Helsingin Poetiikkakonferenssi – The Helsinki Poetics Conference
Helsinki 22.8.2005

Teema / Theme 4: Vastarinta / Resistance

A commentary on Olli Sinivaara’s Keynote Address at the Helsinki Poetics Conference 22 August 2005

Translated by the Author
Finnish original

Olli Sinivaara’s introduction focused on the modern crisis experience – the impossibility of language and communication. As we all know, this mantra of the impossibility to express, share and connect through the use of language has been repeated endlessly at least from the time of Nietzsche. In recent years the most notable adherent of this view was the recently departed Jacques Derrida. Those of today’s poets who try to stay in touch with theoretical discourse have taken on the task of transforming this belief of impossibility into poetry. According to Sinivaara, language and literature are developing into a strange stream of singular and unrecognizable mumblings. These mumblings are so prevalent they can in fact be described as the mainstream of modern poetry. The clearest examples of this development are the now ancient European Dadaism, and the American L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E school of poetry.

I claim that the poetry of resistance, if such a thing exists, has to consciously oppose this clichéd post-modern approach.

Why, you may ask? Because the approach is based on defeatism and exaggeration. Let us call it the Nietzschean-Derridan fallacy. The fallacy goes something like this: Since perfect communication and understanding of another person or text is impossible, all understanding is impossible. I have the impression that quite a few modern poets have taken this cultural philosophical contemporary creed as their own, and the trend seems even more prevalent outside Finland.

This is wrong. The fact that all understanding, even in poetry, is different and often riddled with misunderstanding does not mean that communication and understanding is impossible. I proclaim that a poem is above all communication, a message wanting to be understood. This is the necessary requirement of all texts and speech, including Olli’s introduction. A speech is directed at someone, a poem is written for the reader – to be read and understood. Of course, I do recognise that in the end, all reading and understanding is different and full of misunderstanding.

Olli Sinivaara’s introduction offers me some hope, as he believes in the possibility of clear language and the elegance of simple words. Indeed. The solution to the crisis of modern language is not surrender and playing word games – the solution is resistance. In short, the unflagging exploration of the possibilities of language, always seeking new methods to reach out to the reader, the other who is always the target of all communication, including poetry. In the present fragmented and collage-like social reality, taking the reader, the ever-elusive other, seriously is the most potent form of resistance.

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