Interview with Hrach Bayadyan about the "Reading Matevosyan" course

The “Reading Matevosyan” course will be held at the Institute for Contemporary Art from April 19 to May 17. In the course of ten meetings (five lectures, each of which will be followed by a practical seminar), a number of issues related to Hrant Matevosyan's literature will be discussed – a significant part of which are usually outside the scope of interest of traditional literary studies. The course is also an attempt to draw attention to alternative approaches to the literary text.

In this regard, we talked with the author of the course, cultural critic Hrach Bayadyan.

What motivated you to design this course?

Hrach Bayadyan - About 30 years ago, in 1994, when I was writing an article about the relationship between Western technology and local culture, Matevosyan's literature, and his novel “Gomesh“ in particular, turned out to be very useful to clarify that issue. Since then, I have discussed Matevosyan's writings in many articles and during lectures and seminars. As far as I remember, the only time I have read a report entirely dedicated to Matevosyan was in 2005, during the first Matevosyan readings, which took place at Yerevan State University (the title of that report, “Ideology in cinema and the ideology of cinema according to the novel ‘Khumhar’” (Arm. Hangover), is one of the course topics). On one occasion I also discussed” Antonioni's film “The Night” (and the other films of the trilogy) and the description of that film in the novel “Khumhar” with the “Media Studies. As a result, I wrote a rather extensive text, which is not published, maybe even unfinished, but that I hope to use during this course.

For a few years now I had been thinking of doing a lecture series based on my work, and now it looks like that time has finally come.

There is another consideration. In addition to the fact that most of the course topics are overlooked by literary studies for obvious reasons and that it is worth discussing them with an interested audience, I also consider it important to present my research approaches and methods, which are, so to speak, not widely accepted in Armenia.

Each lecture will be followed by a seminar. What will be the content of the seminars?

H. B. - I thought it would be better if the participants, in addition to listening to the lectures, were also actively involved in the reading work. First of all, I have to say that five lectures are not enough: the topics covered are many and involve a rather dense essay, which means that there will be no opportunity to go into details. Therefore, the seminars will allow us to revisit questions that have not been sufficiently clarified. On the other hand, listeners will have the opportunity to ask questions, make comments, and debate. And finally, those who wish will be asked to write small essays on the course topics, which can also be discussed during the seminar (there will be a break of several days between the lecture and the seminar). I think that such work will make the course even more interesting and effective.

The third lecture’s topic is “Image and writing, the question of cinema.” Can you tell us a little bit more about this topic?

H. B. - When answering the first question, I already talked a little about the “question of cinema”, which was important in different ways for Matevosyan, as an intellectual and for his literature. Of course, cinema is only one side of the issue conventionally named as such. Let's not forget that Matevosyan participated in the High Courses for Scriptwriters in Moscow, and had the opportunity to get to know Western cinema, which was almost forbidden or difficult to access during Soviet times, to watch the films of Antonioni, Bergman, Fellini and others. He referred to cinema in articles and interviews, as well as in “Khumhar”. He also wrote a number of scripts that were later adapted for the screen.

These scripts were written on the basis of both his and other author’s works (such as Isahakyan and Bakunts) and are very interesting for researchers. But since they are in between two fields, that is literary studies and film criticism, they have not received proper attention, although there may be other reasons. They are wonderful material for understanding how the visual element is used when moving from a literary text to a screenplay, how it changes the narrative and the structure of the story, how the dialogues evolve, and so on. These transformations show how important Matevosyan's understanding of cinema was, something that only a careful reading can reveal.

In “Khumhar”, the adaptation of “The Night” says the following: “[...] the novel and the short story were the children of past times and designed for the same past times, and the book is now a survival... Or else it must be transformed in order to live.” In other words, Matevosyan's obsession with cinema was most likely dictated not only by the desire to create good cinema, but also by the awareness that good cinema, with all its possibilities of expression, can be an important tool for the transformation and renewal of writing.

In an interview during the Soviet period, Matevosyan noted: “It [cinema] is going to be the most powerful weapon for our national integrity”. It is well known that from the very first days of the creation of the Soviet Union, cinema was used (by Lenin and Lunacharsky) as a powerful means of propaganda. The 20th century showed that cinema can serve with equal success the purposes of nation-building. But was that possible in Soviet Armenia?

Here are some hints of what we will discuss in the third lecture and seminar.