Dissolution of storytelling and scenic representation in Ene Mihkelson’s prose

Keywords: modernist novel, description, scene, story, affect

In the study of the poetics of the modernist novel, one of the unifying topics is the decrease of coherent storytelling in the proportion of representation. At the same time, the modern literary process has brought up new images, which function in a similar way as the descriptions familiar from the realist tradition but are meant to be associated with elusive physical tensions characteristic of modern society. According to Fredric Jameson the starting point of this development is in Gustave Flaubert’s literary innovations, while Jameson’s definition of modernism largely rests on an increasing domination of scene over story.

The aim of the article is to explore the above tendency in the prose works of Ene Mihkelson. Mihkelson’s previous reception often points out the unreliability of the narrator and a certain fuzziness of character identities, as well as of the times when this or that story is told and of other boundaries in the text. The present analysis attempts to demonstrate how the vagueness or ambiguity of narration in her novels Katkuhaud (Plague Grave, 2007) and Ahasveeruse uni (The Sleep of Ahasuerus, 2001) gives rise to scenic images dominated by the present. The most important episodes of these two novels are dialogues between the main character and her senior relatives mainly discussing the incidents that happened between the Forest Brothers in Estonia after the Second World War. According to Mihkelson’s poetics the reader gets a realistic enough description of the affective results of past events imprinted on the mind of the protagonist, without, however, being told the whole stories. In addition, Mihkelson’s texts include meta-level discussions on the possibility of an adequate representation of historical experience, which I have also tried to integrate into my interpretation. One of the reasons why the poetics of Mihkelson’s prose in dialogue with Estonian cultural and historical memory seems to have such a concili­atory effect is her focusing on affective and scenic credibility at the cost of a narrative perhaps too clear and unambiguous.


Indrek Ojam (b. 1988), MA, University of Tartu, doctoral student in Estonian Literature (Ülikooli 16, 51014 Tartu),