Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

"All That Endures Turns to Dust": The Melancholy Retrospection of Modern Utopias in Kreisland by Rosa Liksom

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

"All That Endures Turns to Dust": The Melancholy Retrospection of Modern Utopias in Kreisland by Rosa Liksom

Article excerpt

"Kaikki, mika on pysyvaa, haihtuu polyna ilmaan" (Liksom 1996, 177) [All that endures turns to dust] is a quote from Finnish author Rosa Liksom's novel Kreisland, a satirical mapping of Finland's uneasy minuet with three prominent political ideologies of the twentieth century: fascism, communism, and capitalism. This textual image calls to mind another textual image, namely "All that is solid melts into air," as evoked by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in The Communist Manifesto (1985, 83). According to Marshall Berman, Marx and Engels's image of the ephemerality of the world represents a thoroughly modern experience (Berman 1985, 15). Kreisland's rendering of it discloses the transient sobriety of the novel's protagonist, Impi Agafiina, at the very moment her ideals capsize, as she tries to recover from the loss of one dream and before she becomes intoxicated by a new one. As Germany is losing World War II, Impi Agafiina has to abandon the fascist dream of a Greater Finland, but has not yet found her next mission: communism. The quote captures the mood of utopian thought and its critique in the novel, as seen through the eyes of Impi Agafiina, a modern subject who embarks on a quest to discover utopia, the ideal society, and the means to transform the world into that ideal. While she is caught up in her utopian visions, these visions seem true and enduring. In retrospect, however, the faults and contradictions of the failed utopian projects begin to show, and what is left is a melancholy longing for the utopian impulse itself.

Kreisland is the first novel by Rosa Liksom, who is probably best known for her short stories depicting fringe lifestyles and social outcasts in rural peripheries of northern Finland as well as in urban centers. While Liksom's works were initially read by many as authentic depictions of marginalized people, the parody and dark humor in her writing was later acknowledged by critics (see Kantokorpi 1997). Now Liksom is often characterized as a postmodernist--a characterization her quirky public image has no doubt contributed to. In her writing, Liksom employs quick changes in perspectives, vocabularies, styles, and dialects. These nuances are sadly often lost in translation. Kreisland is largely narrated in the dialect of western Lapland and comically juxtaposes the colloquial, northern register of the novel's protagonists with the ideologies (fascism, communism, capitalism) and cultures (German, Soviet, American) they encounter. It has been described as a unique polyphonic mock-epic in a Finnish context (Kirstina 2013a, 40). In a sense, it continues the deconstruction of the myth of the Finnish war hero started by Vaino Linna's Unknown Soldier (1954) and makes similar use of polyphony to challenge official national language, truth, and history (see Kirstina and Turunen 2013, 53).

There has been renewed interest in Liksom after she won the Finlandia Prize for her latest novel Hytti nro 6 (2011; Compartment No. 6, 2014). What becomes increasingly audible in Hytti nro 6 is the "silence, lyricism, and gentleness" that, in previous works, have been overwhelmed by the loudness and irony of Liksom's writing but have nonetheless always been there (Kirstina 2013b, 84). This article attempts to heed the silence behind the loudness in Kreisland, to capture the melancholy in the parody. It stresses the irony of the novel's ending and maintains that it is not a happy and contented point of closure but a point of retrospection.

Of the two main protagonists of Kreisland, Impi Agafiina and Juho Gabriel, the former is far more concerned with modernity and the retrospection of it than is the latter. Whereas Impi Agafiina is constantly on the move, Juho Gabriel rarely strays far away from his birthplace, Lapland. He narrates his segments in the present tense and is mostly concerned with present matters and daily chores. In contrast, Impi Agafiina is always making plans for the future, but narrates her story in the past tense. …

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