INTERVIEW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                           
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 culture.
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 histories. 
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 Bosnia.
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 Fiction, Summer 1996, reproduced here by their kind permission.)