Ukrainian literary critic, 1929-1992
Ivan Svitlychnyi began his career during the "Thaw", the short period, lasting from 1956 to 1963, when the Soviet Communist Party, then dominated by Nikita Khrushchov, relaxed its control over literary activities. This period gave birth to a generation of young innovative writers, known as the shestydesiatnyky ("people of the 1960"), who breached the confines of the officially permitted. Svitlychnyi was one of the first critics to welcome and support the radical spirit of this creative generation, of which he was one of the most influential representatives.
The first two articles by Svitlychnyi to provoke controversy in the press were "Liudyna pryiizdyt' na selo" (A Man Comes to a Village) and "Koly vkhodysh u literaturu" (When You Enter Literature…), both published in the journal Vitchyzna (Fatherland) in 1961. In the first of these pieces, Svitlychnyi challenges the trite imagery, plots, and ideal in "village novels" by Ukrainian writers who skillfully manipulated the platitudes of "socialist realism". The critic castigates the followers of Soviet orthodoxy for their inability to think independently and for their lack of social courage, most evident in their failure to expose acute rural problems. Bureaucracy, for Svitlychnyi, is "the greatest evil of our time". The second of the two pieces contains Svitlychny's reflections on the literary debuts of several newly published poets. He attacks the lack of freshness and originality of those who follow in the steps of the old generation. At the same time, he welcomes to literature a number of new talents. Svitlychnyi states that variety and originality in literature are prerequisites for the emergence of literary works of aesthetic value. In another article devoted to new talents, "U poetychnomu kosmosi" (1962, In the Poetic Cosmos), Svitlycnyi offers enthusiastic assessments of works by such young poets as Ivan Drach, Vasyl Symonenko, Lina Kostenko, Mykola Vinhranovs'kyi, and Vitalii Korotych.
Svitlychnyi's championing of novelty and originality in literature laid the theoretical foundations for the new aesthetics of the shestydesiatnyky. By siding with the young rebels, Svitlychnyi challenged the representatives of Soviet literary officialdom and provoked highly negative reactions from them. Their response initially took the form of ferocious polemic conducted in the name of the literary establishment by Pavlo Zahrebelnyi. In his article "Three Drops of Sorrow" he attacks Svitlychnyi, together with Leonid Korevich and Olexander Stavytskyi, for "negativism" in their assessment of Soviet reality. This was followed by a conference, chaired by the neo-Stalinist critic Petro Morhaienko, which had the task of "reconverting" the renegade critics to the party line. Yet Svitlychnyi and other chastised critics had no quarrel with the official "Marxist-Leninist" ideology, and rejected only those works that they judged to be aesthetically inadequate.
During his two most productive years (1961-1962), Svitlychnyi continued to write critical works in which he uncompromisingly targeted Soviet literary hacks. His article "Bohy i Navoloch" (1962, Gods and Rascals) is a critical response to Mykhailo Stelmakh's novel Pravda i Kryvda (1961, Truth and Lies), which depicts the Soviet people as triumphant after the dismantling of Stalin's personality cult. That year, Svitlychnyi also published a book, Khudozhnii Metod (The Artistic Method).
In 1963 the "Thaw" came to an end. Khrushchev's declaration of the tightening of literary controls was celebrated by the orthodox penny-a-liners, who began a merciless campaign against the shestydesiatnyky. Vasyl Kozachenko, Andrii skaba, Oles Honchar, and others took an active part in this witch-hunt. Svitlychnyi was reprimanded for his "errors" and found it harder to publish his articles: on several occasions he had to put them out under a different name. In two years he managed to publish only two articles under his own name, and both were devoted to relatively safe 19th-century writers. Svitlychnyi also lost his job, but managed to get some work at the Institute of Philosophy.
In 1965 the journal Dnipro (The Dnieper) published the sensational article "Harmoniia i algebra" (Harmony and Algebra), in which Svitlychnyi reappeared as a daring critic of pseudo-scholarship, ridiculing literary and linguistic scholars who attempted to elucidate the secret of poetic genius by means of statistical analysis. Soon afterwards, Svitlycnyi was arrested and charged with participation in underground samvydav (samizdat) publications, and with smuggling abroad the diary of the banned poet Vasyl Symonenko. After eight months in detention an interrogation, Svitlychnyi was released, but he was silenced and his works were banned. His name is not mentioned in the officially approved dictionary of Ukrainian writers (1965).
Prevented from publishing his own writings, Svitlycnyi turned to translating from Czech, Slovak, French, and Old Russian. The last of his books to appear was a translation (1970) of Pierre-Jean de Béranger's Chansons nouvelles. Svitlychnyi's foreword to the collection was removed by the censor.
In January 1972, Svitlychnyi was again arrested, charged this time with contributing to and distributing samvydav literature. He was tried behind closed doors, and sentenced to seven years in hard labour camps and five years in exile. By the time that he returned to Kyiv, in 1984, his health was totally ruined. He began to publish again at the end of the 1980s, including some verse that he had begun writing during his imprisonment. Commenting on Svitlycnyi's poetic gift, Ivan Dziuba has said that "hard labour camps killed his body but opened up new possibilities for his spirit". A collection of Svitlychyi's works, Sertse Dlia Ku' i Dlia Rym (A Heart for Bullets and Rhymes), which appeared in 1991, presents him as a poet, a translator, and a literary critic of remarkable talent. It incorporates poetry from his first collection, Hratovani sonety (Sonnets behind Bars), which had first appeared in an edition published abroad while the poet was still in the camps.
Khudozhnii metod (The Artistic Method), 1962
"Harmoniia i Algebra" (Harmony and Algebra), Dnipro, 1965
Hratovani sonety (Sonnets behind Bars), 1977
Dzherela: Poezii (Sources: Poetry), 1984
Sertse Dlia Ku' i Dlia Rym (A Heart for Bullets and Rhymes), 1991
"Dukhovna Drama Shevchenka" (The Spiritual Drama of Shevchenko), Vyzvol'nyi Shliakh, 5 (1992)
"My Vsi Opryshny" (We are All Rebels), Suchasnist', 2 (1994)
U Mene-Ti'ky Slovo (I Have Only a Word), 1994
Nahaylo, Bohdan, "Ivan Svitlychnyi", Index on Censorship, 7/2 (1978)
Ivanyshenko, Viktor, "Vin Daruvav Nam Svitlo", Dnipro, 7-8, (1995)
Kostiuk, Hryhorii, "Pidnyiatysia Vyshche i Litaty Shvydshe: Ivan Svitlychnyi Iak Literaturnyi Krytyk", Suchasnist', 1-2, (January-February 1983)
Luckyj, George S. N., Ukrainian Literature in the Twentieth Century: A Readers' Guide, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992
Shevchuk, Valerii, Dobrookyi: spohady pro Ivana Svitlychnoho (The Man with Kind Eyes: Memoirs of Ivan Svitlychnyi) Kyiv: Chas, 1998
Svitlychna, Nadiia, "Pohrom z prodovzhenniam" (Massacre Continues), Suchasnist', 23 (1983)
Zinkewych, Osyp, Svitlychny i Dzyuba: Ukrainian Writers under Fire, Baltimore: Smoloskyp, 1966