mark Kostabi who by his outlook on life represented the complete unity of money and art, raising money to the same level as art. Through his life and work he tried to destroy "the Van-Gogh-type-poor-artist" myth, affirming that the artist ( as well as the poet ) can be also rich. The ideologists of the Kostabi-Society -mostly Karl Martin Sinijärv and Sven Kivisildnik - were impressed by this point of view and stressed it particularly in their statements. They advertised themselves without shame, declared themselves to be genii and came out with shocking statements, wrote ordered poems for money - false reticence was far from it! The exemplar and slogan was one of Kalev Mark Kostabi' s sentence - so called kostabism: "Say not "a real artist", say "I'"'. From the very beginning the group used strong and systematic self-advertizing through different media channels, partly veraciously, partly bluffing. More concrete output was achieved through the publishing house of Kostabi-Society during 1989-91. Being one of the first private publishing houses in Estonia, it published eight books during two years, mostly the collections of poems by members of the Society. From 1991 to 1993 an alternative culture newspaper named "Kostabi" came out.

The term ethnofuturism was created by the "Hirohall''-group and propagated together with the Estonian Kostabi-$ociety. This promising and intriguing term can be broadly defined as follows: ethnofuturism is joining the archaic, prehistorical, ethnic substance peculiar to our nation with the modern, sometimes even futuristic form. Or vice versa - the archaic form (e.g. runo-song) with a contemporary vision of the world. Ethnofuturism can be also related with surrealism, but it is more nationalistic in its manifestos strongly stressing national diversities. No doubt one of the reasons for the rise of ethnofuturism was an elevated interest in the history of the nation, its folklore (especially folk songs and ancient belief) and everything else that stressed the diversity of the nation. Particularly the authors of "Hirohall" had dived deeply into folklore and tried to capture the archaic spirit of the Estonian nation in their poems and other works.

The creative work of the ethnofuturists centred on poetry. Language was the main object concerning the linguistic experiments (e.g. neologisms and new forms of poetry created by Sinijärv and Kivisildnik) as well as the use of the dialects (e.g. Kauksi Ülle's works in South-Estonian language). Extremely specific were the works of Valeria Ränik. She had lived most of her life in Russia and learned the Estonian language only with the help of dictionaries and books.

Through creating poems in the form of runo-song, the deeper understanding of archaic cognition of life was reached. At the same time, according to the principles of ethnofuturism, everything was combined with the present time.

The creative work of the ethnofuturists reached outside the borders of literature. Their names were connected with several "out-of-literature" activities. They came up with happenings and performances. Their activities were accompanied by scandals both in the press and in public cultural life. Besides their literary activities, all the authors had deliberately built-up strong personal images. Literature crossed its own borders, trifling was total, attaining the dimensions that for people used to regular literary life were hard to get accustomed to and often hard to understand. The borders between literature and real life vanished. Game and reality became as one. How original and spontaneous the concept of ethnofuturism in Estonian society was, is not yet quite clear. But one hint should be given concerning the terms of provincialism and periphery. Up to late the 1980's Estonia was a typical "closed society" where information from the rest of the world arrived spasmodically and in a deformed way. Intuitively more alert creative people seized the ideas spread in from Europe. The ethnofuturists had a good knowledge of their own national culture, but their ideas about literary theories and practises in the broader world were quite limited. Therefore the ethnofuturists linked themselves with the period of the 1920's in Estonian literature which was extremely apt to literary groupings. At the same time they did not realise that by their work and theories they were actually representing a pure European postmodern world view. No doubt the postmodern key-words presented by lhab Hassan in Paracriticisms: Seven Speculations of the Times (Urbana, III, 1985, pp. 123-24) fit well with the theories of the ethnofuturists: antiform, anarchy, performance, happening, decreation, text, combination, idiolect, desire, schizophrenia, irony, etc. Enhancing the comical by opposing it with the heroic; breaking the barrier between art and pleasure - these principles of postmodernism can also be found in the manifestos of the ethnofuturists. At the same time we cannot forget about the turning to the past - here the parallels can be found by recalling Umberto Eco: "Past /—-/ must be revisited: but with irony, not innocently." (Postscript to "The Name of the Rose". Postmodernism, Irony, The Enjoyable. In: The Postmodern Reader. Ed. by Ch. Jencks. London 1992, pp. 73-75.) Or trifling: "With the postmodern, it is possible not to understand the game and yet to take it seriously." (U. Eco, ibid.) Ethnofuturism broke into the conventional modernistic discourse. Therefore it is understandable that those people who were used to modernistic literature were astonished and the critics who had been acquainted with postmodernistic theories got the best contact with the works of the authors of "Hirohall".

What was a logical, universal process for the rest of the world, acquired here, in Estonia, on the periphery of Europe, specific local, provincial form. A stressing of national identity became the main difference from the rest of Europe. In ethnofuturism the identification with the whole world was achieved through the nation. The same, ethnofuturistic ideas are referred to in the term nationalistic cosmopolitism, which aroused great interest in Estonia in the early 1990's leading to the corresponding conference in 1990. So, to sum it up, ethnofuturism can be called a local, peripherial and provincial outgrowth of postmodernism.

Quite unexpectedly the notion of ethnofuturism has become a term used to mark a special world view and creative method even outside Estonia. The term has spread among young Finno-Ugric writers and artists. The Conference of Finno-Ugric Young Authors on Ethnofuturism took place in May, 1994 in Tartu, with the participance of representatives of all the Finno-Ugric peoples. The conference was organised by the Foundation "Fenno-Ugria" and the Estonian Kostabi-$ociety. Later, in writing an overview of the conference, the representative of "Fenno-Ugria", Andres Heinapuu, mentioned: "The social demand for the term "ethnofuturism" really existed at the time. It was taken into use immediately. I have never heard an Estonian using the word with such self-evidence." And finding that in the contemporary postmodernistic world the Finno-Ugric nations with new high-level cultures have much greater possibilities to preserve their ancient originality than, for example, the Estonians and Finns had in the last century, Heinapuu also noted: "It may happen that the Estonian peripherial ethnofuturism might become central among other Fenno-Ugric nations and turn their cultures from peripherial into central at the same time." (Eesti Ekspress 20.05.1995)

The theory of ethnofuturism has been developed further in Estonia. Literary critic Kajar Pruul has found new ethnofuturistic authors and works (e.g. H. Runnel, M. Mutt, E. Tode) and compared ethnofuturism with ethnosymbolism, so creating new terms at the same time (Kultuurileht 30.06.1995). So, what has happened, is that from a word what was at first a trifling flash of wit, a considerable literary idea has developed.

By now "Hirohall" as well as the Kostabi-Society to some extent have become literary historical phenomena. The members are separated from each other, even institutionalised due to their jobs. But the authors of "Hirohall" and the persons connected with them represent a strong and specific generation in Estonian culture.

The word ethnofuturism was born spontaneously, as half joke - half truth. Nevertheless, by now it is rooted in Estonian literary consciousness and, as the Irish professor of literature Angela Bourke from Dublin University College has so strikingly remarked, terms born accidentally and spontaneously often hit the point much more precisely than sophisticated academic theories.

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