Monday, October 30, 2006

The history of Finnish anxiety

When historians are good, they are scarily good. Of course it very rarely happens - I wonder whether there is any other academic field where so much meaningless drivel is being published, where incredibly muddled "common sense" passes for sophisticated analytic thought, where so much energy is devoted into getting a superficial but selling media profile. Typically this last happens as a ritual patricide of the previous generation: a non-specified "myth" is being non-specifically "disproved" while usually simultaneously a confused faith into relativistically interpreted post-modern theory is endorsed - never mind that it would take into question the whole idea of "objectively disproving" anything. But when there are exceptions, they truly are scarily good. One such brilliant exception in Finland is Juha Siltala whose two first books of an ongoing trilogy of study on the formation of the Finnish mind are by far the best and most significant historical studies published in Finland in the last 20 years. It is strange how undervalued "Suomalainen ahdistus" and "Valkoisen äidin pojat" are considering their brilliant and groundbreaking approach. Of course there are some faults: at times Siltala's psychological approach does seem overly deterministic and underestimating our human capabilities to self-awareness and self-control - but these observations, as significant as they are, are much beside the point. Siltala approaches historical experience with such analytical seriousness that has never been matched in the Finnish study of history. Processes and structures are revealed and analysed in the most comprehensive of ways, the iron controls of history are brought to light and discussed. A joy to behold such penetration and reach of thought in humanities.

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