Oriental Gypsy on the Stages of Europe. A Biographical Novel about Konrad Mägi Through a Postcolonial Lens Cover Image
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Idamaine mustlane Euroopa lavadel.Konrad Mägi elulooromaan postkolonialismi liistudel
Oriental Gypsy on the Stages of Europe. A Biographical Novel about Konrad Mägi Through a Postcolonial Lens

Author(s): Johannes Saar
Subject(s): Visual Arts, Estonian Literature, Theory of Literature, Sociology of Art, History of Art
Published by: Eesti Kunstiteadlaste Ühing
Keywords: Konrad Mägi; post-colonialism; Eero Epner;

Summary/Abstract: In this paper, I have implemented a critical discourse analysis in order to re-read a biofictional novel based on Konrad Magi’s life from the postcolonial research perspective. Two interrelated pairs of research questions were posed. In the first, the imagery of both the protagonist Konrad Magi and the first-person narrator (presumably Eero Epner, the author of the novel) are examined against the theoretical descriptions of a colonial subject. In the second, the chronotope of the novel is analysed and compared to the spatial sentiment prevalent in ‘peripheral receptive cultures’, which tend to depict themselves in the cognitive light emanating from a distant superior culture, or what is perceived as such. This paper adopts a postcolonial research perspective in an effort to analyse a brand new biography of Konrad Magi, indisputably the most acclaimed Estonian modernist artist of the interwar period. The author of the book, Eero Epner, is an art historian by education and theatre dramaturge by vocation, who in his earlier writings walked the line between art history and belles lettres. In his new ponderous book, he has done it again and on quite a monumental scale. The publication in question is rather straightforward in its textual composition. Belletrist fiction and solid historical evidence blend, as do the historical era of Konrad Magi and the first-person narrator in the book, apparently living in the twenty-first century. The artist’s life is thereby illuminated alternately both from a retrospective distance and as if through the eyes of the protagonist himself. Likewise, first-person historical meditations intermingle with recurrent excerpts from the protagonist’s private correspondence, yet both vantage points in this fickle vista are framed for the reader with unmistakably belletrist literary insignias. It is history converted to invention, evidence to clues. The book, a biofictional novel, if I may call it that, tells the story of a man who ‘suffered for us once upon a time’ and whose artistic legacy is still providing us ‘here on the brink of the civilised world’ with the holy sacrament of European culture. When interviewed, the author admitted that it was a challenge to narrate Konrad Magi’s life without any references to Christian martyrdom. Apparently, the biographical facts are stubbornly similar to the well-known plot usually applied when depicting the ‘cursed artist’, also referred to by Nathalie Heinich as the Van Gogh paradigm: ‘his work was made into an enigma, his life into a legend, his fate into a scandal, his paintings were put up for sale and exhibited, and the places he went, as well as the objects he touched, were made into relics.’1 Yet both in the book and in the interview, the author was reluctant to accept the suggestion of reading this cluster of narrative as a form of discursive selfcolonisation, in which cultural selfdescription is subjected to the tendency to look at oneself as if through the eyes of some higher imagined authority. This paper presents a plea against this reluctance and implements a critical discourse analysis in order to re-read the novel from the postcolonial research perspective and to question particular figures of speech in which Konrad Magi’s artistic legacy is legitimised. Two interrelated pairs of research questions are posed. In the first, the imagery of both the protagonist Konrad Magi and the first-person narrator (presumably Eero Epner) are examined against the theoretical descriptions of a colonial subject. In the second, the chronotope of the novel is analysed and compared to the spatial sentiment prevalent in peripheral receptive cultures that tend to depict themselves in the cognitive light emanating from a distant superior culture, or what is perceived as such.

  • Issue Year: 28/2019
  • Issue No: 01+02
  • Page Range: 57-75
  • Page Count: 19
  • Language: Estonian