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ERIKS ĀDAMSONS'S "SMALKĀS KAITES" (FANCY DISEASE)

Poet and writer Eriks Ādamsons (1907–1946) debuted in fiction in the mid-1930s with stories that were markedly different from all previous Latvian literature.  Ādamsons has published collections of stories "Smalkās kaites" (1937) and "Lielais spītnieks" ("The Headstrong One") (1942) and several collections of poetry. Ādamsons has never made his aesthetic principles overtly manifest if one is not to consider as a declaration the line: "I am the Lord’s plaything"; to wit, in Ādamsons’s short stories, the characters seem to be subject only to accident; they have no power either over the world or themselves – one gets the impression that someone is indeed playing with them. The games are impressive or, using the title of another poet, Edvarts Virza, one could say that they are "divine games" – only God is replaced by the author. Until Ādamsons the author’s presence had never been felt so close and at the same time elegantly non-insistently. Ādamsons was always busy registering the unique and the distinct, himself becoming a unique and distinct phenomenon in Latvian literature.

The title of "Fancy Disease" to a certain extent became a metaphor applied not only to Ādamsons’s stories but about the short prose of the entire generation. Fancy diseases: sadly grotesque shifts in people’s psychological makeup, complexes, idées fixes, peculiarities that, in Ādamsons’s stories tend to give rise to the most unusual situations, often permeated with the absurd irony of modernism.  Sometimes they are true disorders, e.g, the exaggerated need for cleanliness in the story "Lielas spodrības gaismā" ("In the Light of Great Cleanliness"); the story "Sarkanās asaras" ("Red Tears") is centered around the torment of a young poet who has not been invited to a party by an industrialist he envies and despises at the same time; in "Abakuka krišana" ("The Fall of Abakuks") the fancy disease takes such an exaggerated toll that an accountant ends up dead: in Ādamsons’s stories irony often turns tragic. In the story "Jāšana uz lauvas" ("Riding a Lion"), however, the situation has been reversed: the classical plot about a tragedy caused by jealousy for Ādamsons turns into a farce:  the fit of jealousy experienced by an assistant history professor, Teodors Alpers, melts away in a carnival atmosphere by a merry-go-round. In this story, Ādamsons’s tendency to involve cultural and historical allusions in the text is particularly evident: Western European history is projected against the self-torment of Alpers. It seems that Oscar Wilde’s "The Picture of Dorian Gray" had been an influence in Ādamsons’s story "Neīstā ģīmetne" ("The False Portrait"), one of the most pronounced declarations of sovereignty of art in Latvian literature of the time: An artist paints the picture of a janitor, Freibergs, who has disappeared during the war; the portrait, to console his supposed widow, is made more handsome than the real subject.  After an absence of many years, Freibergs returns, but, seeing the painting, imagines that the portrait that bears no resemblance to him, is of her wife’s lover. After much complication, the conflict is resolved: a photograph of the janitor is hung on his wall, whereas the portrait is awarded a gold medal at an international exhibition. The moral of the story may perhaps be summed up as: human for the sake of the human, but art for art’s sake.

Ādamsons’s prose, on the one hand, included the possible program of future writing, and on the other hand, was evidence that the era of modernism has begun in Latvian literature as well. This poetics, however, could not be fully expressed during the Soviet occupation and World War II and found its venue in the exiled writer, Anšlavs Eglītis’s works.

Guntis Berelis

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