Omaeluloolisus nullindatel / Estonian Life Writing of the 2000s as a Continuity Over the Post-Soviet Period

  • Leena Kurvet-Käosaar University of Tartu, Estonian Literary Museum
  • Rutt Hinrikus Estonian Literary Museum

Abstract

A distinctive feature of the (literary) culture of the 2000s is a sudden increase in the publication of works of life writing in different genres. Although life writing as a phenomenon has received considerably more critical attention in recent years, it has not yet settled within the literary canon, and theoretical debates concerning its diverse textual practises are still in initial phases. The current article provides an overview of Estonian life writing of the 2000s, viewing the emergence of new forms, themes and perspectives as a continuity within the wider framework of the post-Soviet period and in comparison with some recent developments and theoretical foci of life writing studies in general.

The processes of the construction of subjectivity and identity in a number of autobiographical writings published in the first half of the 2000s can be traced back to the emergence of Estonian “memorial culture” in the late 1980s and 1990s, where oral and written testimonial accounts of personal experience focusing on the period of the Soviet occupation played an important role in the process of dismantling the official Soviet discourses of history and contributed to the process of regaining independence. A number of life writing texts by well-known Estonian literary figures published in the mid-2000s employ modes of collective and individual self-conception and self-reflection similar to those prevalent in the texts of life stories. No longer employed for the purposes of implementing socio-political change, these works confirm and consolidate such modes of identification and self-representation within the framework of (literary) culture. Another important trend of Estonian life writing of the 2000s involves “textual games”, where lived experience and the construction of fictional worlds are intertwined in a complex and self-conscious manner. Visible most strongly in the work of Tõnu Õnnepalu and Madis Kõiv, this feature of Estonian life writing also emerged in the second half of the 1990s and early 2000s and is not immediately related to the “life writing boom” of the second half of the 2000s.

Although the distinctive features of post-Soviet Estonian life writing did not emerge in the 2000s, the considerable increase in the publication of life writing works during that period has given rise to critical debates on its role and implications in (literary) culture, as the borders and limits of literature where life writing has had an influence cannot be strictly defined.  The mapping and positioning processes of new emergent forms and practices of life writing and life writing as a realm with a strong affiliation not only with literature but also with history and cultural history is an on-going process where only the first markers have been delineated.

Author Biographies

Leena Kurvet-Käosaar, University of Tartu, Estonian Literary Museum

PhD in comparative literature. Associate professor of literary theory at the Institute of Cultural Research and Fine Arts, the University of Tartu; senior researcher, Estonian Cultural History Archives, Estonian Literary Museum; holder of the ESF grant “Dynamics of Address of Estonian Life Writing” (2012–2015). Research interests: the tradition of Estonian life writing, women’s life writing practices, the diary; trauma theory, mediation of the experience of Stalinist repression in life stories; modernism and the experience of modernity.

Rutt Hinrikus, Estonian Literary Museum

MA in Estonian literature. She has been a researcher at the Estonian Cultural History Archives, Estonian Literary Museum since 1972 (1976–1996, head of the archives). Her main research fields are the 20th-century Estonian literature and life stories. She has edited four books on literary correspondences and diaries, and compiled several anthologies of life histories. She has also written numerous articles and reviews on Estonian literature.