Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award


New interview: Collapsing and Constructed Identity, Lithuania Tribune

As followers of my Facebook Author Page know, I’m spending the entire summer in Lithuania this year, something I’ve not done since 1996. I found it fitting to be out here when I got a request for an interview from Alexsandra Kudickis, a journalist who has previewed my forthcoming book, Relief by Execution.

The interview was published on June 25 by the Lithuania Tribune. It’s in English. It covers cultural and ethnic identity, Zen meditation, The Fugue, the Holocaust in Lithuania, and pressing questions about controversial memorials in Lithuanian cities.

You can read the interview here.

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Photo by Žana Gončiar


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What’s my heritage? (Links to essays)

The Summer Literary Seminars are in their fifth day—fourth day of classes and lectures and readings—and the event has been fantastic. It’s a privilege to attend once again (this time with my little girl).

I’ve noticed that a lot of traffic from the SLS website has found its way here to Liquid Ink, and students are perusing my photos and blog entries. Last night I got into conversations with some students who asked about my connection to Lithuania.

Here’s an essay I wrote about my grandparents’ flight from Lithuania in the 40’s. It’s titled Displacing Forces, and was originally published in Dialogo magazine out of DePaul University.

Here’s the blog post that has gotten the most traffic in the history of my blog. It also says something about my heritage. You will not need to remember what happened in the London summer Olympics to catch its drift.

Cheers.

Photo: Twilight in Vilnius

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Map of ever-changing borders

This animated map of Europe has been passed around on Facebook by several dozen people I follow. It’s really an amazing document (the over-the-top music notwithstanding), showing how the borders of nations changed over the span of 1000 years. It reveals the blithe relationship between what is “a culture” and “a political border”. When I saw it the first time, I recalled a story I heard Sasha Hemon tell at one of his readings, about a village in Western Ukraine where the residents changed passports three times over the span of a half century but never left their homes.

Interestingly, most of the people who’ve been passing this map around in my feeds are diaspora Lithuanians (I follow quite a few, as I’m one myself). Typically, many of them comment alongside this map: “Hey, we were so badass in the day!” Yes, for a good portion of European history, Lithuania was a large state. It’s something that Lithuanians are particularly proud of, often to an embarrassing fault. I was taught, while styding Lithuanian history on the South Side of Chicago, in a building across the street from a steel cutting plant, to feel very proud of the size of 15th Century Lithuania, even to believe that the expansion of the nation validated me and my culture in some way.

It’s short-sighted to feel nationalistic pride while looking at a map of ever-shifting borders. The lesson is lost to those people: the map reveals that our nations and borders are impermanent. When you were large once, you will later be small; later still, you will disappear completely. The reason for this is that nations, cultures and borders are human inventions, subject to reversal, erasure, eradication, etc.

To go further: ethnicity is a construct. Yes, we cling, often desperately, to ethnic identity, especially when we are blown across the world by a conflict that shatters and destroys borders. But we do ourselves a disservice when we fail to see the border for what it is: a construct in an ever-changing, constanly shifting political landscape. We were no more badass in the day than anyone else because everyone is subject to the same forces.

To get Zen about it: the Earth is impermanent. So is the sun. The Empire State Building will disappear. This is inevitable. If we cling to the impermanent, we raise our level of suffering, because we start desiring things that are impossible. Why can’t this last forever? Why can’t we be large again? Why can’t our enemies be small and suffer worse than we are suffering? The paradox presents itself. Desire for constructs brings us suffering. Instead of looking at a map and seeing things as they are, we see our own desires and amplify them. We’d feel really great if we got what’s impossible to get. And so, we doom ourselves to misery.


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Summer Literary Seminars, Vilnius

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be participating as a lecturer and faculty in-residence at the SLS (Summer Literary Seminar) this upcoming July and August in Vilnius, Lithuania.

I’m scheduled to give two lectures. While I do not yet know what I will be talking about (the phrase assumes there are times I know what I’m talking about, but whatever), you can bet that I’ll have a curious take on Lithuanian identity, and what an English-speaking writer or artist might have to gain from a visit to one of the most fascinating cities in Europe, a source of tremendous inspiration for me personally. That this seminar is taking place in Vilnius is a testament to the organizers’ wisdom. I can’t think of a better place to discuss the state of contemporary letters; looking over the list of faculty lined up for the SLS, I know participants will be engaged and provoked in ways to rival or surpass any literary seminar. The nightly parties at ŠMC will be beyond what anyone is prepared to handle.

If you stumbled upon this post while searching for a literary seminar to attend, I hope you’ll click on the links and look very seriously at SLS. I have not looked forward to something with this much energy in a very long time.