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Constructive illogicality or postmodern allegories
Virginija Cibarauskė
The prevailing Lithuanian trend in prose is poetic realism and contextualism, depicting a contemporary world with recognizable problems and characters who, though they may experience those problems more intensely, are nevertheless rooted in daily life. This trend in turn leads to a meditativeness and a sensitivity to the world that is an inextricable part of a certain ethnic worldview.
Within this context, Ukrainian born Yaroslav Melnyk (b. 1959), a graduate of philology from Lvov and Moscow Universities and a resident of Vilnius since 1984, stands out for his constructive illogicality. Critics call Melnyk’s novellas works of science fiction, metaphysical fiction, or philosophical stories, and refer to his novels as anti-utopian.
In truth, however, Melnyk’s genre is best described as postmodern allegory. For Melnyk, stories, characters, and events are not as important in themselves as they are as metaphors:
For me, life is like a metaphor, a symbol. It is, in fact, a metaphor. In my short prose, in Tolima erdvė [Distant Space], […] and in Maša [Masha], I create what appear to be imagined worlds. In truth, this is our world — the one you and I inhabit.
Allegories are characterized by figurative meanings (an abstract phenomenon described using a real object) and require a laconic way of thinking based on a constructive, rather than emotional response.
Characters here are not psychological subjects but archetypal characters, and the action takes place in an imagined space that resembles the routine but is not synonymous with it. Themes of interest include individual freedom, responsibility, guilt, obedience, and the limits of humanity.
The novellas Rojalio kambarys (The Piano Room, 2004) and Pasaulio pabaiga (The End of the World, 2006) explore two dimensions: the fantastic (philosophical) and the psychological. Melnyk is drawn to an examination of what hides beyond the boundaries of what we call common sense and everyday logic. In The Piano Room, for example, the narrator of the story experiences a sudden change in his life — the sudden loss of a room:
The thing I want to tell you about happened rather suddenly and, more importantly, completely incomprehensibly. One morning, as I felt drawn to my piano (I so wished to run my fingers over the coolness of the snowy white keys), I turned toward the piano room — but I didn’t find the door at the end of the hall. The door to the piano room. I was one of those who believed in reality, more or less — or ‘not quite 100 percent’, as they say. Though you can’t deny my capacity to think sensibly. Nevertheless, my reaction to inexplicable changes in reality is on the slow side. And far from hysterical. I look at such things, first and foremost, as a phenomenon, however incomprehensible to me, that must, in the end, have its own significance.
Melnyk’s novels Distant Space and Masha, Or Post-fascism are dystopian stories set in the distant future. The world in Distant Space has been taken over by technology in which an enslaved humanity gradually loses its liberty, freedom of choice, etc. Masha depicts an imagined future where people live peacefully and comfortably, with no need to work, as all labor is performed by corpulent, human-like beings whose meat is the main source of nutrition.
Melnyk first published as a poet, with his collection Brangioji (Ridna) (My Dear Ridna) in 1992, but he has also published prose and literary analysis pieces in Ukrainian and French. In addition to the previously mentioned collections, short stories and novels, Melynk has also authored a collection of philosophical miniatures called Labai keistas namas (A Very Strange House, 2008), a collection including a surrealist novel, short stories, and tales titled Kelias į rojų (Road to Paradise, 2010), and a collection of short stores, Anoreksija (Anorexia, 2014).
The End of the World, Distant Space and Masha, Or Post-fascism were all listed in the Top Five Lithuanian Books for their year of publication, and Road to Paradise was included in the Top Twelve Most Creative Lithuanian Books in 2010. The prose work Skambink man, kalbėk su manim (Call Me, Talk To Me) was listed in the Top Five Books in Ukraine for 2012 and was included in the BBC Short List of Best Books of the Year.


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Sources and links

„Tik tiesa gali padaryti žmogų žmogumi“. Gediminas Kajėnas kalbina Jaroslavą Melniką, 2013 12 13
„Už rėmų“ [Pradinis šaltinis: Metai, Nr. 1, 2007, p. 133–135]
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