Küsimus eesti kultuurist [The Question of Estonian Culture]

Rein Veidemann


The aim of the article is to focus on the meaning of the term “Estonian culture”. The starting point is the phenomenological-semiotic assumption that “Estonian culture” can be observed as a kind of sign, in which “Estonia” is the signifi er and “Culture” is the signifi ed. One of the most widespread approaches to Estonian culture is related to the issue of identity: how are the Finno-Ugric tribes on the shores of the Baltic Sea consolidated as an ethnos, how has the ethnos developed into a community, the community developed into a nation and the nation into a cultural nation? It is possible to identify a narrative “stratifi cation”, which has had a certain impact on the collective consciousness of Estonians, within a process proceeding from Benedict Anderson’s thesis, which has become the common platitude of the nation as an imagined community (in this context: stories told). It is not possible to overestimate the “imaginative” and “uniting” role of literature, which forms the very core of Estonian culture, in this narrative. The author has long been fascinated by the att itude created or “distilled” from imaginarity, or the same question presented by Ilmar Talve, one of the most outstanding Estonian and Finnish ethnologists, at the beginning of his epic approach to Estonian cultural history: “How has this litt le nation, despite all its losses and the pressure applied to it, survived throughout its harsh history?” The answer provided in the article seems simple, but hopefully it is not simplistic: it has happened due to the existence of the compendium “country-nation-language”, which forms the very core of Estonian culture. The Estonianness of Estonian culture lies in the culture of existentiality, focused on the question “to be or not to be?”. This is the particularity described by the Baltic-German literary scientist Cornelius Hasselblatt as “a peculiar mixture”, “which other cultures do not possess in that kind of form.” This “existentiality” is based on the Estonian discourse present in Estonian literary texts and thought, and is not particularly related to the multicharacteristic features of Estonian culture. As it is not possible to identify Estonia in a pure and idiosyncratic form based on characteristic features, “Estonia” in this approach can not be handled as an att ributive or adjective signifi er in regard to “culture”. Here, “Estonia” is an adverb or, expressed with some amplitude, a cultural adverb: the inevitable condition (conditio sine qua non) and “formaliser” Estonianness in Estonian culture.


phenomenological-semiotic aspect of culture, Estonianness, the core texts of Estonian Culture

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ISSN 2504-6616 (print/trükis)

ISSN 2504-6624 (online/võrguväljaanne)