Teaches Media and Cultural Studies at Yerevan State University, and writes on post-Soviet/postcolonial relationships
National Narratives and Forms of Narration
It is possible to consider that the history of modern Eastern Armenian literature, at the basis of which lies Khachatur Abovyan’s Verk Hayastani (The Wounds of Armenia), ends with Hrant Matevosyan’s work. If, on the one hand, we clearly sense the promises and impulses of Enlightenment in Abovyan’s story (the Armenian struggle against the Persian yoke, the establishment of the Russian rule as a possibility for saving Armenia, etc.), Matevosyan, on the other hand, brings to the foreground the mapping of loss and destruction brought on by modernity, whereas his writing, eluding national(istic) rhetoric, associates with a specific place (Lori). Matevosyan’s literature is the birth of the “modern moment” as the consciousness of the rupture’s incurability. His stance and reflective assessments are critical, whereas his writing brings to the fore forms of opposition and resistance.
In the preface of his book, Abovyan describes, on the one hand, those powerful impulses that push him to “take up language,” to speak, and on the other, the great difficulty of telling, of representing that is faced by the desire to materialize the message of modernity in local terms, to restore the wholeness of the atrophied community, and to compose the national narrative. Matevosyan, in his own turn, has talked about the difficulties of writing: “Genre, as well as plot present a problem for me”. I am interested in how each one of these writers weaves his speech, from what elements he constructs the place from where the story is told, and what means (permissible or forbidden) he can afford.
This question has recurred throughout the one and a half century of Eastern Armenian modernity in various spheres of cultural expression, for example, in painting at the beginning of twentieth century (Martiros Saryan, 1910-20s), in the attempts to recover a national epic (Sasna Tsrer [The Daredevils of Sasun], 1930s), in Eastern Armenia’s inheritance of the Western Armenian culture, the construction of a new identity, and the practice of speaking for all Armenians (1960s), etc. Each time the question is reformulated in new circumstances, in a new web of relations. In the case of Saryan, for instance, the question of the East (Orientalism) is fundamental, as is the relationship with Russian Constructivism for the 1920s in general.
At the same time, the national narrative (beyond transmitting unity and coherence to society) has turned into and remains today a dictating and limiting factor for cultural interpretation. In the most varied spheres of creative work, the interpretation of authors and individual works relies on (and is legitimized by) the national narrative. The critical analysis of this situation might facilitate in the formation of new interpretative abilities.