Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Making Sense of Minna Canth

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Making Sense of Minna Canth

Article excerpt

"Always historicize! But the question is how? In whose sense?" Herbert Blau, "Thinking History, History Thinking" (258)

For over a century, Minna Canth's reputation as a playwright has been dominated by the classification of realism. Her first two plays, Murtovarkaus (1882; The Burglary [1883]) and Roinilan talossa (1883; The House of Roinila [1885]), were light-hearted, comic folk plays. (1) Then in 1885, Canth produced what Kai Taitinen calls her "first explosive charge of realism": Tyomiehen vaimo (The Workman's Wife) (87). Beginning widi this play, Canth quickly established herself as one of the chief representatives of a group of Finnish authors who believed realism was the literary genre that would rescue Finnish society from its sociopolitical ills--the mistreatment of women, the abuse of alcohol, unnecessary poverty, etc. Canth was subsequently classified as a realist playwright. (2) Almost seventy years later, in the introduction to a 1953 anthology of selected Canth plays, Toini Havu refers to Canth as the "aiti" [mother] of Finnish realism, and in 1998, Laitinen declares Canth, "die most pure-blooded realist in Finnish literature" (xix; 91). (3)

In recognizing that much of Canth's work was closely aligned with 1880s Finnish realism, I am in full agreement widi Laitinen and others. Realism is indeed an important aspect in Canth's literary production. The danger in branding Canth a "realist," however, is that doing so threatens to limit our thinking regarding Canth's work as well as our understanding of her relationship to that work. First, this branding continues to privilege the plays that easily fit the definition of realism over those that do not, and second, it too easily reduces Canth's work to the characteristics and purposes definitive of realism, thereby preventing her work from being understood in other ways. Therefore, what is needed in Canth scholarship is a methodology that preserves the discussions of realism that are so important to understanding Canth and her work but that also positions realism as a part of a larger interpretive framework.

I present that one significant alternative can be found in the early philosophical drought of Gilies Deleuze. In Logique du Sens (1969; The Logic of Sense) Deleuze develops the notion of sense (sens), a means whereby to reposition the relationship of intelligibility between subjects and objects in any given historical period. He writes: "Le sens est comme la sphere ou je suis deja installe pour operer les designations possibles, et meme en penser les conditions. Le sens est toujours pre-suppose des que je commence a parler ; je ne pourrais pas commencer sans cette presupposition. En d'autres termes, je ne dis jamais le sens de ce que je dis" (41) ["Sense is like the sphere in which I am already established in order to enact possible denotations, and even to think their conditions. Sense is always presupposed as soon as I begin to speak; I would not be able to begin without this presupposition. In other words, I never state the sense of what I am saying" (28)]. Sense is the set of presuppositions that sits outside of all expressions between subjects and objects and that permits those expressions to register as intelligible, to have meaning to those subjects. To this extent, the Deleuzian sense is not dissimilar to the conventional understanding of "sense" in English. One important distinction, however, is that the French sens also denotes "direction." Thus, while Deleuzian sense like conventional "sense," implies commensurability among a set of phenomena, it also implies that such commensurability is the function of a spatiality or structure inherent in any given sense (Deleuze posits that there are many possible senses, not just one). Phenomena within a moment only make sense if they are ordered properly in reference to the structure of that sense.

The structural aspect of sense makes it particularly useful for articulating the relationship between Minna Canth and her work. …

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