Nanny Jolma: First Person Narrative and Reminiscing in Bo Carpelan’s Late Novels
The method is grounded on Brian McHale’s (1994) concept of descriptive poetics that expects the study of a literary work to enable the testing of the theories applied and providing new insights into those theories. These new insights, in return, serve further textual analysis of the literary work. This methodological point of departure in descriptive poetics distinguishes my thesis from the previous studies on Bo Carpelan’s oeuvre with their emphasis on the author’s aesthetic views and the analyses of story contents.
The material of my research are novels in Carpelan’s late oeuvre that may, by their narrative features, be classified as reminiscent first person narration. These novels, mainly Urwind (1993), Benjamins bok (1997), Berg (2005) and Blad ur höstens arkiv (2011), all have in common a narrator-character who recalls his past and at the same time makes observations on his everyday life and growing older. The process of reminiscing comprises reflections on the writing process and on the uncertainties of memory, as well as passages of immersion into childhood experiences.
This dissertation is based on four peer-reviewed articles that apply, compare and challenge different theoretical approaches on the thematization of memory and reminiscing. Each article has particular research questions, and they all contribute to the main research questions running through the entire study: 1) How do narrative means and extended metaphors contribute to the process in which the first person narrator recalls his past? 2. How is reminiscing thematized in the interaction of form and content?
The first article addresses the narrator’s subjective experience of time with the combination of classical and post-classical narrative theories and with the analysis of metaphors that mix time and temporal layers. The analysis reveals a need to reconsider the dichotomy drawn between the narrating and the experiencing I, as well as to recognize the experientiality originating in the moment of narrating. The second article employs cognitive metaphor theory and the concept of common semantic ground in order to study the archive as a traditional metaphor for memory. This article highlights the possibilities of archive as a manifold extended metaphor to verge on narrative as a means to explicate the modern idea of memory as processual and dynamic.
The third article focuses on nostalgia. Nostalgic features in Carpelan’s novels are studied with the combination and comparison of approaches that contextualize nostalgia and those that emphasize nostalgic style. The fourth article studies how grotesque elements in the text contribute to the central question of the dissertation, the reminiscing subject. The analyses of grotesque tropes highlight how Carpelan’s poetics of openness use both narrative and metaphorical means to question any categorization.
The dissertation addresses intersections and common areas between narrative studies and metaphor theories. Narrative and metaphor intertwine as textual features and interpretative structures in Carpelan’s reminiscent first person narration. Carpelan’s novels use extended metaphors as part of the narrative progress. Through variation, repetition and change the metaphors of memory broaden into webs of meaning that construe narrative progress and create coherence.
As a research result, my dissertation argues that the reminiscing is thematized in Carpelan’s first person narration through repetition in language and variation in narrative means, as well as the formation of extended metaphorical structures, to emphasize the processual nature of remembering. A central element in Carpelan’s reminiscent first person narration is the construction and deconstruction of tension between dichotomies. In the research articles, any categorical distinction between form and content is questioned: the thematization of memory highlights the interaction between textual layers. The unravelling of the division between the recalling narrator and the experiencing character is another central feature.
The results consistently indicate a tension between coherent and fragmentary structure that is illustrated especially in the efforts of the reminiscing narrator to achieve coherence in the face of memory’s changing and sporadic nature.
The doctoral dissertation of M.A. Nanny Jolma in the field of literary research titled Muisteleva minäkerronta Bo Carpelanin myöhäisromaaneissa will be publicly examined at the faculty of Social Sciences of Tampere University at 12 o'clock on Friday 23 April, 2021. Docent Kristina Malmio from the University of Helsinki will be the opponent while Professor Mari Hatavara will act as the custos.
The event can be followed via remote connection.
The dissertation is available online at
Photo: Kasmir Jolma