Monday, December 23, 2013

Let us not speak for the love we bear one another (thoughts on Lauttasaari Bridge)

It might have seemed strange how much I have used the word love on this blog, how much I have relied on it as one of the most meaningful concepts in our scattered, random lives. Especially thinking that my worldview otherwise is based on dry reason and a rather high, esoteric concept of art. But it just seems to be that these all are connected: art, reason, love. And not only romantic love, but all it's forms (and reason and art) are a defiant cry of rebellion against the age old dark reflexes in all of us, individually and especially as a collective, for aggression and domination, for ignorance and control. And how brave it is to love, to give hostages to fortune, to gamble with one's person.

My long years in the desert were spent in the total absence of that daring: they were spent in panicky fear, outwardly presented as cynical resentment and detachment. But miraculously I changed, not giving up reason or art in the process, but seeing them more freshly, deeper. Without the courage to love they were empty gestures. So, these ideas have become my values, and I cannot regret the route that led me to them, even though it hasn't, even by now, become easy or painless. And even if it in fact does have, in these past months, changed into something quite searing indeed as regards some very central things in my personal life, I cannot regret the path.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Designs for living

I surely will never get over this mad, immediate, unmediated sense of being in the world. There are no safety nets here: the views are breathtakingly beautiful and breathtakingly cold - and so the men in the tunnels under Larch Wood will always be kicking men to death. Cold certainty will catch our breath, eventually, and all will be lost and, practically, to all intents and purposes, is already lost. And what we have to set against all this is love that is cruel and brutal and daring - so we balance our lives against other peoples' lives, giving and taking hostages and so losing ourselves like any swimmers into cleanness leaping. That is love.

But if nothing else I'm a pragmatist: whatever that works will be fine with me and whatever that I am, I will, even if kicking and screaming, acknowledge truths and live accordingly. That is what life demands of us and what we will have to give to life if we want to live, if we want to be alive.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

On Congreve

I have admired Congreve from somewhat afar - his writing has felt so very glittering, so very polished to be not, maybe, wholly serious. But I might have been mistaken in this judgement, not having enough time to concentrate, just going for the obvious effects. This said after having encountered a very effective analysis of Congreve as one the central writers in the English canon. The era he so well reflected was perhaps even more unfortunate than most pre-modern times, such bizarre values connected with such corrupt elites.

It is always strange to think about Shakespeare in this selfsame historical context, and maybe thinking about Shakespeare leads to this belittlement of excellent, perceptive writers, but then again he wasn't, Shakespeare wasn't so attached to his particular era - to what was he attached, actually? Well, in any case as Austen shows us, there can be deadly moral seriousness behind a comedy of manners, and I am quite convinced that Congreve did observe the way of the world with a seriousness, purpose and immeasurable skill of a great artist.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Great expectations

There once was, I solemnly believe, a moment when literary culture, serious literary discussion, was self-confident, confident in some sense of better things to come, or, more accurately, of the possibility of better things, of a real civilization. Or even, at bleakest, there at least was a belief in serious literary discussion, civilizational-ethical conversation, bone to bone, within a living awareness of a very liberal, very robust tradition. I have located this moment, half-seriously, to a point near mid-20th century in an obscurish essay by Edmund Wilson. But actually these were the last years about which one could even claim something like this. A brief moment, and now so much ground is being lost and serious literature is becoming an odd minority interest, and pretty much not even attempted any more. Yes, there are good writers and good books, but no wide scopes, no cultural self-confidence any longer. By and large we are rehearsing comedies and tragedies of manners with no attempts to George Eliotian or Conradian reach. No passages to India these days.

This nostalgia certainly is partly that: grumpy complaints about the times and mores that has always been going on. But I think in this particular matter, something has qualitatively changed, ground has shifted and new landscapes, bleak landscapes are opening before this generation's eyes.

Cock and balls

I wonder at our innate, automatic tendency to idealize, to make palatable. It is such a strong urge: anything to tame the immediate experience which is not reducible to banalities or even the most intricate subtleties - nor as it concerns the subject of this post, to pornographic coarseness either. But what does cut through these things, these protections, is the immediate experience. And even when saying this, writing this, one realizes that it is not it all, not what one meant at all. One always is where one never, exactly, was - and, nevertheless, the memory is not false, or the experience once wasn't, not completely. And so I do remember, and remember essentially correctly, some sweet past things, and don't know if those will ever return, if one will ever return to that purest of possible states. And yes, it is true: sex is not all and not every trembling hand will return me there.

Friday, August 23, 2013

History lite

One has to admire the ruthless, even carnivalistic cynicism of the makers of Downton Abbey: history is sanitized in such an obsessively careful way to be just enough to be saved into some semblance of realism by excellent acting and sharpish dialogue. Some viewers have enough background knowlegde to understand the essential unreality of the show, most probably don't. The more distant the epoch the easier the task of being credible without being true. The audience for this type of show wants a whiff of actual history, but nothing too unpleasant, too uncomfortable. Resulting in rather strange combinations of much fiction and little fact.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

And so the nest tree cried

I seem to be destined to introduce especially non-Anglo Saxon friendly Finnish novelists to the occasional native speakers reading this blog. Matti Pulkkinen is an inexplicably negleted writer of the post-war era - one of the absolute masters of Finnish prose. Probably it is this very singular greatness that has singled him out to this neglect and misunderstanding. A small country can't easily accommadate such artists, especially with such awkward (though admittedly largely mistaken) political views. Though of course I would also wonder whether his passionate summoning of the wilderness and the meagre, cruel North Karelian fields is enough to counter, to challenge the modern experience. In any case he is writing about the same subjects as T.S.Eliot, as Shakespeare was, about modern Western subjects though of course with such peculiarly eastern slant.

This will naturally remain a mystery to any non-Finnish speaker as there is no earthly way to translate the dialect filled text to any other language. Strange to think that such great, unlimited art will remain closed by language - I wonder what is the central cause here, maybe the precise relationship between the dialect (and its cultural context) and the official form of the language and the specific cultural context of this difference? (As you most certainly can in general translate great Finnish literature into other languages.)

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Et in utopia ego

Iain Banks' voice will be much missed - a very Scottish voice: progressive, anti-tory, warm and passionate, a rational humane voice. As excellent and disturbing as his best "mainstream" novels are, for me the most philosophical impact had the Culture, an amazing creation which is the best description (including all of philosophy) of what, perhaps, is at best available for us, a realistic liberal utopia... It is interesting that some nevertheless insist seeing the Culture as a dystopia, and revealing: there is an emptiness there, a void which humans will never fill while remaining human. But that is not our concern: our concern is to remove the obvious barbarities, the horrors of history and power. The Culture is a utopia.

Technology, science, freedom from scarcity can conceivably enable us to construct an enlightened society where we would be able to control our panicky aggression, our predatory instincts for control and power and injustice. That is the best realistic, rational chance we have. Not even that much, in the end. But we are so desperately far from it: in the midst of the darkest of ages, only in the process of absurdly partially emerging into some remote semblance of civilization.

These were Iain Banks' concerns, the most serious concerns what we have.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Long live the February Revolution

One more sepia tinged loving portrait of "Nicky and Alix" and I'll be throwing up. That narrow, rigid, selfblind, stupid couple should not have been in charge of a post office, not to speak of an empire of 150 million people. Of course we are talking about the system, but they do embody its hatefulness, injustice and inherent cruelty. Yes, they really do.

There never was a revolution so justified as the February Revolution. And the fact that the liberals did not seize it but were terrified and disorganized opening the door for Lenin and Trotsky is a direct concequence of that system, of that particular personal rule. Nicky and Alix, accompanied by the bizarre high aristocracy and officialdom, opened the door for Lenin and so Stalin was a logical concequence of that sepia tinged reign of immense stupidity and casual cruelty.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

If you like, art

It is always easy to be a Cassandra, often too easy: all ages have been cruel and crude, and this one (in these parts) is much less cruel and crude than most. I have lived much of my life in art, through art, have heard the rough tongued bell, from a distance, true, but very clearly even so. Not much has ever stopped me from that apart from the usual things (myself, first of all, to paraphrase Robertson Davies). It has been an era for peaceful living (in these parts), for living that is. It should be a dangerous enough business for all us, it is dangerous.

There are many dispiriting things and trends, too much totally displaced anger in the West with the sun perhaps slowly setting on our enlightenment and humanist-Christian values which are increasingly less supported by conviction and more by vague convention. But there have been much darker times which have been survived, and there are now also many encouraging things and trends, unimaginable in those darker times that we have survived: places for emancipation and progress and hope. And, moreover, art, always art.

I was reading Larkin yesterday, those few supreme poems among his sparse production and was elated, elevated: such beauty and seriousness - can we even have seriousness without beauty, morality, philosophy, without beauty?

I think it is a permanent aspect in us, this serious aesthetic dimension, this very long view, this open, limitless landscape.

Friday, April 05, 2013

The ghastly Tories

I must admit, despite of all my personal attempts to a sort of austerity on this blog, that I found the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics absolutely great: the liberal, the progressive England, Britain that I love, materialized - no other nation could have accomplished that self-irony and humour hiding serious humane ends. I would not think that the huge Beijing robotics competed at all with that brilliant liberal celebration. It did make one forget the other side of England: the mean spirited, narrow, perverse middle-class morality, the utter depravity of the Daily Mail and the tabloids, the all-pervasive corruption of the City, the utter ghastliness of the modern Tories, the largely dominating reality of today's Britain...

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Vita brevis

I just finished an excellent, subtle biography of the famous Finnish poet Aila Meriluoto by Panu Rajala (a curiously underrated writer, mainly, I gather, for the reason of having a colourful private life, something clearly to be discouraged among biographers). A curious life - young Meriluoto's rebellion into art, and the subsequent story of life as art, of art as life raises some very interesting, essential questions, public and personal. I have never had such passion: sure, I cannot imagine my life without literature, without poetry, but I don't feel, have never felt, the call of the rough tongued bell in the fashion most artists seem to do, and cannot regret that (despite having seriously tried to). Anyway, a somewhat disrespectful question rises - can art, sometimes, be little wasted on artists, with this at times rather egoistic mixing of the personal, so extreme in Meriluoto's individual case? That initial rebellion, so memorable, white and gold, virginal Ionian cities in flames - seems, to my amateur eyes, somehow purer... A curious story, a curious unconditional life.

Friday, February 15, 2013

I love English

In these days of globalization it would certainly be more original to have Sanskrit or Navaho as a passion but I'm saddled with ever so ordinary English. Though it is not ordinary at all actually. There is something in that language that just happens to correspondend to my preferences, I cannot exactly say what - there is no explaining these things. Of course, it is the language of Shakespeare, but potentially (and in fact) any language has the reach for universality - though not in identical ways, and there is something in the variety and suppleness of English that speaks to me. It is a very liberal language I would argue: rational but not mechanically logical, pragmatically open to all sorts of influences - being a mongrel in many ways (and it appears that there were seeds for strange transformations there even regardless of the Normans).

I have great respect and liking for my native Finnish: a dark, emotional, radically non-Western language - there is much beauty and passion in its heaviness and lovely, vowel rich cadences. Still, strangely, it is  literature, poetry in English that has moved me most. In comparison English is more intellectual, in some ways shallower - English has been used so much that it has become worn, an overly smooth language if not used originally and imaginitively. There are countless of pop and rock songs in English that say absolutely nothing in a way that simply would not be possible in Finnish: you just have to say something in Finnish. But when used properly English is the loveliest of languages.

(This post arose from the pleasure of listening to Stephen Fry talking in heavenly literate English.)

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Surprised by innocence


Commenting on Wes Anderson's film Michael Chabon says this about childhood:
The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.”
There follows a program of renewed inquiry, often involuntary, into the nature and effects of mortality, entropy, heartbreak, violence, failure, cowardice, duplicity, cruelty, and grief; the researcher learns their histories, and their bitter lessons, by heart. Along the way, he or she discovers that the world has been broken for as long as anyone can remember, and struggles to reconcile this fact with the ache of cosmic nostalgia that arises, from time to time, in the researcher’s heart: an intimation of vanished glory, of lost wholeness, a memory of the world unbroken. We call the moment at which this ache first arises “adolescence.” The feeling haunts people all their lives.
A beautiful description. I honestly thought, not being a child person at all, that I would be with Virginia Woolf: waiting for intelligent conversation, patiently enduring the preceding years of silliness. Having had a rather dark childhood in some ways, I certainly did not sport any dewy eyed illusions either about any inherent goodness and gentleness in children.

Well, I guess I did not know small children so well - and I didn't. Sure, there are plenty of signs of non-gentleness and non-goodness there, of possibilities to come, no perfect innocence anywhere. But so much innocence, so much vulnerability and generosity. So much so, that having them growing up into this world, to harden up enough to survive in this world, to develope enough cynicism and self-protection to endure this world, does make the prospect of intelligent conversation to appear in rather less glamorous light.

I just didn't know small children that well. Of course, this is what it takes, currently and so far, to live, to develope into awareness and responsibility. We can have a rough coming of it or somewhat less rough or very rough, but there are no easy ways into personhood: we lose many things of much value on the way, and often have to patiently relearn back into habit of trust, love and generosity.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Party like it's the 1850's

It has been rather fascinating to witness the gradual derangement of the mainstream of the Republican party - quite in the same way as it would be "fascinating" to witness Titanic sliding towards the iceberg. To see a major party lose it's connection to the shared empirical reality and rationality is a, well, quite a thing. It really has reminded me of the 1850's: this seething rage, this disconnect with all sense and moderation. I wonder how it will end. Because end it will, there will inevitably be a closing of this chasm, one way or the other.

I admit to a certain foreboding. The Republic is not as vigorous as it used to be - the elites are corrupt or cynical, and important sections of them on the right actually share the antiempirical lunacy of the extremist rank and file. Even very outlandish things could happen in such circumstances.