Mediating Ideal Finland: Techne on the National Screen

By Ahlback, Pia Maria | Scandinavian Studies, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Mediating Ideal Finland: Techne on the National Screen


Ahlback, Pia Maria, Scandinavian Studies


WHAT ARE Finnish heroes made of? The answer seems obvious: war, of course. If the questionnaires of the Swedish Literature Society in Finland (1) are to be believed, the Marshal of Finland, General Mannerheim, is still the hero par excellence of the Finnish people. (2) Let me, therefore, phrase the question differently: of what discursive material are Finnish heroes made today, and what can the principles guiding their construction tell us about Finnish people's images of themselves? Or the other way round: what can these images convey about Finland when this nation attempts to observe itself from the outside? These are the questions that will be posed and, I hope, answered in this article. In order to do so, I shall trace a cluster of images Finns have created of themselves by closely reading some turn-of-millennium Finnish texts addressing the world in the languages of technology, history, and commerce. Going back to the 1930s, I shall be guided by some earlier texts in identifying influential and problematic oriental national imagery that was emerging during that decade. I will argue that such imagery still forms the problematic base for Finnish national subjectivity today as it is continually enunciated in political, technological, and commercial discourses at the national level. In this exploration of national heroic imagery, I shall also build on Margery Hourihan's deconstructive analysis of the image of the Western hero. I shall use the image of the screen heuristically as a major trope to dismantle the construction of twenty-first-century Finnish national subjectivity. Screen in this context means the computer screen, the TV-screen, and the screen on the cell phone, etc. and should be understood as a synecdoche of that technological performance that Finland wants other countries to acknowledge and that Finns themselves like to observe. The screen in this technological sense thus becomes both that space where an ideal national self is produced as well as the means of producing it.

In Lander och folk i ord och bild: Natur och liv i fem varldsdelar, a popular cultural geography edited in Stockholm but published in Helsinki in 1937, the following introduction to the chapter on Finland appears under the heading "Finland: Europe's Outpost in the North-East":

   Inom det europeiska statssystemet intar Finland inte nagon betydande
   stallning, men att det over huvud hor dit ar markligt nog. Landets
   naturforhallanden ha fran begynnelsen varit i hog grad ogynnsamma
   for odling, och det har behovts ett folk av mer an vanlig kraft och
   hardighet for att besegra vildmarken och det harda klimatet.
   Posterat vid det kulturhistoriska begreppet Europas nordostra grans
   har Finland under hela sin historia lopt fara att bringas under
   ryskasiatisk inflytande, och att denna fara avvarjts ar jamte
   uppodlingen av det karga och frostharjade landet dess befolknings
   storsta bragd. An i dag ar Finland i stor utstrackning ett
   odemarksland, men i de storre staderna och i de relativt tatt
   befolkade sodra och vastra kusttrakterna harskar den internationella
   vasterlandska kulturen pa gott och ont, och den moderna
   kommunikationstekniken ar i fard med att snabbt bryta aven de
   avlagsna skogsbygdernas isolering. (65; emphasis reine)

   (In the European polity, Finland does not have an influential
   position, but the fact that Finland belongs there at all is
   remarkable. The natural conditions of the country have always been
   highly unsuitable for cultivation of the soil, and it has taken a
   people of more than usual strength to conquer the wilderness and the
   hard climate. Situated at the north-eastern border of Europe,
   Finland has continuously been in danger of being brought under
   Russo-Asian influence. The fact that this danger has been averted
   is, together with the cultivation of the harsh and frost-hardened
   land, the greatest victory of this nation. … 

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