Noor-Eesti enesekoloniseerimisprojekt. Teine osa Olulised kirjandusmõtteviisid . The Self-Colonization Project of Young Estonia. Part II. Modes of Literary Thinking and Relations with Colonialism in Estonian Literature of the beginning of the 20th century

Tiit Hennoste


The topic of this article is the literary discourse of Young Estonia; its relations with other important Estonian literary discourses from the beginning of the 20th century, and its relations with colonial cultural discourse. First, I give an overview of the basic positions of the Young Estonians’ literary discourse, the main shapers of which were Friedebert Tuglas, Gustav Suits, later on Johannes Semper as well. Next, I present the basic principles of three Estonian literary discourses from the beginning of the 20th century, which were also important to the Young Estonians: nationalist-naturalistic (close-to-life); socialist/ class-based, and 20th century modernist. The Young Estonians began as nationalists and/or socialists. During the formation of Young Estonia’s discourse at the end of the first and beginning of the second decade of the 20th century, 20th century modernism began, which the Young Estonians regarded first and foremost with irony. The Young Estonians’ literary discourse is a mixture of aestheticism, decadence, symbolism, romanticism, and classicism. The point of departure for the Young Estonian approach to literature was eurocentrism. They took a superior and negative view of existing Estonian literature, which they regarded as having fallen drastically behind Europe. Since it was unable to build on its own foundation, it had to borrow from Europe. The discourse’s understandings of cultural values – theory, reading, knowledge, ready-made culture, derive from the centrality of the dynamic of borrowing. New culture could be created freely, without the support of previous local tradition; it was to be an elite culture, while the writer remained an individualist. Literature was to follow the principle of art for art’s sake; aesthetics and the form of the work of art were basic criteria. The formal ideals of the work of art were classicist: unity, integrity (wholeness), harmony, order, logic, etc. Thirdly, I outline the basic positions of colonial thinking about culture, and compare the Young Estonian approaches to literature with colonial thought. The foundation of colonialism is eurocentrism: if Europe is the core; everything else belongs to the periphery, and regarded from the outset as of lesser inherent worth: colonialism is characterized by a superior and negative attitude toward local culture. The colonizing culture interprets its own values and experiences as universals; these are congruent with the outlines of what is deemed to be ”European” culture. The mission of colonialism is to bring the periphery into the sphere of influence of the enlightened core. Though colonial thinking does not commit itself to any specific artistic movement or style, its most important tenet with regard to evaluating art is classicist, emphasizing enduring values and good ”handiwork”. The bases for the creation of colonial culture are ready-made models and categories, and the outcome of colonization is culture constructed according to a model. The outcome of the analysis is that the Young Estonian way of thinking is in close consonance with the colonial way of thinking. Those attitudes that Young Estonians did not adopt, or those they relinquished and discarded, are in opposition to it. My own basic claim is that the Young Estonians unconsciously carried a colonial way of thinking, and that they might be considered to be self-colonizers.

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