Thursday, 27 May 2010

Mirjam Tuominen - 6

By Tuva Korsström

Two of the most enjoyable essays in Stadier concern the letters of Proust and Strindberg. Proust was one of Mirjam Tuominen's constant companions and she read the volumes containing his letters over and over again. Her description of Proust is characterized by the tender irony she used when writing or talking about her literary favourites. Proust was just another of those unpractical victims who make themselves hopelessly absurd whenever they undertake something.
His letters are as a rule very considerate, so considerate that they may seem to consist of nothing but politeness, flattery, almost. He is so polite that his politeness sometimes kills itself and becomes an impoliteness, because his equally great need for sincerity gets in the way. The result is an intricate arabesque with a succession of constantly new explanations, each of which annihilates the last.
Strindberg was one of the authors whom Mirjam Tuominen read intensely for a while but later rejected. She describes in her essay, not without irony this time, too, the restless Strindberg who included the whole world in his private life and then suffered from having it there, who could not live without women and then suffered from being at their mercy.
She writes with perspicacity about Strindberg's paranoia:
He could renounce neither woman nor the world... Subsequently mankind appeared to him as divided into two halves, one containing enemies, and the other containing people who were not yet his enemies...
For Strindberg Sweden was Little Puddleton, and anything else one would not have expected, it gave him paranoia, and that is very understandable, even if one might have wished that his brain had retained the upper hand.
It is worth noting that a large number of Tuominen's prototypes were men: mostly unusual, 'unmasculine' men like Kafka, Proust, Rilke or Hölderlin. What preoccupied her, just as it would preoccupy the French psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva decades later, was not the problem of masculine and feminine but that of marginality and dissidence.
Female artists who fascinated Tuominen included, for example, the Finland-Swedish poet Edith Södergran, the Norwegian novelist Cora Sandel, the French philosopher Simone Weil, and the Finland-Swedish painter Helene Schjerfbeck. These women, like her male favourites, are characterized by the vulnerability of marginal beings. They are all in pursuit of the same self-consuming search for the the absolute.
Of Cora Sandel, Tuominen writes:
This writing is in the highest degree feminine, as feminine as Strindberg's is masculine, it constitutes an index of features that are normally feminine, raised to an intensified and therefore abnormal level of emotion in the same way as Strindberg in his writing becomes an index of the `normally masculine at an extremely heightened level of emotion. I have never seen a portrait of Cora Sandel and I have no idea what she looked like, but something of the same terrifying, at once defenceless and strong, expression that is reflected in Helene Schjerfbeck's self-portraits emanates from her writings; a white face with dark, wide-open eyes, the expression of a being mercilessly incorporated into the nerve of life's essence and with the same mercilessness exposed to the conditions of reality; extreme sensitivity and extreme, overpowering temperament are here united, the fruit is extreme shyness, a scream of existential agony.
(to be continued)

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