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||Torsti Lehtinen (1942-)|
Finnish writer, translator of Søren Kierkegaard, and philosopher, whose work, dominated by a profoundly religious view of life, provides an intensively articulated but undogmatic critique of rationalism and the nihilism of postmodernism. There are only two alternatives, Torsti Lehtinen insists, to live without God in anxiety, or to take the chance with the paradox of faith.
Materialism or idealism?
Chicken or egg?
Did Adam have a navel?
(from Hyppynaryn varjo, 1986)
Torsti Vihtori Lehtinen was born in Helsinki into a working class
family. His father, an alcoholic, died of tuberculosis. Before becoming
a full-time writer, Lehtinen rumbled through 40
odd jobs and changed the address nearly as many times during his
wandering years. He was jailed three times in his youth for minor
crimes. After military service, trained as Navy diver, Lehtinen studied
at Ressu Evening School. By that time, he had already developed an
interest in reading to overcome his background. Lehtinen graduated in
theoretical philosophy at the University of Helsinki. Until the age of
27, Lehtinen was an atheist. His spiritual home Lehtinen eventually
found from the Orthodox Church.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Lehtinen spent periods in Denmark, where Copenhagen became his second home. In the 1980s he worked between 1980 and 1982 in Sweden at the Workers´ Educational Association (ABF) in Huddinge. A much sought after teacher of creative writing, Lehtinen later taught at Topelius Academy, Päätalo Institute, the University of Jyväskylä, Theatre Academy of Finland, and the University of Tampere. Lehtinen has also lectured on philosophy at the University of Turku (1993), Valamo Lay Academy (1996-), Nordic Art School (1996-2000), and Free Art School (2003). Lehtinen has seven children from different marriages.
In Lehtinen's early novels from the 1980s, Kun päättyy Pitkäsilta (1982), Kuin unta ja varjoa (1983), and Sokea taluttaja
(1984), the protagonist is Toivo Laaksonen, Lehtinen's alter ego, who
grows up in cramped tenements of the proletarian quarters of Kallio in
Helsinki. Toivo learns that suffering is more real than happiness.
Eventually, after his pursuit of truth results in rejecting ideologies,
he is confronted with the pivotal mystery to which he has to bow. To
use Kierkegaard's concepts, Toivo makes the "leap of faith" into the
unknown to enter the religious stage.
Lehtinen portrays the poor and down and outs with rough, unsentimental sympathy and solidarity. However, class-conscious social analysis is not Lehtinen's primarily agenda in this Bildungsroman, but Toivo's quest for salvation. After finishing the "Kallio trilogy" Lehtinen moved with his family to a small village in the Ruovesi countryside, where he lived a green life for over a year. The trilogy was republished in 1997 in a single volume under the title Jano. In the newspaper Keskisuomalainen it was greeted as a cornerstone of Finnish realistic prose, and Lehtinen's depiction of childhood was compared with that of Teuvo Pakkala.
After a hiatus of 19 years, Lehtinen published his fourth novel, Kutsumushuora
(2003), returning to the Dostoevskian world of "insulted and injured,"
or in this case, criminals and prostitutes. The narrator is a
professional whore, Trixie. In a way, she could be regarded as Toivo's
anima, the feminine side. Tixie's lifestyle is a matter of choice
rather than circumstance – for her, selling sex is an honest way to
make a living. Through Trixie's character Lehtinen gives a revealing
insight into the soul of a socially ostracized woman, who refuses to be
victimized. Generally and wrongly labelled as a polemic social report, Kutsumushuora
is actually an existential novel about the problem of choice and
authenticity in our conduct. The bottom line is, Lehtinen seems to say,
that our moral standards cannot be justified rationally. As part of the
work, Lehtinen interviewed an inmate of the Hämeenlinna women's prison.
Many of the poems in Lehtinen's Hyppynarun varjo (1986) have the witty and timeless quality of an aphoristic thought: "Be wary / of not dying of hunger / while contemplating / the essence / of the bread." A down-to-earth attitude, fideistic skepticism, and the stand that works of art are confessions of faith, are also distinctive features in the following collections of aphorisms, Nuorallatanssija (1987), which included poems as well, Kuolemattomat sielut (1989), and Mahdolliset maailmat (2005), in which Lehtinen revised some of his older aphorisms. Mahdolliset maailmat "captures with words something that is beyond words to describe," Pekka Wahlsted summarized in his review in the literary magazine Parnasso.
Lehtinen is widely considered the leading authority on the religious thinker Søren Kierkegaard in Finland. Noteworthy, at the age of thirty he was an atheist, whom his girl friend tried in vain to convert to Christianity. His home library, ïncluding his Kierkegaard collection of over 300 volumes, Lehtinen lost when toxic mold completely destroyed his house in Viiala. In addition to translating from Danish several essays and philosophical treatises, including the magnum opus, Päättävä epätieteellinen jälkikirjoitus (1993, Concluding unscientific postscript), Lehtinen published in 1990 a biography of Kierkegaard.
Lehtinen's other works include plays, books on philosophy and literature, and a guide to creative writing, Sanojen avaruus (2000). Lehtinen's Eksistentialismi – vapauden filosofia (2002) is the first overview of Existentialism in Finnish. For Totuus, kaipaus, kauneus (1993) Lehtinen collected essays and interviews from 22 outstanding personalities in Finnish cultural life, provoking them with his questions to aesthetic and religious reflection.
Since the mid-1980s, Lehtinen has contributed essays, reviews, and columns to a number of newspapers and magazines, including Keskisuomalainen, Kotimaa, Aamulehti, Parnasso, Kirjailija, Ny Tid, Kirjo, Kauppalehti, Akadeemia (Estonia) and Café Existens (Sweden). A compelling speaker, Lehtinen has also appeared in many TV programmes dealing with religion and philosophy.
Lehtinen has once said, that he received his education in philosophy
from the University of Helsinki and from the school of the streets. An
underlying theme in his essays is the tension between rational thought
and spiritual truths. In 'Abrahamin anima', one of his most stunning
pieces in Inter Cityn Väinämäinen (1997), Lehtinen argues that
art and religion are both brothers and deadly enemies to each other.
But an artist, whose work totally lacks a religious dimension, can
never become an immortal classic. "Art is the mother tongue of
religion", Lehtinen concludes, as an answer to Tolstoy's question "What
is art?" in the famous essay. In spite of the weighty topics, Lehtinen
often writes with humor and irony, his voice is unpretentious and
appealing. An example of Lehtinen's less serious side is the title
essay of Inter Cityn Väinämöinen, about graffiti scrawled on the walls of a train toilet. Numerokomero
(2013), nursery rhymes about numbers, is Lehtinen's first children's
book. The book is illustrated by the Belgian-born artist Chloé
Lehtinen's many awards include Arvi A. Karisto Foundation reward
(1982), the Culture award of the municipality of Viiala (1992), the
WSOY Literature Foundation reward (1993), the Thursday Award of the
Notte Publishing Company (1994), 1. prize in the "Finnish essay"
contest (1995). Lehtinen has served on the board of several literary
and cultural organizations and jurys, such as The Union of Finnish
Writers, The Finnish Reading Centre, Critical Academy, Kirjallisuuden
edistämiskeskus, Helsingin Kirjailijat – Helsingfors Författare, Forum
Arts, Kristillinen kulttuuriliitto, and Alfred Kordelin Foundation
Literature Council. In 2007, Lehtinen was appointed Editor-in-Chief of
the literary magazine KirjaIN, published by Cube Libri Oy. In his
70s, he still studies Latin and Greek and has not lost his thirst for
NOTE: This page is under work!
For further reading: 30 Fates of Finland: One Life, Thousand Roads, Make Your Own by Rikhard Larvanto (2016); 'Lupaava nuorisorikollinen' by Aki Petteri Lehtinen, in Parnasso 2015: 2; 'Ihminen, kaatopaikalta löytynyt ikoni', by Jani Saxell, in Parnasso 2012: 6-7; 'Kaunistelematon kristitty', by Hellevi Matihalti, in Aamun koitto, 2006: 8; 'Luulevat, että kirjat ilmestyvät', by Hannu Niklander, in Taite, 2006: 1; 'Halkeamia kielen muurissa', by Pekka Wahlstedt, in Parnasso, 2005: 6; 'Pyhä ja paha kirjallisuudessa', by Seppo Järvinen, in Aamun koitto, 2005: 18; 'Totuus joka ei ole totuus', by Reijo Liimatainen, in Vartija, 2004: 5/6; 'För den skamlöse finns bara lite hopp', by Sofia Torvalds, in Kyrkpressen, 2004: 6; 'Piinapenkissä Torsti Lehtinen', in Kirjailija, 2004: 4; 'Elämme turvallisuusharhassa', by Pekka Wahlstedt, in Suomen luonto, 2004: 4; 'Koko eksistentialismin värikäs kirjoihin vienti' by Matti Luoma, in Kirjo, 2002: 4; 'Vapauden puolustus', by Hannu Niklander in Kaltio, 2002: 5; 'Helppo tie eksistentialismiin', by Leif Sundström, in Niin & näin, 2002: 4; 'Kirjoituksia hyödyttömistä asioista' by Erkki Kiviniemi, in Kirjo, 2002: 2; 'Hyvin ajateltu on hyvin sanottu', by Otto Lappalainen, in Kritiikin uutiset, 2002: 2; 'Hedelmällistä pohdiskelua' by Lea Rissanen, in Ortodoksiviesti, 2000: 8; 'Jano Telakoituu Tampereelle', by Kai Kyösti Kaukovalta, in Kirjo, 2000: 1; 'Sekahommia elämän yliopistossa', by Seppo Järvinen, in Keskisuomalainen, 14.9.1997; 'Tien kulkijana Torsti Lehtinen', by Katja Peiponen, in Aamun koitto, 1997: 22; 'Torsti Lehtinen: kirjailija ja filosofi', by Heikki Partala, in Tammerkoski, 1997: 1; "Traditio on kallio, jolta tehdään elämän villit ja vapaat piruetit", in Ortodoksiviesti, 1996: 1; 'Taiteilija ja taiteilijan tehtävä', by Mikko Järvinen, in Parnasso, 1994: 1; 'Tie, totuus ja elämä', by Kyösti Rantasalo, in Parnasso, 1991: IV - Links (in Finnish): Torsti Lehtinen; Puna-mustat silmälasit - keskustelu Torsti Lehtisen kanssa by Annika Eronen; "Viimeistä viedään - viekää tuhkatkin pesästä" by Janne Villa
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