BULGARIAN LITERATURE: CROSSROAD AND CRUCIFIX
Let me first welcome you to our country. Each one of you has got one's own reason to choose exactly Bulgaria to be the place for spending a Fulbright year. I know how exciting and rewarding this year can be and should be. All of a sudden, though, this positive disposition was tragically marked by September 11th. Your visit was threatened, threatened was the very possibility for living in a peaceful, democratic, globalized world. You are here now; the possibility has been restored. And all of us realize now that the idea of Fulbright has come to mean more.
I am here today to introduce you to our literature. Let me immediately tell you that I do not consider my task in terms of drawing an exotic flower in front of you - outlining the stem, leaves and petals in a way that may look attractive, but will perform a somehow unaccustomed view; painting in the contours with colors that may seem pretty or ugly or simply strange, but will definitely leave you distant. This is, of course, possible. I would rather start, though, by putting a special emphasis on a peculiarity of our literature which places it adequately in foreign contexts, provokes intercultural parallels and thus opens a horizon of familiarity. The peculiarity I have in mind is Bulgarian literature's OPENNESS: openness towards cultural surroundings, towards far away cultural phenomena, a vivid interest throughout the ages of its existence towards everything happening in the world of spirit. The problem of self-identity has always been a nonprovincial one for our literature; the very acuteness of this problem, of literary identity being painfully lost and even more painfully regained and reformed, indicates a constant awareness of being among others, a constant need for communicating with others. Interculturality has always been an intrinsic impulse of our literature; its springing out of a crossroad soil has predestined its character. Even during the half-century-long political stagnation ways were sought after and often found in order for the compulsory spiritual fasting under the communist regime to be partially overcome.
I would also point out here the additional motivation provided by language. Bulgarian is a small language, has always been a small language, and this fact naturally tends towards a closed status of cultural existence. Quite on the contrary, though, it works only stimulatingly towards a cultural and, of course, literary openness, since a mechanism of compensation, of "keeping in pace with" is and has always been activated. This is to say that the notion of "world's literature", to use Goethe's term, is inherent in Bulgarian literature and this is the way it considers itself and is to be viewed upon.
A few years ago US writer Gloria Anzaldua introduced the metaphor of the Borderland, defining it as "a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary and being in a constant state of transition". We, Bulgarians, have faced a lot of unnatural boundaries of different kinds - and, chiefly by literary means, have been lifting them, or opening them. Hence my metaphor.
Let us now look at the nonalien flower of Bulgarian literature. It has grown and gained its strength and beauty on a crossroad Balkan soil. But the prettiness of its blossoms might be appreciated in a Plymouth plantation as well.
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Old Bulgarian literature is the oldest Slavic literature. Dating from the 9th century, it has strongly influenced the development of other Slavic literatures, especially those of Russians and Serbs. Romanian literature also shares a lot of that influence. Corresponding in time to the European Middle Ages, this oldest period in our cultural history is especially centered around one extraordinary event - the creation of the Bulgarian alphabet and, immediately afterwards, of Bulgarian literature written in the Bulgarian language and in specifically Bulgarian letters. In the 9th century the Bulgarians, newly converted into Christianity, were the first people in the Eastern Orthodox world to introduce the Cyrillic alphabet and to start writing books in it. The alphabet has been usually attributed to the brothers Saints Constantine (Cyril) and Methodius, Byzantine philosophers and scholars. But most probably the brothers created the highly elaborated Glagolitic alphabet, while their disciples in Bulgaria, most outstanding among whom was St. Kliment of Ohrid, created the Cyrillic alphabet, naming it after their teacher St. Cyril. The significance of the new letters was highly praised, odes were written in celebration of this historical deed, which was cherished not simply as patriotic, but mainly in terms of "untying the tongue and teaching reason", as Chernorizetz Khrabr puts it in his "Account of Letters". The Bible and lots of other Christian books were first translated into Bulgarian, and new books were written in the old Bulgarian language. The very capability of reading and writing in ones own language was seen as a means of making the Word of God intelligible, since all the Christian readings beforehand have been in Greek, i.e. unpenetratable. Translation acquired a special status - that of opening the mind for the Word of God, of widening the spiritual horizon for the great world of Christianity. (We might remember here that six centuries were to pass before Martin Luther was born.) In other words, Old Bulgarian literature together with the translations of Christian texts in the Old Bulgarian language did not only reach the highest peaks of spiritual and literary values, but did open the eyes and minds for truths invisible beforehand, thus incorporating the Bulgarians into a wide Christian and cultural community. (It is quite problematic if nowadays, in the world of Internet, we can go on sticking to the traditional terms of justifying the Cyrillic alphabet.) In late 10th century, i.e. more than a hundred years after they were written or translated into Bulgarian, the old Bulgarian books were brought to Russia and became the bridge between Byzantine and Russian culture. This fact, togetherwith the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet, was decades long underestimated by Soviet scholars.
In 1397 Bulgaria was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and ceased to exist for almost five hundred years. The medieval Bulgarian artistic world, together with the aristocracy, was completely destroyed by the invaders. So, until the 18th century Bulgarian medieval culture consisted mainly of folk songs, transcripts of Gospels hand-written by monks, and some church murals imitating the old Byzantine tradition. With the damascenes, named so after a Greek author from the 16th century and written in Middle-Bulgarian language already, began the secularization of the then smoldering Bulgarian literature. And thus some of the preconditions for a Bulgarian Renaissance were laid out.
The actual beginning of a Bulgarian renaissance literature and culture did actually come some two centuries later, its initial date usually considered the year of 1762, when the monk Paisii of Chilendar wrote his "Slav-Bulgarian History". With this work most of the forms of medieval writings were left off and the birth of a new consciousness was proclaimed. This consciousness was the national one. Paisii turned his gaze back, towards the heroic Bulgarian past, pathetically asking his contemporaries why were they ashamed of calling themselves Bulgarians. Reviving the long-forgotten past, the Chilendar monk made it clear - rationally, but also highly artistically - that there were only reasons for his people to be proud with their Bulgarian origin. The idea of waking up the asleep, of opening the eyes and not allowing them to be shut again, of keeping constantly on the alert in order for the moment, life, national identity to be grasped and never ever forsaken again, is central for this work. Although called a "History", it actually offers a brilliant piece of literature. And, of course, a brilliant opening of an age, whose character and tendencies it outlined and predestined.
Dominated as a whole by the national idea, Bulgaria's Renaissance was marked throughout by an insatiable strive for learning. The cult for knowledge combined perfectly with the ripening will for national liberation, enlightenment being considered a necessity for the growing of a nationally oriented consciousness and self-consciousness. Lots of schoolbooks were written or translated, Bulgarian schools opened, periodicals started coming out, journalism became a prestigious profession. Economic preconditions here are not to be forgotten, of course - in the decaying Ottoman empire of the early 19th century the trades and the crafts were largely Bulgarian business, together with the traditional stock of breeding and farming. It became possible for many Bulgarian youths to get their education in Europe - in St. Petersburg, in Odessa or in Vienna - and so to become aware of the modern liberal ideas and cultural trends of their time. It was then common for young Bulgarian intellectuals to be fluent in Russian, French, German, not to speak about Turkish, Greek or Romanian. The thick veil of slavery blindness was being torn. Bulgarian culture was gradually lifting the boundaries between itself and the world outside the Ottoman empire, considering the achievement of national identity first of all in terms of cultural openness. In other words, to be Bulgarian meant not only to acquire the knowledge about your heroic historical past, but also to show the world that you belong to it. Or, as one of our chief revolutionaries, Georgi Benkovski, put it, "it is significant that we win, but it is even more significant that the world knows we exist". The problem of being oneself, both as a person and as a Bulgarian, meant a constant awareness of the other, i.e. a constant awareness of otherness. Bulgaria's national liberation was initially gained in and by those awakened minds, that shed off sleep and blindness and kept eyes wide open. It was first of all a spiritual achievement. Which would be a literary achievement as well.
Bulgarian renaissance literature was entirely revolutionary oriented, subdued to the aims of national enlightenment and liberation. Therefore it clearly defined its central personage - the heroic fighter against social and political injustice, against slavery and alien dominance, the brave and dedicated revolutionary. Romantically featured, as it can easily be supposed, he was present in almost all the literary works of the time and in all the genres, developed by early 19th century Bulgarian literature. As for the generic picture, it was in a short period of time configurated as quite a rich one, consisting of poetry, drama, short stories, short novels, etc. By mid-19th century Bulgarian literature is agreed upon to have been entirely formed in terms of national and literary self-identity. A special figure of the author was cut according to the characteristics already pointed out - the figure of the patriot-poet, whose writer's role was considered subsidiary to the great patriotic deed of the nation. This was an understanding to be very soon overcome. But still in the late 1870s it curiously intermingled with the understanding for the one and only positive fictional figure of the time. Christo Botev (1848 - 1876), a poet of genius, who left some twenty superb poems and was shot at the age of 28 as a revolutionary leader, presented a romantic art/life unification - the artist taking upon himself, in his nonfictional existence, the role of the dedicated fighter for the national cause; i.e. the poet himself turned into the typical romantic hero.
Christo Botev's outstanding poetry, itself a continuation of the style and vision of the folk songs, outlines another characteristic feature of Bulgarian renaissance literature - its reverence before the folklore tradition. Bulgarian folklore was mostly cherished by each and every writer of the time, its newly discovered attraction being considered as equivalent to revisiting the past or retracing the national roots. Folklore provided a powerful national identity formula. This tendency for overestimating folklore was on the one hand productive, but on the other hand it was threatening to impose upon literature self-chosen cultural boundaries. Bulgarian renaissance literature, though, once again proved itself as having a strong self-preserving instinct: it incorporated a real flood of translations and turned them into a vivid part of itself. Lots of European authors came out in Bulgarian - some of them translated from the original, others retranslated from other languages. Thus a tendency towards a cultural closeness was counterbalanced. French, German, Italian, Russian authors became a part of the Bulgarian literary consciousness. And an interesting fact here - the only English-language author that was published in Bulgarian at the time was an American, Benjamin Franklin. His "Poor Richard's Almanac" must have touched the Bulgarian mind in its process of deep reforming, when self-made men were needed, knowledge was a cult and success was more than usually wished for and fought for.
Let us now look upon Bulgarian Renaissance from a broader prospective. Covering the period from mid-18th to mid-19th century it is obviously late in comparison with West-European Renaissance. Also obviously it doesn't have too much in common with it except for the total secularization of its culture. It does have similarities, though, with the European and the American 18th century, with the optimistic disposition of the Age of Reason, sharing its cult for rationality and practically useful knowledge. The words "enlightenment" or "reason" fit entirely as intrinsic characteristics of the cultural epoch. But the same goes for the word "romantic" which was not purposelessly used so far. Spanning through more than a half of the 19th century, this key-period of Bulgarian culture and literature could not but feel deep romantic influences. If individualism was not its typical characteristic, it was because it was replaced by the national ideal; if the personal ego was none of its interests, the national ego was. It did not look back towards medieval ruins, but discovered the solid background of folklore and the truthfulness and beauty of Nature. Romantic heroes romantically dying marked it throughout. It is clear that this period presents quite a mixture of cultural and literary influences and tendencies, so that naming it "Renaissance" is justified more or less in metaphorical terms. But let me here draw a slight parallel.
The first decades of the 19th century in US literature are in a great measure dedicated to defining the notion of "Americanness" in the American cultural consciousness (think of Emerson and Whitman), dedicated to seeing wilderness as the newly established Holy Land (think of Thoreau), to reviving the myth of the great forefathers (think of Emerson and Thoreau again), to reformulating the recent American past (think of Hawthorne), to cherishing the values of true living in the midst of Nature (Thoreau, Emerson, Margaret Fuller). The idea of awakening the asleep - though, of course, born in a different cultural and ideological context, - is almost emblematic for the period. "I do not propose to write an ode to dejection," - goes one of the most often quoted passages from Thoreau's Walden - "but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only TO WAKE MY NEIGHBORS UP." Transcending the senses towards a true vision or visibility beyond the visible - this is what all those writers proclaimed and, like the Emersonian Poet-Priest, taught in their artistic sermons. Hence the usually used naming for this period of flourishing intellectual and poetical genius - American Transcendentalism. But the first few decades of the 19th century - with a little broadening of the horizon outside Massachusetts and without underestimating their debt to 18th century Unitarian tradition of rational thinking - are also known in American literary history as American Romanticism. Obviously too complex a time can never be entirely satisfied with a label. And I would point out here that the first American critical work on the period, written in Harvard by B.O. Mathiessen in 1940, has got quite an indicative title - The American Renaissance.
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And now back to Bulgarian Literature and its characteristics after the national liberation in 1878. The key-figure, linking together Renaissance and postliberation literature, is that of the venerable Patriarch of Bulgarian literature - Ivan Vazov (1850-1921). The great national bard of the late 19th century, Vazov was a very prolific poet and fiction writer. He is the author of the first Bulgarian novel, Under the Yoke. Vazov may be compared to the French writer Victor Hugo, under whose literary influence he actually was and like whom he left no genre untried. In his poetry Vazov used widely and masterly European accentual-syllabic, rhymed verse, but aimed at continuing the national tradition too. For more than fifty years after the Liberation he was the most prominent figure in Bulgarian literature. Considering the social mission of literature an organic part of the nation's life and fate, Vazov wrote his most compelling works to glory Bulgaria's national reawakening and to articulate the ideas of the recent past, lest they be forgotten by postliberation society. Besides his great poems about the heroes of the liberation movement, Epopee of the Forgotten Ones, he wrote compelling verse, mourning the Bulgarian losses in the Balkan wars of the beginning of the 20th century. Vazov's wonderful celebrations of Bulgarian nature, as well as his brilliant short and longer stories, also deserve to be specially pointed out in order for a universal artistic talent to be dully presented. The head to foot patriot that he was, Vazov had his one and only vocation - literature. He was the one to professionalize writing in Bulgaria. Erasing the renaissance formula of the patriot-poet for whom writing was a by-process, he switched the accent to the formula of the poet-patriot for whom there was no other occupation except for writing. This was a new understanding of the author and the author's role, which, together with his ability to incorporate into his works Bulgaria's traditions, history, morality, and national spirit, unquestionably made Vazov Bulgaria's national poet.
Although Ivan Vazov was the dominant figure of the time, there is also another writer, who occupies a very special place in the history of late 19th-century Bulgarian literature. Aleko Konstantinov (1863-1897) carved out an important literary niche for himself as a humorist and social commentator during a period of political turmoil in newly liberated Bulgaria. His chief literary creation, Bay Ganyo, ranks among the best known literary figures in Bulgaria as the distillation of all that is most unattractive in the Bulgarian character. Moreover, something unusual happened to this personage - drawn with so vivid a humor that grows more and more bitter through the book, Bay Ganyo slipped out of the literary piece and started living on his own right, became a literary outsider and a social insider and poor emblem. So much, that when Aleko Konstantinov died at the hand of a political assassin at the age of 34, it was said, that Bay Ganyo had killed him. The figure of Bay Ganyo, though, offers quite a psychological, historical and literary riddle and actually affords no easy comments.
Unlike Vazov, Aleko Konstantinov was a citizen of the world. A refined intellectual, highly proficient in French, he traveled a lot, loved traveling, loved "walking". The openness of his vision might be considered one of the chief reasons for his uncomparably deep insight into the Bulgarian character. Aleko did not only travel along Europe, but was also the first Bulgarian writer to visit the United States. His book "To Chicago and Backwards" offers quite an interesting crossings of cultural perspectives together with a fascinating description of a dream that had come true - Niagara Falls.
With Aleko Konstantinov the inherent openness of Bulgarian literature started losing its chiefly metaphorical nature and acquiring real dimensions. This was a tradition to be followed, a horizon to be looked at and beyond. The path only happened to be different. The emphasis was switched from the "what" of literature to its "how". In other words, the literary novelty was already primarily considered as a constant awareness on the part of both writer and reader of the "literariness" of the work of literature. And although the realistic trend remained the strongest in Bulgarian literature, around the turn of the 19th and during the first decades of the 20th century it was mostly preoccupied with European literary modernism. The time had come for the Bulgarian writer to start listening to "the different drummer" of his contemporary European literature.
A most important cultural event of the time was the journal for literature and philosophy "Misal" ("Thought"), which came out first in 1898 and was issued for about fifteen years. Its founder, Dr. Krustyu Krustev, had studied philosophy, aesthetics and literature in Germany and was an inveterate Kantian; its leading figure, the poet Pencho Slaveykov, had received the same education in Germany, shared Nietzsche's understanding for the individual superpowers and was the one who did the first Bulgarian translation of Zarathustra. For Slaveykov the antinomy "man and superman", well discussed then among many of his European contemporaries, took on the form of an opposition between "poet and crowd". Thus an elitist concept of the creative personality was introduced in our culture. And although Slaveykov and Dr. Krustev did have their readers, they were convinced their reading audience was yet to come and never failed to point out that their writing were aimed at future generations. This purely intellectual trend, known as Bulgarian aestheticism, is the first in Bulgarian literature to proclaim the self-isolation of the author as well as art for art's sake. It was a Bulgarian echo of Oscar Wild's aesthetical credo: "Art is useless". From now on the door was widely open for European modernism.
A great Bulgarian poet, Peyo Yavorov (1877-1914), was one of the group around "Misal". Usually referred to as a symbolist, he actually presented for his fellow-intellectuals their own ideal for the modern poet. Yavorov did not have their education and their aesthetical training; it was his poetical genius that covered their requirements and endowed him with the artistic superpowers they were eager to see.
Just like Ralph Waldo Emerson saw at the time his Poet with capital "P" in Walt Whitman and proclaimed that his formula of the Poet-Priest had finally come to life, the "Misal" intellectuals were grateful to find an embodiment of their aesthetical concepts. Truly though, Yavorov's enormous poetical gift belonged to a definitely modernist disposition and tended towards a symbolist expression. There is a symbol in the Bulgarian literary consciousness immediately provoked when Yavorov's name is mentioned - that of the "two pretty eyes". The poem with the same title has always been highly praised by the critic for its mirror composition and is unquestionably one of our poetic masterpieces. Yavorov's poetry reveals everywhere a clear "philosophy of composition", to put it in Edgar Allan Poe's words; turning itself into continuous sonority, it especially cherishes a closeness between word and music, the musical sounding of the poetic expression. Thus in the beginning of the 20th century Yavorov's poetry laid out the foundations of a Bulgarian symbolism. Up until the early 1930s it was to become a major literary trend and have its other brilliant representatives, such as the poets Nikolay Liliev, Theodor Trayanov, Dimitar Boyadzhiev.
And here I would like to draw your attention to an interesting cultural fact, that actually speaks for itself. In the early 20s, when Bulgarian symbolism had already reached a well shaped poetic status, a translation was done, that broadened its scope towards the very roots of literary symbolism. This translation, itself a masterpiece, was done by the same person, who did Baudelaire, Verlaine and Rimbaud into Bulgarian, and was published simultaneously with the French symbolists. I am talking, of course, of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven". As it is known, this poem was introduced to European literature by Charles Baudelaire, who appreciated its "sonorous effect" and "philosophy of composition" and declared its author to be the forefather of modernism. And so it happened, that the erudition and the talent of the Bulgarian poet and translator Georgi Mikhailov brought to life the different stages of literary tradition exactly when this tradition was needed in our literature. Thus an American translation came to express the inherent openness of Bulgarian literature in order to place it adequately in a broader literary context.
The first four decades of the 20th century were a time rather compressed for Bulgarian literature, since then it went through almost all the -isms of 19th- and 20th-century European culture: symbolism, expressionism (Geo Milev), futurism, diabolism (Svetoslav Minkov), imaginism, etc. It proved itself even able to provide an original form of anti-symbolism, offered by the objectivist poetry of Atanas Dalchev (1904-1977) - an outstanding, philosophically minded poet-erudite. Bulgarian literature of the period was sometimes late in comparison with the well-developed West-European literatures, sometimes it managed to keep pace with them, in both cases presenting quite a complicated and many-colored picture. In order for its many-sided nature to be grasped, several attempts were made by literary critics towards finding the right critical formula. One of those formulas, for example, dating from the 60s, suggested "the quickened development of Bulgarian literature" (Georgi Gachev). Since it obviously imposed foreign measures on Bulgarian literature, it was immediately attacked and a compromise was reached in terms of using the adjective "Bulgarian" when talking about one or another literary trend of the period. Moreover it was clear, that speaking only about trends as they existed in European literature makes great Bulgarian writers of the time, such as Elin Pelin or Yordan Yovkov, simply slip out of the formula. However considered, though, there is no question that Bulgarian literature from the first four decades of the 20th century answered all European literary standards and at the same time reformulated its own national identity.
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Bulgarian literature under the five decades of totalitarianism is still too close to be unemotionally talked about. The people from my generation, not to speak of older ones, have still lived longer under the socialist regime than in democracy. We have never needed a temporal distance, though, in order to be able to rationally judge; we can only still not speak about it in cold blood.
The greatest number of political killings in modern Bulgarian history were committed after World War II, beginning from the very day the country was invaded by the Red Army - September 9, 1944. Under the disguise of anti-Fascism, the communists, instructed directly from Stalin, staged many political trials, not only against real war criminals and Nazis, but against all anti-communists and pro-Western democrats, too. Other tens of hundreds innocent people, mostly intellectuals, were killed even without a trial all over Bulgaria. One of our best novelists of the 1950s, Dimitar Talev, was sent to a political camp and forced to the hardest possible labor; he passed away soon after he was freed.
Political assassinations were not necessarily physical. Dimitar Dimov's "Tobacco", a great novel of the early 50s, was strongly criticized from the viewpoint of "socialist realism" and eventually Dimov was forced to make his novel more "politically correct" by including characters from the working class and the communist movement. A specially appointed literary critic worked with Dimov. The original version of "Tobacco" reappeared only in the beginning of the 1990s, long after the author had died.
Let us now turn to the forms of spiritual survival. Because it was for them, who managed to spiritually and morally survive and keep their own personality, that Bulgaria had its valuable literature under the regime, and not for the floods of mediocre and obedient members of the Writers' Union. There were some, of course, who managed to leave the country and preserve themselves as emigrants, among them the internationally renowned literary critics Tzvetan Todorov and Julia Kristeva. There were more who stayed, though.
Political convictions, evolving from moral attitudes, were not directly expressible under the socialist dictatorship. Hence a way to literary express oneself became a notional, kind of transcendental poetry and prose, like that of Blaga Dimitrova, Konstantin Pavlov, Boris Hristov. There was also the so called "objectivist writing" of Valeri Petrov or Radoi Ralin, which was more or less the reverse side of the notional one. Literature was considered by such authors to be the only means of achieving what was actually unachievable. "I thought I lived in order to accomplish in books, in an indirect poetic way some part of the freedom I would never see, I would never experience", wrote Dimitar Korudzhiev in an essay from the early 1990s. Socialist reality looked frozen and unchangeable and so dissatisfaction with it took on the form of poetically transformed activity. "Something must happen - / in our verse at least", proclaimed Boris Hristov and thus pointed out the role poetry was undertaking when actual life looked like a vacuum, designed specially for the annihilation of any kind of human vividness. The communist regime seemed to have provided an eternity - a dead eternity, that was draining out lives, dreams, talents. "A collective dream on the parade square", Konstantin Pavlov put it and then added in order to enrich this image of life under the regime: "Even dreams are needless already. / Someone else will dream for me."
The very nature of literature was being loaded at the time with the additional significance of spiritual salvation. What was different in this otherwise traditional concept of literature was the desperateness it was grasped with as a solution to living under socialism. The poetic vision so perceived can therefore be considered in terms of a counter-official ideology and a counter-official creativity in general.
The same counted also for literary translation. It was considered a morally motivated, dignified art-life choice of avoiding painful realities and experiencing wished-for otherness. Thus literary translation provided another indirect way for self-expression - such was the case, for instance, of the talented Bulgarian translator of William Faulkner, Krustan Dyankov. Except for the personal side of the matter concerning the translator, literary translation had a very significant role under socialism for the preservation of our literature. Especially during the last two decades of the regime, when - in a way - it counterbalanced cultural stagnation. Not that the censorship was weaker, not that there weren't forbidden authors. But a small intelligent trick appeared to be working. One after another many inconvenient authors started appearing in Bulgaria, having all the same "passport", namely a preface, that severely criticized them on ideological grounds, though highly praised them aesthetically. For instance, this is how Franz Kafka or Hermann Hesse came out. This was actually one of the main ways for most of the great 20th century American writers to become known in Bulgaria. And not only known, but strongly influential - to the extent, that the critics started talking about "a beat generation" in the poetry or a "Hemingway wave" in the prose of the late 1960 and the early 1970s.
Generally speaking, this kind of art-life experience I have been talking about so far, was in fact a form of a peaceful, individuality-preserving disobedience to the totalitarian regime. The political change that took place in the end of the 1980s was in a way called forth by the gradual process of spiritual emancipation. The "velvet revolution" in our country, as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, meant actually the turning of inner disobedience into a civil one. No wonder then that "Civil Disobedience" became its slogan and so Henry David Thoreau's famous title acquired new significance in rapidly reviving Bulgaria. The following step was the establishment of civil society.
As for Bulgarian literature, it had to cope with entirely different realities, to realize the very abruptness of the change. It had to swiftly set itself free from the label "posttotalitarian", since it only pinned it back to everything it wanted to overcome. The excitement about freely reading of recently forbidden authors that was so characteristic for the early 1990s, could not but last only a short while. The same goes for the excitement about the publishing of writings that had decades long laid in locked drawers. Bulgarian literature had to become the literature of its own time, whatever it was. Novelty was needed and we are still in the process of seeking it. And, of course, in this painful but often rewarding process it was impossible for nowadays Bulgarian literature not to get intoxicated by the temptation of replacing literary posttotalitarianism with postmodernism.
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I began my talk today by pointing out the inherent openness of Bulgarian literature. Openness would also indicate the infinite nature of my object. Therefore an open ending of this talk comes only naturally.
© Albena Bakratcheva, 2001
Lecture read before the US Fulbrighters of 2001-2002. Bulgarian Fulbright Commission, Sofia, September 26, 2001.