Algirdas Julius Greimas in Lithuanian Archives

 Lithuanian archives in Vilnius, Kaunas, and Šiauliai hold hundreds of Algirdas Julius Greimas’s manuscripts and typescripts, including official and private letters, scholarly papers, journalistic essays, and numerous sheets of working notes. These documents reflect the full range of Greimas’s many interests that covers – in addition to scholarly work on semiotics which earned Greimas world-wide recognition – participation in the resistance in the years of the World War II and active involvement in the political, social, and cultural life of Lithuania and Lithuanian diaspora, which was frequently realised in the form of writing for the Lithuanian and international press along with the management of the publishing process. All these activities appear to have been enabled by a remarkable capacity of Greimas to establish and maintain interpersonal relationships whose dynamics surfaces in the impressive body of letters that constitute his Lithuanian heritage along with his published and unpublished work.

            The Manuscripts Department of Vilnius University Library holds the largest collection of Greimas material – the private archive of Greimas was deposited here soon after his death in 1992. The collection includes: files of working notes and manuscript drafts of Greimas’s papers on semiotics, many of which in their final forms were published in the collections Apie dievus ir žmones: lietuvių mitologijos studijos [Of Gods and Men: Studies in Lithuanian Mythology] (Chicago: Algimanto Mackaus knygų leidimo fondas [AM & M], 1979), Tautos atminties beieškant. Apie dievus ir žmones [In Search of the Nation’s Memory. Of Gods and Men] (Vilnius: Mokslas, and Chicago: Algimanto Mackaus knygų leidimo fondas [AM & M], 1990), and Lietuvių Mitologijos Studijos [Studies in Lithuanian Mythology] (Vilnius: baltos lankos, 2005); numerous journalistic pieces on the political and cultural realities of Lithuania and Europe, written for the Lithuanian diaspora press and later for various periodicals in Lithuania; journalistic articles that were completed for publication but never came out, as well as manuscripts and typescripts of unfinished journalistic pieces and Greimas’s attempts at creative writing; and hundreds of letters, both formal and personal. These documents show unequivocally than Greimas communicated and collaborated with people scattered all over the world, working on professional academic matters and, beyond his scholarly interests, putting every effort into sustaining the cultural life and identity of the Lithuanian diaspora and rebuilding the political self-awareness and socio-cultural well-being in Lithuania at the time of the Revival.

            The collection of letters in this archive shows the significance of Greimas’s capacity for collaboration and the scope of his collaborative work in both scholarly and public spheres of life. He was invited to write for both scholarly journals and the Lithuanian diaspora press on a regular basis, and was asked for advice on both conceptual and managerial matters of publishing now and again. Many letters bear witness to an ongoing exchange of scholarly material and work. Jonas Balys, for example, on reception of a submission from Greimas to the journal Baltistica in 1974, supplied him with additional research material for some complementary work he considered necessary (the article came out soon after: “Tawals. Deus auctor facultatum”. Baltistica (Vilnius) 11.2 (1975): 181-184). To Dangerutis Čebelis, meanwhile, Greimas himself – anonymously – posted books on philology that would not have been accessible to a linguist working in Kaunas back in 1963, thereby doing his best to support the development of philology in Lithuania. Greimas’s files of working material contain numerous notes taken from the published work of Jonas Balys, which evidently served as a major source of empirical-historical data for Greimas’s research on mythology along with the material he received by way of interpersonal exchange with Balys and other scholars. In 1979-83 Bronys Savukynas generously offered Greimas his philological competence, research material, and scholarly works that were unavailable in Paris, as well as the time needed to provide extensive commentary and do necessary translations from Russian. This was how Greimas was able to read Vladimir Toporov’s study on Slavic mythologems correspondent with those he found in the myth of Šovijus. From 1982 onwards, Saulius Žukas regularly supplied Greimas with research material.

            Greimas’s letters and postcards to the linguist Jonas Kabelka, sent over forty decades of their friendship (1938-78), mediate a conversation on daily news and sometimes an exchange of unequivocally stated views on the methodological principles of philological research. Just as unequivocally Greimas expressed his views on the restoration of the Lithuanian state to another friend of his younger years, Vytautas Abraitis, who renewed contact with him in 1988, inviting him to write on political matters for the American Lithuanian press again, and maintained an epistolary discussion with Greimas about Lithuanian political realities up to the end of 1991. Greimas was always convinced that the diaspora must keep their ties with the occupied Lithuania and defended this position in the 1965 Santara-Šviesa symposium in New York and Tabor Farm. The Manuscripts Department of Vilnius University Library holds Greimas’s lecture notes, the debate he incited continued in the Lithuanian diaspora press of the time, and Greimas himself reiterated his view much later, in 1991, as the Lithuanian Revival gave the issue new urgency (“Veidu į Lietuvą” [“Face to Lithuania”]. Akiračiai , no. 5, May 1990: 14). For Greimas, participation in public debates on political and cultural issues in order to foster a political and cultural self-awareness of Lithuanians on either side of the Iron Curtain evidently was a moral obligation. He responded to every invitation from Vytautas Kavolis to express his views in the press from 1954, five years before Kavolis founded the journal Metmenys, to which Greimas contributed an autobiographical interview (“Intelektualinės autobiografijos bandymas” [“An Attempt at an Intellectual Autobiography”]. Metmenys 50 (1985): 10-20; 51 (1986): 21-30) as well as journalism, literary criticism (mostly in the form of reviews), and semiotic papers. Greimas had a clear vision what needed to be done to rebuild Lithuania, which included specific strategies for every domain of the newly reborn state, and communicated this vision to the President of the Republic of Lithuania Vytautas Landsbergis. The typescript of this address is held at the Vilnius University Library Manuscripts Department archives, and it was later published in the press (“Pro memoria. Lietuvos ateities projektavimo reikalu,” [“Memorandum. On the Matter of Designing Lithuania’s Future”]. Letter to Vytautas Landsbergis ca. 1991. Baltos lankos 8 (1997): 140-148).

            This strategic programme covered the development of the humanities in Lithuania, including the establishment and expansion of international collaboration, whereby Greimas tried to bring Lithuania back onto the map of the European cultural life. This effort surfaces from his correspondence with Rolandas Pavilionis (1978-1990), while its complexity and direct, practical value to the reviving culture of Lithuania emerges from his many letters to Saulius Žukas (1981-1991). Greimas actively collaborated with his Lithuanian editors and, in the course of this work contributed, to the development of the semiotic terminology in Lithuanian: Semiotika. Darbų rinktinė [Semiotics. Selected Works] (Vilnius: Mintis, 1989, pp. 75-85) was thus collected and published by Rolandas Pavilionis, in collaboration with Bronys Savukynas for translation issues; and Iš arti ir iš toli. Literatūra, kultūra, grožis: straipsnių rinkinys [From Near and Far. Literature, Culture, Beauty: Collected Articles] (Vilnius: Vaga, 1991) was published in close collaboration with Saulius Žukas on all matters. Greimas also read the work of his Lithuanian colleagues and gave them constructive advice. On the plane of state policies, he proposed strategies for cultural development for the country as a whole and contributed to their implementation. He campaigned for the revival of the Faculty of Philosophy at Vilnius University and for the creation of various centres for social sciences; initiated a debate club and acitvely participated in launching the journal Baltos lankos with the purpose of opening up a space for the development of the living critical thought in Lithuania, both written and spoken; and generously contributed to the Lithuanian press which was rapidly expanding at the time of the national revival. Greimas encouraged collaboration between people working in different spheres of culture for the common good, in an attempt to improve the cultural life of society as a whole, urged Lithuanians to participate in international events, organised short- and long-term fellowships for Lithuanian scholars, cultural figures, and school teachers, and sent to Lithuania his colleagues from France and Italy to give lectures and seminars.

            Collaborative communication between Greimas and the semiotician Kęstutis Nastopka, which began in 1973, appears to belong to this multilayered network of Greimas’s concerns, while the project of establishing and expanding semiotics in Lithuania emerges as a real possibility for Greimas to bring to Lithuania cutting-edge research in the humanities and thus turn the country into a centre of contemporary European scholarship. Greimas’s letters to the philosopher Arvydas Šliogeris (1989-91) show clearly that, in addition to his project of semiotics, he cared for the well-being of the Lithuanian culture as a complex, multifaceted whole, which he envisioned as an organism that lives in the form of a dialogue between people of different interests and views. The digital copies of Greimas’s letters to Kęstutis Nastopka and Arvydas Šliogeris are now part of a digital archive of the A. J. Greimas Centre for Semiotics and Literary Theory at Vilnius University; some Greimas’s letters to Kęstutis Nastopka are held at the Lithuanian Archives of Literature and Art.

            Such an active participation of Greimas in the cultural life of Lithuania was not welcomed by everybody, while Greimas did not always remain indifferent to the gestures of rejection he received. His emotional involvement surfaces from an unpublished response (VUB Manuscripts Department) to an open statement of distrust from yet another friend of Greimas’s younger years, Kazys Jankauskas, who objected to the collaboration of the Lithuanian Writer’s Union weekly Literatūra ir menas with Greimas in June 1991. The Šiauliai Aušros Museum holds a letter from a much earlier period of their lives, written by Greimas to Jankauskas on 21 December 1942, barely a few months after Jankauskas took charge of the literary almanac Varpai initiated by Greimas. This letter opens the history of Varpai written by Leonas Peleckis-Kaktavičius (Varpai: istorija, autoriai, akcentai [Varpai: History, Authors, Highlights]. Šiauliai: Varpai, 2011. 10-13).

            The Vilnius University Library Manuscripts Department also holds letters to Greimas from Henrikas Radauskas and Aleksys Churginas, both of whom Greimas treasured as very close friends. Greimas himself prepared for publication and published a selection of letters from Radauskas (“Vienašalis pasikalbėjimas su Henriku Radausku” [“One-Sided Conversation with Henrikas Radauskas”]. Metmenys 64 (1993): 92-123), although some of the earlier ones, from 1946-48, have remained unpublished. He also wrote about Radauskas’s poetry on a couple of occasions (“Kol fontanas vėl prabils . . .” [“Before the Fountain Speaks . . .”]. Review of Henrikas Radauskas, Fontanas: eilėraščiai [Fountain: Poems]. Kaunas, 1935. Mintis no. 53, 21 May 1948: 4; and “Mintys apie Henriką Radauską ir jo strėlės vietą lietuviškame danguje” [“Thoughts about Henrikas Radauskas and the Place of His Arrow in the Lithuanian Sky”]. Literatūros lankai 4 (1954): 20, translated into French as „Réflexions sur Henrikas Radauskas et sur la place de sa Flèche dans le Ciel lithuanien,” Arena, nr. 6, 1962, p. 28-32) and paid last respects to him by writing an obituary (“Henrikas Radauskas (1910.IV.23—1970.VIII.27)” [“Henrikas Radauskas (23 April 1910—27 August 1970)”]. Akiračiai no. 8 (22), September 1970: 9). Aleksys Churginas wrote Greimas on a regular basis in 1974-90, sharing daily news about Lithuanian cultural and political realities as well as his thoughts on literature and poetry, often including some poetry of his own. Greimas published some of these poems, with an Introduction which is an abridged version of a longer tribute he wrote “By Way of an Obituary” when Churginas passed away (“Una salus victis”. In Poezijos pavasaris, ed. Sigita Geda et al. Vilnius: Vaga, 1991, pp. 82-85). Close friendship between Greimas and Aleksandra Fledžinskaitė-Kašubienė, dating back to 1941, was revived in 1988, and the letters that mediated it were deposited in the archive in 2009, soon after their publication (Algirdo Juliaus Greimo ir Aleksandros Kašubienės laiškai 1988-1992 [Correspondance between Algirdas Julius Greimas and Aleksandra Kašuba 1988-1992]. Compiled by Aleksandra Fledžinskaitė-Kašuba and edited by Gintautė Žemaitytė-Lidžiuvienė. Vilnius: baltos lankos, 2008). The archive’s holdings also include the letters that have been exchnaged over fifteen years of friendship between Ona Greimienė and Irena Kostkevičiūtė (1967-82), along with a few of those written by Greimas in an effort to maintain contact after Ona’s death in 1982.

            The collections of Greimas’s documents held at the Research Library of the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore supplement the picture of the dynamics of Greimas’s interpersonal attachments and further testify to his concern for the development of philological research in Lithuania and for the possibilities of re-inscribing Lithuanian literature back into European contexts. In his letters to Jonas Aistis (Kossu-Aleksandravičius) (1940-48, 1967), a close friend at the time, Greimas elaborates in detail about his life in Lithuania during the war and the circumstances of his retreat to France on the Soviets’ return to Lithuania in 1945. His letters to Tomas Venclova (1966-1976) witness his attempts to establish collaborative networks with researchers in Vilnius and Tartu for the expansion of his semiotic project, as well as his admiration for Venclova’s poetry. He also wrote to Kostas Korsakas on several occasions (1967-74), trying to establish and maintain a collaborative relationship with the Institute. Greimas’s response to the 1972 collection of Venclova’s poetry was published as a review soon after he read it (“Tomo Venclovos beveik beprasmė poezija” [“The Almost Meaningless Poetry of Tomas Venclova”]. Review of Venclova, Kalbos ženklas: eileraščiai [Sign Language: Poems]. Vilnius: Vaga, 1972, 63 p. Metmenys 23 (1972): 9-17). Yet the reply to Antanas Škėma, which Greimas wrote in 1954 to lay out his views on Škėma’s work in particular and Lithuanian playwriting at large, placing them in the context of modern European theatre, came out only nine years later in the form of a summary of the letter, with which Greimas responded to an invitation from Metmenys to discuss the significance of the playwright’s work (“Anketa Antano Škėmos literatūrinio palikimo vertei apsvarstyti” [“A Discussion on the Value of Antanas Škėma’s Literary Legacy”]. Response to a questionnaire. Metmenys 6 (1963): 128).

            Holdings of the Folklore Department of the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore include correspondence between Greimas and Jonas Balys (1948-84), which contextualises their professional academic dialogue on the matters on mythology. These letters tell us of Greimas’s intentions to settle in the United States right after receiving his doctorate in Paris in 1948, as well as showing the transformation of a friendly dialogue between Greimas and Balys into an academic debate on Lithuanian mythology and especially on the methodological principles of research. Their exchange took place in the public space too: in 1948, Greimas reviewed Balys’s work (“Liaudies kultūros pūdymuose (Dr. J. Balio Lietuvių tautosakos skaitymų pasirodymo proga)” [“In the Fallow Acres of Folk Culture (Commemorating the Publication of Dr. J. Balys’s Readings in Folklore)”]. Viltis 1 (1949): 37-38), and Balys responded to Greimas’s mythological research in 1977 (“Apie mitologiją iš esmės” [“On mythology, in essence”]. Naujoji Viltis 10 (1977): 40-51).

            The largest collection of the Greimas material held at the Maironis Lithuanian Literature Museum consists of the Greimases’ letters and postcards to his relative Irena Oškinaitė-Būtėnienė and her family, written from March 1958 to the end of 1991. Soon after Greimas’s death, Irena Oškinaitė-Būtėnienė published an account of the biographical detail of their relationship, dating back to their early childhood, and of the content of their epistolary exchange, generously quoting most expressive passages from Greimas’s letters to her (“Dialogo monologai. Iš A. J. Greimo laiškų 1958-1992 m.” [“Monologues of a Dialogue. Selections from A. J. Greimas’s Correspondence 1958-92”]. Kultūros barai 4 (1993): 58-62). The Museum also holds a number of formal and personal letters from Greimas to Kostas Ostrauskas (1965-1991), Eduardas Cinzas (1970), Juozas Kėkštas (1976), Antanas Vaičiulaitis (1979), Edvardas Viskanta (1981), and Viktorija Skrupskelytė (1983-84). The entire biography of Greimas – from early childhood to his death – is reflected in the Museum’s collection of photographs. The pictures of Greimas as a child, with his family, have been published among others in Greimas Near and Far by Karolis Rimtautas Kašponis (Kaunas: Naujasis lankas, 2014). The digital copies of these photographs, along with some pictures of Greimas in Grenoble, are among the openly available exhibits of the Lithuanian Integral Museum Information System LIMIS. The Maironis Lithuanian Literature Museum also holds a collection of books by Greimas and a bookplate print “Ex Libris Algirdas Julius Greimas” by Žibuntas Mikšys.

            The Kaunas City Museum holds a collection of documents that testify to Greimas’s role in the organised resistance in Europe in 1946-48. His correspondence with Algirdas Vokietaitis and his letters to Jonas Deksnys, Bronys Raila, and Vytautas Stanevičius-Staneika show that strategic thinking, pragmatic demands for clearly specified and tangible outcomes, and an effort to establish and sustain a dialogue for the sake of a common good guided Greimas’s activities back in the post-war years as well as characterising his working style much later. In these early post-war years, when not preparing for defence not one but two doctoral theses, Greimas kept himself busy looking for funds for the organised resistance as well as establishing communication networks for information exchange and for the printing and dissemination of the Lithuanian press. These activities involved coordination between different bodies of the organised resistance, scattered across Europe and America, which Greimas did in full awareness of the necessity to keep a fragile balance between the local interests of organisations working in different places and their common aim to facilitate conditions for the restoration of the Lithuanian state. These aims were pursued in the framework of the United Democratic Resistance Movement, BDPS (Bendrojo demokratinio pasipriešinimo sąjūdis) with which Greimas was involved during this period, co-founding its Foreign Delegation (Užsienio Delegatūra) in December 1947. The Vytautas Magnus University Lithuanian Emigration Institute in Kaunas also holds a collection of documents witnessing Greimas’s resistance activities, in addition to his correspondence with relevant parties on the matters of the publication of the collection Apie dievus ir žmones [Of Gods and Men], his participation in Santara-Šviesa, and his publications in Metmenys. Some of the 1947-48 letters from Greimas to Henrikas Žemelis in relation the periodical Mintis have been published in Dalia Kuizinienė’s study of the literary life of Lithuanians in Europe in 1945-50 (Dalia Kuizinienė. Lietuvių literatūrinis gyvenimas Vakarų Europoje 1945-1950 m. Vilnius: Versus Aureus, 2003, pp. 460-467). The formation of the organised resistance and its transformations, including Greimas’s role in it, are the subject matter of Daiva Dapkutė’s study of the genesis of liberalism among the Lithuanian diaspora in the post-war period up to 1970 (Dapkutė Daiva, Lietuvių išeivijos liberaliosios srovės genezė: politiniai - organizaciniai aspektai, 1945 m. – šeštojo dešimtmečio pabaiga. Vilnius: Vaga, 2002).

All archival material described on this page has been examined in the framework of the project “Algirdas Julius Greimas Heritage in Lithuania” funded by the Lithuanian Research Council in 2015 (LIT-9-13). Among other objectives, the project aimed to create a digital archive consisting of a catalogue of archival documents and Greimas’s Lithuanian publications, the descriptions of archival documents that had been examined, a collection of digital copies of Greimas’s publications in Lithuanian, and a corpus of the digital copies of selected archival material. This digital archive includes material from private collections; c. 200 archival items have been transferred from private collections into the Vilnius University Library Manuscripts Department in the course of this project. This research was conducted by Jūratė Levina.