LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 50, No.3 - Fall 2004
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
Copyright © 2004 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
SEARCHING ELSEWHERE FOR THE TRUE SELF:
JURGA IVANAUSKAITĖS NOVEL GONE WITH DREAMS
Since Homi Bhabha's celebrated idea of cultural "hybridity"1 and Benedict Anderson's "imagined communities,"2 it has become customary among scholars of postcolo-nial literatures to view migration, exile, or displacement as an emancipatory experience, one that allows writers to challenge and fundamentally subvert conventional boundaries whether those related to language, politics, religion, gender, or literary genres. Migration, exile, and mass movements principal forces in shaping historyurge us to investigate both their specific historic processes and the general paradigms, drawing attention in particular to the problematic forces at play in the encounter with the other. For as Tariq Modood has stated, people, cultures, or ethnic groups do not have "a primordial existence. A culture is made through change; it is not defined by an essence that exists apart from change."3
In her most recent work the Lithuanian writer Jurga Ivanauskaitė has participated in this discourse by exploring the question of home and displacement, which refers to concepts of native and foreign, as well as of self and other in great detail. While Ivanauskaitė has dealt with these topics in her early narratives, in her novel Gone With Dreams4 she examines them within a broader cultural context.
One could in fact read the novel as an in-depth study of what it means to be a stranger, a foreigner outside his or her country. The narrative analyzes this condition through characters who decide to live abroad, but are unable to develop a sense of place and belonging in the new location. The reasons for this ambivalence, as well as for the alienation produced by it, are to be found in a number of conflicting discourses. I argue that Ivanauskaitė's text of suspension between two worlds, origin and destination, illustrates a deep-seated malaise of contemporary Lithuanian discourse on identity and difference. Given the never-ending suspension between Western and Eastern narratives of identity, Ivanauskaitė's text communicates a problematic Hegelianism of postcolonial transformations in Lithuania: problematic because its dialectic tends to lead nowhere, but remains in a Hegelianism all the same.
Ivanauskaitė is unquestionably one of the most prominent and successful Lithuanian writers in the contemporary literature of the Baltic states. Her work, however, is far from being accorded a place within mainstream Lithuanian literature, as demonstrated by the condescending reviews of her books by some of the Lithuanian cultural elite.5 Born in 1961, she graduated from the Vilnius Institute of Art. After her travels in India and Tibet in the mid 1990s, her books, like her paintings and photographs, underwent a complete transformation and attracted much critical attention, not least for their estranging poetic language and exotic themes.
In her 2000 novel Gone With Dreams, Ivanauskaitė depicts twelve characters, each finding themselves in a fictional placea dreamlike Tibetan town called "Neten," which in Lithuanian means "not there." Each interrelated chapter follows the complicated story of a character who is forced to come to grips with the state of living in exile. The opening chapter of the novel, which relates the story of a young Lithuanian woman, Ašara, captures the entire thematics of the novel and sets the tone for her (and other characters') subsequent life of errancy:
|Kiek save pamena, vis nerasdavo sau vietos ir gimtoji žemė Lietuva [...] buvo jai nemiela. Tad, kaip daugelis kitų jautrių ir protingų XX amžiaus paskutiniojo šimtmečio būtybių, ji patraukė iš Vakarų į Rytus, tiesiai į Himalajus, laimė's (Nirvanos, Nušvitimo, Išminties, o gal Pažadėtosios žemė's) ieškoti. (6)||As far as she [Ašara] remembers, she couldn't find her niche, and her native country, Lithuania [...] was no longer dear to her. Thus, like many other sensitive and intelligent creatures at the end of the 20th century, she decided to travel from West to East, straight to the Himalayas, in search of happiness, (Nirvana, Enlightenment, Wisdom, maybe of the Promised land). (6)6|
The native country, Lithuaniaat once spatial and metaphysicalis introduced to the reader through various references as being no longer dear to her, projected as a kind of lost land, a place without order and without harmony, beyond which stretches boundless space promising her to engage in a quest for a more truthful, genuine, and meaningful life. Born in Lithuania, Ašara's subsequent life appears as metaphoric escape from restrictive definitions of identity: Turning against her country of origin implies for Ašara a liberation from the boundaries of spatial confinement and a breaking free from the gradual sedentarization of identity.
The act of exile and displacement cuts across the entire work of Ivanauskaitė. In her novels Children of the Moon (1988), The Witch and the Rain (1993)a work that caused a national scandal and was banned as pornographic in independent Lithuania,and in her nonfictional trilogy Exiled Tibet (1996), Journey to Shambala (1997) and The Lost Promised Land (1999), to name just a few, categories such as languages, proper names, gender roles, and identities are constantly negotiated, adapted and reformed. Such negotiations and reformations point to the fact that these tenets on which a society bases its system of identification are unstable palimpsests made up of fragments-past and present experiences and memoriesthat provide the backdrop of Ivanauskaitė's novel. In addition, most of her protagonists identify with the culture of nomadism.7 Nomadic life is here opposed to a sedentary mode of life in which identities are defined as being definite and static. Sedentary life makes identification possible because identity as a stable construct, and a materialized subjectivity is representational in the sense that its presence is always there to be rediscovered. Nomadic identity, on the contrary, is not an already accomplished fact, but rather a production that is never complete, always in process, in other words an object of constant negotiation and adaptation. In Ivanauskaitė's novel, nomadic identity is intimately associated with the state of living in exile and being a foreigner.
The author's own migrations and travels testify to a lifestyle that meets her aesthetic in the postmodern context. Compelled by diverse cultural and historical circumstances to continue the experience of exclusion, exile, and displacement, Ivanauskaitė raises fundamental issues pertaining to the condition of being foreign to oneself and to others. The inscription of foreignness in her novel shows her frustration with both Western and Eastern definitions of identity, nationhood, and belonging. The idea of permanent origin, whether as the birthplace, the native country, or the mother tongue, can be imagined only in terms of constant negotiation and displacement. In her novel she even takes advantage of the Lithuanian language, which is perceived (or perhaps mythologized) by Lithuanians as the only language alive today that is similar to Sanskrit, a dead language. This linguistic ancestry allows her to play with words and create new concepts and identities as English words and sentences enter the Lithuanian text; Lithuanian terms enter the fictional Shambhala language; and the Lithuanian used breaks native speaker rules. By liberating the signifiers from their signifieds, Ivanauskaitė engages in a quite radical way with "the sign as anterior to any site of meaning," and at the same time overpowers the reality effect of content, thus allowing the Lithuanian language to sound "foreign to [it]sel[f]."8
Her protagonist, Ašara, was born in Lithuania. Her father vanished from her life when she was a child, and her mother died in a car accident. Thus, Lithuania becomes a grim place, where strangeness, birth, death, and wandering converge. Conversely, exile stands for the "separation from the mother and the innocence of childhood [-] [...] the precondition for the acquisition of language and culture, but also subjectivity."9 Metaphorically, Ivanauskaitė effects a simultaneous displacement of both the birthplace and the mother: While Lithuania is later replaced by new and exotic places, such as Shambhala, the mother is similarly replaced with other figures in the novel.
As a wandering writer, Ivanauskaitė engages, through her narratives, the various psychological and cultural effects relevant to the condition of living in exile. Inevitably, her journey as a woman writer allows her to turn her marginality into a liminal place of resistance and subversion. Nevertheless, her involvement in the complex issue of identity demonstrates a state of mind that is longed for rather than achieved, because her characters are unable to anchor themselves and to feel at home anywhere. Most of the displaced protagonists' visions and revisions of their predicament exhibit a general sense of anxiety, exclusion, and deprivation:
|[Juos] kankino vienatvė, ypatinga vienatvė,
atsirandanti ne todėl, kad aplinkui nėra žmonių, o todėl, kad nėra
būdų perteikti savo svarbiausių minčių ir stulbinamų dvasinių
atradimų, kurie aplinkiniams visai neatrodo svarbūs. (118)
||[They] suffered from loneliness, a peculiar
loneliness, which they felt not because there are no people around
to talk to, but because there are no modes to express their most
important thoughts and the most stunning discoveries, which for
those surrounding themdo not appear important at all. (118)
If the characters of the novel do not break new ground in their exilic experience it is certainly because Ivanauskaite sees this condition to be a generalized postcolonial paradox, not just her condition alone. In the case of those who live outside their countries, exile, voluntary or imposed, at times touches on the tragic since exiles are generally placed on the edge of both their native and the foreign culture. To inhabit and then to defend the subversive powers of this marginal place is to remain solid within the borders of an existential condition that cannot bring the never-ending journey of exile to an end.
In Gone with Dreams, Ivanauskaitė rejects the illusion of a pure origin and a fixed identity. She expands the geographical and temporal scale of her narrative in order to free her vision and voice from the memory of life in her homeland. After converting many places that come her way into imagined territories, she continues recreating new fictional places and temporalities, which exposes the falseness of the metaphysics of place and time altogether. Lithuania as a native land is broken up into multiple invisible homelands and its history into abandoned but intertwined temporalities. This strategic inscription of space and history in her novel allows Ivanauskaitė to construct a private geography of the mind in which concepts like homeland and exile, identity and difference, self and other, present and past, have no relevance to her journey in exile. The interchangeability of these words demonstrates that all concepts of origin and belongingwhether actual or imaginedcan be formed as well as reformed. Thus, it should now be less complicated to visualize the native country blending with other places and histories. Indeed, Lithuania moves through the boundless space of the novel, while protagonists themselves travel through a series of exiles and displacements in geographiesboth real and imaginary:
|[Ž]monės dažniausiai nė nenutuokia, kad sapnuoja ir dieną ir naktį. Vos pakirdę iš miego ir nerūpestingai užmiršę paslaptingą naktinę būtį su visais jos kalnais, miškais, audringomis jūromis, laiptais į dangų, griūvančiais tiltais, kritimais bedugnėsna, svaigiais skrydžiais, nuožmiais persekiotojais, angelais, keistais žvėrimis, nuostabiais mylimaisiais, tučtuojau puola į tai, ką vadina nuostabiais mylimaisiais, tučtuojau puola į tai, ką vadina "būdravimu." Tačiau jie labai klysta manydami, kad pagaliau atsidūrė tikrovėje, nes ir vėl pateko į sapną. (518)||[P]eople most often haven't the slightest idea that they dream not only at night, but also in the daytime. Right after they wake up and recklessly forget the mysterious nocturnal existence with its mountains, forests, stormy seas, stairways to heaven, destroyed bridges, tumbles into the abyss, dizzying flights, ruthless persecutors, angels, bizarre beasts and perfect lovers, they rush headlong into what they call "being awake." But they are terribly wrong in thinking that they have finally found themselves in reality; they are in a dream again.|
As a nomad writer, Ivanauskatė finds herself caught in an in-between spacea never-ending crossing between home and exile. The last sentence of the quotation demonstrates her awareness of the relevance of life as an eternal exile. Wherever she may travel, she encounters the difference, strangeness, uncertainty, and exclusion that form the truth of her reality as a foreigner. For, since most of her characters consider exile a precarious condition, elsewhere cannot be a remedy (66). In other words, the exile's "elsewhere" can finally turn into a new act of restraint within a space proper to the foreigner's culture.
Ideally, the exile's insecure condition may be converted into a positive experience by a beautiful return home or to one's origin. Yet as Ašara points out, she feels that she has changed and is no longer a "true" Lithuanian woman, be-cause "true" Lithuanian women are "whole" and do not suffer from fragmented identities (59). This thought demonstrates the full circularity of her journey to the Himalayas, bringing her back to the original state of Nobodyness. Ašara is in-betweenneither completely Lithuanian nor completely foreignbecoming a stranger moving in time and space, and in the diverse conceptions that people usually create of the foreigner. The uneasiness related to this point of self-realization indicates the impossibility of linking together the personal and the collective narrative of identity: Lithuanian dis-course on identity demonstrates the problematic nature of the issue of identity, turning it into a crisis of knowledge that is associated with the discursive formation of the writer's authority. Displacement and exile seem to complicate Ašara's entire order of self-identification. Her striving for self-assertion in exile seems to build up an intellectual disconnect from the rest of society that makes it difficult to maintain reconciliation with her native country. Thus, her narrative becomes a metaphoric representation of the deep-seated ideological crisis of contemporary Lithuanian discourse on identity and difference. In this context, each intellectual attempt to describe and circumscribe Lithuanian identity composes a sort of "diffėrance"10 of something that is constantly deferred. As Ivanauskaitė stated in an article, written after her return from Tibet:
I'm more in between the two worlds. [...] The end of one world has already happened in me, but it is difficult to say what to expect from the new one, which is still being created.11
Some writers see in this unfinished "third space"12 an essential component for the formation of an identity that finds its reason to exist in uncertainty. For example, the American-born German writer, Jeannette Lander, points out about her own condition of living in exile:
I feel at home abroad. Only as a stranger do I ever feel at ease. I enjoy the advantages of someone vvho cannot quite be categorized. The risks appeal to my sense of adventure. The uncertainty is liberty.13
A close reading of Ivanauskaitė's narrative, however, shows the problematic aspect of living in exile, as her protagonists feel anxious about their suspension on the broken edge be-tween cultures and spaces. As the fiction demonstrates, Ivanauskaitė is sensibly aware that the statė of uncertainty doesn't lead to a happy dėnouement. Disconnected from its assistance to any collective or political action, suspension be-tween different worlds appears here to be working only for itself: Living in exile and displacement in an imaginary comrnunity, the duration of the suspension becomes endless, without limits, for it does not have the political power to thrust the dialectic movement forward to its conclusion. This is a problematic Hegelianism, one without teleology: a never-ending longing for an impossible synthesis of our past and our future, of what we once were and what we want to become.
In addition to the discussion on the exile and displacement in Ivanauskaitė's text, it is equally significant to show the means by which her narrative performs its own foreign-ness and displacement. Self-assertion in Gone with Dreams begins with the intention to displace and, ultimately, replace the old characters by new ones. As a woman writer, Ivanauskaitė first needs to break away from the different discourses that have captivated the Lithuanian woman inside codes of authority that speak out on her behalf, be it colonial, patriarchal, Catholic, or otherwise. Through Ašara's reflections on the various cultural and abstract discourses that determine her from above, Ivanauskaitė describes the ongoing process of her identity construction as well as that of deconstruction. The several transgressions that are apparent on both formal as well as thematic levels indicate her attempt to search for a stable identity. She first presents her protagonists as split personalities, which is indicated in different first names. For example, the heroine of the first story has two namesAšara and Ara, thus reversing even the idea of the unified or nonfragmented subject as defined in the West. In addition, the narrative voice of the novel commutes between different narrators and in this way raises interesting questions by dramatizing a linguistic community in which not a single voice or a single perspective remains as it was. The multiple perspectives in the text suggest that the site of statement (or subjectivity) is already a fragmented one.
In recent theoretical debates on identity construction, fragmented identities have become the absolute signifier of postcolonial subjectivities. One may even criticize Western scholars' desire to define the non-Western subjects through such binary oppositions as colonizer/colonized, self/other etc., which seem to allow one to view Other (Non-Western) worlds as being chaotic and in constant negation of their subjectivities.
Jean-François Lyotard explains this desire through the difference between narrative knowledge and scientific knowledge. On the one hand, non-Western cultures rely in general on fragmented narratives to form a communal social mediation through which they express fragmented knowledge about themselves and the world around them. Modern scientific knowledge, on the other hand, is built on "proof" and a "metaphysical" view that the "same referent cannot supply a plurality of contradictory or inconsistent proofs,"14 as each of these forms of knowledge has its inherent rules and modes. In Lyotard's words, "[i]t is [...] impossible to judge the [...] validity of narrative knowledge on the basis of scientific knowledge and vice versa: the relevant criteria are different. All we can do is gaze in wonderment at the diversity of discursive species."15
As a result, narrative forms of knowledge influence our notions of difference, cultural history, and the inevitability for us to hold any judgment and interference. As Lyotard states, this new mode of tolerance and the acceptance of difference can be acquired only through a "gaze in wonder-ment."16
The understanding of fragmented narrative forms of knowledge depends on the interplay of postcolonialism and poststructuralism. The ideological similarities of these two systems are the following: both postcolonial and postmodern systems show minimal significance to the historical and political situation of culture, language, and meaning. Discussions on possible meanings and imagined cultural geographies are the only issues that are relevant in this context. For example, nomadic thought is generally presented in postcolonial criticism as a narrative of resistance to all forms of fixed borders, whether those relevant to gender, language, or culture. Ivanauskaitė's narrative is also about boundaries of language, identity, gender, space, and culture that are constantly in negotiation with the Other in the hope of reaching a possible true-self, as her protagonists enact the romantic subject's quest for an authentic, unmediated identityitself never reachable. A question needs to be asked: When words like identity, culture, homeland, history, exile, displacement, lose their total meanings is there any possibility for greater reality and meaningful life in exile? Ivanauskaitė suggests a solution when she defines the text as her new homeland (121). But isn't the construction of a new homeland through words another kind of exile or displacement? Doesn't this escape into words form another type of activity that disconnects from the social, cultural, or physical environment which has caused the desire for escape in the first place? Aren't words, the intellectual's native home, alien to all individuals in a way? These questions might sound difficult to answer, but Ivanauskaitė provides possible answers herself when she portrays her characters' journey dominated by a sense of exclusion, uncertainty, deprivation, and anxiety. Never-ending suspension between home and exile, self and other, invites her (and her readers) to question, and fnally, to distrust the illusion of an ability to find a home in words. As one of her characters admits, words cannot replace one's homeland; they can only invent it, thereby creating another temporary escape that we have to free ourselves from:
|Taip kaip paukščiai skrenda žiemot į tolimiausius kraštus, bet ne kur pakliuvo, o į konkrečią vietą Afrikoj or Indijoj, o paskui vėl grįžta namo. Ne bet kur, o dažniausiai į tą pačią vietovę ar net į tą patį lizdą. Nejaugi manai, kad žmogaus siela kvailesnė už paukštį? (165)||The same way that birds fly to far-away lands for the vvinter; they don't end up just anyvvhere, but in a specific placein Africa or Indiaand later they return home. They even travel to the very same region and end up in the very same nest they had left the year before. You think that a man's soul is less knowing than a bird's? (165)|
1. Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1994).
2. Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1983).
3. Modood, Tariq. "Introduction: The Politics of Multiculturalism in the New Europe." The Politics of Multiculturatism in the New Europe; Racism, Identity and Community. Ed. Tariq Modood and Pnina Werbner (London: Zed Books Ltd., 1997) 1-25, p. 11.
4. Ivanauskaitė, Jurga. Sapnų nublokšti (Vilnius: Tyto Alba, 2000).
5. Saulius Šaltenis described her books "like coloured parrots on our pale land," see Howard Jarvis's article "A Colourful Bird in a Pale Land. Why Jurga Ivanauskaitė's books are crying for translation." Central Europe Review 27:2 (2000).
6. Numbers in parentheses refer to pages in the text; all the translations are my own. D.S.
7. For the discussion on nomadism see Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1987).
8. Bhabha, op. cit. 164.
9. Bronfen, Elisabeth. "Entortung und Identität: Ein Thema der modernen Exilliteratur." The Germanic Review 69 (Spring 1994) 70-78, p. 77.
10. See Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1974).
11. Jurga Ivanauskaitė: Tarp dviejų pasaulių." An Interview with Lukas Vangelis. Published in the on-line journal Vartiklis, http://www.spauda.lt/mitai/buddhism/jurga/jurga.htm.
12. Bhabha 37.
13. Lander, Jeannette. "Unsicherheit ist Freiheit." Fremd im eigenen Land. Eds. Henryk M. Broder and Michel R. Lang (Frankfurt /Main: Fischer, 1979) 258-64, p. 258.
14. Lyotard, Jean-Francois. The Postmodern Condition. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1984), p. 24.
15. Lyotard 24.
16. Lyotard 24.