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Thursday, November 15, 2018 - 22:30

Contemporary Ukrainian Prose. The Postmodern Period.

March 2014

The past two decades in Ukrainian literary studies have been marked by passionate debates around the term ‘postmodernism’—its nature, its characteristics and the peculiarities of its development on Ukrainian cultural soil. On the one hand, the numerous academic publications, round tables and conferences demonstrate a surge of interest in the subject, which at this point has largely been explored in Western scholarship. On the other, its permeation into the Ukrainian space has been declared a new literary style, a certain spiritual state (per Eco), or the zeitgeist (per Toynbee).

The first chapter of this new textbook presents the problem of postmodernism’s numerous existing interpretations as arising from the attempt to find the cultural phenomena’s precise definition. In a brief historiographical introduction, Roksana Kharchuk outlines the debate on the basis of articles by Halyna Syvachenko, Tamara Denysova, Stefania Andrusiv and publications by Mark Pavlyshyn, Oleh Ilnytzkyj, Ivan Fizer, Rostyslav Semkiv, Serhiy Kvit, Oksana Pakhlovska and Tamara Hundorova. She provides a review of a number of attempts at periodization of the literary process and accordingly, the classifications of contemporary literary works. This broad analytical cross-section surveys the general state of Postmodern Studies in Ukrainian literary criticism, which remains relatively new in the Ukrainian context, while elucidating local scholars’ perceptions of postmodernism.

The author defines the 1990-2000s in Ukrainian literature as the postmodern period and examines works of prose by various writers published over the course of these two decades. Crucially, she resists the temptation to divide them into postmodernists and non-postmodernists—or, even more perilously, to single out only those who can be called postmodern). Clearly, the scholar’s goal is to identify the mechanisms of postmodernism as zeitgeist, which influence the individual style of each examined writer. As such, she constructs an original conception of the interrelationship between postmodernism and neo-modernism, as well as that of the peculiar development of ‘traditional writing’ (Valeriy Shevchuk, Maria Matios).

In the context of the Ukrainian postmodern period, Kharchuk analyses the works of the leading figures of the so-called ‘Stanislaviv phenomenon’—Yuriy Andrukhovych, Yuriy Izdryk, Taras Prokhasko—and those of  feminist discourse—Oksana Zabuzhko and Yevhenia Kononenko. At first glance, this book offers well-structured and accessible material, which is particularly relevant for its intended audience: students, young researchers and school teachers. However, there are caveats. Every textbook should aim to provide a broad and objective representation of the subject matter. Instead, here we find a rather subjective take on the development of contemporary Ukrainian prose, and even on individual writers. This is clear from the table of contents, where each author is presented with a small characterization-label—the “Chronic Orpheus”, the “Eternal Teenager”, the “Wunderkind”, or the “Exalted Storyteller”. Moreover, certain chapters more closely resemble extended reviews than comprehensive analyses of a writer’s work while others are comprised primarily of scholars’ or critics’ articles and book reviews. This approach imposes pre-emptive assessments of the literary works upon the reader, and discourages him or her from formulating their own thoughts and opinions and judgements.  

Despite this apparent genre contradiction, in what was intended as a textbook, this publication will undoubtedly be a useful source for those keen to understand Ukrainian literature in the postmodernist period.

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