Money makes the world go round

31 August 2012 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Mr. Smith (WSOY, 2012). Introduction by Tuomas Juntunen

I have a confession to make.

I couldn’t have lived on my salary. Most people would solve this by taking out a loan, living on credit. I’ve never lived in debt. Instead I’ve had to make my modest capital grow by investing it – through the company, of course, because irrespective of their colour governments generally understand companies better than small investors. You have to make money somewhere other than the Social Security Office.

Work doesn’t make money; money makes money.

You have to let money do the work.

This is nothing short of a profound human tragedy: most people are forced to waste the majority of their lives, to use it in the service of complete strangers, for unknown purposes, doing something for money that they would never do if they didn’t have to. The most shocking thing is that people actively seek out this state of affairs, strive towards it; it is a goal towards which society lends us its full support, no less.

Such wage slavery is called ‘work’.

People first have to become wage slaves in order to then become slaves to the bank.

If they are unsuccessful in this endeavour, they become marginalised.

I am an independent, sovereign individual.

I have had to take refuge in the only place that won’t be allowed to collapse when the big collapse comes: beneath the skirts of the market economy. That’s what the Government Office did too: invested public funds money whenever there was something to invest.

And because I can’t know whether public services and the welfare state will still exist in ten years’ time, I have made my way to the only island that will be saved unconditionally when darkness falls, when everything else comes crashing down. The Great Unknown, the collapse of the global financial markets, could threaten us at any moment, and God only exists in the fact that he who has invested his assets wisely and righteously will be saved. When markets collapse, enraged people move en masse, no longer prepared to shell out for yet another crisis. They will take to the streets, smash windows, loot shops and burn houses. The public debt, now in the form of stock-market bonds, will reach the end of the road, machines will churn out new money, though its worth will then be based on nothing at all. You can have it for free, but you can’t do anything with it.

Even then, I plan to be safe and sound.

And ‘then’ will soon be upon us. Things will never be different from how they were before. Eventually things always collapse.

People don’t want to plan their financial future.

People don’t want to plan their future.

Man is not a rational being.

A car crash will occur when we turn around to fetch the forgotten snail pan.

The craziest thing is that when people have too much money, they look for a machine that will make even more of it. These pharaohs are eternal. Now this is just hearsay: my name might have been on the lips of some official or other in discussion of these matters, but I’m not the kind of person to be found as a fugitive in a cabin in a remote Swedish village, emaciated and long unshaven. All said, it’s rather strange: even surprisingly enlightened people believe in the money machine – and these miserable beings turn the machine into a network of which they too are a part.

The basic facts are then quite simple, if one wishes to speak them out loud.

First of all, we live in a world in which money we have once received no longer has the same value when we use it. For this reason we must speculate, if we wish to stay alive, to survive. The world is at the mercy of the financial markets, they are God, and markets that encourage people to take unreasonable risks have succeeded in freeing themselves of the guiding hand of political power.

It is a form of freedom, you see. Metaphysics.

It is not a question of defending the wealthy, but of defending the truth.

Moralising won’t help.

Only by entering the sphere of that freedom have I been able to secure freedom over my own actions.

Accept the truth about the nature of existence: the great path of life is destined to take us from one recurring financial catastrophe to another. Unchecked market economies will always collapse out of their very impossibility, the mill will continue to turn, colours and patterns interchanging in a beautiful, infernal, kaleidoscope. But with the same unquestionable certainty with which the world will collapse, it will also necessarily be reborn, and with that same certainty capitalism will return to the world, bathing us in blood and fire.


The writer sipped coffee from his large mug and looked at Smith expectantly. Smith looked at the writer and thought, you already know that all novels are born from between a woman’s legs. Instead he said:

‘Criminal plot. Important word.’

Two important words, he thought. The writer looked at him, took another sip of coffee.

‘If there is no crime, at least there has to be a plot. Preferably both. It doesn’t matter what the criminal plot is. Only the lack of one is a problem. The plot is not a crime, only the lack of one. Otherwise the reader won’t know what he’s reading, the guiding hand will be missing, the reader will never reach the end but will remain dangling alone, in a state of uncertainty and helplessness, of non-satisfaction. If it’s missing, the back of the book must be branded with the words: ‘Please note: This novel does not contain a criminal plot.’ You have to inform the reader clearly that the displeasure arising from the lack of a criminal plot will not in any way be compensated. If you are not content to follow a plot, you are preaching at people. If there is no plot in a book, it must surely represent some kind of ‘genre’, much like the films of Clint Eastwood. Otherwise there will be no sales and no Academy Award. If people don’t know what a book is, it is nothing. The good have to be good, the black black. Moralism, not morality. The good against the demonised; the good against an externalised evil. A clear story with a hero, a beginning and an end. A central character. Caulfield or Salminen, Sorel, or even Mr Smith, as in this book, around whom readers can orbit like planets. (Have I already used that simile? It’s not even particularly original.) Repeat. Readers learn to expect the same things again. Stay where you are. The life of a fictional character must be taken in directions that life itself doesn’t take. Supporting characters are more difficult, like cats: once you introduce them into the book, you have to take them with you wherever you go. Publishing is exhausting. Don’t publish too often, even though your share of the market will decrease. They don’t like you publishing. They hate every book you’ve ever written. For them it’s nothing but a mess that has to be cleaned up. They have to try and say something about it. They glance around. The worst of it is that writers will carry on even if the world were to burn around them, for the simple reason that they are writers. Writers would still be writing at the foot of the gallows, scrutinising the details of their executioner’s uniform, registering the hue of the light, the sound of silence, the smell of pent-up fear. Actors would like to be writers, and the same goes for rock singers. Everybody wants a role. The media will sell an actor’s book like it might sell liquor or women; the media wants to survive and sell anything for which there are buyers. Critics hate writers and writers hate critics. Martin Walser wrote an entire book on the subject. After the bad reviews of his first novel, Theodore Dreiser rented a room in Brooklyn, sat on a wooden chair in the middle of the room and turned the chair in a full circle, again and again, unable to find the right position. What readers also hate about writers is literature itself. They love the writers. But literature is unpredictable, capricious, often ugly and incomprehensible. Or false or truthful, different from the reader’s experience of life. Readers abroad seem to like Finnish literature that transports them to the Egypt of a few thousand years ago, the kind of literature that is not true, that is nowhere in particular. Or literature that describes Finns that do not exist – strange, exotic creatures. Now that you have the opportunity, allow your readers to create your book for you, to write their own versions of it with alternative beginnings and endings, sequels. Interaction. Let them add things to your novel (though it’s no longer your novel), characters, music, film clips, commentary. If you write a book – all by yourself, that is – people won’t necessary like you. If you create content, however, you are forgiven. Let them write your book. The markets will write it. The reader is the author. The reader is king, you are a mere beggar. Forget collecting material; material is the reader and the reader’s life. Consumer becomes producer. Journalists want to live. They want an easy life. They uphold the myth of the heroic writer, for that is what readers crave. They will publish the same article ten times, fifty, a hundred times, because it doesn’t require them to do anything and because it provides them with a livelihood. Before the jury, you’d better be humble. Go when you are asked to. Tell the jury what it wants to hear. Open your home when you are told to. Jam a foot in every doorway. Laugh at bad jokes. Name names. Take shelter in the light, rape yourself on live television. Be for sale. If not, you’ll end up on the blacklist. There’s no artistic category for non-people. Dalton Trumbo took his only Oscar to the grave. Critics, readers and publishers – everybody hates the literature in writers. Even writers’ spouses hate it, not knowing where their writer will go in the morning or where they’ll come home from in the evening. Because they don’t know what literature is, where it is spawned, why it’s like a bag of fleas whose origin remains unknown, uncontrollable. It is the writer that readers love, the living writer and the marks he leaves. If a writer should step in the snow, readers would wish to capture the footprint and preserve it in the freezer. In this house a writer was born; here he lived; this is his regular bar, La Bodeguita del Medio, there’s his regular table and his elbow marks on the mahogany armchair. This is the route he used to take, the route familiar from his novels (the writer himself leads the way and a film crew is already on site). Just like the route along which Lenin’s footsteps led people to the Bolsheviks’ final victory at Jalkala, near the Terijoki–Lintula road, it is marked out to exist for posterity. This is the pistol with which the writer shot himself in the temple; he didn’t die but they buried him all the same. These are the women he was banging; these men screwed him. Stieg Larsson began drinking vast amounts of coffee at the age of five. Here is a map of his favourite sailing routes. Follow Lisbeth Salander on a tour round Stockholm. Soon all literature will hail from beneath the skirt of Lisbeth Salander. Your books have sold well, it’s a good thing. Publishers are trophy hunters with bounty hunter’s work ethic. And still they view you with a certain suspicion: what the hell does he rave on about from one week, one year to the next? They think you’re crazy, an abnormal person. And yet they live from this. Of course, they would rather live from something understandable, quantifiable, something they themselves could affect, something produced in bulk on a conveyor belt, calculated, standardised, quality-controlled and guaranteeable, but they can never tell what’s going to be churned out of the mill, what kind of oddities, curiosities, convoluted structures, labyrinths, dead-ends, what sort of made-up trash you’ll come up with. What kind of God are you that you can make the air stand still, hush the wind and the birds, first empty the world then fill it once again? If only you knew what people say about you. They wonder why writers go mad with age, old men in particular. This one is more like Kivi; no, this is more like Pushkin. No matter, so long as it sells. To publishers all that matters is their own house. Their own books are good, others are bad. At your own paper, all people read is their own paper. A writer’s own book is good, everyone else’s books are crap. It’s one thing when your own book is lauded, but even better when someone else’s is mauled. By the opening of the book season each autumn, everybody wants to kill everybody else. There’s no point writing a book too well. No one will notice it. No one will care about it. You’ll be writing it for yourself. I’m talking about books. Why? Books no longer exist. Now there are merely publishing forums. You stand on one of these and gaze into space, to the place they’ll send you; you see stars, planets, a future you cannot fully understand. There books will melt into the net; you can play a ‘book’ to people, see their images and hear their voices. That is literature; that is the way, the truth that shall appear on every screen. Truth is lies, deception, not what it seems. People carry it in their pockets any time, any place, any setting, any life. Everything is present at every moment. It is a total world, a total structure. A burr puzzle. Dichtung und Wahrheit.’

Translated by David Hackston


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