TSQ Library TÑß 34, 2010TSQ 34

Toronto Slavic Annual 2003Toronto Slavic Annual 2003

Steinberg-coverArkadii Shteinvberg. The second way

Anna Akhmatova in 60sRoman Timenchik. Anna Akhmatova in 60s

Le Studio Franco-RusseLe Studio Franco-Russe

 Skorina's emblem

University of Toronto · Academic Electronic Journal in Slavic Studies

Toronto Slavic Quarterly

Nina Shevchuk-Murray

Lessons from Ukraine:
What Happens When Post-Colonial Poetics Goes East.

Increasingly, scholars attempting a systematic assessment of post-Soviet Ukrainian poetry quickly find themselves sucked into the vortex of one particular controversy: can Ukrainian post-Soviet poetry be described as post-colonial? Characterizations of language and literature in the non-Russian post-Soviet space as post-colonial are subject of debate in popular literary media, scholarly journals, and internet forums. In these debates, Ukrainian intellectuals commonly argue for positioning contemporary Ukrainian literature among other post-colonial literatures, pointing out its similarity especially to Irish literature. Myroslav Shkandrij, for example, in his comprehensive study Russia and Ukraine: Literature and the Discourse of Empire from Napoleonic to Postcolonial Times unequivocally sees a continuous marginalization of Ukraine and Ukrainians in Russophone literature and a respective counterdiscourse in Ukrainian literature, both of which carried on through Soviet times (1). He characterizes this relationship as follows: "the need to promote imperial or national narratives has weighed heavily on both Russian and Ukrainian literatures. The image of the turncoat and traitor, of the guilt-ridden intellectual made impotent by ideology, of the colonizer-conqueror, or the patriot recur again and again. A culture that sees itself as selected by God to fulfill a mission or that sees itself as embattled will necessarily decry any falling away from cultural solidarity."(2)

On the other hand, one of Russia's leading experts on history and language politics, Vladimir Alpatov, when asked in an interview with the scholarly journal Ab Imperio whether the use of post-colonial approach was fruitful in analyzing the post-Soviet space and whether Russian ever played the role of "the language of the colonizer," decidedly distances himself from such claims, suggesting that "Russia never conquered overseas territories, never viewed any of its parts as something outside of the metropoly."(3) In his view, Russian nationalism was never a driving force of Russian imperialism, but rather a marginal phenomenon, and the Russian language "of course, within the frame of one state was the only way to satisfy the need for communication."(4) Alpatov states that no nationality was discriminated against (besides those who got on Stalin's bad side) in the Soviet Union, and instead, all peoples were ideologized as one "Soviet people." He, however, does not see this process - as many Ukrainians do - as forced assimilation, but rather as a pacific union.

A Ukrainian public intellectual of comparable stature, Mykola Ryabchuk, author of From Malorossia to Ukraine: Paradoxes of Belated Nation-Building (2000), explains such attitudes as the result of a Russian national imaginary which has created and maintained "that virtual Ukraine, that they have conjured for themselves, and that they do indeed love as themselves, as a portion of their imperial identity - some sort of eternally 'singing and dancing Malorossia' lacking excessive intellectualism and a political spine of its own."(5) This characterization of the Russian view of Ukraine is uncannily reminiscent of the stereotypical Black Caribbean, the singing and dancing "happy-go-lucky," with his folkloric orality and with no statehood experience to speak of.

Beyond the polarity of such attitudes, there exists, fortunately, another perspective, which Madina Tlostanova defines as that of "… intellectuals who are not only bound to the Russian, Soviet, or post-Soviet colonies through their personal fates, cultures, religion, nationality, or language, but more importantly, occupy the positions of frontier, 'othered' thinking, which is impossible to single out of the Eurocentric paradigm or a nationalist, religious, or any other fundamentalism."(6) While I wouldn't construct the opposition to the Eurocentric positivist historiography in quite such strong terms, Tlostanova's articulation of this position confers authority on an almost unrepresented position - the site of inquiry from the intersection of post-colonial scholarship, intra-Soviet otherness, and Soviet-bred transculturality. In this study, I hope to exemplify the potential of this hybrid approach by analyzing a number of trends in twentieth-century Ukrainian poetry. I will also be raising theoretical questions about the flexibility and adaptability of the post-colonial approach, and its potential responsiveness to the inclusion of post-Soviet literatures.

The binary opposition described above has been shaping Ukrainian national imaginary from the nineteenth century to this day. Ukrainian literature, national rhetoric, and very real foreign policy all adapted themselves to or were forced into a dialogic relation with the Russian national and state concept of Ukraine, the "virtual Ukraine" of the Northern metropoly. Still, in applying post-colonial approaches to the study of post-Soviet space, a scholar, especially a Ukrainian scholar like myself, must resist the temptation to assume one nation's stance vis-a-vis the other; must suspend, as far as possible, her own post-coloniality and instead seek to enter a relationship with both perspectives, for only from such a relationship can a truly informed understanding of a post-colonial nation's literature emerge. The last statement, of course, betrays my assumption that Ukraine IS a post-colonial nation. Economically and politically Ukraine does exhibit features associated with the traditional scholarly understanding of colonial heritage. The planned economy of the Soviet Union relied on a vast and notoriously inefficient system of connections between various stages of production, in which, for instance, the iron ore mined in the Urals would be rolled into steel in Ukraine, and then shipped back to Siberia to make railroad rails. The infamous gas crisis that befuddled politicians on both sides in 2006 was another product of the system, in which Ukraine wasn't allowed to develop its own natural gas production, but Russia doesn't have its own pipeline to sell the surplus of its gas to Europe. In the socio-cultural sphere, Russian for several generations had been the language of the Soviet state and the Communist Party, the language of higher education and ideological "enlightenment," which largely marginalized Ukrainian to the language of peasants, the uneducated masses.(7) Curiously, this marginalization did not apply to the regional literary canon where the aesthetics of Socialist Realism were the primary criteria.

Partially related to these jungles of mutual representation, ideological atavisms, and post-Soviet interdependence is the main difficulty in theorizing post-Soviet space as post-colonial. The theoretical void, the intellectual loneliness of the enterprise, is exacerbated by the atomized study of separate post-Soviet literatures among various academic communities and by how unorganized their production remains. Madina Tlostanova opens her book, the comprehensive Post-Soviet Literature and the Aesthetic of Transculturation: No Time to Live, No Place to Write from, (the only book-length examination of the post-Soviet/post-colonial theory) with a discussion of this very issue. Both in the post-Soviet space and abroad, the majority of studies remain handicapped by "the complexities of separating reality from mythology…" their view obstructed by scientific incarnations of the same ideologies that created Soviet imaginary in the first place.(8) Tlostanova suggests that Soviet and post-Soviet studies fall outside the orbit of Eurocentric theories of modernity because such theories retain a Eurocentric universalist approach and ignore marginally European or non-European imperial histories. Just as Walter Mignolo labors to expand colonial modernity to include the Spanish colonial enterprise in Latin America (9) , Tlostanova points out the erasure in the field of colonial studies of such establishments as the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, Habsburg Empire in Austria, and finally - the Russian tsarist Empire. Consequently, this Eurocentric colonial model ordains only former European colonies as colonies, "the subaltern," and it would be unreasonable to expect that scholars of Caribbean, African, or Indian post-colonial literature to include post-Soviet countries in their theoretizations. As Tlostanova aptly puts it, "Eastern Europe and especially Russia present the Other to both world - the West and the radical non-West."(10) This leaves regional scholars, slavicists and sovietologists, but their regional approaches, which are typically more language-oriented, generally abstain from post-colonial perspectives or critiques of globalization. Moreover, there is an understandable emphasis on Russian language and literature in Slavic studies and, on this side of the Atlantic, few scholars are capable of comparative study of post-Soviet literatures: unlike other writing commonly defined as post-colonial, post-Soviet national literatures reverted to national languages, and few specialists can read, say, both in Russian and Kazakh.

Ukraine's independence movement of the late 1980s - early 1990s fed an artistic national renaissance, which was informed in literature by the ideas of post-modernism. Curiously, the three most significant post-modernist Ukrainian poets of that time - Viktor Neborak, Yuri Andrukhovych, and Oleksandr Irvanets - didn't find it contradictory to their postmodernist principles to organize themselves in 1985 into the artistic movement Bu-Ba-Bu (burlesque - blaster - buffoonery) and produce manifestos. Bu-ba-bu proclaimed carnival aesthetics, where, in Bakhtinian multi-voicedness, the sacred and the vulgar are indistinguishable and equally transcendental.(11) Their poems became truly national when popular rock bands "Jeremiah's Cry" and "Dead Rooster" turned them into song lyrics. In the 1990s, listening and "getting" those was the young Ukrainian's equivalent to the national flag pin on a lapel. These poems, unfortunately, for the most part remain unavailable to the Anglophone reader aside from snippets quoted in scholarly articles. Certainly, circumscribing Ukrainian poetry of the 1990s to one movement is a simplifying gesture. Yet, there are good reasons for it: in their active years Bu-Ba-bists published widely, staged multiple readings and theatrical projects (for example, "The Birth of Poetry," in which Irvanets appeared as poetry being born, naked on the stage of Lviv Opera Theatre), and were the only nationally visible organized poetic group. In other words, their verbal escapades were hard to miss.

Of the three Bu-ba-bists, perhaps Irvanets's poetry - sensationalist, bellicose, and irreverent - attracted the greatest critical attention. It is also blatantly self-referential: the poems speak about the poet's writing decisions, parody earlier liberationist poems, or set out to rewrite Soviet history from an exaggerated russo-centric perspective. The art of Irvanets (and to a lesser extent, the other Bu-ba-bists) is best understood in terms of Linda Hutcheon's assessment of post-colonial writing as "negotiating (often parodically) the once tyrannical weight of colonial history in conjunction with the revalued local past."(12) "Suddenly everyone's a freedom fighter" starts with mocking those ubiquitous flag pins in the lapels of politicians and proceeds to refuse the Ukrainian poet's traditional mission of upholding and romanticizing the nation:

...I also don't write about Goths and the Huns,

About mankurts, or janissaries,
Neither Baturyn, not even Pochaiv,
Nor Kalnyshevnskyj, nor Mazepa.
I make myself some coffee. I go to the loo.

Goths, Huns, janissaries and mankurts are all staples of the national heroic epic, perpetuated in Soviet times as a comparatively safe form of dissent by such writers as historical novelist Pavlo Zagrebel'ny, winner of the Soviet State Literary Award and the USSR State Literary Award (twice), author of Roksoliana (1980), Death in Kyiv (1973), and The First Bridge (1972). Irvanets wants nothing of the kind. Neither does he spare Volodymyr Sosiura, the creative martyr of the establishment and his canonically patriotic "Love Ukraine" (1944). Sosiura's poem, memorized en masse by schoolchildren, enacts the classic libertarian move of expanding love of one's native place, its geographical spirituality, into the love of an abstract concept - Ukraine as a state. Worth noting is that nationalist activists (and the anti-nationalist Stalinist establishment) saw the land-holding, land-rooted Ukrainian farmer as the primary supporter of Ukraine's statehood ambition. Curiously, however, in pre- and post-revolutionary political poetry, one does not find the Romantic poets' keen eye for the specificity of individual rural struggle; modern poetry grows abstract, incantatory:(13)

Love Ukraine, love her like the sun,
Like the wind, grasses and water.
In an hour of peace, in a minute of joy,
And love her in the time of turmoil.

Love Ukraine asleep and awake,
Your cherry-blossomed Ukraine,
Her beauty, forever living and new,
And her singing nightingale language.

The piece is a wedding vow, with echoes of the fairly universal "in sickness and in health" and consistently associates Ukraine (a feminine noun) with other feminine-gendered images - a bird, a flower, a song, a turbine, a girl's eyes, a wave, a cloud. Irvanets preserves the recognizable structure of the poem - the rhyme pattern, the anaphora, reference to landscape, and even syntax - and fills it with a different geography:

Love Oklahoma! At night and at lunch,
As you love your daddy and mommy.
Love Indiana. And do not forget
The Dakotas, the North and the South.

The chaste demure bride is gone; lust for the capitalist Other reigns. In the words of Marko Pavlyshyn, author of numerous studies of modern Ukrainian literature, "[t]he poet's call to love of motherland suffers something of a deconstruction as it echoes in Irvanets' invitation to engage in promiscuous amorous relations with the United States of America."(14)

In another poem Irvanets continues to employ irony as "a popular rhetorical strategy for working within existing discourses and contesting them at the same time" and scandalizes the other "holy cow" of the nationalists - that "nightingale" language.(15) On the surface, these couplets are as canon-friendly as they get:

How you sound, willowy, oak-like,
Dear tongue of mine, speech of our mothers!

Words velvety, soft, pillowy;
The words of our grandfathers, of fathers, now legal.

The ode to the language continues along the lines of perseverance and greatness. However, a closer look (and the translation does not render this), reveals a hidden set of curse words spelled out by the last and first letters of regular words: "of fathers" "p $"H\8@&," produces "fuck," "feared I"," FHD"NJ b", turns into "dick" etc. The code of liberationist poetry, Irvanets' seems to suggest, its stagnant reliance on canonized images and narratives, is precisely what is "screwing" Ukrainian literature and alienating its readers. In Hutcheon's words, "irony allows a text to work within the constraints of the dominant while foregrounding those constraints as constraints and thus undermining their power."(16) The relevance of Hutcheon's analysis of Canadian post-modern and post-colonial literature does more than strengthen my claim of Ukrainian poetry's post-coloniality; it informs our understanding of a monolingual literature's response to a bi-cultural post-colonial condition. Although Ukrainian literature differs from the Canadian and other "'monoglossic' settler cultures"(17) in that its language was never the language of the metropoly, it is still a monolingual literature produced in one and the same language before, during, and after colonization. This model places new demands on post-colonial scholarship, especially when it comes to offering a coherent poetics. Before proceeding with my analysis of Andrukhovych's and Neborak's poetry, I shall attempt to connect the dots.

Bill Ashkroft in Postcolonial Transformation arrives at a linguistic model of post-colonial literature's specificity: based on an understanding of writing as a communicative process and the condition of multiple, layered distances between a post-colonial writer and his/her reader, Ashkroft suggests that the crucial feature of post-colonial literatures is the conscious metonymic installation of difference, "a sense of distance." (18) Although Ashkroft limits his post-colonial writer to a repertoire of "unglossed words, phrases or passages from a first language, or concepts, allusions or references which may be unknown to the reader," the affected "resistance to interpretation" need not, I argue, be available only to bi-lingual writers.(19) If indeed "language variance is a synecdochic index of cultural difference" and "the inscription of difference becomes a central feature of the transformation of language and literature," then an attempt to observe this post-colonial phenomenon within its own culture might invigorate Ashkroft's argument and alleviate the Eurocentrism generated by a focus on the non-colonial reader.(20)

Yuri Andrukhovych, for example, can be seen as inscribing a Western Ukrainian urban difference over his rejection of the abstract, nowhere-specific love for the motherland featured in the libertarian tradition. In several cycles included in Exotic Birds and Plants (1991), he establishes a local aesthetic, firmly rooted in the old-town landscape and people of Lviv and other big and small Western Ukrainian towns. His rootedness is elegiac, frequently articulated by a voice from afar, as in, for example, "Kolomyia Regimen in Paris, 1815." The poem based on an episode of recovered national history - the Ukrainian divisions' significant role in the war against Napoleon's invasion of Russia, a war that in a typical assimilationist move was termed in Soviet textbooks as "otechestvennaia voina," "war for the fatherland."

this is us camping out in the middle of Paris
islands swim down the river the Versailles waltzes
the war is finished wine comes in barrels uncounted
a maple leaf spins little in the Seine's water

we carry our memories like our trumpets
we shall cross again seven lands
and wash ourselves clean
will we ever come back
the capital of our wonting
kolomya pysanka kolomya our city

Like "Kolomya Regimen," Andrukhovych's mature poems spring from a completely and perfectly Ukrainian universe, the streets and alleys of the ghost-ridden, ancient city of Lviv, populated with voices of its criminals, executioners, carnival goers, poets, old ladies, students, retired Soviet Army generals, and their domino partners. His toponymy of pre-Soviet street names, parks, beer pavilions and buildings incarnates a"sense of difference" just as Ashkroft finds enacted by the use of creole. This distance is also, perhaps paradoxically, the colonial difference: Andrukhovych's poems are frequently set in the long-gone world of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for example, during Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand's visit to the Galician province:

Our backwaters turn to parks. We shoot the ether's underside
all through with fireworks for greater beauty's sake.
The bands will roar devotedly with trombones and calluses,
the whores wash their lingerie and powder the tits.

Yet the vulgar trifleness, the banality of these people's feelings becomes their true liberation - the illusory liberation from the forces of history which are about to send L'vivites into the throes of war with Poles and Bolsheviks, and the very real artistic liberation from forever playing their heroic part in the Ukrainian people's fight for independence required by the nationalist canon.

Andrukhovych wrote two works that can be read as symbolic epitaphs for the Soviet/Russian empire: the novel Moscoviad (2001) and a poetic cycle "Letters to Ukraine." Both portray the collapse of the Soviet Union from the vantage point of a Ukrainian intellectual in Moscow, but Andrukhovych's speaker is far from the traditional patriotic hero: he is less concerned with the historical fate of nations than shopping, sex, and drinking. "In Andrukhovych's works alcohol's spiritual and physical effects are unavoidable. The "alcoholic awareness" provides an ironic reading of all sententiousness, including the political."(21) When "Letters to Ukraine" was originally published, (22) it was accompanied by extensive footnotes, written at least partially by Andrukhovych himself, which frequently ridicule the reader's desire to make these poems battle calls of nationalist politics. The footnotes, in effect erase the text, or at least the most predictable reading of it. In poem VIII, Andrukhovych's speaker stumbles into an artistic beaumont and records Russians' attitudes towards Ukrainians (Malorossians, as Russians call them):

They're treated commonly like aboriginals
of the Barents land, that is - like idiots.

But even among them there are weighty personas
who advanced with wit and proper manners:
Feofan Prokopovich - they say, a fag,
Rozumovsky senior - wasn't he a tenor?

Both Feofan Prokopovich and Kyrylo Rozumovsky have in Ukrainian revisionist history statures comparable to Rousseau and Macchiaveli, and for Andrukhovych to refer to them in such disrespectful terms is tantamount to heresy in certain nationalist circles. There is a slight of hand in the poem, a shift of diction that suggests that it is not the Ukrainian visitor, but his Russian company who imagine Prokopovich as a gay lover of Peter the Great and Rozumovsky no more than Empress Elizabeth's court tenor. The footnotes, however, do away with such illusions: "According to <...> the court chronicles even Emperor Peter the great liked entertaining himself 'unnaturally' with the brilliantly educated and oiled-with-perfume Feofan. Altogether, the great church leader had close to two hundred lovers...;" and "Good tenors are much rarer than good basses, which makes the owners of such tenors phenomenally self-centered creatures. Nonetheless, Oleksa Rozumovs'kyi, at first lover, and later husband of Empress Elizabeth, did more for Ukraine than any other tenor. Thanks to his indomitable vocal and sexual talents, Ukraine was returned its hetman self-governance and ancient kozak privileges."(23) The narrative of battlefield heroics is replaced here with a story of boudoir politics; instead of confronting the imperial ideological de-masculinization of the colonial subject, Andrukhovych transforms it with the infusion of post-imperial modernity of "fag" and the veiled reference to Chukchis, the eternal subjects of degrading Soviet jokes. In the end, he is able to provide an original solution to the problem of the "second-rate people's man" as formulated by Oksana Zabuzhko (and I quote at length because it illuminates not only the significance of claims Andrukhovych lays to historical homosexuals, but to Soviet cultural specifics as well):

The problem of national and sexual identification for him [the second-rate man] is much more complicated than for the woman, primarily because his self-identification with his own country is not direct, like hers, but mediated by his sexual otherness: he is the one who receives the country as Mother. At the same time his unavoidable integration in the social structures organized by the metropoly for the purpose of "having" this Mother (for example, service in the imperial army), must inevitably double her image in his consciousness into Mother, on one hand, and the conquered (sexually oppressed, submissive) Woman on the other; that is, for him, even before it reaches his consciousness in spiritual ontogenesis, there awaits the trap of the existentially-tense choice between two role models, which with time settle in colonial culture as alternative archetypes."(24)

This trap, according to Zabuzhko, produces two classic Ukrainian images, articulated first by the contemporaries Hogol' and Shevchenko: the sergeant, i.e. the man who accepts the native land outside the governance of the incest taboo, and seeks loyalty to "the boss" (e. g. Communist Party); and the single mother's son, who sides with the mother sexually possessed by the other. As a gender critic, Zabuzhko sees this trap as the replacement of the native masculinity's "normal" Other - the native femininity - with the imperial Man, and calls for the empowerment of women's literary voices that would labor to re-balance the national sexual identity. She does not address the social danger of such post-colonial recentering of a national masculinity - the backlash to the traditional patriarchal values that almost consistently followed political independence in the European post-Soviet states. (25)

Viktor Neborak's cycle "Ten Approximations to the Line of the Horizon" is another man's poetic farewell to the empire, and he, as if to defy Zabuzhko's entrapments, gives the empire, and not the native land, a female impersonation.

She has departed with her dancing chorus line,
She pulled all of her own on her trip like in a tunnel...

Gentlemen, ladies! Rivers of tears have dried!
Oases grew, bistros opened, the tyrant
Died, his vassals shot themselves.
Life comes, we must admit, with ever greater joy!
Whose lover is she now? Whose betrothed?
Or blight? Berserk? D'Arc?..
In her haphazard flight she leaves eternal trace.

Here the Empire is both the speaker's woman (former lover, former wife) and the wild other (blight, berserk, the possessed Joan of Arc) from whom he can dissociate himself, retreat into his safely established masculinity and from there, perhaps, betray a certain nostalgia for times that were gory yet glorious in their ugly simplicity of prescribed roles and one-track politics. Further, he writes:

Without her, the day's wasteland is more tactile.
The mechanisms of dreams are tightening themselves.
A walk down the boulevard - drugs shot without a syringe,
A desert of multicolored words, a larynx burning hot.

Even in the vacuum left by the deposed ideology, Neborak's speaker talks his throat dry looking for new words, new narratives, new prayers. There is no return to one's roots, it seems - the traditional nationalist poetry is impotent, mired in its own politicism, folklorized. When such poetry appears - often recovered from closed archives, from criminal cases - it is such easy fodder for imperial imaginary that to restore its liberationist aesthetic is to doom national literature to reproducing a colonial mentality. The national canonical:

My people! When will your tortured sons
Rise to defend you? When will those minutes come
When we will shed our chains?

can no longer serve the nation. It is worth remembering that at this point in Ukrainian literary history, its canon may be one layer of a "complex stratification of imperial political, cultural and national myths" (26) that obscures an updated vision of history. The poem I quoted above as an example of the most formulaic liberationist production is by Hanna Suprunenko, a rural teacher and writer in the early 1900s, who also wrote:

Poor village. Houses lean.
A starving dog angrily growls,
Heavy-skinned girls walk past, untidy,
Next comes a cry of child being beaten.
Further, the pictures are still all sad:
A drunk man fell and lies in the ditch...
Somewhere there's fighting: wails from a house,
A half-dressed woman runs out in the street.

She curses, she cries, she complains:
"Lord! How much longer do I have to bear it?

Suprunenko's speaker faces rural life as it is - impoverished, violent, degraded - and knows there is no enemy to blame. This knowledge is communicated through the straightforward, present tense description, the reportage quality of the piece. More interestingly still, it is one woman's plight that makes the speaker stop and so comes to define the significance of her observations. Suprunenko is writing as a woman about a woman, a woman honest and concerned about the evils that had yet to find their articulation in modern Ukrainian women's poetry. Yet, this poem saw light of day only recently, with the establishment of the on-line poetry archive "Poetyka;" I quote it here to illustrate the exclusiveness of the inherited national canon.

The poetry of late 1910s and early 1920s has been subjugated to the national canon the vector of which unwaveringly points to the self-realization of the Ukrainian nation as a state. As such, the Ukrainian literary canon has served to bond the community and its national idea, the community's structural fantasy. In his psychoanalytic approach to the question of nationalism, specifically, in post-Soviet Eastern Europe, Slavoj Žižek offers an understanding of national identification as a link between members of a community which "implies a shared relationship toward a Thing. <...> National identification is by definition sustained by a relationship toward the Nation qua Thing" (27) and this relationship is enacted through a set of social practices, shared fantasies, national myths. The Soviet establishment, unlike institutions of other empires, did not seek to erase or interrupt the Ukrainian nationalist canon - it merely mandated in 1934 another vector for its teleological drive: Ukraine passes quickly through its bourgeois revolution stage, becomes an advanced socialist state in the brotherhood of other such states, and its literature portrays "reality in its revolutionary development." However, as Žižek further observes, for a new order to establish its own identity, "[t]he agent who initially triggered the process must come to be perceived as its main impediment," (28) and increasingly the nationalist element, represented by early Bolsheviks who believed in the Russian Revolution's potential to reform their own countries, becomes actively marginalized into an "anti-canon," and in colonial conditions, becomes the dissident canon, a ready-made fixation for the othered.

Consider the example of Vasyl Ellan's (Blakytnyj's) poem "After Kreizer Sonata":

"If only to put my head in her lap...
If only to feel her hand on my forehead..."
Let die
Even the memory of the tender ones on the earth.
We need nerves like wires,
Wishes like concrete,
We need stormy flight -
Thunder, fanfares' copper tone!
Somewhere a lonely violin
Grieves in the dusk...
We do not stop! Let it die!
We go! To marches. Upon the earth.

Ellan (real name Ellans'kyj) at the time this poem was written (1918) was one of the leaders of the Ukrainian Communist-Fighters Party so called after the title of their newspaper Fight, in the Leftist wing of the Ukrainian revolutionary movement. In 1919-1920 members of this party were active in Soviet Ukrainian institutions. Because of his nationalist loyalties, Ellan, who died of heart failure in 1925, was posthumously sentenced to death. The poem above, though definitely representing "reality in its revolutionary development," was not suitable for the Soviet canon, but is undoubtedly part of the post-Soviet Ukrainian one; a reassignment whose smoothness cannot fail to raise suspicion. The main institution of Soviet literary control - the Soviet Writers' Union - ceased to exist, but it has been replaced by market controls which, in Ukraine at least, rule almost exclusively over the publishing industry. While it is perhaps too hasty to speak of a "literary canon" while implying a certain continuity between state- and market-sanctioned publishing controls, is it perhaps timely to conceive of anti- and post-colonial literary "canons" as outcomes of an active othering process on behalf of the first-world West (or, in a particular case, a former metropoly)? This implies that a nation's post-colonial literary identification is received and not - at least not always - self-intended. In the Ukrainian case, the reaction against both the socialist-realist canon and the libertarian tradition reveals itself as a symptom of new globalism, a reaction against one and the same entity, the Othering of Russianized imperialism.

What lessons for post-colonial criticism can be learned from this enterprise? Tlostanova, whose primary focus is post-Soviet Russian gnosis and literary production, sees the post-Soviet phenomenon as the validation of critical cosmopolitanism with its "frontier thinking" and transculturation/creolization (29). However intriguing, thorough, and promising her approach, she does not offer a model of relation which would apply to any morphing of Western post-colonial scholarship in response to the same post-Soviet phenomena. One possibility of such a relation is the chance to overcome the opposition between he Western guilt and the subaltern rage perpetuated by the axioms of the reigning Eurocentric post-imperial model which marginalizes non-capitalist imperialisms. The Soviet Union, where racial difference was officially non-existent, language difference oscillating, and the capitalist model of expansion replaced with socialist ideals, offers the concept of diffused metropoly or, to stretch a glissantian term, a nomadic metropoly, which straddles individual cultures and geographies without ever gaining root in any single one. Soviet imperialism relied primarily on ideological teleology, which was frequently employed to deny any economic interest in expansion (cf. British imperialist discourse post-Boer war (30) ), and which produced, in effect, an imaginary metropoly sustained by local cultural agents. This concept might explain, for instance, the resistance of post-Soviet states to Western consumerism and liberal capitalist ideologies it incarnates. As the creolizing agent, it might also give scholars of the traditional post-colonialist mold a tool to pry themselves out of the Western metropolis' expansion box, critique the political discursive mechanisms that delineate it, and discover cosmopolitan, relational positions from which these mechanisms of First-world domination may be challenged. On the local scale, Ukrainian poets and their critics are moving beyond the early post-Soviet anti-everything stance, beyond nationalism, and into new articulations of post-Soviet post-nationalist identity produced in diverse conditions of open market, government sponsorship, Western sponsorship, and academia.


  1. Myroslav Shkandrij, Russia and Ukraine: Literature and the Discourse of Empire from Napoleonic to Postcolonial Times (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001).
  2. Shkandrij 274
  3. Vladimir Alpatov, "Modern Russia Doesn't Have Language Politics...," interview, Ab Imperio 2/2005: 108.
  4. Alpatov, 109.
  5. Mykola Ryabchuk, "'In Bed with an Elephant' or Colonial Heritage and Post-Colonial Heredity," Dzerkalo Tyzhnia June 4-10, 2005: - http://www.zn.kiev.ua/ie/print/50185/.
  6. Madina Tlostanova, Post-Soviet Literature and the Aesthetic of Transculturation: No Time to Live, No Place to Write from, (Postsovetskaia literature i estetika transkulturatsii: zhit nikogda, pisat niotkuda Moscow: Editorial URSS, 2004), p. 7.
  7. These attitudes towards the respective languages persist to this day, according to the study "Images of Languages and the Politics of Language and Identity in Ukraine: the Burden of the Past and Contestation in the Present," a study of Kharkiv students' language attitudes by Margrethe B. Sovik and Olga Philipova, Ab Imperio, 2/2005: 369-392.
  8. Madina Tlostanova, 7.
  9. Walter Mignolo, "On Gnosis and the Imaginary of the Modern/Colonial World System" in W. Mignolo, Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking; Princeton University Press, 2000.
  10. Tlostanova 6.
  11. For the concept of polyphony and the carnivalesque in literature, see Miklhail Bakhtin, Aesthetics of Verbal Art (Moscow:1979).
  12. Linda Hutcheon, "'Circling the Downspout of Empire': Post-Colonialims and Post-Modernism," Ariel 20.4, 1989:152.
  13. It is also curious to observe how much this obsession with the land, landscape and language displaces the concern with the actual institutions of statehood. Of course, prescribing aesthetic is a faulted enterprise, but there seems to be a distinguishable move towards the latter in the maturing post-colonial poetry: the Martinican poet Edward Glissant's "Black Salt" explores the pivotal role of the title commodity in European and African power structures; Irvanets's "Ode to a Hryvna" satirizes electoral fortunes behind the institution of the national currency; Hariett Mullen's "We are Not Responsible" exposes the policing function of airport language, among other things. This kind of engagement might be conditional upon a more immediate engagement with power mechanisms than the non-citizen colonial subject or the isolated Soviet citizen enjoy.
  14. Marko Pavlyshyn, "Ukrainian Literature and the Erotics of Postcolonialism: Some Modest Propositions" Harvard Ukrainian Studies v. 17, 1-2 1993: 117.
  15. Hutcheon 154.
  16. Hutcheon 163.
  17. Bill Ashkroft Post-Colonial Transformation, Routledge, 2001, p. 62.
  18. Ashkroft 75.
  19. Ibid., 75.
  20. Ashkroft 76.
  21. Shkandrij 263.
  22. Yuri Andrukhovych, "Letters to Ukraine," Chetver 3 1993: 55-75.
  23. Andrukhovych 63.
  24. Oksana Zabuzhko, "Woman Author in Colonial Culture" from Fortinbras's Chronicles: Selected Essays (2001), Ukrainian Center, 22 February 2003, 17 April 2005 - http://www.ukrcen ter.com/read.asp?id=694&read=true -
  25. For a discussion of this issue, see Oksana Yakushko, "Ambivalent Sexism and Relationship Patterns among Men and Women in Ukraine," Sex Roles v. 52 (9-10), May 2005.
  26. Tlostanova.
  27. Slavoj Žižek, Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and Critique of Ideology (Duke University Press, 1993):201.
  28. Žižek 231.
  29. Tlostanova 380.
  30. Andrew Thompson, "The Language of Imperialism and the Meanings of Empire: Imperial Discourse in British Politics, 1895-1914," Journal of British Studies Vol. 36, April 1997: 147-177.
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