2014 | 2(6) | 231-238
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[Rev.:] Ol’ga Al’bertivna Bigun, Byzantinum: pro et contra. (Ambivalence of Byzantinism in Taras Shevchenko’s writings), Misto NV, Ivano-Frankivsk, 2014. 412 p.

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Comparative studies of Taras Shevchenko’s legacy focused around the ascertainment of the interaction between the poet’s imaginative world with Christian tradition have a long history and some achievements. Unfortunately, Byzantine spiritual culture in the force field of which Taras Shevchenko emerged as a person and an artist, almost entirely fell out of the sight of scholars studying Shevchenko’s creative work (except for the studies of Yaroslav Rozumnyi and Oksana Yakovyna). This gap has been adequately filled by Olga Bigun’s monograph Byzantinum: pro et contra. (Ambivalence of Byzantinism in Taras Shevchenko’s writings), which presents the first comprehensive attempt at perception of Byzantine tradition in Taras Shevchenko’s creative work relying on Ukrainian national history, mentality, and spirituality. The choice of this very material points to the researcher’s involvement in the complex controversial issues of Byzantine cultural and civilizational influence. The monograph demonstrates the author’s impressive knowledge in the sphere of Byzantine studies (V. Bachynin, A. Domanovskyi, E. Gibbon, V. Zhyvov, K. Leontiev, D. Obolenskyi, F. Uspenskyi, Yu. Chornomorets, І. Shevchenko, N. Yakovenko) and corresponds to the “culturological turn“ of modern comparative studies the essence of which lies in forward movement from essentialism of literariness towards social codes, conventions, and representations aimed at expanding the horizons of the interpretation of a literary text. The main issue addressed in the monograph is how the world view and philosophical and aesthetic ideas of Taras Shevchenko about byzantinism correlate with his artistic phenomenology, imaginative artistic imitation/dialogue of Byzantine cultural experience. Olga Bigun emphasizes the ambivalence of Shevchenko’s byzantinism: byzantinism as a tradition, as the world of immanent Christianity, and byzantinism as a philosophical and political paradigm and textual substrate. The variant of synthesis of contact and of genetic, historical and typological approach to the analysis of binary collisions of byzantinism proposed in the monograph enables the reader to clarify the origins of ambivalence of this notion in Taras Shevchenko’s creative work. The monograph has a clear, logical structure. The first chapter explores the principles of forming ideas about byzantinism in Shevchenko’s world view. External influences have been analyzed here: historical sources (Е. Gibbon), works of Ukrainian religious figures (K. Turovskyi, М. Smotrytskyi, І. Kopynskyi, P. Mohyla, D. Tuptalo), social and political thought (О. Bodianskyi, H. Halahan, О. Hertsen, M. Kostomarov, М. Maksymovych, О. Khomiakov, P. Chaadaiev), as well as internal factors (religiosity, Christian sensitivity, brilliant intuition, through knowledge of the Bible as well as of patristics and eidetic imagery). This chapter also deals with the iconic concept of a symbol approached through the prism of religious (Christian) understanding of the image. The author argues that Taras Shevchenko’s iconic paradigm of a symbol was a logical continuation of the Kyivan- Rus one and, even further, of the Byzantine tradition, which have a common basis: a universal principle of Christian philosophical and aesthetic fundamentals. A typological analysis of Litany to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Roman Sladkospivets and the poem Mariia by Taras Shevchenko is carried out by means of the application of logos ideas of conciliar unity incarnated in the Virgin. The typological parallels of the image of “Mother Church” in the writings of M. Smotrytskyi and I. Vyshenskyi are analyzed. Characterizing Shevchenko’s aesthetics, Olga Bigun sees it as a transformation of Byzantine tradition through emotional and sensual dominant of cordocentrism peculiar to Ukrainian ethnos. Taras Shevchenko became acutely aware of “Byzantine” religious and cultural model of Russia which actually followed Golden Horde civilizational patterns and was “alien” to the cultural and mental perception of the world by the poet. Immediate impressions of the author are recorded in The Diary, and his receptive interpretations can be seen on the pages of his books as well as in his paintings. The second chapter provides a comprehensive description of the Byzantine concept of holiness in the works of Taras Shevchenko. The study of genesis and formation of the symbolic parallel of Kyiv-Jerusalem is of particular interest. The meaningful content of Jerusalem idea demonstrates Taras Shevchenko’s thorough knowledge of the Old Testament dogmatic theology in the sphere of Judaic history and culture. Comparison of Kyiv with Jerusalem is carried out on the basis of symbolization and allegorization. Introducing the mythologema of Jerusalem to the discourse of the artistic works, Taras Shevchenko brings about actualization of its Biblical semantic field adapting it to social and political, cultural, and spiritual needs of the epoch. Shevchenko’s interpretation of “Jerusalem features” of Kyiv as a sacral, not a political center is close to Kyiv idea of the Ukrainian polemicists of the 16th and 17th centuries. The typology of the Church Slavonic language as informational and symbolic structure in the spiritual legacy of Kyivan Rus and creative works of Taras Shevchenko is also considered in the second chapter. Following L. Hnatiuk, the author examines the Church Slavonic language without applying a genetic approach, but analyzing its functional parameters in the linguistic consciousness of its speakers. Taking into consideration Shewchenko’s early acquaintance with biblical texts (which started at school), Olga Bigun, addressing the studies of several linguists (H. Vynohradov, L. Hnatiuk, H. Yavorska), focuses on the ready blocks for the description of situations, actions, and experiences that are actualized automatically as the speaker is focused on literary presentation. ”That’s why in the creative work of Taras Shevchenko” – argues the author of the monograph – ”along with the meaningful reception of biblical topography there is also the level of mechanical/ automatic feedback of linguistic consciousness to this or that artistic idea by citations, allusions, reminiscences from the Bible” (p. 152). Chapter three – Christian messianism: Taras Shevchenko and Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood – written in a polemical manner, deserves particular attention. It seems that the attention of the researcher was caught by every single mention of a definite range of problems. Such thoroughness is another feature of scholarly writings of Olga Bigun. Prudence and thoroughness in the handling of complex research material provides significant results for the conclusions to the unit: "Christian messianism of Shevchenko has no clear national color. For the poet, the freedom of the people, their free self-expression is the greatest blessing and he does not speak of the superiority of this or that ethnic group. The roots of such beliefs are close to Evangelical Christian life prescriptions with no ethnic distinctions, where "there is no Greek nor Jew, no circumcision nor uncircumcised, no barbarian nor Scythian, no slaves nor free ..." (Col. 3:11). Therefore, the essence of the religious nature of Shevchenko’s Messianic beliefs is that the freedom of one nation does not deprive another nation of free existence " (s.192). Chapter Byzantinism as knowledge: mythology of the book in the works of Taras Shevchenko is devoted to significant characteristics of the book in the relative plane: a book in the Byzantine tradition – in Kyiv Rus literature – in the works of Taras Shevchenko. Reception of the phenomenon of the book in the works of Taras Shevchenko is multi-faceted, but its ideological dimension resembles the idea of bookishness in the early stages of Christian culture. Attention is drawn to the special status of Shevchenko’s lyrical characters, who display portrait wisdom which is not always interpreted by the poet in a positive way (Moskal’s well). Apparent parallels with Kyiv Rus literature are here conspicuous, as the ambivalence of the image of the book inherent to the medieval mind is traced on the one hand and, on the other, mind, literacy, and intelligence are pointed out. Ambivalence in relation to education is peculiar to Shevchenko's works; it is rooted in his acquaintance with the religious and ideological stereotype common for ancient Ukrainian literature. We should also note the attention paid to the artistic interaction that expands informative horizons of the monograph (chapters Between the Old and the New Covenant: on the problem of dialogueness and Iconographic themes of art paintings). The fourth and final chapter is devoted to the detection of morphological concept of Christian Paideia in ancient literature and works of Taras Shevchenko. Shevchenko’s employment of the principles of Christian ethics and aesthetics to create a semantic horizon of the works directed towards the plane of the inner morality of a human being, his awareness of the possibility of exercising freedom of spirit through proper knowledge and action, is considered separately. The image of monasticism in creative work of Taras Shevchenko through comparison with ancient texts, interpretation of the myths of the army of Christ/militia Dei in his poem Haidamaky and, the exegesis of the poem When I die, bury me with elements of reconstruction of Moses’ testament – should be of a particular interest to the reader. The findings in Olga Bigun’s study are scientifically-grounded, considerate, provided with theoretical, historical and literary arguments, and the monograph is based on extensive bibliography. In general, Olga Bigun fully fits the coordinates of modern Ukrainian research in artistic legacy of Shevchenko, has significant theoretical and methodological, historical and literary potential, providing productive criteria of literary analysis. In particular, this is the first monograph in Ukrainian literary criticism where a reasonable concept of Shevchenko’s byzantinism and its artistic denotations are put forward. This concept consists of: 1) intersemiotic premise of byzantinism in cordocentric transformation; 2) the basic structure of holiness and its many contexts; 3) mythologema of a book and apology of bookishness as presentation through the system of symbols and images; 4) artistic perspective of paideia. Multifaceted reading of Byzantine intentions in the works of Taras Shevchenko is a defining feature of the monograph. It reveals the ideas absorbed from the outside, their artistic reception and immanent layer of Byzantine tradition with holistic picture of typological similarities and differences in the works of Ukrainian literature of the previous periods.
  • Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University in Kyiv in Ukraine
  • Ol’ga Al’bertivna Bigun, Byzantinum: pro et contra. (Ambivalence of Byzantinism in Taras Shevchenko’s writings), Misto NV, Ivano-Frankivsk, 2014. – 412 p.
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