Estonian Life Stories

Estonian Life Stories

Estonian Life Stories

Estonian Life Stories

Excerpt

Life stories are a border phenomenon, poised—sometimes precariously, between autobiography and history. According to Eberhard Jäckel, “human life consists essentially of relations with the past.” He adds, “History is remembering subjected to order, a report of what has occurred; in another, colloquial meaning of the word, History also means narrative.” Undoubtedly a life story is a narrative about the past, but history is not the summa of life stories, of remembered “great lives.” Though they share a common anchor in the past, life stories taken together do not yet constitute history. The relationship between life stories and history is more complex than it seems at first glance; where do individual life stories end, and the general history of a people begin? How do episodes of a remembered past become “subjected to order,” configured according to broader continuities and ruptures, structures of sequence, and emphasis, with or without the intention of explanation?

It is important for the reader of Estonian Life Stories to understand the nature of the collection and its component stories neither as “simple autobiographies,” nor “real history,” but rather as texts written in response to a summons to collect life narratives at a particular juncture in Estonian national history. This summons was issued as an open, public invitation with a specific form—life story writing competitions sponsored in the second half of the 1990s by an association of professionals and citizens, under the aegis of “memory institutions,” primarily the Cultural History Archive at the Estonian Literary Museum in Tartu. The threevolume text Eesti rahva elulood (Estonian Life Stories, the first two volumes of which were published in 2000) emerged from the 20,000 pages

Eberhard Jäckel, Umgang mit Vergangenheit. Beiträge zur Geschichte (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1989), 118.

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