Jaan Kaplinski

Silm, Hektor
Jaan Kaplinski (Photo: Peeter Langovits)
Silm, Hektor (The Eye, Hektor) Jaan Kaplinski
Tänapäev (2000)

Jaan Kaplinski
Nisu 33-9
50407 Tartu
phone: 372 7 425 755,


The following text is by Rutt Hinrikus and Janika Kronberg.

Jaan Kaplinski's booked Silm, Hektor contains two short novels. It is the first in a new series by the publishers Tänapäev designed to present new works and classics by members of the Estonian PEN-Club, regardless of genre. As an essayist and poet, much-translated and acknowledged both at home and abroad, Kaplinski is a very fitting author to open this series.

As works of fiction, both Silm and Hektor mark a new departure in the author's work. The novels, bordering on science fiction, can be classified as semiotic or essayistic conceptual literature, and have already been compared to the work of Jorge Luis Borges or Albert Camus by critics. Still, Kaplinski differs from Borges by his construction of real space and time and clarity of plots, and from Camus by his Buddhist outlook.

The themes of both short novels are familiar from Kaplinski's earlier essays: Hektor focuses on relations between man and nature, An Eye on those between man and god. Hektor has been inspired by genetics and the theory of evolution. Its main character, whose notes form the basis of the story, is a neotenic mutant dog with an exceptionally high IQ. After the death of his master - a scientist - the dog assumes his role. He lives alone on the well-guarded territory of a laboratory and associates with the world via e-mail and a voice converter. Nobody knows about his strange existence and he has to hide from humans, especially from the police and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The dog tries to find the key to his master's safe, to familiarise himself with the material hidden there, and finally, to blow everything up. He sends electronic notes on his life as a human dog to various servers, to be opened only after the results of earlier experiments and the research itself has been destroyed.

Kaplinski has presented an original analytical history of human society and progress as viewed through the eyes of a mutant dog. But a dog cannot by nature be humane, he cannot adopt the humanist ethic which elevates man above the rest of all living nature. Only Buddhism, which respects all living creatures equally, can be relatively understandable for him. On the other hand, Hektor cannot return to being a mere animal either, and thus the novel is about the suffering and utter isolation of a unique creature. Philosophically, Hektor is about the chasm between man and nature and about the need to bridge this fatal chasm.

An Eye is slightly longer than Hektor, its style and structure hint at an oriental parable. The first part of the work depicts the development of a young theologian under the omnipresent eye of the KGB in Soviet society, which the main character attempts to outwit with Cabala and Gnostics. The second part gives the notes of the same, now missing theologian, which describe his meeting with a Chinese magus with whom he goes on to evoke the creators of the world. Each forthcoming god is succeeded by a new, more powerful and higher god, until in the end a macrocosm is reached, in relation to which a human being is only a dream. The principal question the Chinese magus asks both the gods and the theologian is whether the world was created according to aesthetic or life-essential questions. In the search for the answer the theologian decides to follow the magus and thus disappears.

These novels by Kaplinski have been the most important literary events on the Estonian literary scene in recent years. They are highlighted by original approaches to questions of existentialism, slightly self-ironical presentation of ideas, and fascinating plots.

Silm, Hektor was awarded the Estonian Cultural Endowment (2000).

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