Commemorating the work of Petar Uvaliev
and celebrating Bulgarian Language and Culture Day
On 10 May UCL SSEES hosted the symposium Petar Uvaliev: The Mediator and His Media to commemorate the work of Petar Uvaliev and celebrate Bulgarian Language and Culture Day. It was opened by HE Mr Konstantin Dimitrov, Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria in London and the SSEES Director, Dr Robin Aizlewood.
Petar Uvaliev, aka Pierre Rouve, came to London in 1947 and worked here until the end of his life in 1998. He was recognised as a most creative and influential 20th century Bulgarian émigré-intellectual. The speakers - Sonia Rouve, Nigel Foxell, Dr Milena Borden, Dr Georgi Parpulov and Dr Ognyan Kovachev - discussed Uvaliev's achievements in radio journalism, film-making and art, literary and film studies and criticism. Delegates saw a display of his publications and photographs, and a Bulgarian National Television documentary about him. The research, the display and the film screening were made possible by the kind permission of his widow, Mrs Sonia Rouve.
The symposium was organised by Dr Ognyan Kovachev, Lecturer in Bulgarian Studies at SSEES, with the support of the Centre of South-East European Studies and the Bulgarian Embassy in London.
Summaries of the Talks
A Bibliographic Study on Petar Uvaliev
Let me set the scene: at the time of his death in 1998, Petar's library consisted of some six thousand volumes.
These books (plays, works of philosophy, art books, novels, collections of poetry) were on shelves and in piles on the floor, everywhere in his studio at 46 Markham Square. They covered his lifelong passion for knowledge and his ability to acquire such knowledge.
Once described as a teatralen tchovek, I would rather call him a knizhoven tchovek, a true bibliophile.
Throughout his life, knowing how much he would value the gift of a copy of a friend or fellow writer's work, he was to receive many books and, after his death, it was decided that the appropriate place for this unique collection would be in his native Bulgaria and some two thousand volumes were donated to the excellent Centre Petar Uvaliev in Dobrich.
My presentation is an analysis of a Master's degree dissertation undertaken by a librarian in charge of, and based on, those volumes. Books, with donor's inscription and signature, from Petar Uvaliev's personal library, is the title of Galina Koleva's fascinating study. She has identified over 300 books bearing a signature and words of appreciation.
To me this has been a revelation: who gave what to Petar, when and on what occasion! Her study is meticulous and revives so many memories.
In her Introduction, Koleva shows how she will proceed. The offerings date from the 1960s to the 1990s. A total of 246 volumes are Bulgarian prose and poetry, among them Yordan Radichkov, Blaga Dimitrova, Nikolai Haitov ("Na Petyo, na kogoto ne moga nishto novo da vkaram v glavata mu (zashtoto v neya vsitchko ima), no vse pak - da opitam"), Elisaveta Bagryana ("Na Petar Uvaliev - maluk dar ot surtse").
Koleva next examines the relationship of the giver with Petar, through words, emotions and memories expressed. She brings her fully indexed study together, setting the "Dobrich donation" in the larger context. Her work has proved an inspiration to me. I recommend it cum laude.
- Sonia Rouve
Pierre Rouve: Servant of Arts
Pierre Rouve was devoted to figurative art, but no less so to abstract, a new beginning to which he brought a sensibility that was nourished by icons. This may account in part for his deploring the merely decorative. Abstract art, as Malevitch proclaimed, was religious, and Pierre Rouve related art at its most profound to a tradition of thought about the great questions. Always there was this sense of the general, even while he insisted on the unique integrity of the individual work of art. In considering art's general aspects he naturally had recourse to systems. Systems, plural: he treated them as if they were themselves individuals, and he was more than happy to effect an introduction between them, asserting that the exclusive adoption of a single system, for example structuralism or internationalism, could distort.
There are those critics who entertain us most when they demolish an artist. When Pierre Rouve has adverse things to say, we sense only a sadness. He is best when reviewing most favourable, and such is his penetration that we are bound to ask, if only once in our lives, why he was not an artist himself? Well, he was: an artist in words. You know how you come across a painting which, no matter whether it represents the third dimension or not, you find yourself entering? There is a sense of journey, rich and rewarding. That, maybe, is why we talk about being moved, for there is nothing stationary about the experience. 'This painting moves us,' we say, though we do not feel we are being manipulated: rather than being moved. We do the moving. That is my sensation when reading the best of Pierre Rouve's art criticism, which is as much art as what he is reviewing.
Art criticism? There is no such thing: there are only reviews. I shall mention one, about a Belgian artist called Marcelle van Caillie, whose reliefs were inspired by moon exploration. All the critics related them to the lunar landscape, but Pierre Rouve also dug deeper: emotions were what she was really exploring, and this he recognised. Not content with the Phänomen, he passed to the Ding an sich.
Van Caillie said he was the only critic who understood her.
- Nigel Foxell
Petar Uvaliev's Broadcast Journalism:
Dilemmas of National and Supra National Identities
This paper argues that as an intellectual and as a BBC writer, Uvaliev had a distinct idea about what constitutes the Bulgarian national identity. One of the delights of studying Uvaliev's ideas is that there is no orthodox reading of his thinking about what is the Bulgarian place among the Balkan nations and how does it relate to the European identity? The research relates his ideas to the definitions of the British social and political theorist, Isaiah Berlin, of value pluralism and "in defence of liberalism".
The theme throughout his broadcast journalism understands language and culture, and particularly literature, as the core of the Bulgarian national identity. Uvaliev was a modernist, as much as modernists believe that language and culture are created, rather than given to the nation. In the general study of the nation beyond Bulgaria, his views can be linked together with a mixture of philosophers and sociologists, namely John Stuart Mill, Max Weber and Herder.
The analysis takes down the barrier between broadcast journalism and academic print to enable an investigation of ideas without prejudice and following Uvaliev's appeal to accept the diversity of human thought. It examines three of his broadcasts from the Bulgarian Service of the BBC World Service called "Five Minutes with Uvaliev" ("петминутки"). I look at them from a political science point of view: in what way are his ideas relevant to the theory of Europe and to the policies of the European Union towards the new member states and candidate countries from South East Europe?
- Dr Milena Borden
Peter Uvaliev as an Art Critic
Uvaliev's views on visual art were formulated primarily in his monograph on J. W. M. Turner (1980) and his essay "Form Opteme to Visual Sentence" (1983). They are influenced by R. O. Jakobson's structural phonology, Dora Valier's theory of colour opposites and J. Lacan's version of psychoanalysis. In the case of Turner, Uvaliev rejects as inadequate the biographical and stylistic approaches of academic art history. In the painter's works he finds a basic and pervasive opposition between achromatic and chromatic treatment of pictorial form. These two opposites correspond to two alternative notions of landscape as depiction of either (concrete) place or (generalised) space.
The development of children's drawing skills (discussed in "Opteme to Visual Sentence") shows a similar shift from general (amorphous) to concrete (legible) depiction. The dichotomous character of Turner's art is rooted in his traumatic relationship with his mother, who suffered from schizophrenia. Uvaliev's pursuit of structural oppositions prevents him from understanding any single work of painting as a coherent unity. In a watercolour where Turner shows a couple making love, Uvaliev (just like Ruskin before him) sees a mere combination of abstract inkblots, a "colour beginning".
- Dr Georgi Parpulov
Education of the Eye:
Petar Uvaliev as a Film Critic, Film Maker and Theoretician
The paper is an attempt at systematising and describing Petar Uvaliev's film and textual archive. It is an effort to trace a process of educating the eye: the metamorphosis of a na´ve spectator into a keen film critic into a skilled producer and director into a sophisticated art and film scholar. The process started in Bulgaria and led him to the London film studios, BBC World Service and London University, in a journey along high roads and narrow paths to the Kingdom of the Cinema.
Petar Uvaliev and Bulgarian cinema are almost perfect twins. He was born on 12 January 1915, while the release date of the first Bulgarian feature film was 13 January 1915. In the mid-1930s he became film reviewer for several Sofia newspapers and magazines. His film criticism, written up to 1947, was edited by Kostadin Kostov and published in the collection volume Филмови трохи (Film Crumbs, 2001).
In the early 1950s, Rouve established himself in London as a literary and art critic and reviewer. In 1953 came his debut as a film maker in the adventure comedy Innocents in Paris, directed by Gordon Parry. For fifteen years, he worked as artistic director, producer, screenwriter and director in nine film productions, Michaelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up (1966) among them.
Pierre Rouve's British archive of broadcast type scripts and scholarly publications covers a variety of topics. He reviewed probably each and every Bulgarian film shown in London since the early 1960s. Most of them were adaptations of Bulgarian literary works and required a complex comparative and theoretical approach. This was yet another manifestation of Pierre Rouve's role of mediator.