[Maria Antas reports to God on Erik Wahlström’s novel:]
I have just read Erik Wahlström’s new book with you as the central character (Gud, ‘God’, Schildts, 2006), and now I think I know you and like you better than I did before. While it is true that during my career as a literary critic I have often come across novels where you appear both as an Old Testament patriarch and as the bleeding fellow human being of the Gospels, it is not until now that I have read a novel that sheds light on your complexity, while at the same time making many demands on me as a person and as a critic.
Some strict theologians might pronounce an anathema on the author, not unlike the Muslims who issued their fatwa on Salman Rushdie. And as in the case of Rushdie, it is probably Your ‘humanity’ and the author’s sense of humour that will cause offence.
Most authors who write about You cannot be bothered to explain how You have changed in a manner that keeps pace with human history. Mostly they do what Readers’ Digest does: select the most dramatic stories about You and write new versions of them. But Wahlström is unusually independent, as his narratives about You constantly make references to things that have happened to You, all the way through the Middle Ages and the Age of Enlightenment to the philosophies of our own time. Down here on Earth many of us have wanted to know the truth about You, or kill You (if, indeed, You exist), but not until now have I understood how that struggle between You and philosophy has developed. Wahlström is like a living encyclopedia throughout the whole story: from the legend of how You created everything to the capricious technology of today, which makes even You a little exhausted.
In his earlier books Wahlström wrote reports on ecology and the state of the environment in the modern world, stories for children and the novel Den dansande prästen, ‘The dancing priest’, 2004) about Uno Cygnaeus, the ‘father’ of the Finnish elementary school, who like You managed to create something wonderful without having planned it in systematic fashion. And Wahlström makes us realise that it is precisely because You don’t have a comprehensive plan for our world that our responsibility as human beings is so great. You are only God because things like Your power and our faith and love can’t be defined. They are arbitrary phenomena which systems can’t cope with. All praise to You for having left faith and love for us to discover! With Jesus You tried to learn care and love, but You didn’t do particularly well. You let him die merely because You were bogged down in repeating the drama of Abraham and Isaac. The demanding of obedience is a poor form of love, and Jesus was made to feel it.
It struck me that Wahlström has now written two different versions of how women have been excluded from the system and have needed help to attain the knowledge they long for. Wahlström’s stories about Cygnaeus and You are also about the oppression of women and their liberation. He doesn’t forget us women – longing, eager and intelligent as we are — as so many male authors do when they write about the Great Men of History. The episode in which Your fussy assistants, the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, have to write down all the prohibitions for the Jews, is illuminating. Raphael goes on the assumption that the commandments are written for both women and men, and this astonishes Michael and Gabriel: no rules are needed for women, as they are not quite human….
Perhaps it’s because I’m a woman that I began to feel a bit sorry for You as I read Wahlström’s story of You. You are paradoxically ensnared in Your own limitlessness. All You can do is bellow, mutter or pathetically whisper ‘I am who I am’. In Your total power You are everything, yet dependent in an unsystematic, weak-willed kind of way on what we humans do and decide that You ought to be. We seem to be living in a long marriage in which one of us is on the way to making a break. And we are the ones who are leaving: we can’t be bothered to think about You or Your partner in combat, Satan any more. Even Raphael and Gabriel are saying that there is essentially not much difference between Heaven and Hell nowadays: both are equally depressing. Though they are both united in thinking that a hell is certainly needed for all the software engineers at Microsoft, the people who make the ring-tones for mobile phones, and the popstars who take names like Engelbert Humperdinck.
At the end You, Jesus, Satan, Mary and the three archangels are seen sitting in an ultra-modern conference room. You are as tired as an exhausted business executive, and that I can understand. Men and gods with power often work too hard and for the wrong goals. But I really appreciate the fact that at this point, just when You and Your angels have lost your energy, Wahlström remembers to ask Mary for her views on the situation. She is not as tired as You, but is confidently looking forward to getting the best both from the enjoyment of sex and from the possibilities of technology. And I like it when You decide that Jesus will still have to remain in the world in order to talk about love and forgiveness. It’s a good thing, God, that You and Satan realised you had to give up your power.
God, I am really glad that You gave Wahlström permission to write your biography. He knows you so well, writes so clearly and concisely, logically analysing the reasons why You have a perfect right to retire. That Jesus is now to take over serves the interests of us all. The world today needs a great deal of love and forgiveness. He is better at showing those than You ever were.
Dear God, I wish You a pleasant rest.
PS Actually, I don’t recommend Gud to my friends as a biography, it is more than that. I think I will call the novel a PhiloFiction.
PPS I also like it that Wahlström has taken the liberty of writing in an entertaining style. There are not many authors in world literature who write about serious things with such good-natured humour.
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Also by Maria Antas
Elina Hirvonen: Kauimpana kuolemasta [Furthest from death] - 30 September 2010
Animal instincts - 23 December 2009
Hiking through a poetic universe - 30 March 2006
Cosmic and comic - 30 September 2004
Humankind in disguise - 30 September 2002
About the writer
Maria Antas (born 1964) is a Project Manager at FILI (Finnish Literature Exchange), a literary scholar (she has studied the childhood memories of Finland-Swedish authors Tove Jansson, Solveig von Schoultz and Renata Wrede) and former editor-in-chief of the women’s magazine Astra Nova.
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