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The entangling I: Jaan Kross’ encapsulations of reality

Keywords: entangled literature, episteme, sensible and intelligible in culture, Jaan Kross, historical fictions, history as aesthetics

As an outcome of a paper presented initially at the conference „Entangled literature: national, cultural and generic intersections in the literary culture of Estonia”, the article tries to ground the concept of entangled literature in the presumably in-between and negative character of literary discourse in modern culture. Drawing inspiration from Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things, which states a kind of exclusion of literariness from the Western episteme since Cartesianism, the article argues for the specific role of modern literature (the novel) in building up minor (individual or national) consciousnesses as a result of undermining or controverting the incumbent epistemic reality of culture. This challenging function of modern literature is interpreted further as a task, assumed more or less openly by any culture, to relate the intelligible to the individual area of sensibility, which cannot succeed, as claimed by the article, without some recourse to the transcendental dimension of thinking.

The inclusion of autobiographical elements and personal sense perceptions in the novels of Jaan Kross has been well attested to by the author himself. What has maybe not been so evident is that Kross makes the rationality of his historical characters to stand in some critical points of their action at pure sensibility, i.e. at the judgment of taste, which I would like to read as Kross’ way of dealing with contingency in history, but also as pointing to the deeper meaning of his concept of Estonia. Because Estonia, it seems to me, was to remain for Kross, and for his entangled egos, to some important degree, a fact of senses par excellence, i.e. something that defies rationalization in its essence but that, exactly for this reason, could offer an irresistibly clear perception of personal presence in the course of history. The historical fictions of Estonia created by Kross reveal us the aesthetic side of historical truth, not as inferior or additive to epistemic truth, but as something that relates truth to the presence and sensibility of a person.

Rein Undusk (b. 1968), MA, Under and Tuglas Literature Centre of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, Researcher,


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