The allure of artificiality

Editorial Nuori Voima 5-6/2003

The protagonist of Hoffman’s tale Sandman falls in love with the puppet
Olimpia, the automatic beauty, with disastrous consequences. In the
multi-voiced tale a critic interprets the course of events: the puppet is a
metaphor, only an allegory. He does not tell us how to interpret the
allegory, which naturally is not an accident.

In one of its levels Sandman is precisely about the power of language
and metaphors. A writer can attract a reader’s attention only by creating credible
figures with lives of their own, and the reader for his part must take an
active part in the play; not only in literature: in other arts as well
the figures come alive in the imagination of the audience only. The myth of
Pygmalion and his living statue, as well as the stories of his parallel
figures, Ilmarinen The Blacksmith in Kalevala and Doctor Frankenstein show
that the figure of animation should not be taken seriously. On the other
hand, the art of Hans Bellmer demonstrates the grotesque and perverted side
of the myth.

Freud tried to solve the riddle of Olimpia in his own controversial
manner. His interpretation of the uncanny feeling aroused by Hoffman’s story
is ultimately based on the ambiguity of language, the word .
Whether his interpretation and theories are correct or not, it is precisely
the ambiguity of language which keeps them alive on the scene of literary
and culture theories, as Hannu Eerikäinen claims.

Paul de Man took also interest in the power of figures and tropes. In
his essay on Kleist’s Über das Marionettentheater he tries to show that
setting the marionette as the ideal of aesthetic perfection reveals the
hidden ideological violence in the project of aesthetic education itself. In
de Man’s rhetorical reading Kleist’s story shows also how in every literary
text there is a tension between the perfection of the form and the
linguistic mechanism, which disarticulates the meaning.

In Ernst Jünger’s oeuvre the figure of personification is turned
around. His militant rhetoric tries to establish a new kind of a man, a
worker and a soldier, who faces the challenge of the age of technology as a
machine-like “figure of steel”.

Philip K. Dick, to whom we could have dedicated this issue, wrote once
that all living is turning towards reification, and reciprocally the
mechanical is on its way towards animation; therefore the categories of the
living and the non-living are not pure anymore. To this we can only add: in
literature and other arts those categories were never pure in the first

Published 30 March 2004
Original in Finnish

Contributed by Nuori Voima © Nuori Voima Eurozine


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