What is world literature? It is the continuation of great-power politics by other means, one might say, to adapt the words of the military theoretician Karl von Clausewitz, even if the western intelligentsia, cultivating its independence, is not prepared to swallow the claim too easily.
     Unfortunately, it still appears to be true.
     As is well known, the cartographers of the great powers have drawn arbitrary borders as a result of which large nations have disappeared from the world map, been crushed beneath the treads of tanks or simply been forgotten by history.
     The same negligence is evident in the newest European literary research.
     In a recent article in a Finnish newspaper, the German linguistic and cultural scholar Harald Haarman described how cultural history is still being written in France, a former colonial power and the cradle of European civilisation.
     For example, the professor of comparative literature at the Sorbonne, Jean-Louis Bèckes, in his project La Littérature européenne, defines European literature in terms of the features that appear in the literary traditions of the large nations.
     In addition to the literature of the former colonial masters, the soup is spiced with a few exotic rareties, but Finnish literature is nowhere mentioned, although Finland is, after all, a full member state of the European Union. Did the project, one wonders, receive funding from the European Union?
     Fortunately, there are also to be found in France literary scholars who take the idea of Europe seriously, Haarman sighs. He mentions Professor Beatrice Didier, editor of a book entitled Précis de littérature which includes both small and large languages, from Albania to Iceland.
     But even Professor Didier’s book does not deal with Finnish literature. Not the Nobel Prize-winner Frans Emil Sillanpää, not the poet Paavo Haavikko, not Väinö Linna’s Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier) or Mika Waltari’s Sinuhe egyptiläinen (The Egyptian).
     Has Professor Didier deliberately ignored the literature of an entire European Union country? Hardly. She has no doubt fallen victim to the map-makers of the great powers and divided Europe in the French manner: experts used on the project include J. de Dianoux, who deals with the literature of the Baltic countries, and R. Boyer, whose responsibility is the literature of the Scandinavian countries. On such a map of Europe, Finland does not exist.
     Should Professor Didier and her colleagues seek European Union funding to buy the necessary equipment to furnish an expedition to the north? Or should the Scandinavian experts she uses be sent on a language course for European Union bureaucrats and learn Finnish? They could, perhaps, start with the Kalevala – which was, after all, first translated into French in 1845.
     Lest Finland be omitted from the universal dictionary of literature which Professor Didier is presently planning, world map in hand.

     Jyrki Kiiskinen

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