Wednesday, 23 May 2018
20/52 Sara Stridsberg: Drömfakulteten (2006) and Valerie Solanas SCUM Manifesto (1967) This post is about two books actually. I read Sara Stridsbeg's Drömfakulteten - tillägg till sexualteorin that has been been translated to Finnish this year and goes with a name Unelmien tiedekunta - Lisäys seksuaaliteoriaan. The novel's main character is Valerie Solanas who is a real historical person. In the beginning of the book it is said though, that all the characters are fictional. The novel includes parts from Valerie Solanas' work, SCUM Manifesto. The book made me curious to read through the manifesto as a whole to know better what kind of person we are talking about. Both the novel and the manifesto draw a picture of a person who doesn't compromise or make things more pretty than they are. Her thoughts go beyond political correctness and good taste. While writing and campaigning her manifesto she annoys people and seems to find few allies because she is so extremist.
The novel follows Valerie's childhood, student years, years as a radical feminist and last moments before her death. The story is written with short looks to situations and in the end the picture comes complete when the last mysteries kept between different eras are being covered. When I heard about this book I was enthusiastic to get to read it. After first few pages I doubted if I can finish it at all. The beginning was very rough as it opened to her death bed and traumatic childhood memories. It doesn't turn out to a happy story in any phase but knowing the sad end from the beginning makes it more easy to read and find out what happened in between all. The style how this novel is written brings to my mind beatnik literature. Tempo is fast and language doesn't hide the ugliness and sickening details. There is no room for euphemisms or trying to save someone's feelings. It is as unapologetic and rough as Solanas. I would suggest reading this book in a broad daylight or with someone you are able to talk about the text.
There is an inner conflict in the mind of Solanas, who is modern and intellectual person in a world that is conservative, restricting and bound to patterns. Based on the novel I got a picture of a person who is so far from this world that she doesn't get a grip on this reality or that the world doesn't get a grip on her thoughts.Valerie's talent and intellectual ideas stay unacknowledged and her ideas don't get refined to full capacity. In the novel she gets a short period of time when she believes that things are getting better and her work will be appreciated but soon she drops from this illusion. Her early years and traumatic experiences through her life seem to have an influence how she sees men and the functioning of the world. Still when I read the novel I didn't want to think that her work is only defined or explained by her rough experiences and that more positive ones would have made her work look different like for example more negotiating. She has a gift to see the current system, tell it's weaknesses to people and do visionary work to build an utopia.
When reading the novel and manifesto I felt she goes over the limit in some things. For example she suggest that all men should be wiped away so women could have an utopia where they could live and prosper. She writes that women are doing great together and using the latest science they could focus on making more women. She sees no reason for men to exist at all. Where does this come from? How could she say that and believe it to be right? One chapter in the novel opened the logic to me. As a post graduate student she studies mice and wants to study only females and execute the males as irrelevant to the research. Then a male academic says it is against the tradition and practices. While he explains the system to Solanas it is revealed that male are the norm according to whom everything is researched. Relationship between mother and child is only occasion where females are interesting and worth studying. The world where Solanas writes her rough words is a world where women are wiped away as unworthy. In a symbolic way women are banned to exist and exiled to margins. The world around Solanas is a one where men live and prosper according to their own rules. This opens up the context for Valerie's frustration and aggressive behavior.
When reading the novel it feels like Solanas is ahead of her time but I wonder what would happen if the manifesto was published in 2018 for the first time. Would it be banned because of the encouragement to violence and hatred even though in the end Solanas writes she doesn't believe in violence and killing. There are little hints about how the manifesto is accepted among fellow feminists. She meets other feminists that criticize her attitude towards men. They see men's role as companions when fighting for equality and better world. Solanas that we see in the novel is not ready for this jump from male overpower to peaceful collaboration towards common goals. She doesn't want to be mature and constructive but angry.
SCUM is provocative read. But maybe if she would have modified it to more politically correct form it would have lost it's clearness and energetic message that works as a wake up call. Did she mean to have her manifesto to be taken literally? Or what did she try to say when she says that men are not needed anymore? Is there really a division to two groups, men and women, who are against each other or could the groups have other meaning? Manifesto is written in 1967 and the societal issues she lifts up are the same we read from news even today in 2018. That is something to think about. Maybe she saw the power structures the world is based on and all the issues that work against women getting to live fully satisfying life. In the novel she goes through the ultimate frustration with the current state of issues and loses her mind. She is put away from the public discussion because her message begins to blur and sound like sick person's mantra instead of something that is thoroughly pondered and evaluated. Maybe she sees how unwilling men in power are to give up their lead and position and that is why she is getting tired waiting to get some scraps in her lifetime. Maybe she doesn't want to be neutral and loved by all but needs visible change. And saying it aloud with radical and thought provoking claims makes the message easier to remember.
The societal problems she points out are not unfamiliar to us. The methods to fix those issues are in some parts unusable. But she helps to see the world and ourselves in a very different light and lets us to question how things actually are. She changes the roles and traits traditionally given to men and women. She writes in her manifesto that women are powerful, independent, brave, interesting and ready for adventures. She sees that men try to turn things upside down by making their weaknesses to be women's weaknesses. By making women believe this false truth they can have a role of a master, teacher and guide. She sees how women are made to listeners and laborers who book their days with tasks that serve men (like cleaning and taking care of men's needs). She sees women more adventurous, proud and self-sufficient by nature.
I was surprised to read today's headlines from a book that has been written in 1967. Solanas claims that talented girls lack self esteem and because of that don't take scientific career. She thinks that girls are deliberately taught to feel that way. Just last week I heard from Maailmanpolitiikan arkipäivää -program (Nyt tytöt koodaamaan! 12.5. Yle Radio 1) that women are needed as coders but quite few believe in themselves enough to take that career. It was criticized how people are worried about boys' school success when girls are having serious lack of confidence and they don't believe in themselves even though they do great work at school. Solanas also points out automatization and work life. She sees that some men are afraid of losing their position, control and power if automatization takes over. She sees that lots of capacity could have been freed to creative work and most tasks could be done by machines. I have often thought this, that it should be possible to give more work to machines and use that saved time to something more purposeful. Still there is a tradition that doesn't want to loose it's grip from old ways of doing things. Work is often seen very physical and repeating instead of planning new innovations for example. Even nowadays when machines and robots take lots of our tasks we are kept in a leash so that some people could keep their positions and make more money. Because if we were freed from work as we know it, it might mean equality for all to do creative work like science and art. People could come up with new ideas and have time to use their voice against power structures. This might sound terrifying to those who don't see pattern of taking advantage of others in that new order.
Maybe Solanas has written her manifest to people who don't get to bloom in this current system, who are waiting their grand moment that never comes and who want freedom. According to Solanas the system gives success and moments of achievement to some but not for all. Women are seen as a combination of characters that are not based on reality and that way men are let to rule against this false image. I don't know how relevant this dichotomy to two groups called men and women is these days. But I have noticed a false ideal of how women and girls should be guides my behavior too. There have been moments when I have thought that I have talked too much, that I stole too much time. That I should become better listener and try to learn what wisdoms people have to tell me. I have thought that I have nothing special to give that others would like to hear about so that it would be justified to take all that room for myself.
In Solanas' utopia women will create a magical world where everyone gets education, freedom of self expression and chance to explore, create new innovations and be together instead of being isolated from each other. It is very far from her life in the novel. She does have relationships and people who she loves. Still I felt that she is quite alone and walks in back alleys collecting all extreme experiences one can have and eventually finds herself somewhere deep and isolated from world and people who have just visited her life. But her utopia in mind we can be motivated to come up with solutions to make it reality. Anarchy that Solanas describes as the practical answer to success is too rough and unpredictable. But maybe we should be allowed to say things more straightly without limiting our thoughts and actions. To say what we ponder and blurt it out as it first comes to our mind. It might sound stupid or unsophisticated but at least it would include the issue we want to express. We could yell on top of each other and not be so careful about waiting our own turn that never arrives. Maybe this cacophony would produce new outcomes and those would turn into energetic action. And when doing we could make all the mistakes, yet we wouldn't be paralyzed by that but we could continue with new directions. Maybe that is Solanas politically incorrect claim: not to be passive but actively say what there is to be said and act when needed.
Saturday, 19 May 2018
How much can you see in one day when you have six hours to walk around? Today I left home at 11 a.m. and I was back at 5 p.m. I walked 30 000 steps and explored this small town I live in. I wanted to find out how many different views, environments and small details I would be able to see. I tend to walk a lot so this amount of exercise was not extreme. Usually I go same routes but today I circled through longer ways to see more. I was happy to notice how many atmospheres are packed in a small area, I got to feel urban environments, neat parks, forest, swamp, riverside views from near the water and see the same river far on the horizon. I was wearing plain jeans and sneakers, no special sports gear. One of my points is to show how many interesting things there are to experience without special equipment or extra planning. You don't always have to travel far. Quite often the nearby parks and forests are neglected when we travel to see the same things on the other side of the globe. What is around us becomes invisible and when we see it abroad it gets value. I am not saying that we should not travel, it is fun to visit in a new place and get inspired about how things are done in there. But at least I have noticed that I love to visit cafes and parks and romanticize everyday life in places where I visit. Then when I come back home I forget that there is a possibility to go to local cafes and parks and appreciate all great things that are near. One doesn't need to use a car to go from place A to place B what comes to short distances. It is more fun to use own muscles and be able to change destination or take another route. There is more room for spontaneity and exploring like my walk around Rovaniemi shows.
Snow has melted in a relatively short time. I am not sure if this dog has been made before snow or this spring. I pass this building quite often so that I am quite sure I would have noticed this dog last year if it was there.
A cemetery near the town center. Cemeteries are always peaceful and beautiful places that take away the fear of death and show the natural course of human life.
Flowers at the church park. Few plants were already making flowers. It is interesting to see how the shades change during the summer. Now there were mainly blue, yellow and green. Plus this one that goes to violet and red.
The town center is on the opposite side. The river water has been high for the whole week and stream is rapid. Especially under the bridge one can hear the power of water.
Heading to the Ounasvaara hill. Green is everywhere.
Blueberries are making leaves.
Swamp is still quite colorless but on the surface of the ground you can see promises of the new season.
I guess that the routes are being renovated this summer.
Houses follow the river line. View from Ounasvaara hill.
Dog park in the green palm.
Lunch break at the park in the town center.
Arktikum park has many kinds of trees and bushes to look closer and explore the growth.
Bench with a view looking to the horizon and waiting for someone to sit. Long winter under the snow is over. After few weeks it is on the dry ground and will offer a great place to have a picnic.
Relaxing weekend to you all! I challenge you to do the same and take a few pictures from your home town or village to show how much it is possible to see by foot. No need to walk six hours, I am sure you will see plenty in two hours. It might be difficult to stop though once you are on the road.
Monday, 14 May 2018
Dance of the Jakaranda is the first book I got to finish reading outdoors on my balcony. Summer gives it's own atmosphere to reading. The town is humming on the background, few cars passing the alley, scent of garden flowers or summer rain, sunshine that almost blinds you when you try to read. Maybe a cup of coffee if it is morning or ice tea if the moment in question takes place in the midday heat. No dusty indoor air and electric lights but soft breeze and changing hues on the sky. Reading has become an outdoor activity instead of something keeping you inside. A tunic and some headwear are the only necessary clothes one needs these days. The other day when I was reading on my balcony for the whole day I saw how the scenery changed for greener in front of my eyes. I should have taken a picture to see the difference. And I swear I could see how the buds came from the soil, such is the power of summer sun. If the weathers are this great the following days I will be doing my evening reading outside. Or maybe I head from work to a park to read few pages before coming home. These are the moments we get in the middle of life. If today sun is shining and I have on hour or two I am going to take that sun. Actually there have been statistically rainy summers that I remember as sunny because in my memory are the days of sunshine that I spent outdoors. All weekends might be rainy but warm summer evening every now and then gives the touch of warmth.
19/52 Peter Kimani: Dance of the Jakaranda (2018) A theme ever so current, how to find a place one is allowed to call home? There is and there has always been immigration. People have leaved places they have called home to find better circumstances and possibilities to build their life. In Dance of the Jakaranda young Babu and his wife Fatima leave Punjab for better work possibilities. Babu is a technician, one of many who take a part to the massive task of building a railway in Kenya. McDonald, British soldier, is bound to the railway as the leader of the project. Reverend Turnbull is also playing a role in the happenings. The lives of these three men are twined together since they meet the first time. When Babu's grandson Rajan meets a mysterious woman he falls in love with, the hidden links between these men and happenings of the past begin to reveal.
Lots of what has happened in the lives of these men seem to be consequences of misunderstandings and poor communication. Especially in McDonald it is visible how the ways he has been taught to see the world effect on how he interprets what comes in front of him. He keeps his own views instead of realizing the limits of his own knowledge and trying to learn about the culture he is currently surrounded. When he needs help to understand what Babu means with his actions he consults the notes of his predecessor that verify the imperialist way of seeing the world and people who do not come from the same background. It is somehow easy to keep the thought patterns one has learned without a need to be critical towards one's own culture and what one has been taught to keep right. Questioning the so called right ways might help the future but one needs strength to go through the sometimes quite unbearable realizations that might occur at the moment. When we look back in the history it feels difficult to understand how people in the western countries were so satisfied to themselves and how they thought they were so excellent in everything that they needed to go and guide other people. How it was reasoned that they could go and take advantage of someone else's resources and ship goods to one's own land seems unreal. Yet part of these structures exist in some form even today's global traffic of goods when the backgrounds of the products are not visible. Cheap products guarantee a certain lifestyle with the expense of taking from others.
All three men are looking for a different life than what has been possible in their native country. It raises the question in which terms one is allowed to reach for better life? Can one just decide to leave where one is born and head anywhere on the Earth and build a home. McDonald reveals that his background is not that high class as it first seems. He too has had a possibility to build a life that would have been too far to reach in Britain. As it is pictured in this novel Kenya offered a certain lifestyle and status for people who decided to move and form their life and career in there. They could have better houses, leisure and commodities. There is a huge contrast to the possible life that McDonald would have had in Britain. But what is notable is that these luxuries were not for everyone but just privileges that white people took when they arrived and settled. And the thinking pattern they built to make that sound right is difficult to comprehend. The reality for Babu, who also moves to Kenya to have a brighter future, is slightly different. He with the other Indians is somewhere in between British and locals. He has some privileges but he also sees the unjust ways that the British have built their empire and how local way of life is being swiped away without asking the opinion from the people who have lived there first. It is unbelievable how big role McDonald and Turnbull are ready to take when they manipulate other people's lives. They manipulate the local politics and they intervene specifically to Babu's life. They don't even question whether they have got their impressions of Babu right before they begin their mission to ruin his chances. They just assume they know the people whose life they are about to change. People who are being manipulated don't even know what has happened. Maybe both McDonald and Turnbull have also been manipulated to act as they act and it serves some bigger interests of the empire.
Peter Kimani tells a story that takes place in the multicultural history of Kenya. When railway is constructed people are connecting and building not just railway but also relationships. It is natural that people are curious about each other and want to get to know who the other one is. World is on move today and because of this themes Kimani brings up are not just to see the history with clearer view but to see what is today. Are we bound to our own believes we keep right no matter what or are we ready to change our views? Do we blindly act according to what we have been taught when it does nothing but harm to us and our fellow humans? How could we get rid of prejudices of all kind that separate us?
Then there is the last question. When one is allowed to call a place home? Babu's grandson shows how long the process is and how the prejudices follow though generations. Even nowadays, when people move and travel more than ever, we are described based on our looks and how we resemble the stereotypical looks of a person living in a particular country. It takes time to settle and find a place that feels home. It might be that it is impossible to return to where one has previously lived. For example Babu's home country, Punjab didn't exist anymore so that he or his grandson could return. Even though the country one is trying to settle wouldn't be particularly hostile quite few places are 100% inviting new people to come and move in. People who have lived in that country their whole life continue their lives as before. The one entering has to claim their own place, make a new life with new career, friends, hobbies and place to live. If you have ever lived abroad even for a while you know that it is not easy and one questions their existence in the new place.
Maybe after years and generations the connections to the native country have finally been unleashed and only place one can call home is where one is at the moment. But still even so other people might be seeing it differently. In new situations, like in the novel when Kenya gets independent, it is thought over whose country and whose piece of land that place is. History doesn't give simple answers because what is now is built with layers of time; both darker ages and brighter moments. It is not so straightforward to point that those who where there first are the only one's allowed to stay. Back in history people have entered with various motives that can be evaluated in current light. But what this novel beautifully pictures is how people now are all the same. Where there have been groups with opposite views now there is one group because time has done it's task. People have found both lovers and enemies from the opposite side and that way made a path for shared future. Even hatred is a connection, a link that combines when time passes.
Happy Summer Days to You All!
Thursday, 10 May 2018
Can you believe it is this time of the year? One can wear a dress and enjoy warm sunlight. Even the wind brings warm air and makes the ice float away and melt. It is always so surprising to notice that summer is here. Last week it was still snowing but now I combined thin layers of cloth and it was enough. I wondered, out of old habit, if I should take a coat with me but it was not necessary. Summer gives so much freedom. Heavy winter gear takes time to dress and there is not so many choices what to wear because no matter how pretty outfit you have you are still forced to put that same winter coat and skiing trousers on. Now there is more to choose of and dress nicely.
I love to book a day for floating as I call it. It means I spend the day outdoors wandering mindlessly and exploring the surroundings. Warm summer days are perfect for that. Walking from place to place and taking roads where I have never visited. I might walk quite long distances on floating days. One can float in nature or urban surroundings as I did today. I went to back alleys and empty streets near the end of the town area. Those places are not the most beautiful in the common sense but offer interesting colors, patterns, structures and also beauty in their own way.
Have you seen Jan Troell's film Everlasting Moments? I should watch it again. It shows wonderfully how photographers eye sees beauty and interesting details everywhere in everyday life. Photographer or not one can learn to see world in a different way but it takes time and concentration. Rushing between places usually makes world to hide all there secret treasures. But slow floating days every now and then bring the magic back. One day we notice how much inspiration has been put on our way when we walk our everyday routes to school, hobbies or work. Things that can inspire us to create and enjoy our environment more.
Inspiring summer days to you all!