Media Library

Interview with Vaiva Grainyté


Language Archipelago V: Poetry and self-perception in the Baltic

Alexander Filyuta: In your works you criticize the modern capitalist consumer society. On the other hand, your lyrical voice sounds to a certain extent ambiguous when you speak about “the fall of the Iron Curtain”. Does contemporary Lithuanian culture, especially literature, reflect today’s social problems more adequately, more accurately than it was in the times of the “Iron Curtain”?

Vaiva Grainyté: By mentioning my works, criticizing “modern capitalist consumer society”, you are probably referring to operas “Have a Good Day!” and “Sun and Sea” we have conceptually developed together with artists Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė and Lina Lapelytė. Both pieces are poetic, ironic and absent of straightforward critical tenor, which, if you want, can be seen as a kin tool to the Aesopian language, writers were using during the years of censorship, before the fall of the “Iron Curtain”.
My lyrical voice is observant, rather than emotional, so a certain degree of ambiguousness is always present. In regards to contemporary Lithuanian culture, its scene is very vibrant and diverse. Diversity had no chance to thrive under the regime of the Iron Curtain, so currently social issues are reflected more elaborately.

Vaiva Grainyte (c) Andrej Vasilenko

Alexander Filyuta: An earlier poem of yours you commented with the words that you don’t like “flags and protest”, but instead in your artistic work you are more interested “in details”. And that at the same time you’re finding these details “lying closer to God.” Do the details in your artistic work sum up to something qualitatively more meaningful with the help of God, so to speak?

Vaiva Grainyté: I guess it was not a poem, but somewhat of a comment, answering the question if my art is political, I was invited to share during my residency in Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2016. By it I meant that I rather remain an observer, than a protester. That is to say, instead of “flag” and loud, direct speaking, I would use subtle, metaphorical wording; not to mention, I would mix documentary with fiction, which allows to cultivate some new bacterial form, therefore I call “yogurt”.
And this image of “God” comes from another poem, which refers to the nonreligious, pantheistic notion of entangled cosmic existence. Focusing on details helps to “zoom in” and tell the story by making it more intimate and transmitive. While big topics (“zoom out” mode) are too anonymous and abstract. On that note, my lyrical voice would find its shelter, its God, in daily, mundane paradoxes, rather than cosmic or intellectual discourses.

Alexander Filyuta: Authors such as Shamshad Abdullaev (Uzbekistan) and Nijat Mamedov (Azerbaidshan) use their poetic language (in their case Russian) primarily as a medium, an instrument, and draw their artistic energy from many different traditions and cultures. Is it possible that your language is also primarily a medium that is no longer based on the Lithuanian literary tradition, but on a language consisting of many foreign influences, where language primarily functions as a medium for writing on the basis of the ‘global culture phenomenon?’ Is this perhaps the way to ensure the survivability of national literature?

Vaiva Grainytéa: Each language with its grammar, phonetics and vocabulary works as a unique tool. I find Lithuanian as an artistic instrument too, since I don’t live in the XIX century when writing in Lithuanian was a form of resistance.
I think of “national” as a technical term. F.e. if I started writing in English, I believe I would still be defined as a Lithuanian author.

Alexander Filyuta: If you were asked to outline the essence of the regional identity referring to the Baltic Sea region, what could be the foundation of this regional identity and if you think such an identity is possible at all in times of the ‘global culture phenomenon’. Do we need such a local, regional identity, considering a pervasive globalization in all areas of culture?

Vaiva Grainyté: It would be hard to grasp the essence as such of Baltic Sea region as it is a geographical construct pointing the direction. So-called Baltic states – Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia – share quite similar Soviet past. Probably the famous Baltic Chain, then 3 nations were holding hands from Tallinn to Vilnius in 1989, and the resistant movement of the Singing Revolution, became something that bound us as “three sisters”. However, each country before the Soviet occupation had very different evolution, history and influences. Not to mention, linguistically only Latvian and Lithuanian belong to the same group of Indo-European family – Baltic language. While Estonians linguistically (and historically) are closer to Finland. I think regional identity and globalization can coexist peacefully by nurturing each other. I see ‘local culture’ serving as a precious piece of the global collage, so the more diverse it is, the better cultural climate and equilibrium is maintained. However, it is an idealistic/positivistic attitude, reality is much more complicated.

Alexander Filyuta: Where do you see the cultural space of Europe, or where does it end, at the EU borders, at the Ural Mountains or further east?

Vaiva Grainyté: That’s a difficult and big question. On one hand, while staying in Canada or China, I feel like taking part in a totally different cultural space. On the other hand, European space is such a closer, so one can recognize it being mingled everywhere. Mountains, deserts and seas, figuratively speaking, stand as sign of localness, which is surrounded by the ocean of globalness.