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Giedra Radvilavičiūtė

Giedra Radvilavičiūtė was born in 1960 in Panevėžys. She graduated from Vilnius University with a degree in Lithuanian language and literature and for some time was teaching literature in a school and briefly doing research work in the USA. Her writing career began in the late 1990s, when she started publishing essays in the cultural press. She debuted with five of her essays in a collective essay selection Siužetą siūlau nušauti (2002)
She is the author of three books of essays: Suplanuotos akimirkos (2004), Šianakt aš miegosiu prie sienos (Tonight I Shall Sleep by the Wall, 2010, European Union Prize for Literature in 2012) and Tekstų persekiojimas (2018).
Her essays deal with everyday experiences, which are transformed as if by magic into wonderful spectacles. She often discusses the situation of women, and questions various cultural and social stereotypes of the woman. She is a distinctive an excellent stylist and is quite frank and personal in her literary work.
Giedra Radvilavičiūtė is a recipient of Lithuanian National Prize of Culture and Arts. She lives in Vilnius.

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Giedra Radvilaviciute review 02

Giedra Radvilavičiūtė, Tekstų persekiojimas: esė apie rašytojus ir žmones (Text Persecution: Essays on Writers and People), Vilnius: Apostrofa, 2018

Fans of Giedra Radvilavičiūtė have waited for eight whole years for a new book to be released. Before this one, the writer published two personal collections. The second—Šiąnakt aš miegosiu prie sienos (Tonight I’m Sleeping by the Wall)—was awarded the European Union Prize for Literature, while in 2015 Radvilavičiūtė received the National Culture and Art Award—one of the biggest national cultural awards—for her body of essays. Her output may be scarce (not more than a few texts ever year or two), but each piece is met with great enthusiasm by her loyal fans and is followed by discussion.

Radvilavičiūtė’s texts are written in a form of prose that has been very popular in Lithuania for more than a decade—the fictional essay. Contrary to the common Western understanding, these essays are not based on reflection or discussion of a problem; rather, they are literary narratives, closer to short stories or novelettes. Intertwining autobiographical details, contexts and wordplay often make them difficult to translate, and even translated they are not easy to read. Most of these essays—and especially those written by Radvilavičiūtė—create a literary self-portrait, establishing an identity whose life is inseparable from texts. She not only reads them but inhabits them as if they were real; a known example is how she is drinking wine in the kitchen with Nabokov and starts an affair with him. According to Aistė Kučinskienė, a researcher of Spanish and Lithuanian literature, this could be considered Lithuania’s own form of magical realism. What joins this magical realism with the autobiographical aspect inherent in an essay is the narrator of Radvilavičiūtė’s texts—a middle-aged woman contemplating both her age and the world, which appears strange and can often only be understood as a paradox.

In the context of Post-Soviet Lithuanian literature, Radvilavičiūtė’s texts are interesting precisely for their notion of “autobiobiographicality.” Nearly every experience or life event is presented as already having been written down. For instance, in one of the second collection’s texts the writer quotes an Estonian novel where an old lady loses her mind out of sorrow, but only after a couple of pages the same quote about the insane grandmother is used in a personal family story of exile. “One can only live through something they have already read” is a frequent standpoint among important Lithuanian essay writers of the 90s and the 00s (examples include Rolandas Rastauskas and Kęstutis Navakas).

Radvilavičiūtė’s last book challenges this conception, however, reflecting a drift in the Lithuanian essay writing tradition. The receding aspect of textual autobiography gradually leaves more space for intellectual essays, written in the style of George Orwell and Adam Zagajewski. No story of the narrator’s life and daily routine is told, in contrast to the earlier collections.

Tekstų persekiojimas: esė apie rašytojus ir žmones is divided into three parts. The first is made up of essayistic reviews of Lithuanian and foreign authors’ work (Alice Munro, Vladimir Nabokov, Danutė Kalinauskaitė, Kęstutis Navakas and others). As in Radvilavičiūtė’s personal texts, the focus is on the literary aspect—the purity of style, intertextuality, and textual multi-facetedness. The writer is not forming her idea of ars poetica anymore. She restates it for at least the third time: literature’s quality is not defined either by its genre or by its topics, but only the perfection of language.

The second part of the book consists of orphaned texts Radvilavičiūtė has been publishing since 2012 but never included in any collection. They mainly criticize the Lithuanian public scene, with Radvilavičiūtė reacting to controversial events in Lithuania (for example, Romeo Castellucci’s performance of On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God at the Sirenos festival in 2012 or the the political and social pedophilia scandal that began in Garliava [a suburb of Kaunas] in the same year). The aspect of textual quality is also maintained in those pieces—they’re ironic, literary. But the fictional and autobiographical elements of earlier pieces completely disappear. On the contrary, we are sure we are presented with a real person’s—Giedra Radvilavičiūtė’s—authentic opinion of concrete issues. The clearly defined topics and unambiguous reactions bring Radvilavičiūtė’s writing closer to both journalistic and intellectual essays. At the same time, in the context of the textual identity observed in the earlier collections, she explicitly separates spheres of art and reality, creating a clear hierarchy in the cultural arena and clearly establishing her place in culture in general. This stance indicates a higher level of reflection/consciousness and a distance from the contemplated object that it requires. However, paradoxically, this consciousness also decreases: due to the revived separation of the higher and lower cultures, the scope and variety of texts that can participate in experience and life are significantly reduced, establishing an identity based on isolation: one can exist only through dissociation from the other. One such example: “Anything can be straightforward in low-quality art, not only contrasts but also parallels. And those can be found not only in infantile ‘pop,’ like Castellucci’s show, but also in really good artwork.”

The third part of the collection, the shortest and most recent, consists of literary essays that plot-wise become a compilation of posthumous texts written by the narrator of the two previous collections (think of the common tendency to publish an author’s unpublished/unprinted/unknown texts after their death—especially in the case of cultural agents). In Radvilavičiūtė’s first collection, Suplanuotos akimirkos (Planned moments, 2004), the narrator is travelling and mingling, the main collisions and sketches of text emerging from encounters of various oppositions. In the second collection published in 2012, the narrator seems to have lived through her whole life and finally dies: the last essay is the now-dead narrator’s obituary, told by another narrator—one who appears to be living in the same body but is completely different, with contrasting views and experiences. The literary part of the third collection is made up purely of essays published in the cultural press and the essay “Tik balsas” (Voice only). This text is categorized as an obituary by the narrator, who is participating in an obituary evaluation contest and lists the traits of a good obit. Until the end it is not fully clear whose death this obituary should be lamenting, but eventually a distinction is made between interaction—vocal conversation and writing—leaving signs in virtual space. And precisely these signs become a self-obituary of all those writing them: every text, every post in a social network could be the last and might therefore define your entire life. At the same time, there is no voice in social space: nobody can verify your existence. Just like Radvilavičiūtė’s narrator, you can evaluate obituaries, reiterate previously expressed criteria for a well-written text (this is what the second author’s collection begins with), but it might not be fingers clacking across a keyboard but mere electric waves sent out by a restless spirit instead. We can’t see each other in virtual space anyway.

The narrator’s death and afterlife—her epilogue—can be metaphorically regarded as the evanescence of an identity or its relevance. Life only based on texts is not or shouldn’t be a safe refuge from social reality anymore. We must come down from the ivory tower and “start to fight.” Who exactly is this fight against? The essays do not say, and there is no point for them to do so. Rather, it’s the attitude itself that is relevant here, while its impact can be felt in both academic disciplines (orientation to interdisciplinarity, sociability, and a broader understanding of politics, all those topics gravitating towards intellectual trends—even in the fairly isolated humanitarian sciences) and other arts, like photography. In regard to Radvilavičiūtė, it is important to note that the shift in her works is far from a “revolutionary” gesture: it is rather a defensive one, meant to strengthen her positions with values—a pillar upheld by solid cultural capital (recognition significant on both national and international scales). There is a transition from the exploring and creative phase to preservation and conservation, so that “order” can take over “chaos”—like the settling of pop culture and the expansion of the virtual world.

Foreign readers might find Radvilavičiūtė interesting as a perfect example of Post-Soviet cultural identity development. It seems like the immersion into texts, the patchwork references of eminent literature for every experience or thought of her own was necessary precisely for her to start using a personal voice—to form a clear, reasoned statement and stand for it. Lastly, Radvilavičiūtė’s essays prove that storytelling and discussing ideas are not two separate literary genres, as many would say. They are both methods of world cognition, determining each other’s possibility. If you’re capable of telling a story, you’ll be capable of reasoned argument, or perhaps your story will become your argument. And this is indeed a modern approach, suiting the twenty-first century—an age of PR, ads, and “little histories.”

 

 

 

 

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