Eino Santanen

Finland

Eino Santanen (b. 1975) has published five books of poetry and a collection of short stories. He has edited anthologies of contemporary Finnish poetry and worked as editor-in-chief of Nuori Voima literary magazine.

 

Santanen is a head teacher of Helsinki-based Critical Academy's School of Creative Writing and a member of the jury of Helsingin Sanomat Literature Prize. 

 

His artistic work includes conceptual projects such as the Banknote Poetry Project (2012-) and the Poetry Karaoke Project (2002-2006). He has written poetry for interdisciplinary co-works with choreographers, composers, computer game designers, film and theatre directors and visual artists.

 

Santanen has been awarded with Kalevi Jäntti Prize for young authors 2006 and Finnish National Broadcasting Company's Tanssiva Karhu Prize for best book of poetry 2015.


 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

rakas kapitalismi pilkku. Short stories. Teos Publishers 2020.

Yleisö. Poems. Teos Publishers 2017.

Tekniikan maailmat. Poems. Teos Publishers 2014.

Punainen seinä. Poems. Teos Publishers 2010.

Merihevonen kääntää kylkeään. Poems. Teos Publishers 2006.

Kuuntele, romantiikkaa. Poems. Tammi Publishers 2002.


Not to write poetry after the GFC is barbaric

In 2012 the Repulic of Finland was celebrating its 95th birthday. The poet Eino Santanen decided to mark the event by printing his own commemorative money. Santanen typed poems onto 20 euro banknotes and issued them through his daily transactions.

Despite coinciding with an anniversary, the inspiration for this endeavor, whose results were later published in Tekniikan maailmat (Technology’s worlds, 2014) and Yleisö (Audience, 2017), wasn’t purely patriotic. Santanen wanted to write about money.

“Living in the midst of financial capitalism and the various great and small individual tragedies caused by its perpetual crisis, a writer might very well come to think it fitting to write something about the nature of money. Money, and everything to do with economics, occupy such a thoroughly hegemonic position in society as to be ungraspable, and at the same time all artistic attempts to address it slip into some institutionally supported but inconsequential artist’s corner. (This is not the internet: An introduction to banknote poetry. Tekniikan maailmat, p. 94.)

Banknote poetry aims to avoid being consigned to the backroom poetry-shelf of a niche-bookshop by taking part in everyday financial transactions and spreading from hand to hand in accordance with their unpredictable nature. When scanned onto the pages of a book, the poems become pictures of money, which has its own significance in Santanen’s project.

The relationship between representation and reality forms the foundational theme of Santanen’s oeuvre. In his later works which include Tekniikan maailmat and Yleisö as well as the short story collection Rakas kapitalismi, pilkku (Dear capitalism, colon, 2020) he has departed from purely literary expression into visual art and performance. Many poems are originally written for his poetry band, black mödernism.

Santanen’s maximalist period culminated with Punainen seinä (Red wall, 2010), a collection of dramatic monologues in which different voices and speech acts collide with one another whilst taking stock of and representing their relation to the world. A retired porn star and a lonely office worker organise their realities in their own ways, which nevertheless are subjected to the logic of commercial visibility. Santanen writes: “After pictures there is only nature’s nudity / which doesn’t turn on anybody anymore”. The road from the attention economy to that world would seem to be direct.

Tekniikan maailmat and Yleisö shift focus from individual voices to the economic process, which needs those voices in order to function. At times the content of the writing disintegrates into mere checkable boxes, algebraic x’s and ones and zeros, as if to emphasize the disposable nature of the text’s meaning: in the digital economy it is the platform that matters, the production of content being of secondary importance. If poetry aims to be something different, it needs to take this into account and represent the way the system functions.

The language in these collections is notably more minimalistic than before, relying on repetition, commands and declarative phrases: “I published // for the free // convulsed over their screens”. The poems’ message is no longer drowned in a morass of conflicting speech acts, and their pointed critique is felt even through layers of irony.

Santanen’s recent poetry has been described as metamodern (Helle 2019). This rather vague movement is characterised by a certain pendulum between sincerity and irony, engagement and apathy. The researchers Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker write:

“Each time the metamodern enthusiasm swings towards fanaticism, gravity pulls it back towards irony; the moment its irony sways towards apathy, gravity pulls it back towards enthusiasm.”

It is true that Tekniikan maailmat and Yleisö don’t fit into a postmodern conception of art, which is saturated by pastiche, parody and irony, and for which authenticity and a sincere desire to act are impossible. Rather, Santanen uses the abovementioned effects in a systematic, or even military, fashion in order to point out their insufficiency and to hint at a world beyond them. In the poem “Tekniikan maailmat” “the sun shines” constantly, and in the beginning of Yleisö “the sun shines, to begin with”. The simplicity of this observation suggests the possibility of a certain phenomenology of the everyday. Even a subject who is publishing and consuming around the clock constantly experiences things that are too mundane to be commercialized or shared in order to extract attention.

Onto these banal observations, it is possible to build a more sustainable reality, as Santanen seems to do in the love poems that close his collections. In “Even if I were me” (Tekniikan maailmat) and “Summer in all directions” (Yleisö), selfhood is reclaimed and it is noted that, even as the attention economy grows, love will always be greater: “when you stepped into you / I saw you move // I began to move / I stepped into me // and towards you, who came towards” (Yleisö, p. 95).

Tekniikan maailmat and Yleisö thus expand and politicize the relation between representation and reality: it becomes a question of the individual’s relation to the capitalist system in a time when the accumulation of capital is being accelerated by the rise of digital platforms. If, in our time, the individual exists as a commercializable representation, her supposed qualitative individuality is ever more easily translated into quantitative language: zeroes, ones, euros.

A banknote poem, which carnivalizes the commensurate, objective nature of money, is one method for disrupting this process. In Tekniikan maailmat, the banknotes retained their economic utility, but for Yleisö Santanen began destroying them. The banknote titled “Self-portrait” has been completely painted over with white correction fluid and “Serial number Christ” is partly covered to form a crucifix on which typed numbers are hanging. The banknotes in Yleisö seem to hint that in addition to, or because of, its omnipotence, money might yet become completely useless. Perhaps the fiction that is money will be sacrificed in a coming economic crisis and a new, possibly better, world will be built on the sacrifice.

It will be fascinating to see what possibilities remain for banknote poetry after these acts of destruction. Rumour has it that Santanen’s trilogy of economic poetry will be continued.

 

Written by Vesa Rantama
Translated by Pauli Tapio

 

Sources:

Helle, Anna 2019: ”Postmodernismista metamodernismiin? Esimerkkinä Eino Santasen kokoelmat Tekniikan maailmat ja Yleisö”. Joutsen Svanen 2019. Kotimaisen kirjallisuudentutkimuksen vuosikirja. https://journal.fi/joutsen-svanen

Vermeulen, van der Akker 2010: ”What is metamodernism?”. Notes on Metamodernism. http://www.metamodernism.com/2010/07/15/what-is-metamodernism/