Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Disintegrating Bodies: Postmodern Narrative in Mariaana Jantti's Amorfiaana

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Disintegrating Bodies: Postmodern Narrative in Mariaana Jantti's Amorfiaana

Article excerpt

WHY AM I TELLING, YOU THIS STORY? (37) ["Miksi kerron taman tarinan sinulle" (5)]. Thus begins Mariaana Jantti's 1986 novel, Amorfiaana, in which she uses magical realism and narrative techniques to probe the ontologies of textual and physical bodies. Since the novel's publication, Jantti has been compared to Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Lewis Carroll, Walter Kilpi, Virginia Woolf, and Helene Cixous. As the list demonstrates, Jantti's style impresses readers but proves hard to place. Philip Landon describes Amorfiaana as the most radically experimental work in the Finnish language (34). I will show how Jantti's narrative transcends reality's boundaries with magical realism and the borders of consciousness with its amorphous array of narrative styles in order to explore the constantly changing ontologies of subject formation.

Amorfiaana's characters are united by their presence in one building and by the fact that the narrative rarely leaves the building. Jantti organizes the text into chapters designated with locative headers like "cellar" "kitchen, hallway, and room" and "room." Readers voyeuristically watch as a miscellaneous conglomeration of events including legal proceedings, seedy sexual encounters, illness, decay, meals, domestic squabbles, and housework unfolds in the building. Jantti taunts readers with sketchy details about the fatal tricycle accident that frames the rest of the book's events forcing readers to strain in an attempt to see what really happens. Jantti draws readers in with hints of unspecified secrets, possible incest, abortion, or child abuse but never resolves whether they are true or false or partially true. Her readers are left in a state of confusion wondering how the characters are related, who is telling the story, and what is actually happening.

To date, Janti's answer to the nouveau roman has inspired two full-length articles, which focus largely on the text's relationship to theory, particularly Freud, Lacan, Kristeva, and Cixous. Kristina Malmio interprets the novel's characters as representations of body parts, bodily functions, and psychological circumstances and the tricycle accident as a metaphor for female authorship. Anna Makkonen, on the other hand, devotes more attention to the novel's form by classifying it as poststructuralist, a cross between an artist's self-portrait and a female Bildungsroman. Makkonen also analyzes recurrent themes including the Daedalus myth, gender rolls, and numerical and maternal images. In common with Malmio and Makkonen, my analysis of the text looks at its stylistic devices and treatment of physical bodies but takes a somewhat different turn. I focus on Amorfiaana's narrative mode, particularly the incorporation of magical realism and postmodern techniques and its exploration of the nature of the posthuman body. Publicly, Jantti has said little about the text insisting that it should speak for itself. She enjoys confused boundaries, permanently partial identities, and contradictory standpoints (Landon 36-7). Comfortable with the idea of miscegenation--well aware of the Jewish, Spanish, Swedish, German, and Finnish blood running through her veins--Jantti requires her readers to embrace it as well (Landon 36). She calls Amorfiaana a context by explaining that being in Amorfiaana means testing boundaries (Landon 37).

That is precisely the approach I take here: I will demonstrate how Jantti tests these various boundaries in Amorfiaana. She explores the boundaries of reality by using all five of the primary characteristics Faris suggests for magical realism (167). Jantti tests ontological boundaries by foregrounding postmodernist literary devices. She tests narrative boundaries by creating a text that amorphously combines numerous narrative perspectives and modes of presenting figural consciousness with unannounced transitions from one to another. Finally, in all of these ways, she tests the boundaries of what it means to have a human body thereby probing the boundaries of the posthuman subject. …

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