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
Unfortunately, it still appears to be
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 Didiers book
does not deal with Finnish literature. Not the Nobel Prize-winner
Frans Emil Sillanpää, not the poet Paavo Haavikko, not Väinö
Linnas Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier) or Mika
Waltaris 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.
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