Literary Discussion

Literary Discussion. A wide-ranging debate during 1925–8 which coincided with the implementation of a policy of Ukrainization and engaged figures active in the political and cultural life of the new Soviet Ukrainian republic. The polemical pamphlets of Mykola Khvylovy, which were serialized in Kultura i pobut (1925–6), outlined the themes and defined the tone of the debate, which came to be known as the Literary Discussion. Among the issues raised were the right of Ukrainian literature to set its own course, the relationship of current writing to past cultural values, the role of literary organizations, and the function of literature and literary criticism.

Two fundamental camps emerged. On one side stood Mykola Khvylovy, the literary organization Vaplite, and the Neoclassicists, who insisted on the deprovincialization of Ukrainian writing, the assimilation of European literary classics, and the cultivation of high artistic achievements. On the other side stood figures such as Mykola Skrypnyk and Andrii Khvylia, who acted as spokespeople for the Communist Party, and critics such as Volodymyr Koriak, Samiilo Shchupak, and Borys Kovalenko. They supported the All-Ukrainian Association of Proletarian Writers (VUSSP), an organization sponsored by the Party for the purpose of defeating Vaplite. The VUSSP tended to see intellectual life in Ukraine as a reflection of Russian trends, considered works of the past as potentially pernicious, and applied a crude sociological analysis to and held a utilitarian view of literature. Its members felt that literature must implement the Party's directives and shape the new communist society. Still other figures, such as Oleksander Biletsky, avoided any organizational involvement and stressed the need for a multifaceted approach to literature and the value of formal analysis.

The Literary Discussion is generally considered to have ended in February 1928, after a formal debate took place in Kharkiv, presided over by Mykola Skrypnyk. The issues raised by the Literary Discussion continued, however, to agitate Ukrainian intellectuals and to enliven the pages of literary journals until the early 1930s.

Leites, A.; Iashek, M. Desiat’ rokiv ukraïns’koï literatury (1917–1927), 2 vols (Kharkiv 1928; repr, Munich 1986)
Luckyj, G.S.N. Literary Politics in the Soviet Ukraine, 1917–1934 (New York 1956 and 1971)
Khvylovy, Mykola The Cultural Renaissance in Ukraine: Polemical Pamphlets, 1925–1926, trans with an intro by M. Shkandrij (Edmonton 1986)
Donchyk, V. (ed). 20-i roky: Literaturni dyskusiï, polemiky: Literaturno-krytychni statti (Kyiv 1991)
Shkandrij, Myroslav Modernists, Marxists, and the Nation: The Ukrainian Literary Discussion of the 1920s (Edmonton 1992)

Myroslav Shkandrij

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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