On a diet of opinions

I am going a bit overboard with this new book subscription hoarding books left and right, audio and e. My current focus is on essays (and crime fiction as always) because I booked a slot at an essay writing course, in Finnish, and I needed to remind myself what essays are like because I have not read one since I was in school.

The essay collections of choice are:

  • Valitut esseet by Antti Nylén — a selection of essays from his essay trilogy around fear, bitterness, desire, suspicion, terror, outsiderness (yes, I made this up for you English language). Nylén was selected because I was curious about his dogmatism, which is something I have never mastered, or even managed.
  • Pölyn ylistys by Silvia Hosseini — came recommended by one of my reference groups and is a logical continuation of my streak of Finnish female authors and a comfortable counterpart to Nylén.

Both of the authors write about popular culture and mash it up with literary studies, philosophy and meanings to mundane.

Antti Nylén takes the role of the white absolutist who judges others from the safety of his bedroom with an unquestioned belief in himself, his intelligence and the truthfulness of his opinions. I know his type because Nylén is roughly my age, our education is similar and I met so many nyléns at the university and how I envy him because his belief in himself makes it possible to write proper provocative sentences, call people idiots and be nonchalant about death. There is something lonely about his type: the ‘making clear’ happens in solitary thought, not in a conversation. And after the thinking is done, the world is clear and explained, at least for that part and for awhile.

But I am sure Nylén is not this caricature, after all, we are all multitudes. He even says it in his essay about the death of David Bowie: the Antti Nylén of his essays is a literary device. The later essays are also somewhat softer, less absolute, and even his dogmatism feels like a trick or (help me) irony. The more controversial topics such as animal cruelty and his faith seem heartfelt. They make me believe that Antti Nylén, the real person not the literary device, believes in his god and hates cruelty to animals. He is also unabashedly a fan, and the last essay of the collection, Nylén’s multi-faceted love letter to Patti Smith, is something to cherish.

Silvia Hosseini gets the role of the 21st century multicultural Finnish woman. Unlike Nylén and us generation exxers, she is ok with her womanhood and sexuality. Hosseini does not hide in her bedroom, she preaches from the rooftops, tongue in cheek.

Hosseini writes about Al Pacino’s scream, R. Kelly and Dubai but there are commonalities between Nylén and Hosseini in who and how they discuss pop culture. Although they are different generations, Bowie, Morrissey, Cohen, Patti Smith, Baudelaire, Baudrillard and the like are in the groove. In fact, the connections the authors make might be even more interesting if the examples skipped this canon altogether but I guess it is hard because we all read (past tense) the same books. There might be a touch of Finnish hiphop from Hosseini, but the writers’ icons seem still to be from the sincere 70s before the world was ruined by postmodernism, irony, libertarianism and climate change.

Hosseini was also one of the lecturers in the course I took, and she introduced some ways of playing with style and walked us through some of the decision-making in her own writing. For example, when she wrote about Dubai, she wanted to fill the sentences to the max so that it feels suffocating like Dubai, and when she wrote about birds, she wanted the text to have the rhythm and flow of a song. Sometimes finding the right word takes her a long time and if she does not find it, she will rework the sentence to make sure the rhythm, style and meaning collide perfectly.

One thing Hosseini emphasized was that fictional essays should be personal to differentiate from the academic and the journalistic. Maybe mine could be a balance between personal annoyances and my literary device of grumpy, old woman.