(Trans. by Teodor Reljić)
Just like last year, I’ve once again rescinded any responsibility of choosing a place to visit for the latter and most punishing parts of the summer. A place that would have spared my skin the shock of early aging, which would have spared me having to gasp for breath. And a place that would have turned my gaze away from an island which appears to be growing uglier by the minute. Uglier, and filled beyond the brim by those eager to stretch their grasp over any remaining bit of open space. Which means no time or silence for yourself, even beyond the summer months.
The entire stretch of Malta is turning into St Julian’s, and the entire year into August.
And those who truly love the island, who have, let’s say, searched for it again and again – unlike many others who, while also being the first to judge and condemn it, come here simply to cream off its immediate economic benefits – those are the ones who suffer the most. They would remember the island being different, more beautiful, and just six, eight, nine, thirteen years ago. And no, it is not just a matter of personal outlook.
Even Marta, a delicate and beautiful creature, almost (sticking to the theme of this post) elf-like, an architect in reality and deep within her heart – she knows it, and feels it too.
Last year the trip I was strung along for was to Belgrade, for a language course suggested by Ludo, and this year it was the turn of Helsinki, as I accompanied Teodor to WorldCon 75, which meant snaking my way through the labyrinth of a genre that he loves very much, but within whose confines I can never manage too long a soujourn.
I say this with a measure of regret, and even perhaps out of a certain ignorance of the exact parameters of the “genre” (not that I particularly like speaking about genres of literature in any case), but as a dedicated (even zealous) devouerer of books, I’ve always found the “realist” tradition (a genre in its own right, I know) always more compelling… less easy to grasp, in some ways. Because I believe that it is under the stark light of reality that fantasy is truly put to the test. I’ve even tried to explain it in these terms – all the while, if I’m honest, battling some nerves, especially after he felt compelled to jot down some notes on the anthropology of objects, after I mentioned it as one of my fields of interest – the amiable science fiction writer Jeff VanderMeer, author of three fascinating and intelligent books which share shelf space with Pavese and Calvino* at home.
But then, the moment that I wrote down this final phrase – because it’s within the limits of reality that fantasy is put to an even harsher test – this verse floated back into my mind:
O Muses, O high genius, now assist me!
O memory, that didst write down what I saw,
Here thy nobility shall be manifest!
Words that come from a work, the Commedia, which is not exactly realist, but neither is it the other thing, but at the same time it is, completely, it is that also – it is everything, and it is the greatest work of literature ever to be written.
So, down with genres. Of all kinds.
It’s something I’ve always believed, deep down. In literature, the only valid differences to be found are those which lie between a story which grabs you, takes your breath away and overpowers you with chills, and one which leaves you just where you are, as you are, or which simply skate over you, like a calming breeze. Which might raise a smile, but which leaves you rooted to the same spot after all is said and done.
I actually came here to speak about Helsinki – not literature and not science fiction. Even if, to speak about Helsinki means to speak about this too.
To speak about those moments in which, snaking our way out of WorldCon’s labyrinth, we happened upon what, for us, was the real science fiction: a city that is organised to the hilt, shaped by an intelligent architecture which respects individual and social rhythms, a logical organisation of spaces, a respect of all social categories and age groups on its public transport, in public spaces, cafes and shops. There were no ‘non-places’ in Helsinki, is what I’m trying to say, and in future I hope to find the words to articulate it better. And I’m finding it hard to understand those who, prior to our departure, described it as an uninteresting city, unattractive… unjustly lowering my already meager expectations even further downwards. Now, however, I only want to go back – and I even want to see what lies beyond the confines of the city itself.
Helsinki is a city to be read between the lines, which does not reveal all, which betrays the “genre” assigned to it by others: you creep up towards it on tiptoe, believing yourself to be following a linear narrative, only to end up stumbling, bewitched, into one of Murakami’s enchanted forests.
*I also hope that I’ll soon catch up with the work of the other writers I’ve had the pleasure to meet over these days, and with whom we’ve shared space on tables both large and small (Gregory Norman Bossert, Kali Wallace, John Chu, Anya Martin, Neil Williamson, Luís Rodrigues). I remain passionate about anthropology, and testament to that are the twenty-odd years I’ve dedicated to the practice and how I still dedicate the brilliance of my better days to it. But literature remains my first love, and being able to speak to an author immediately after you’ve read their work is something I find indescribable, an even more potent form of science fiction for someone like myself. That is, someone who, while waiting for a Worldcon panel to start, opted for Tolstoy.
I rest my case.
An ebook and a film camera. Dimensions which I never believed I would find myself entering into, and others which I never thought I would be revisiting.