Keywords: Estonian literature, transition period, 1990s, aesthetic democracy, literary norm, language politics
Peeter Sauter’s novel “Indigo” was at the time of its publication in 1990 intuitively perceived (the core example is given here by the literary critic Maimu Berg) as a profound analysis of an individual, of a certain era or some phenomenon. This article opens up on these intuitions, taking special interest in the third part – Sauter’s writing as a symptom of a certain phenomenon in literary discourse that was not yet clearly distinguishable at the time. That phenomenon was the rapid change in literature’s public position in the 1990s, which is here described in terms of the proliferation of a democratic concept of literature. During this process a new, individual literary norm emerged according to which literature is the space of (maybe even radical) freedom: a new kind of “institution” which allows one to say anything, in any way, and which in Sauter’s case manifests itself most prominently in the disputes over obscene language.
In this process of “democratization” of the literary field – where in the instance of evaluating the texts there occurs a shift from institution to reader – it is interesting to observe how attacks on aesthetic innovations become at times interpreted as attacks on newly gained political freedoms and vice versa, so that the notion of aesthetic democracy becomes indistinguishable from the notion of democracy in its juridico-political meaning. However, our ability to properly navigate between these different senses of democracy makes it possible to determine what is really at stake in these literary discussions – which are nothing less than a public struggle for meaning – during these abrupt changes.
Neeme Lopp (b. 1980), BA, Estonian Academy of Arts, Institute of Art History and Visual Culture, Visiting Researcher (Põhja pst 7, 10412 Tallinn), firstname.lastname@example.org