8–9 December 2011, Helsinki
Venue: Finnish Literature Society (Hallituskatu 1)
Organizers: Under and Tuglas Literature Centre of Estonian Academy of Sciences,
Finnish Literature Society
The starting point for this seminar was the realisation that the genre of the historical novel has played a particular, distinct, and in many ways similar role in Finland and in Estonia. The parallels between the making of the national narratives of the neighbouring ‘young nations’ have been widely acknowledged, and yet they have not been much studied. Moreover, in both countries the idea that fiction has had, or still has a paramount role in the formation of national cultural memory and history culture is easily accepted but to a great extent unexplored. Both Finnish and Estonian nineteenth-century nationalists faced the situation that there were very few sources, heroes and events from the earlier periods which could be used for creating a glorious past. In Estonia especially there were even fewer that could be persuasively branded as ‘their own’. Thus, hand in hand with the collecting of folklore and heritage, historical fiction became the medium of cultural memory that prefigured many central narratives, tropes, motifs, heroes and events whereby historical consciousness was developed, transmitted and transformed. Historical fiction was also closely connected with academic history writing, the authors of both literary genres often being the same persons. In all these aspects Estonia and Finland bear close resemblance.
Needless to say the variances in social and political circumstances can be as thought-provoking as the similarities. As the course of history differs in Finland and in Estonia, one also finds differences in the available pasts and in the developments of national literatures. One noteworthy example is the prominence of historical fiction in Estonia from the 1970s onwards and the lack of a corresponding fictive boom in Finland. As such, Finland and Estonia pose promising case studies. The aim of the seminar, however, is not an overall comparison of the historical fiction genre in Estonia and in Finland, but the specific question, how the historical novel narrates the nation in these two cultures. Furthermore, it is probable that the results will allow insight into the development of the national narratives of ‘minor’ cultures in general.
During the seminar, we would like to address both thematic and theoretical questions concerning the following broad themes:
The nexus of fiction / historiography / cultural memory
One focus of interest could be the nexus of historical fiction, historiography and cultural memory. How do symbols, tropes and narratives travel between different representational genres – from historical novel to other forms of cultural memory, or vice versa? How do certain themes or periods become foci of interest? Where does the boundary between fictive and non-fictive representations lie in the Estonian and the Finnish history culture respectively?
Politics of memory
The latter issues can also be addressed from the social perspective. How does historical fiction relate to socio-political contexts: what concerns seem to have guided the choice of events, heroes, social milieus, etc? Which periods of history have been preferred and why? Which historical themes have been used to model moral politics, national values, family, gender, etc? How important has been the demarcation of the boundaries of the nation, and contrast with foreigners? What is fiction’s relationship to politics of memory and conflicting memories at different periods – this is especially important, if we consider the claims that in comparison with the objectifying and distancing light of professional history writing, fiction creates a more emotional relationship to the past?
The Poetics of Cultural Memory
Thirdly, we would like to focus on the poetical qualities that enable historical novel to function as a genre of cultural memory, and to be remarkably successful in creating patterns that are picked up by different media. What do the differences in the prominence of this genre in various cultures demonstrate about the role of historical fiction in negotiating cultural memory? How have the conventions of historical fiction changed in Finland and in Estonia and what has been the impact and import of other, 'bigger' literatures? What role has this genre played in the literary canons of the two countries in different periods? What has been the influence of the new forms of historical fiction at the end of the twentieth century? The cross-border traffic between fictive and non-fictive writing is again of interest here: we would also like to ponder if and under which circumstances the poetic models of fiction are sometimes adopted by academic historiography.
Information and contact:
Linda Kaljundi (See e-posti aadress on spämmirobotite eest kaitstud. Selle nägemiseks peab su veebilehitsejas olema JavaSkript sisse lülitatud.)
Ilona Pikkanen (See e-posti aadress on spämmirobotite eest kaitstud. Selle nägemiseks peab su veebilehitsejas olema JavaSkript sisse lülitatud.)