29.1. Finnish Australians in Search of Themselves: Defining Cultural Identity in Finnish Australian Literature

 

 

Public examination of a doctoral dissertation in the field of literature

Doctoral candidate: Maija-Liisa Punta-Saastamoinen

Date and venue of the public examination: 29 January 2011 at 12 noon in the Agora building, room AT100, Joensuu Campus, University of Eastern Finland

 On a field trip to collect materials in Australia in 1999 and 2001 I immediately noted reflections by Finnish Australian writers of their own cultural identity and their placement between cultural cross-currents. The same theme arose in Finnish Australian literature as well as in interviews and questionnaires with the writers. The key problem in the study involves how cultural identity is defined in (Finnish-language) Finnish Australian literature. The research examines how Finnish Australians consider or reflect their own cultural identity in their texts. I will first provide an overview of Finnish Australian literature (approx. 100 writers) and then analyze how the interaction of cultures is visible in Finnish Australian culture.

A significant context in the study is the migrant’s shift from one culture to another. Giddens’s double hermeneutic has been utilized as a metaphoric guide: cultural and societal researchers must, on the one hand, seek those meanings which people give to various things, examined through their own eyes and voiced in their words, but, on the other hand, they must distance themselves from the object studied and discuss matters in theoretical terms. The theoretical language of the researcher is shaped by examining immigration, cultural identity, generations of present-day Finnish society and various studies of literary texts. Thus, these theoretical suppositions lead to a way of analyzing and interpreting these texts.

Of the dimensions of cultural identity national identity has remained strong in every contemporary Finnish Australian generation. In Finnish Australian literature the Finnish way of life represents for the individual a home, a place of childhood joy. The structural elements of this way of life, memory and images of the old homeland, function chiefly on the mental level, as an intellectual escape from the problems of immigration. Nostalgia is a resource; it is an opportunity to construct oneself amid what is alien. Other dimensions of cultural identity include the ethnic, religious and linguistic dimensions, similar experiences of the same generation and family and friendship ties. Finnish Australian literature opens out into a borderland: home and belonging are analyzed in regard to both the old and “new” homeland. The immigrant simultaneously mediates a relation to the past and future, to the country of departure and country of residence. This mediation is an individual process. Each generation examines the situation from its own perspective. Little by little the immigrant progresses from the status of “borderline citizen”, between cultures, and gains new positions.

On the basis of the literature, Finnish Australians see their present country of residence as good or satisfactory, but in defining their own cultural identity, almost without exception, they shift their gaze to Finland, emphasizing their Finnish national identity and yearning for their childhood home and environment, which is seen as a nostalgic, almost Edenic, location. The childhood landscape is the landscape of the heart and soul, marked by a yearning for home – regardless of the fact that life must be led elsewhere, in Australia.

This study is the first on Finnish Australian literature. Future research would benefit from a mapping of the Finnish Australian literary landscape as well as a literary and social and biographical contextualization. The age of the writers is about 70-80, so the material has been gathered “at the last moment.” Living Finnish Australian culture and literature in this form does not have long to live.

The doctoral dissertation of Maija-Liisa Punta-Saastamoinen, Lic.Phil., entitled Finnish Australians in Search of Themselves: Defining Cultural Identity in Finnish Australian Literature will be examined at the Philosophical Faculty at the University of Eastern Finland. The opponent in the public examination will be Docent Urpo Kovala, PhD, of the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, and the custos will be Professor Erkki Sevänen of the University of Eastern Finland.

For further information, please contact Maija-Liisa Punta-Saastamoinen, tel. +358 50 327 7514, m.saastamoinen(at)pp.inet.fi

 

Publishing year: 2011

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