Thursday, January 21, 2016

Arto Melleri on Zola

Arto Melleri in 1982

[Image source:]

The Finnish poet Arto Melleri (1956 - 2005) “attacks Zola as a new-style writer of a media age, and invokes the poets of the past as alternative sources of insight and guides to truth.” (Contemporary Finnish Poetry, ed. Herbert Lomas). 

Melleri's career as a poet more or less came to an end in 1998, when he was hit by a car and suffered brain damage.  (He also wrote plays and short stories).  He was a Bohemian writer somewhat in the Saarikoski mode, at least as far as alcohol was concerned, but his preoccupations were quite different. Saariskoski was a displaced Karelian and his lifelong debate was with Lenin. Melleri was an Ostrobothnian with a family tradition of Laestadian mysticism; he had an antipathy to agitprop poetry and a commitment to a truth beyond history.

Essay on Melleri by Immo Pekkarinen, discussing the above Zola thought:

To Melleri, realism only "replaced the roses of the mirror-frames with snakes" ( “vaihdoit peilinraamien ruusut käärmeisiin” – Zola, NSV: 93), leaving the principle of reflection and representation untouched. Film and television are embodiments and extensions of the representational dreams of the Enlightment. In the modern world, thus, the romantic ideal of living presence is displaced by a fascination with ever newer and better means to mediate and multiply representations. The connecting of people into the "field of electric experience" rips them violently from their traditional life worlds.

And he quotes these lines (from "The Ferris Wheel")  about the destructive coming of TV to rural Ostrobothnia:

The runaway newsreel
gallops ever new images into the room.

in a movement too fast of the Ferris wheel
sit grandpapa, Daddy, mamma,
the hand, the maid, brother, sister
and Hankkija's agricultural agent!

Wikipedia article on Conservative Laestadianism, a strict form of Lutheranism still common in western Finland.

"Conservative Laestadians often have large families due to their belief that contraception is a sin. They believe that God is the lord of birth and death. They do not have a television at home because of the showing of offensive and sinful programing. They do not drink alcohol or listen to pop music. Recently however, the Internet is blurring the line between television and no television as many watch television programming on the Internet."

Essay on Melleri by Maris Gothóni:

Gothóni says: "Interviewed, Melleri has always spoken against stylistic trends and conceptions, things like ‘postmodernism’. The truth lies in the decomposed and the materialised. His polemical poem against Emile Zola’s naturalism asserts that perspectiveless painting is closer to reality than a photograph or a telegraph."

Poem by Arto Melleri (translator unknown), found here:

You experience human growth
by becoming more insignificant

By seeing clearly up ahead
how the sail of ambition
no longer lends shade

Experience human growth
by becoming lighter

When useless ballast has been tossed
it stays there, in the wake,
floats or sinks, for fish or fowl

Human growth
by not despising the sea chart, the compass

By no longer naming your ships
Niña, Pinta, Santa Maria
By knowing that America has existed
before it was found

Human growth
by not naming everything all the time

By not being so stupid
By not being stupid?


Herbert Lomas' translation of Melleri's poem "Zola" appears both in Contemporary Finnish Poetry (Bloodaxe, 1991), and in the more ample selection in Three Finnish Poets (London Magazine Editions, 1999).

In the earlier part of the poem, Melleri contrasts the poet of former times:

The poet
     lit by his secret lantern
         did what your brilliant gaslight
              could never accomplish, Émile.

Later on, he writes:

The radiotelegraph and the photograph
     have told more lies
         than perspectiveless painting
             or the gossip steaming
in old biddies' skirts from washhouse to washhouse.


But still, I can't agree with Melleri about Zola, though I've pondered this thought (at least in its reported form) for many years.

I believe that naturalism is what we need most and is what we writers have been resisting ever since. Something in naturalism.

The deficiencies of electronic media are still understood to be deficiencies only because of a naturalistic standard, namely, the standard of our consciousness which believes in truth.

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