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Lahti International Writers’ Reunion – keeping insanity alive
By Noora Mattila
The sound emerges from the white tent: “But the bowl is there specifically for the empty space.”
Here is where it starts. It is Sunday morning at the Messilä holiday centre, and the bowl is empty.
Inside the tent the sight that is traditionally seen at the Lahti International Writers’ Reunion opens up. About 40 writers are sitting on wooden benches wearing headphones to hear the interpretation.
This time the theme of the talks is “The Author and the Indescribable” – that which is beyond words: the supernatural, the subconscious, music, tragedy, energy?
Or is it emptiness?
The writers have gathered here with furrowed brows in front of their empty bowl. I sit in the back row and try not to bother them.
The writers’ reunion, which used to be held in Mukkula, but which is now in Messilä for the second time, is a unique cultural event. You won’t see mega-celebrities of the literary world, or visiting rock stars.
Nobody is selling t-shirts, cards, or spring rolls – not even books. There is culture, but few events.
In his presentation, Milan Dekleva from Slovenia says that now that the world is revolving in a vacuum of perfect nihilism, the limits of human expression need to be felt with a completely different kind of sensitivity, as the vacuum of perfect nihilism manifests itself above all in silence, in the sporadic eruption of existential responsibility on a pasture limited by human freedom.
“I heard that during the Cold War the east and the west block would meet at the Lahti Writers’ Reunion”, says Swedish poet Lars Mikael Raattamaa. “Opinions probably clashed heavily. Here writers seem to be very careful and pleasant.”
“Now that there are no conflicts or taboos in the world that would be as clear-cut, I wonder what writers are needed for. It seems not to have any significance what we say. We are interesting only as mystical beings – as celebrities.”
The discussion often returns to the role of the author. Is he or she an outside observer, or the heart of his or her own world? Is a book a consumer product? How can words have meaning if the emptiness is filled with mud?
“We need to find the function of the world of the text and trust it like crazy”, says poet Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen in her talk.
The importance of words depends exclusively on trust or insanity. Without these, words have no meaning, and neither do writers.
But as trust and insanity are so endangered in the “vacuum of nihilism”, the writers need to stick together.
“All my life I have suspected that writing is nonsense”, says Estonian Mari Saat. “It is wonderful to meet other writers. It gives me courage to write.”
Saat has just come back from a visit to China, where she went to a new industrial village in Beijing. The airplane factories were presented in Chinese. So it doesn’t matter too much how writers stay in the air.
Messilä’s way of bringing writers together is a good one, I must admit.
My intention was to be critical – even somewhat biting. I planned to be an observer of pretention and arrogance, of an eloquent speaker tongue-tied after a difficult question, or of a flood of words that jangles in the place of wordlessness.
I failed. There is something charming when people gather together with such devotion only to think, even though there is no promise of any outcome, benefit, or sales value.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 21.6.2011
NOORA MATTILA / Helsingin Sanomat