George G. Grabowicz, a Professor of Ukrainian Studies at Harvard University, has been nominated by the Ukrainian Institute of Literature in Ukraine (the Academy of Sciences) as one of candidates for this year’s Shevchenko National Award. The Award is conferred for outstanding works in literature, critical literature, journalism and performing arts and is the highest in rank among similar awards in this country.

Mr. Grabowicz’s nomination caused among the intellectuals an uproar of the kind unseen before in Ukraine. The object of the scholar’s research is Taras Shevchenko, who, with his fiery patriotic poetry is no less important for the Ukrainians than Adam Mickiewicz is for the Polish people, Friedrich Schiller for the Germans, or Sandor Petofi for the Magyars. As for Shevchenko’s relevance and his “up-to-dateness”, they are even higher in Ukraine today than they were in the 19th century when the Ukrainians were being woken up to nationhood by the poet. Opposed to this, George Grabowicz, in his basic book The Poet as Myth Maker, as well as in other works, writes, using the structural methods of literary analysis, that Shevchenko was not (and could not be) the “maker” of the nation. In sync with today’s fashions dominant among researchers in the West, the scholar also finds in Shevchenko’s poems motifs of grievance against his (Shevchenko’s) mother whom the poet wants, (subconsciously) to “punish” because the mother died early and left him alone. Since the plight of the Ukrainian woman is one of the central themes for Shevchenko, Mr. Grabowicz eventually comes up with the idea of Shevchenko’s non-traditional orientation, etc. Just fancy George Grabowicz selling these concepts to old Maxim, my neighbor in the post-war village, for whom Shevchenko’s Kobzar (“The Bard”) was “ a godly book,” as Maxim called it? Another curious moment with the scholar: at one point, in an interview for a national newspaper, Grabowicz said that the Ukrainian literature hadn’t been formed yet and suggested that it should be exempted from high school curricula all over the country. The suggestion raises eyebrows: in Ukraine, language and literature have traditionally been considered as fundamentals of a person’s and nation’s formation.

Shevchenko on MaidanI agree with a comment I came across on the Internet yesterday: Taras Shevchenko is a banner of the Ukrainian revival. Especially, these days (I saw Shevchenko’s portrait not once during the events on Maidan). Imagine a wounded, bleeding warrior carrying this banner in a battle. And instead of helping him hold the flag high up, George Grabowicz starts criticizing the size of the flag, its being torn, faded, ragged, etc.

Well, the Harvard scholar has the right to criticize and analyze any literary works the way he thinks to be most appropriate and productive. But Shevchenko Award is not only about skills in literary analysis. Just like any prize is given not for mere technicalities, but also for “contribution…”, “rare combination of the qualities of both intellect and …” (see, for one, the wording of speeches when the Nobel Prizes in Literature were awarded), Shevchenko National Award is also conferred for the nominee being at one with Ukraine and its people. Just like Taras Shevchenko was.


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