The Joyce of Influence: Moments of Joyce in the Poetry of Pentti Saarikoski

By Kantola, Janna | Scandinavian Studies, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

The Joyce of Influence: Moments of Joyce in the Poetry of Pentti Saarikoski


Kantola, Janna, Scandinavian Studies


PENTTI SAARIKOSKI (1937-83) is one of the most versatile and prolific writers in Finnish literary history. Beginning in 1958, the list of his published works includes fifteen collections of poetry, five prose works, three radio plays, and over seventy translations of ancient and modern literature including the Odyssey and James Joyce's Ulysses. Interestingly, the translations were a constant source of inspiration for Saarikoski's highly intertextual poetics, perhaps most notably Joyce, whose texts Saarikoski frequently remembers and comments on especially in his prose works, as H.K. Riikonen has already pointed out in his essay "Ulysses from Wantanajocky." Yet it is claimed in the essay that there are hardly any allusions to or quotations from Joyce's works in his poetry (91). In spite of this fact, Saarikoski's poetics of free association--his way of perceiving, so to speak--are greatly influenced by Joyce.

Therefore, the focus of this essay will be on revealing associative links and suggestive allusions to Joyce's texts in Saarikoski's poetry. However, the emphasis lies on an abstract level: I shall concentrate on the Joycean aspects in Saarikoski's poetry in order to show the different kinds of responses to and developments of the influence of Joyce in Saarikoski's texts. Obviously, Harold Bloom's six revisionary ratios of poetic influence could provide a helpful tool in an analysis of this kind. Nevertheless, my approach does not psychologize the poetic influence in a Bloomian way; instead of the anxiety of influence, I will be emphasizing the Joy(ce) of influence, the playful nature of Saarikoski's way of alluding to Joyce's texts. Thus, the equivocal concept of postmodernism is going to be useful in the process of analysis. Of Saarikoski's many books, his last, Hamaran tanssit [Dances of the Obscure; 1983] will serve as an example. I shall start with defining the concept of postmodernism used in this essay, continue with some specific fragments in which I think the Joycean influence is at its most concrete, and then proceed to broader questions. In the analysis, my interest lies in the above mentioned playfulness and its postmodern nature. It is obvious, however, that the aspects in Saarikoski's poetry on which I am going to concentrate are not exclusively Joycean, although I certainly find calling these aspects Joycean illustrative. In addition to (and in connection with) Joyce, I intend to discuss Samuel Beckett, especially the grim sense of humor-- the sense of the comic in the absurdity of life -- and the way of almost parodying Joycean texts he shares with Saarikoski.

DEFINING POSTMODERNISM

At least until the early '80s, when Vincent B. Leitch's article "The Postmodern Poetry and Poetics of Pentti Saarikoski" was published, Saarikoski was a model example of modernism in Finnish poetry. With reason, Saarikoski's first collections of poetry, tided simply Runoja [Poems; 1958], Toisia runoja [Other poems;1958], and Runot ja Hipponaksin runot [Poems and Poems of Hipponax; 1959], invite classification as "modernist." But in his fifth volume, Mita tapahtuu todella? [What's Really Going On?; 1962], the postmodern characteristics of heterogeneity in poetic material as well as irony and playfulness overwhelm the modernist features. It is well to remember though, as Anselm Hollo has remarked--with regard to Saarikoski's epithet "Finland's first `postmodern' poet" (xi) that "'modernism' in the Finnish language (as contrasted with Finno-Swedish) poetry only began in the early 1950s" (xi-xii). Thus, in such a context, the designation "postmodern poet" would seem absurd. Here, however, postmodernism is not used narrowly as a period designation. Instead, I want to emphasize--in the manner of Ihab Hassan and Douwe W. Fokkema--the intertextual aspect of postmodernism and more importantly the ironic, playful attitude in this intertextuality.(1) Defined this way, Joyce's Finnegans Wake is, of course, the postmodern text par excellence. …

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