Yuri Andrukhovych on the cultural losers of the contemporary world

“But who would Joyce be if he wrote not in English but, say, in Albanian?”

It is not only the existence of Central Europe that can be called into question apparently, but of Europe itself. “Perhaps Europe as a single entity actually does not exist after all,” begins a lecture presented at last month’s European Literature Days by Ukrainian writer Yuri Andrukhovych.

The festival has received very little coverage as far as I can tell and the only mention of Andrukhovych’s fascinating speech was in the UK’s Independent where, oddly, his name was transliterated half in English (Yuri not Juri) and half in German (Andruchowtsch), which seems to make an unintentional point about European disunity.

Andrukhovych’s point – and you can read the lecture for yourself here – is that Europe’s cultural unity is a mirage. Out of this notion come a multitude of questions as well as a notable conclusion:

“Between the East (Russia, post-Soviet space) and the West (the so-called Old Europe) there lies something that is an east for the West and a west for the East. And precisely in this belt one finds the countries whose population speaks East Central European languages, and their writers consequently write in those languages their works.”

He then goes on to define these East Central Europeans as the “cultural losers of the contemporary world.” The basis of the regional curse is language or the various languages spread out among the small countries that make up the space between Germany and Russia. And though the talk is not exactly full of optimism it ends on a very East Central European form of hope, saying that the region’s literature is bound to survive because “to suffer a defeat is an incredibly important mission.”

Photo – Yuri Andrukhovych – copyright Susanne Schleyer/Suhrkamp Verlag

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Categories: Literary Events


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