Tendencies of Expressionism in Rainis’ Writings: Spēlēju, dancoju (I Played, I Danced, 1915)

Zane Šiliņa

Abstract


The paper focuses upon the specific tendencies of Expressionism in the outstanding Latvian poet and playwright Rainis’ (Jānis Pliekšāns, 1865–1929) writings. Rainis always tried to follow the current trends in art, at the same time elaborating his own specific style of expression, therefore his oeuvre is characterized by a peculiar combination of the traditional and modern or, in other words, specifically Latvian elements combined with European modernist features. One of the brightest examples is his play Spēlēju, dancoju (I Played, I Danced, 1915), which is marked by trends akin to Expressionist art, as well as their very specific translation into Latvian tradition. Although Expressionism in its most impressive manifestation appears in German literature, a kindred world vision can be also found in other countries, in some cases even earlier than in Germany. For instance, expressionistic tendencies are characteristic of the literary works of the Russian writer and playwright Leonid Andreyev (1871–1919). Rainis’ diaries, letters and notes demonstrate a stable and permanent interest in Expressionism and particularly Andreyev. Although the Latvian poet’s attitude to his Russian colleague’s literary works mostly can be characterised as negative, Rainis’ notes show that in Andreyev’s artistic quests he has also found some impulses for his own writings. While exploring the tendencies of Expressionism in Rainis’ writings, the paper discusses the specific use of grotesque and the intensified relations between the living and the dead in the play Spēlēju, dancoju. It is significant that the relations between life and death, the living and the dead is one of the central themes in Expressionism, and its relevance is determined by the political events at the beginning of the 20th century (especially, the First World War), as well as the development of industrial society. In order to demonstrate the most significant points of interaction shared by Spēlēju, dancoju and Expressionism, as well as the uniqueness of Rainis’ artistic manner, the paper gives an insight into the aesthetics of Expressionism and provides a comparative analysis of Rainis’ play and some examples of Expressionist art (e.g., writings by Leonid Andreyev, Georg Kaiser, Ernst Toller).

Keywords


Jānis Rainis; Leonid Andreyev; the First World War; Expressionism; grotesque; living; dead

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References


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.12697/IL.2015.20.2.2

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