Happy Birthday Mr. Lighting!

Today one of my favourite novelist, if not my secret hero, Hannu Salama ("Harry Lightning") celebrates his 70th birthday! There's a short description about his life and works in English (as well as in Finnish) Wikipedia (click here), so I won't go into details. Only a brief note about his burden. In the 1960's (during the years 1966-1968) he was hauled through the courts in a famous trial for blasphemy for his novel Juhannustanssit (Midsummer Dances, 1964). (In my Finnish blog I have inserted those controversial and censored lines from the book)

Aren Ruth states in his paper The Outsider as Insider that in his speech of defense in the court, "he defined the core of this position: that art should be judged in relation to its inner qualities". Ruth quotes Salama's speech as follows:

" 'As I see it, the outcome of any creative process leading to a work of art is by no means dependent on whatever my intentions may have been when I took up my pen, but on what that work of art – which pursues its own course – may require in order to assume the shape demanded by my sense of form and my capabilities, a shape from which the slightest deviation in one direction or another would necessitate changes in other parts of the work as well. In my personal opinion, I managed to write a work that corresponded to the demands placed on it by my sense of form. The fact that this work may not be of the highest quality is not due to any lowering of artistic standards on my part, for instance by interrupting the narrative to give free play to any blasphemous motives I may have had, but to my limitations as a human being.'"

In the recent interview he states that naturally it was hard to be in the centre of the debate, but it's nothing if compared to the present day global controversies about today's sacred values, and oil wars covered with religious fundamentalism.

Interestingly the year 1975, and a televised international meeting
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (in Helsinki, Finland) had a major impact on his thinking and writing. I'd call this as his 'postmodern turn'. After that meeting, he said, it was totally impossible to continue as nothing has happened. For something fundamental had changed permanently and dramatically in the international politics and also in the very preconditions of the worldly affairs. Something had turned into a new position, and the whole was seen in new light. Salama turned in his later works from so-called realistic prose into more sedimented and complicated texts, and so on...

Salama does not admit to be a working-class writer. In my interpretation this is mainly due to the late 1960s' and 1970s' orthodox views of Marxism. In Finland the debate was extremely intolerant, and one time after his novel Siinä näkijä, missä tekijä (1972) - a tale about an underground operating communist group during the IIWW - Salama was accused of being a class traitor because of the plain and straight, even naturalist views about the communists in the novel.

In my interpretation Salama fullfills Raoul Palmgren's (1912-1995), another critical leftist intellectual, a journalist and an academic, positive definition of a working-class writer as one "who has been brought up in working-class (proletarian) circumstances, who has done manual or some comparable labour for wages, and who is at least comparatively speaking self-taught." Their works "are coloured by the ideological wold of the workers' movement or at least the proletarian outlook on life; their subjects most often (thought) not necessarily are drawn from proletarian life, experiences, and feelings; their main sphere of influnence is most often (thought not necessarily) the working-class (the proletariat); and their (relatively) typical characteristics may be consireder exuberance and power of expression, freshness of language and observation, a tendency towards freedom of form." (Palmgren in 1965, p. 284-285.)

In the light of this broad, yet quite accurate definition, Hannu Salama still today meets the standard, which he himself also admitted. But he did not want to be politically committed, or a socialist realist. He saw them as idealists fooled by Soviet Union. To his leftist critics he responded in 1973 that 'make the revolution first, then I might write about it'. He hated all institutions
whether religious, political, or cultural. At the same time he felt that antagonisms between the Finnish left were catastrophic.

Although he at his formative years wanted to draw a definitive line and make a permanent distinction between his developing artistic identity, and his experiences with the working-class at home and work (remember working men's roughness and all the dirty talk which provided him material, but somewhat also terrified him), he still to me is a working-class author.

Think as an example a large white canvas with a small red spot in it. What do you see? It is not the canvas, but the red spot which captures your mind. Now, the canvas is the ultra-orthodox interpretation of the Marxist doctrines, and the spot the writer himself. Today Hannu Salama remains as a working-class writer with too additional qualifications to those mentioned above. He has stayed true to his vocation as an artist, and always wrote truthfully and honestly.

Have a great workout at your local gym, Hannu!


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