10 Questions: Mehdi Ghasemi
- How did your story with Finland begin?
In early 2009, I decided to pursue my studies at PhD level in English literature. Since I had received my BA and MA in English language and literature, it was my dream to continue my studies and research at PhD level in an English university. Accordingly, I wrote a research plan, officially translated the required documents and applied for a PhD position. I received an admission from a university in England after a while; however, upon applying for visa, the post-presidential election protests happened in my home country, and soon after, the embassy of England, blamed for the intensification of the protests, was shut down. Then, I decided to find an alternative country.
Since I had visited Finland as a tourist in 2007 and loved its pure nature and tranquillity, I decided to apply for a position from a Finnish university. Hence, I contacted a couple of professors at some universities in Finland, and eventually, I received admission from the University of Turku and moved to Finland in January 2011.
- Your postdoctoral project is titled Toward a More Inclusive and Comprehensive Finnish Literature. How could that be achieved?
I believe that immigration and globalisation have broadened the definition of Finnish literature that was traditionally defined as a piece of literature written by a Finn in Finnish in Finland for Finns. As a result of immigration from Finland, Finnish immigrants and their second and third generations have written and continue to write literary works. In line with these groups of writers, some immigrants to Finland have produced and continue to produce literary works that deal with Finnish culture, society and history. There are also some foreign authors who have been influenced by Finnish culture, history and society in different ways and have reflected that influence in some of their works. The existence of these groups of authors and their multilingual and multicultural works can challenge the traditional definition of Finnish literature.
Due to the inevitable effects of immigration and globalisation, at the Finnish Literature Society (SKS), we decided to launch this project, which aims to redefine the traditional concept of Finnish literature, expand its scope and increase the visibility, readability and research on literary works written by all these three groups of authors through interviewing a selected number of them for the SKS Archives, writing some reviews and scholarly papers on an individual or group of them, publishing two concise anthologies of their works and organising some literary events, including public readings, seminars, open discussions, panel debates, workshops and book fairs. We have already created a database of these authors which is updated as the project proceeds. We have also interviewed 15 immigrant authors for the SKS Archives, which can be used by those readers, scholars and researchers who would be interested to conduct research on these authors. Our first one-day literary seminar will be on 26 October 2018 in the main building of SKS.
- Where did your interest in literature and writing come from?
My interest in literature began in my childhood when my father bought me some story books. To encourage me to read them, he promised to buy me some gifts if I read and then wrote my understandings of the stories. Sometimes I read my writings to him, and then we had discussions. When I was 13, I wrote my own first short story based on a personal secret but hid it, lest my parents find it. My anxiety made me burn it after a few months. My interest in literature grew bit by bit during high school and made me pursue my studies in English literature at university level. When I was a BA student, I wrote another short story this time in English and then asked one of our university teachers to read and comment on it; however, his comments killed my enthusiasm, and I stopped writing until June 2016 when I received my PhD in English literature from the English Department at the University of Turku.
- You have created a new literary genre called noveramatry. How would you describe it?
I believe that we are now living in the era of hyperhybridism, wherein some people in industry, art, architecture, music, politics, etc. attempt to create new cultures and colours, new genres, and new forms and contents through mixing different elements, styles, systems and disciplines. However, what they achieve is not brand new, and it navigates between newness and oldness but offers plurality and diversity and enables us to enjoy several paradigms, colours, flavours, cuisines, styles, systems, etc. all at once. Based on my observation of the present time, I created noveramatry as a new hybrid genre.
Noveramatry is a combination of novel, drama and poetry all in one line. In this genre, I mix narrative forms with dramatic and poetic forms in one single work and attempt to make their borderlines less distinct. I have already published three literary works in the form of noveramatry, including Flight to Finland: A Noveramatry, How I Became A W Finn: A Noveramatry and Finnish Russian Border Blurred: A Noveramatry. Let me add that in addition to the combination of different genres in these works, different characters and correctors from different eras and areas immigrate to these works and share their mininarratives with readers, and since they belong to different geographical locations and historical times, they use different languages, including Finnish, Swedish, German, Persian, etc., and this brings about lingual hybridity in these works.
- What has living in Finland taught you?
That people, despite their racial and cultural differences, can live together in peace. It has also taught me to be independent, diligent and creative. It has taught me to look at the world affairs from a different perspective, too. Moreover, it has taught me a new language, a language that I need to improve it day by day, a new culture and a new style of life.
- Do you have a favourite Finnish word? Why?
Based on this argument, I can say that, like many Finns, sisu is one of my favourite words.
- What do you like to do in your spare time?
We usually spend my spare time with my family. Depending on the weather conditions, we might go out jogging, watch movies at home or at the cinema, do exercises, attend some courses, read books, to name a handful. I had found some lovely family friends in Turku, and we usually spent our time with them; however, after moving to Tampere, we have not been able to find close friends yet.
- What one word or phrase do you want people to associate with your name?
Mehdi means “guide,” and Ghasemi means “a fair divider.” In addition, I wish my name to be associated with “creativity” and “innovation”.
- What books are on your nightstand? What are you currently reading?
Nowadays, Finnish children’s books are on my nightstand, but usually I read literary works. Until last year, I read African American literary works, but it is for a short while that I read some literary works written by immigrant authors in Finland and by Finnish immigrants to North America.
- Do you have any advice to people wanting to move to Finland but concerned about the language?
Language has an extraordinary power. It can lessen distances between races and faces. Accordingly, a language barrier brings silence, and silence brings distance, and distance causes disintegration. A language barrier also prevents immigrants from equal opportunities not only in Finland but also all over the world. Here there have been many occasions that I have had some ideas to express, and that could positively affect my career; however, due to language problem, I have remained silent. There have been many courses in Finnish that could improve my personal and academic life, but I have been unable to attend them. There have been some job opportunities that I deserved to apply for, but due to the Finnish language requirement, I have been deprived to apply for, and that is why I am struggling to improve my Finnish language skills.
Photo: Jonne Renvall, Tampere University
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