Modernity, Intertextuality and Decolonization: Some Examples from Estonian and Latvian Literature


  • Anneli Mihkelev Tallinna Ülikool, Eesti Keele ja Kultuuri Instituut, Slaavi Keelte ja Kultuuride Instituut, Narva mnt 25, 10120 Tallinn



colonisation, decolonization, modernity, intertextuality, Estonian literature, Latvian literature


Colonization influences the colonized country politically, economically and culturally, and colonial traces persist everywhere in a colonized society, particularly in social manners, behaviour and culture. After a period of colonization, a period of decolonization is needed. According to W. D. Mignolo, decolonization is the long-term processes involving the bureaucratic, cultural, linguistic, and psychological divesting of colonial power. The result of decolonization is a new people and community. The processes involved depend on cultural transfer, cultural relations and modernisation of smaller and peripheral national cultures. All of these processes make it possible for small and peripheral nations to find their own originality within European culture. An “external” or “alien” culture may function as a metatext in an “own” culture and it can describe the “own” culture itself via auto-communication. The literary works of smaller national cultures, such as Estonia and Latvia, represent cultural processes in the process of modernisation and the modernist period in literature at the beginning of the 20th century and also in the 21st century. The paper analyses different texts from “alien” cultures (Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Bible etc.) which function as metatexts in “own” culture. Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a literary figure has been a very important and influential motif in Estonian literature and culture: Gustav Suits’s and Paul-Eerik Rummo’s poems used the motif of Hamlet to describe Estonian history and culture. The Bible has influenced Estonian literary culture for a long time. The function of the old biblical myths is to create the eternal, mythical dimension in literary works and create contact with old nations (e.g. Käsu Hans’, Juhan Liiv’s and Ene Mihkelson’s poetry.). Prose writers Rūdolfs Blaumanis’ and Eduard Vilde’s works represent the Baltic lifestyle, which affected peasants and aristocrats in different ways. Both writers used more of their “own” cultural system and language as metatext to describe the cultural system, rather than using external cultural systems and languages. They transformed realist, romantic and psychological realist styles and languages into internal or “own” cultural systems. All of these stories and poems demonstrate how smaller and peripheral cultures find their own original national cultures and how cultural influences and transformations work through cultural dynamics. Small nations can communicate with other cultures, and they can communicate with us; we can describe our “own” culture via auto-communication.


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