PHILIP LANDON: Can you name any shared characteristics of
contemporary Finnish fiction? Do you identify with any of your
international or domestic contemporaries?
MARKKU ESKELINEN: Unfortunately, I am able to describe
contemporary Finnish literature because I began my career by ridiculing
and analysing it, that is, by investigating the reasons behind the
chronic shortage of innovation, the lack of heterogeneity and erudition,
the hegemony of realism and homespun modernism, the dominance of ossified
national tradition, and the refusal to engage in dialogue with other
forms of art. So, in Finland, I have only domesticated contemporaries. As
for the international scene and the anxiety of influence, I will continue
to follow my basic instinct: edify, don't identify. Name-dropping would
have been fun, though.
PL: How would you situate fiction in general and your work in
particular in relation to mass culture and the mass media?
ME: My relationship with mass culture and the mass media is a
simple one: I use what I need. I am convinced that the different
military, information, and entertainment technologies that already exist
or are presently under development will transform both audiences' literary
expectations and the very concept of literature. For example, I believe
that the asymmetrically forking paths of Borges and Coover can hardly
seem contrived if you happen to be computer literate. In the context of
Finnish literature my own output to date (the trilogy Nonstop, Semtext
and Interface) represents the transition from Gutenbergian bookbinding to
digital text networks. I sometimes find myself contemplating media
centers: Babelsberg, Hollywood, the virtual entertainment arcades of
Tokyo. This also gives me cause to consider the nationalities of mass
PL: Kai Laitinen has written, "The traditional Finnish is
close to nature. Nature features in the role of a friend or an enemy or
both." Can we read your work as part of this tradition? Does nature
require a new approach from writers?
ME: To the first question: maybe you can, but I think you should
not. To the second one: maybe it does, but writers will be writers.
PL: From Kalevala to post-war fiction, much of Finnish literature
has been intimately bound with the question of national identity. Do you
see yourself as a member of more international generation?
ME: We should rather be talking about my degeneration. Everything
you say can be used as identity against you. I don't really believe in
identities, be they "national" or "international" or
social or sexual; they’re all just as trite, ludicrous, limited, and
harmful as the notion of two genders. This, of course, is a perspective,
a simplification, and a privilege, nurtured by the partially attained
ideals of the Scandinavian welfare state.
PL: Contemporary Finnish writers frequently use autobiographical
and mock-autobiographical forms. Why?
ME: Packaged in a form favoured by the publishers, such fiction
combines the infantile ideas of truth, authenticity, and honesty that are
shared by untalented writers and a voyeuristic audience. We are not
seeing reassessments of genre, skilful parodies, nor autobioheterothanatographies,
and I can conclude only that writers are still trying to (re)invent some
sort of a new journalism. But they end up producing basket case
PL: Special local references are scarce in your work. Do you consciously
write postlocal fiction?
ME: Yes. I am more interested in places that are not places than
in places that are. Similarly, I am more curious about the connections,
relative speeds, and overlaps between places than I am about homogenous
places. Vanishing points and heterogeneous, mnemonic, and bodily places
are a different matter altogether.
PL: Your novels recycle various elements of popular culture,
including images of screen violence. What is your response to the debate
surrounding the American film industry's obsession with violence?
ME: Utter boredom. Because my first memories are screen memories. I
am hysterically opposed to all obsessions. In my texts violence is
layered very differently indeed from the way it is in most mass
entertainment. Moreover, violence that has been made invisible also
circulates in my books. We are not in Dallas anymore. We are in Panama or
PL: The technology of power is a prominent concern in your work. Your
books seem rather dystopian. When it comes to the possibility of
political freedom, are you a nihilist?
ME: I am as far from a nihilist as a samurai is from a sadomasochist.
My novels inhabit a space between George and Henry Lee Lucas, between
star wars and serial murders. In this grey area certain phenomena are
developing and are being developed that may turn out to have fatal
consequences for any system that swears in the name of political freedom.
Gene technology, anonymous environmental catastrophes, affordable weapons
of mass destruction, and the virtual reality that is wrapping itself
around the senses will destroy the notion of the (political) subject far
more radically, rapidly, and irreversibly than any philosophical scepticism
- to name one of the historical contexts that interest me.
PL: As part of your campaign to transform Finnish fiction, you
have discarded linear narrative in favour of a fragmentary, "unmasterable"
form. Do you see no strengths in the traditional realist method, which
can be used, for instance to develop broad historical contexts?
ME: I have left traditional realism to those who are incapable of
anything else. Your sense of "unmasterability" probably
results from the fact that my texts constitute an interlaced series of
gender- and technology-related supplements. Each fragment is its own
unidentical twin, not just a piece in some boring jigsaw puzzle.
(From The Review of Contemporary
reproduced here by their kind permission.)