tiistai 24. helmikuuta 2009

Simone de Beauvoir: Ei yksin hengestä

"Mistä ihminen voi tietää?" hän tivasi. "Olen jo kolme vuotta taistellut lakkaamatta. Olen taistellut jokaisesta kirjasta jonka olen lukenut, jokaisesta ulos lähtemisestä, jokaisesta ajatuksesta minä olen tapellut. Vannoin etten aiheuttaisi äidille koskaan mitään huolta ja vaivaa, mutta minähän olen vain kiusannut häntä. Kun annoin periksi hänelle, tunsin olevani halveksittava, kun panin vastaan, vihasin itseäni."

Ottaen huomioon, että Simone de Beauvoir on yksi varhaisen feminismin pioneereista, merkittävä naiskirjailija ja filosofi, on outoa, etten ole lukenut häneltä aiemmin yhtäkään kaunokirjallista teosta. Beauvoirin ehkä kuuluisin teos, Toinen sukupuoli, on toki tuttu eräänlaisena feministisenä manifestina naisten oikeuksien puolesta. Yritin nyt kai jonkinlaista pehmeää laskua Beauvoirin fiktiiviseen tuotantoon valitsemalla luettavakseni yhden hänen varhaisemmista teoksistaan, jonka hän itsekin esittelee esipuheessa hieman pahoitellen: "Kyseessä on lyhyesti sanottuna hieman kömpelösti toteutettu nuoruudenromaani, jossa monet myöhemmin esille ottamani teemat ovat jo idullaan."

Ei yksin hengestä on ensimmäinen romaani, jota Beauvoir koskaan tarjosi kustantajalle. Kustantaja hylkäsi kirjan sekavana, mutta teos julkaistiin lopulta vuonna 1979, muutamia vuosia ennen kuuluisan kirjailijan kuolemaa.

Ei yksin hengestä on kieltämättä jotenkin sekava. Se koostuu löyhästi toisiinsa nivoutuvista henkilöistä ja tarinoista, lyhyistä ja elämäkertamaisista anekdooteista. Jos henkilöiden monimutkaiset, usein etäiset suhteet haluaisi täysin ymmärtää, pitäisi varmaan piirtää itselleen jonkinlainen sukupuu suhteiden kartoitusta varten. Teoksesta saa kuitenkin paljon irti, vaikkei osaisikaan muodostaa siitä yhtenäistä kokonaiskuvaa; siihen voisi suhtautua melkein kuin novellikokoelmaan. Yksittäisten henkilöiden ihmiskohtalot voi joka tapauksessa sijoittaa myös laajempaan yhteiskunnalliseen kontekstiin.

Romaanissa pääosassa ovat naiset. Lähes kaikkia romaanin naisia yhdistää korkea yhteiskuntaluokka, jyrkkä uskonnollinen kasvatus ja koulutus sekä yhteiskunnan ja perheen asettamat paineet. Naisten tulee olla viattomia, siveellisiä, tottelevaisia ja nöyriä, mutta samalla seurallisia, hauskoja, kauniita ja älykkäitä. Kaikkien romaanin naisten sisällä itää oma, yksityinen kapina, halu kokea jotain muuta, pyrkimys vapautua normeista.

1920- ja 30-lukujen pariisilaiset ylhäisösuvut näyttäytyvät ankarina, lahjomattomina ja tiukasti perinteitä ylläpitävinä matriarkaalisina yhteisöinä, jotka eivät salli ulkopuolisten tai modernien vaikutteiden saastuttaa nuorten naistensa mieliä. Räikeän kontrastin tälle luo Pariisin "toinen puoli", puistojen ja tienvarsien maalatut prostituoidut, baarien jazz-musiikki ja vapaa seksuaalisuus.

Simone de Beauvoir: Ei yksin hengestä. Kirjayhtymä. 1991.
Ranskankielinen alkuteos: Quand prime le spirituel
Suomentaja: Marja Haapio

HS Kirjat: "Esikoinen joka edelsi esikoista"
Klassikkogalleria: Simone de Beauvoir
Wikipedia: Simone de Beauvoir

Katso myös nämä:

sunnuntai 22. helmikuuta 2009

William Golding: Lord of the Flies

"Can't they see? Can't they understand? Without the smoke signal we'll die here? Look at that!"
A wave of heated air trembled above the ashes but without a trace of smoke.

"We can't keep one fire going. And they don't care. And what's more--" He looked intensely into Piggy's streaming face.

"What's more, I don't care sometimes. Supposing I got like the others - not caring. What'd become of us?"
Piggy took off his glasses, deeply troubled.

"I dunno, Ralph. We just got to go on, that's all. That's what grown-ups would do."


We're all familiar with stories of people being shipwrecked on an uninhabited island and having to survive in one way or another until they - inevitably - get rescued. Children read classic adventure stories like Coral Island, Treasure Island and Swiss Family Robinson. These are relate light-hearted, exciting and happy adventures that children encounter when they find themselves on an idyllic paradise island in the middle of the ocean. But William Golding decided to write a novel about what could really happen if a group of children were to be left to survive on their own on an island. He gives a realistic depiction of the degeneration of a group of English schoolboys, stranded on a desert island.

Spoilers below:

I first read Lord of the Flies for English class in 8th grade and wrote on essay comparing Ralph and Jack as leaders. At that time, I completely failed to understand the significance of the ending of the book, as I remember concluding my essay with a naïve comment on the "happy end" when the boys are found and rescued, ready to be taken back to "civilization".

/spoilers end.

The second reading was for English class again, about 7 years ago. Even then, I don't think I fully grasped the underlying allegorical implications of the "society" on the island and its bleak connections with the adult world. Now, after the third reading, I'm finally beginning to understand the novel more thoroughly and actually find some more interesting aspects in it.

The thing that struck me most this time is the seeming absence of female characters or femininity in the novel. All the children on the island are boys and no female characters actually appear. However, although stereotypical masculinity clearly dominates the island (emphasized through action, hunting, violence and killing), it does not exist without its feminine counterpart. Some of the boys (most obviously Piggy, as well as Ralph occasionally) are portrayed as somewhat feminine - stereotypically staying at "home" and looking after the smaller children, the "littluns". In their urge to colonize and dominate the island (the society) around them, the other boys symbolically kill the only real female creature they find - a sow with piglets.

Lord of the Flies is mandatory reading in a lot of schools for a good reason. Although many young readers may not fully understand the incredibly bleak worldview of the novel, it will certainly give everyone something to think about. What is human nature when it is stripped down to the core, its basic elements: hunger, power, greed, survival...

William Golding: Lord of the Flies. Faber & Faber. 1974.

Wikipedia: Lord of the Flies
Wikipedia: William Golding

See also:

sunnuntai 15. helmikuuta 2009

Haruki Murakami: The Elephant Vanishes

Listening to the car radio, I drive to the harbor. I want classical music, but I can't find a station that broadcasts it at night. Stupid Japanese rock music. Love songs sweet enough to rot your teeth. I give up searching and listen to those. They make me feel I'm in a far-off place, far away from Mozart and Haydn.

The Elephant Vanishes is a short story collection by one of the most popular contemporary Japanese authors, Haruki Murakami. Murakami is also a highly international writer and his novels and stories frequently mix American influences together with contemporary Japanese culture. This makes his novels and stories more approachable for a wider audience also outside Japan. Murakami's translators, Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin, receive their well-earned share of credit through their own, personal introductions below the author's blurb in the beginning of the book.

I think that Murakami has realized that there's no point in constantly trying to change a working concept and he does not hesitate to recycle his previous ideas that readers have obviously enjoyed. This doesn't mean that his novels or short stories are repetitions or copies of each other. They just often have a very similar feel or tone - a perfectly ordinary, everyday life is interrupted by something totally out of the blue, perfectly surreal and incomprehensible. It feels so familiar and somehow comforting to read his novels and stories that almost always have an ordinary, middle-aged man with a steady job, a pile of jazz records, bottles of wine and regular sex with his girlfriend... Then something uncanny interrupts the scene, often subtly, almost unnoticeably. Endings are often left open and the symbolism may be just complex enough to avoid logical interpretation.

For example, The Elephant Vanishes includes a story called "The Second Bakery Attack" in which a couple wakes up in the night so hungry that they find themselves robbing a McDonald's; or "Barn Burning", in which the author listens to the story of a man with an obsession to burn barns on a regular basis; or "Sleep", in which a bored housewife finds she can no longer sleep at night for weeks on end and spends her nights reading Anna Karenina over and over again.

Finland seems to be rediscovering Murakami. Two of his earlier novels, A wild sheep chase (Hitsuji o meguru boken, 1982) and Sputnik sweetheart (Suputoniku no koibito, 1999) have been translated into Finnish (Suuri lammasseikkailu and Sputnik - rakastettuni, both published in 1993). Both of these have been translated from the English translations of the original novels. Perhaps this was due to a serious shortage of Japanese to Finnish translators in Finland or perhaps it really was due to the outstanding translations of Birnbaum and Rubin - I'm not sure. However, as I said, Murakami is finally receiving some recognition in Finland when, after a gap of 16 years, a more recent novel, Umibe no Kafuka (2002) will be published next month under the title Kafka rannalla.

Haruki Murakami: The Elephant Vanishes. Vintage Books. 2003.
Stories originally published in Japanese
Translated by Alfred Birnbaum & Jay Rubin

Haruki Murakami.com
NY Times: "From Japan, Big Macs and Marlboros in Stories"
Kirja.fi: Haruki Murakami

See also:

torstai 5. helmikuuta 2009

Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe

It happened one day about noon going towards by boat, I was exceedingly surprized with the print of a man's naked foot on the shore, which was very plain to be seen in the sand. I stood like one thunder-struck, or as if I had seen an apparition; I listened, I looked round me, I could hear nothing, nor see any thing; I went up to a rising ground to look farther; I went up the shore and down the shore, but it was all one, I could see no other impression but that one. I went to it again to see if there were any more, and to observe if it might not be my fancy; but there was no room for that, for there was exactly the very print of a foot, toes, heel, and every part of a foot; how it came thither I knew not, nor could in the least imagine.

Like a well-trained product of the Western society, I too read Robinson Crusoe (first published in 1719) for the first time when I was quite young. Of course, that was not the full story, but some kind of abridged, censored, children's edition in Finnish. Nevertheless, I was not only carried away by the adventure, but also strangely fascinated by Crusoe's obsession with making lists. :) Lists of things he got off the ship, listed inventories of his belongings, lists of animals and plants... This all appealed to the horribly pedantic list-maker within me.

I think this is the first time I've read this (arguably) earliest novel in the world with a more critical eye. Trying to look beyond the unrealistic, almost naïve adventure story and see the more serious themes: the supremacy of a white man over his non-white servant, the Western fear of cannibalism and the Other, the cold economy of colonising and dominating the island... I especially disliked the way Crusoe became a sort of superhuman at the end. The novel also seems to rush to an abrupt ending, including a strangely out-of-place episode of being attacked by wolves somewhere in southern Europe, which I'm sure was never included in the abridged versions!

Robinson Crusoe also seems to promote all the stereotypes of masculinity. Female characters simply do not exist (with the fascinatingly, if unintentionally, symbolic exception of a female cat that manages to defy the hegemonic masculinity of the island by actually reproducing - to the extreme annoyance of the main character!). Robinson Crusoe does get married at the end of the book, but Daniel Defoe manages to sum up his marriage, children and the death of his wife all in one sentence: In the mean time I in part settled my self here; for first of all I marry'd, and that not either to my disadvantage or dissatisfaction, and had three children, two sons and one daughter: but my wife dying [...] my inclination to go abroad [...] prevailed and engaged me [...].

Below is the novel's title in full. What a spoiler! :P

Daniel Defore: The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, where-in all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates. Written by Himself. Penguin Books. 1965.

Wikipedia: Robinson Crusoe
Wikipedia: Daniel Defoe

See also: