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Saulius Tomas Kondrotas
Rimantas Kmita
The prose of Saulius Tomas Kondrotas (b. 1953) evoked, first and foremost, a sense of otherness during the Soviet period. To be sure, there were many unique, non-conformist writers of prose, but it was Kondrotas' work that seemed to have been written by a Borges or Márquez living in Lithuania.
The very title of his first collection of short stories, Pasaulis be ribų (A Boundless World, 1977), emphasized the priorities of relativism, diversity, and a multiplicity of meanings. Kondrotas would later explain his view (similar to that held by Ričardas Gavelis), thus:
The greatest experience is the understanding that the world we each perceive is but one of billions—that there is no such thing, actually, as one common world. There are only people, with each person living in his own symbolic reality. This understanding leads to many things, one of them being tolerance. Cynicism would be another. But everything has its price Tikėti ir rašyti. 21 šiuolaikinis lietuvių rašytojas apie tikėjimą, kūrybą ir save, sudarė Gediminas Mikelaitis, Vilnius: Aidai, 2002, p. 170–171.
Thus, Kondrotas did not use his work to openly advocate for a Lithuanian identity (in the narrow sense), or perhaps more correctly for a Lithuanian ethnographic entity, nor he did lament the vanishing of the Lithuanian village or criticize communism or socialist realism. Kondrotas' works were neither psychologically precise nor historically accurate, for which he received criticism from, among others, such classical values critics as Vaidotas Daunys.
In the case of S. T. Kondrotas, one other thing is clear: traditional human relationships in literature (regardless of how we define them—realistic, didactic, or otherwise) have their own logic and unavoidable ethics, simply because they are human relationships. Their negation, therefore, is first and foremost a negation of ethics. It follows, then, that the validation of such a view in turn validates ethics, first and foremost. Of course, ethics then becomes increasingly more difficult to define for the author, and the relationships themselves become increasingly more ephemeral, but ethics, in substantiating these relationships, is precisely what prevents them from becoming eclectic. Vaidotas Daunys, „Vertybių kryžkelėse“, in: Literatūros kritika ir dabartis (1981–1983), sudarė Valentinas Sventickas, Algimantas Bučys, Vilnius: Vaga, 1984, p. 349.
Kondrotas was also often the target of critics who had taken note of and were already reviewing the works of thoroughly modern authors writing prose of a very high caliber. Albertas Zalatorius maintained that:
Prior to Žalčio žvilgsnis (The Serpent's Gaze), there had been no novel in Lithuanian literature that had developed this aspect of human nature to such destructive and tragic extremes. We have had many erotic and racy stories in which desire is approached from a moral perspective and where the openness with which it is discussed depends entirely on the author's courage or capacity for mischief. Even the expressionists, who so brazenly ventured into this genre, had not yet emancipated themselves from the attitude of a curious adolescent or giggling juvenile. Jonas Avyžius, who raised these issues more openly in his Chameleono spalvos (The Chameleon's Colors), also viewed eroticism through the prism of morality and human interest. Kondrotas treats this emotion as an independent and significant one, without using other values to assess it. On the contrary, it becomes the standard by which other values are measured. Albertas Zalatorius, Literatūra ir laisvė, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 1998, p. 313.
Kondrotas' works (in addition to his first collection of short stores, he also published a book of short stories entitled Įvairų laikų istorijos [Stories from Different Ages, 1982], and the novels The Serpent's Gaze and Ir apsiniauks žvelgiantys pro langą [And the Faces of Those Glancing Through the Window Will Darken, 1985]) were distinguished by a mythopoetic sense of the world and a critique of technological progress and rationality.
Vygantas Šiukščius observed that:
Reality in a novel is different from that of real life, though a novel may be based on real life, much like dreams have a basis in reality. It has the structure of a myth. The author sees his text as a cyclical or circular reflection of a story's model in the novel, or myth. Truth is approached circuitously, as through a labyrinth, in the firm understanding that an exit should—must—exist, but it's unknown if it will be found. A potential solution lies in every cranny, in every snippet of the written word because, as Lévi-Strauss pointed out, one can discover the entirety of a myth's structure in any element of the mythical space. The idea for The Serpent's Gaze came to Kondrotas while he was watching some hopelessly boring film. The novel emerged after five re-writes and an unknown number of metastases. Only the metaphor and the initial imagery survived, i.e. the insertion into the labyrinth. The image and notions of 'Sniegovija' were already unfolding in the short story Raudona lapė (The Red Fox). Stretching, swelling, expanding, branching out—all of these are typical characteristics of a Baroque esthetic. The image of life as labyrinth, as a wandering through a mythical space, is unfurled in the first (schematic) section of the novel And the Faces of Those Glancing Through the Window Will Darken. 'Life resembles a palace with endless numbers of spacious halls and narrow little rooms, an abundance of plain and secret corridors, creaky staircases, stuffy alcoves, damp and moldy cellars, and attics overrun with cobwebs.' Vygantas Šiukščius, Mitopoetika lietuvių prozoje: tekstų interpretacija, Vilnius: Lietuvių literatūros ir tautosakos institutas, 1999, p. 130.
In one of his works, Kondratas changes the narrative perspective, illustrating the same events from different viewpoints and employing different styles.
There are several levels of interpretation in this novel, and there is a great temptation (depending on the temperament of the one interpreting the work) to decide which of those levels is the central one. The Serpant's Gaze resorts to many stylistic forms: irony, melodrama, intellectual reflection, lyricism, and parody. The narrative points of departure are also varied: the personal-naïve, the personal-analytical, and the all-knowing narrator. Each of these opens the door to a broader analysis.


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Sources and links

Rašytojas ir cenzūra
Sud. Arvydas Sabonis, Vilnius: Vaga, 1992
Tikėti ir rašyti. 21 šiuolaikinis lietuvių rašytojas apie tikėjimą, kūrybą ir save
Sud. Gediminas Mikelaitis, Vilnius: Aidai, 2002
„Vertybių kryžkelėse“
Literatūros kritika ir dabartis (1981–1983), sudarė Valentinas Sventickas, Algimantas Bučys, Vilnius: Vaga, 1984, p. 347–351
„Asmeniški demonai ir rašytojo pareiga“
Metmenys, 1984, Nr. 48, p. 169–179
Žalčio žvilgsnis
Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 1997
Mitopoetika lietuvių prozoje: tekstų interpretacija
Vilnius: Lietuvių literatūros ir tautosakos institutas, 1999
Literatūra ir laisvė
Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 1998
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