Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On Kjell Westö

I read pitifully little Finnish literature, but when I make the effort, I'm often surprised by the excellent, fierce quality. Kjell Westö's Helsinki quartet is deceptive reading, certainly quite uneven at places (though this might be partly due to the translation, I'm not able to read him in his native Swedish), but oddly impressive. I read recently a relatively lukewarm review of him in a Swedish magazine where he was criticized for the "shallowness" of his characters. That is very understandable, there is a strange, gimmicky smoothness there, a sense of passing over things - understandable but still quite mistaken: there is an ambitious scope in those smooth storylines, a grasping for history, for generations.

Strange to find such things in these ahistorical times - he certainly earns his popularity with those narrative skills but the popularity might cost him some critical acclaim. Interestingly, I find myself unable to make any very definitive conclusions, apart from the sense that there is something there. These texts will have to be revisited, and that is very rare with any contemporary fiction, no matter in which language.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

A rose rabbi

Sometimes when I watch our two little boys I think that this ride is too wild for me, too unsafe, cruel. With this age - still feebly painting lakes - one already gets a sense of generations, dear people forever passed: we truly are like grass. It is bewildering that so many don't seem to be in awe of all the sorrow, the pain and the beauty of this experience, this life. No protection, no safety, and all will be lost in the end, all have to be given up. You have to be exceptionally well wadded to pass through this untouched. But I am not, and thus often filled with dread because filled with love, and, thus, lucky...

The once arsenal of democracy

Now with the waning of American influence and the rise of China and India and, of course, particularly, with the accompanying decadence and moral corruption of the Late Empire, we are in danger of forgetting that it was not always so. I am currently reading about the building of the Berlin Wall, the initial days of Western confusion and the elation of the West Berliners when the USA finally made a visible show of support and sent in a symbolic force of arms - hundreds of thousands rushed to streets to greet the forces. Now could we imagine the same situation in East Berlin, what kind of greeting would have a Soviet battle group gotten? With a wall built to stop the selfsame people from leaving?

It is hard for me then to understand people who see the Cold War as having been waged by moral equivalents. Of course the Western corruption and decadence, the calculations and machinations always were there even then, naturally they were - what else can you expect of liberal democracy, of human nature? The divide was cynically used to build a gigantic, absurdly outsized and deadly influential military-industrial complex, but despite of that, the divide was real, a chasm. And when American forces, American might poured to fronts during the WW2, it was the only thing capable of keeping the West safe from genuinely mad terror states - despite of the accompanying decadence and moral corruption. The difference is that then those destructive forces were being kept in check. Where do we now have effective counterforces to all this cynicism, greed and manipulation? Who would now have enough faith in our structures, enough idealism to defend them?