Struggle over the ages I

Reading Kreutzwald’s „Kalevipoeg” as opposite in meaning to Goethe’s „Faust”


Keywords: rhetoric, „The Anxiety of Influence”, irony, metonymy, metaphor, Harold Bloom, Paul de Man

The inspiration for this article came from Jüri Talvet’s observation that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s „Faust” and Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald’s „Kalevipoeg” show some remarkable similarities in their philosophical structure and plot. This article therefore aims to compare these two masterpieces by using Harold Bloom’s and Paul de Man’s understanding of tropes. While allusion and intertextuality studies typically focus on a limited number of similarities between two texts, Bloom’s anxiety of influence theory helps to apprehend both texts as a whole. This objective is achievable with two constraints. Firstly, making such a comparison requires us to widen our understanding of tropes. In this analysis, tropes do not signify limited transfers of meaning (from one word to another), but the full transformation of a text’s meaning. The background to this article lies in the hypothesis that large chunks of ­„Kalevipoeg” can be read as tropes that are derived from the verses of „Faust”. ­Secondly, this kind of analysis cannot focus on the style, genre or semantic nuances of both works, but only on the general picture: the stories and their protagonists. The anxiety of influence theory shows that the change of meaning from one work to another can be described by means of two kinds of tropes: limiting and repeating ones. In this article, the limiting tropes of irony, metonymy and metaphor can be used to depict the change of meaning from „Faust” to „Kalevipoeg”. The story of an intellectual who makes a pact with the devil, seeks absolute love and wishes to accomplish godly deeds becomes a story of a mythically strong hero who has no choice, never finds true love and achieves predestined greatness. According to Bloom, this is only half of the comparison. In a follow-up article, I will show how the repeating tropes of synecdoche, hyperbole and metalepsis can be used to demonstrate that the fate of these different protagonists is in fact somewhat similar.


Tõnis Parksepp (b. 1987), MA, freelance dramatist; University of Tartu, doctoral student at the Institute of Cultural Research (Ülikooli 16, 51003 Tartu), tonisparksepp@gmail.com