Kui kirjandus jäi aega kinni: sõjast ja kirjandusest Johannes Semperi loomingus [When Literature Was Stuck in Time: War and Literature in Johannes Semper’s Literary Texts]

Marit Karelson


The current paper focuses on the Estonian writer, translator, essayist and social actor Johannes Semper (1892–1970), on the ways he considered relations between literature and time before and after the First World War. Semper understood time, through the philosophy of Henri Bergson, as spatial, divisible and measurable in terms of speed or slowness. In Semper’s opinion, the speed of “time” reflected the speed of changes in society, including technical progress, travel, communication and human gestures. Speed and slowness, in Semper’s view, also characterized literature: literature could be created or received at different speeds. At the beginning of the 1920s, Semper stated that “time” carried the speed of the war years, and that the rhythm of literature closely reflected the speed of those years. He believed that literature needed to be separated from “time”, since this enormous speed did not allow for creating “slow” works of literature. Slow works of art, in Semper’s view, were necessary to build up Estonian culture. In 1926, nearly ten years after the war, Semper found that Estonian literature was still stuck in the wartime speed. However, by that time Semper believed that “time” in society had lost the speed of the war years. Now “time” offered a suitable rhythm, so that slow works of literature could be created and received by readers. Consequently, Semper encouraged writers to create works which would refl ect again the rhythm of “time”.

I consider Semper’s way of understanding the interactions between literature and “time” through Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of “literary field” and his views on the renewal of the “literary field” as a “space of possibles”. I also analyse, besides Semper’s theoretical essays, the representations of war in his poems and short stories of the 1920s, in which the war years’ “time” is shown to belong to the past.


speed, slowness, Henri Bergson’s philosophy, Pierre Bourdieu’s “literary field” and the “space of possibles”

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ISSN 2504-6616 (print/trükis)

ISSN 2504-6624 (online/võrguväljaanne)