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Kind-Kovács, Friederike

Lifestories reconnected: Tamizdat as a universal human experience across the Iron Curtain

The dominant narrative on the Cold War always evokes associations of ruptures, fractions and isolation. As historians we face the Berlin Wall, the unfortunately Iron Curtain and the ideologically harsh division of Europe into “East” and “West”.  Thus, it is easily understandable that these images have shaped our “mental map” of a divided and insolated Cold War Europe. However, the historical phenomenon of tamizdat, namely the publication of samizdat in the West, offers an insight into a transnational realm of experiences, values and ideas that emerged across the Iron Curtain. It even can be read as a general appeal for a new sensitization vis-à-vis the classical “East-West”-paradigm of Cold War history. It challenges the widespread myth of the seemingly one-sided transfers of literature and experiences from the ‘advanced’ West to the ‘backward’ East. Tamizdat represents an ideal object to deconstruct the Cold War notion of the superiority of Western ‘modernist’ over the forgettable Eastern European ‘socrealist’ literature. As an alternative to these two archetypes of Cold War literature, tamizdat was capable to initiate tendencies of a role reversal in terms of ‘literary influence’ and ‘moral superiority’. It is true that the underground writers took use of the western freedom of media in order to publish their uncensored literature. However, Western (and in particular New York) intellectuals were the ones who were seeking moral, literary and in particular biographical inspiration from the ‚Other Europe’. Behind this stood their conviction that the input from the uncensored literature could and should enrich European consciousness. And even if they knew that dictatorship was a fully undesirable condition, they perceived its literary products in form of samizdat and tamizdat as very valuable in providing them with knowledge about an essential European experience. By presenting a series of narrative interviews with New York intellectuals I want to show the ways in which their intellectual interest was highly sparked by, and narratively intertwined with, a biographical interest in their own roots in the ‚Other Europe’. I will argue that the human experience presented through tamizdat can be perceived as a symbol of life under dictatorship.

Friday 30 Oct 9.00-11.00 SESSION 4
Panel: Silenced Voices: Tamizdat, Samizdat and PEN