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Rolandas Rastauskas (born in 1954) is a much-loved personality in Lithuanian literary circles, known affectionately as RoRa, the original dandy. He studied English as an undergraduate student, debuted as a playwright in the 1970s, and published several collections of poetry in the 1980s. He has won the National Prize for his essays, of which he published several collections, often reprinted from various newspapers and magazines that he has written for. However, theater has always been his true vocation, and as well as writing plays, he is also a director and a performer, often producing smaller-scale, but nonetheless very impressive and innovative projects. He currently works for the Lithuanian National Drama Theatre and continues to be everyone’s favorite character.

The essays published here are from his new collection Trečias tomas (The Third Tome, 2015)

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Rolandas Rastauskas, Trečias tomas. Vilnius, Apostrofa, 2015

Rolandas Rastauskas (b. 1954) is an essayist, poet, playwright, translator, a participant in numerous international cultural projects, and a consultant to art festivals. He is a columnist for a number of Lithuanian and foreign dailies and magazines: he wrote for Atgimimas in 1989–1990, for the Lietuvos rytas from 1993 to 2003, for Akiračiai (Chicago) in 2003–2004, and from 2005 he has been a columnist at Verslo klasė. Rastauskas was awarded the National Prize in Literature and Art for his books of essays Kitas pasaulis (Another World, 2004) and Privati teritorija (Private Territory, 2009). He is one of the most important essayists in Lithuanian literature. He hash a distinct individual style, pays attention to cultural reality and represents the eccentric character of an intellectual narrator-wanderer.

In Lithuania, the essay as a genre was reborn and achieved massive popularity after the re-establishment of independence in 1991. Key reasons for this phenomenon were the personal aspect in public discourse in general and the opportunity to openly voice personal, thus subjective, views on cultural and social issues that had been suppressed during the years of the Soviet occupation and highly valued in the early years of independence. Rastauskas’s texts in the weekly Atgimimas and in the highly popular and respectable at the time daily Lietuvos rytas were among the first examples of the reviving genre of the essay.

Šarūnas Nakas, a composer and the writer’s friend, who also belongs to the generation “stuck in the years of the cold war”, says that, in the field of Lithuanian litera- ture, Rastauskas is exceptional and at the same time “alien due to two reasons: first, due to his point, angle or perspective of view and, secondly, because of the means of expression [...]. He does not write about the village, is a total infidel, watches huge numbers of films, and is of the opinion that the age of the internet is much more significant that the previous epochs when the Lithuanian identity had been drawing its maturity from nothing, one could say. Yet it is Rastauskas who, like nobody else, precisely, lightly, and elegantly shows how this identity has been trans- forming, deforming, evolving, sliding, and melting during the recent decades”.[1]

Rastauskas’s work is both  profoundly  personal  and  based on  the  facts of the writer’s biography and the socio-cultural context, and literary, for it abounds in intertextuality  and cultural allusions. He applies an original technique of literary montage: the texts are deconstructed into parts the comparison of which creates the effect of dynamic motion and emphasizes the unexpected nature of thought and of the twists and turns of the plot. It stands out in the general con- text of Lithuanian essay writing for its concern about the cultural process and its changes. He also focuses on the colourful reality of various festivals, projects, his work in different theatres around the world (from Malme to Transylvania), and the changing reality of Lithuania and the Lithuanians. Rastauskas’s early texts, which describe the period of wild capitalism of the last decade of the twentieth century, are of special importance. To the reader of today, they open a phantasmagorical picture of the post-Soviet turmoil. In this respect, Rastauskas’s essays can be read as a cultural history of Eastern Europe of the recent decades, which consists of fragmentary yet telling details.

The distinguishing feature of his style is its fragmentary nature and the ability to speak in images and to avoid attitudinal commentaries.  The texts are deconstructed into segments, and the meaning lies not in the plot but in individual images and their connections. Aptly chosen metaphors and comparisons make it possible to create plastic “living pictures” that do not ask for additional commentaries. Frequently the essence or socio-cultural load of an object or a phenomenon is described in one phrase. For instance, unqualified aggressive young Lithuanian men who work abroad, often illegally, are called “Lithuanian horses with the hooves of Pumas”[2]. The comparison to a horse refers to their physical power, their rustic manner, and their primitive work,[3] while the hooves of a puma are an allusion to an ostensible level of luxury, as the men are wearing designer trainers.

The axis of the text is the narrator  who is mostly introduced as the writer’s alter ego, RoRa (abbreviated from the first two letters of his name and surname), Poet Griuvėsis (or Poet Wreck[4]). He is a wanderer, the French flâneur. He travels across different cultures and contexts without staying in any of them, without adoring or criticizing, not trying to adapt himself but observing them very closely. Everywhere the narrator goes he is one of their own and a stranger at the same time; his relation with the surroundings is gently ironical and somewhat melancholy.
The narrator’s key asset is freedom the consequences of which are not necessarily positive: “When we speak of European culture as creative work, we should not overlook the fact that its permanent companions were decadence, perversions, and demonism. [...] Only fascist countries, in one of which we lived so recently, can be sterile and totally moral”.[5] Culture and the individual are meaningful only when they can change: “in general, I have never felt the imperative ‘to define myself ’”, because “personal identity is indefinable”.[6] Such a notion is directly related to the de-personalization that used to dominate a totalitarian country, when an individual used to be seen as an abstract type, a statistical entity, a representative of a whole larger than himself. For the sake of this whole, the individual had to give up his individuality, even if sometimes they were destructive qualities (in RoRa’s case, parties, women, existential instability).

Rastauskas’ essays in the periodical press were published in three collections. The collection Kitas pasaulis[7] includes the texts written from 1993 to 2003. Here, the writer focuses on the formation of his own cultural and literary identity following the re-establishment of independence, and on the transformations of values and of lifestyle. Although a reader of today might find the socio-cultural realities of Lithuania rather gloomy, the narrator manages to find a playfully ironic perspective. The second collection of essays, Privati teritorija,[8] introduces the identity of the so-called Euro-Lithuanian. This is a resident of a former totalitarian empire who is learning how to live in a new empire of a different sort, Europe. A child of a sterile totalitarian environment finds himself in a space which is a mixture nations, languages, destinies, and cultures, and which always offers more than one possibility of choice.

Trečias tomas (The Third Tome)[9], the collection that was published in 2015, consists of essays and the so-called “other texts”. The latter are close to intellectual literary thrillers and to noir fiction, comical and at the same time spooky. For example, “Poeto Griuvėsio sugrįžimas” (The Return of Poet Griuvėsis)[10] is about the poet-adventurer Griuvėsis and Agent Derek, a shady type and a former bodyguard who is carrying out some obscure mission in Luxembourg. The action takes place in
a Luxembourg theatre and in stylish dens; among the characters there are women and men “with a past”, a spy-barman, a world-renowned actress, and a famous Lithuanian  model. The specific tension and magical, almost fairy-tale atmosphere in which absolutely anything can happen are brought about by the “Soviet past” of the main characters.

In general, the texts of Trečias tomas abound in realities of Soviet and post-Soviet experience. Differently from the previous collections, this material is no longer the actual reality but what settles in the mind and passes through its filters that add a bizarre touch to everything. Thus if two earlier volumes are dominated by the genre of the reportage and current events, the third one takes a turn towards the literature of memory.

On the other hand, Trečias tomas contains some classic essays, such as, for instance, “Rhododendron ferrugineum”[11]. In them, focus is laid on the subject and his inner transformations that take place during his travels, or when he gets to know other people, when he loves and creates. A topic or an emotion is disclosed with the help of a constellation of mutually associated episodes and events the realism of which, differently from noir fiction, does not raise doubts.

 

1. Šarūnas Nakas, “Kas yra Rolandas Rastauskas?” [Who is Rolandas Rastauskas?], Literatūra ir menas, 24 December 2010.

2. “Poeto Griuvėsio sugrįžimas” [The Return of Poet Griuvėsis], Trečias tomas, Vilnius: Apostrofa, 2015, 23.

3. In Lithuanian, “to plough like a horse” means to do inferior, poorly-paid physical labour.

4. „Griuvėsis“ – means wreck, rubble in Lithuanian

5. “Pirmoji frazė” [The First Phrase], Kitas pasaulis, Vilnius: Apostrofa,

6. “Ta nepakeliama eurolengvybė” [The Unbearable Euro-lightness], Privati teritorija, Vilnius: Apostrofa, 2009, 13.

7. Kitas pasaulis, Vilnius: Apostrofa, 2004.

8. Privati teritorija, Vilnius: Apostrofa, 2009.

9. Trečias tomas, Vilnius: Apostrofa, 2015.

10. “Poeto Griuvėsio sugrįžimas”, Trečias tomas, 2015, 15-45.

11. “Rhododendron ferrugineum”, ibid., 122-126.

Rolandas Rastauskas, Trečias tomas. Vilnius, Apostrofa, 2015

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