Landon, Philip, The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Hans Selo (b. 1945) caused a sensation in 1970 when he published Diiva (The Poseur), a stream-of-consciousness novel about the 1960s, which won the prestigious Erkko Prize for the best literary debut. Fifteen years of silence followed before the appearance of Pilvihipiainen (Cloudcomplexion) in 1985, and a third novel is expected in 1996. A metalworker with no academic training, Selo is entirely self-educated. He is known for his linguistic inventiveness: he coins words at will and flagrantly exploits the agglutinative and suffixal resources of Finnish. Pilvihipiainen, the novel sampled here, is not a work of plot, character, or action, but a fluid verbal tapestry. The burden of description keeps shifting from mouth to mouth, and political, philosophical, and theological debate mingle with slangy, self-mocking portrayals of bohemian self-indulgence. Selo's characters live for erudition and aestheticism. These would-be cogniscenti are hard put to maintain appearances as they feed their alcoholic, sexual, and intellectual appetites with Dionysian relish. Through the shifting perspectives emerges a blurred portrait of one Anders Holm, a hypercerebral artist manque, autodidact, self-proclaimed prodigy, and author of a single acclaimed novel. We share his memories of childhood privation and psychiatric hospitalization, his lighthearted intellectual dandyism, and his philosophical roamings. Celebrating the sheer abundance of the world's texture, Selo dismisses all rules of decorum, blending mysticism and polysyllabic erudition with obscene slang. He employs a stream-of-consciousness technique to rigorous ends as a means of evoking the vitality of the self's interactive relationship with the world. Paterian hedonist, Wildean poseur, and genuine lover of ideas, Selo is Finland's most wonderful literary eccentric.
Novels: Diiva (The Poseur) 1970, Pilvihipiainen (Cloudcomplexion) 1985.
PHILIP LANDON: Can you name any shared characteristics of contemporary Finnish fiction? Do you identify with any of your international or domestic contemporaries?
HANS SELO: Given my somewhat reclusive lifestyle, I must make do with the stylistically conventional prose transmitted by the Finnish media, prose that necessarily lacks sophistication and individuality. In Finland literature of quality is disseminated only through hearsay. For good literature to find its way into the media on its own terms, better literary criticism and greater openness would be needed. Alternative: aimlessness, blindness.
Books are about life. Only life can possess value. All forms of life are based on analytical progress. Even plants analyze, through their reactions to the sun, water, etc. Every sensation transcends the merely quantitative in containing an element of consciousness. From quantity, quality: a species that has fallen into a ravine a thousand times eventually learns from its suffering the consequences of its falling; millions of experiences, torments, and emotions crystallizing into new quality. The ability to reason. Being, primitive intelligence. The crystallization of remembering into human consciousness, perfection.
The Finnish impulse to keep literature and criticism quantitative, suppressing the implicit quality (a precondition of life) in each sensation, is based on structural violence. Suffering becomes an end in itself. Stifling prevails. Finland has an exceptionally high suicide rate, for purely cultural reasons. Criticism evens everything out, trivializing it, restricting freedom of speech. Curbing democracy and equality.
To each according to his ability, for the good of all.
Given my focus on content and quality, I belong squarely within the Western tradition; I continue the spirit of the Enlightenment.
PL: How would you situate fiction in general and your own work in particular in relation to mass culture and the mass media?
HS: As an eye for crystallizing the social and the interactive in general, literature has immense capacities. …