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Pirjo Lyytikäinen

Pirjo Riitta Lyytikäinen
Born October 10, 1953 Helsinki

Master of Philosophy 1986 and Doctor of Philosophy 1992 (Finnish Literature), University of Helsinki; Professor of Finnish Literature 1998- (University of Helsinki); Researcher, University of Helsinki 1987-90 (Kone Foundation grantholder), Assistant 1990-93 (University of Helsinki), Senior Researcher 1994-98 (Academy of Finland)

Publications, research projects and other academic activities

Research interests:  Early modernist periods in Finnish literature, concentrating on turn of the century symbolism and decadence through to the modernism of the 1930s; international  influences on Finnish literature; literary genres and issues of allegory; allegorical nature fantasies, from Alexis Kivi’s romance to contemporary fiction and their relationship to international literary traditions; recent research concerns: literature and emotions.

Prize for non-fiction, Finnish Association of Non-fiction Writers 2014.

Written by Pirjo Lyytikäinen
Translated by John Calton, Kaisla Kajava and Johanna Spoof. Revised by John Calton

Researching and Reading Literature

Literature is written for readers - only when the piece is read does it achieve its purpose. However, books and authors in a sense create or anticipate their audience. In the very choice of form and content, the prototypical reader is created, intentionally or unintentionally: the reader is invited to read in a certain way.

The actual reader of a work does not always relate or indeed want to relate to this addressed reader, but the ability of the actual reader to transform into the kind of reader the work needs is the key to understanding the book - and often also the key to fully enjoying it. When the reader understands the text to the point that he or she is able to build up in turn an image or a model of the author, genuine interaction takes place.

The opportunity for interaction between the author and the reader depends on a shared language and cognitive frameworks (which form the basis of our ability to understand reality, feelings, categories: in general anything that creates interaction, and in everyday communities, too). Reading literature also calls for knowledge of particular literary frameworks, and an experienced reader often has internalised generic expectations: models that guide the understanding of the text, concerning the narrator, the narration, the characters, the plot and the emotional nuances. This understanding is a form of language competency which builds upon basic language skills.

We know the grammar of our native language without knowing the rules at the abstract level, and likewise we know – if we have been exposed to literature – the rules of reading. Nevertheless, we still need a researcher to conceptualise and explicitly formulate those rules.

The core of literary study is the provision of reading aids for anyone interested in literature and for those who teach literature. It is vital to understand that different texts call for different approaches to reading. These days, it is especially important to learn to read slowly. For example, reading Volter Kilpi's works requires slow reading: immersing oneself in the language, enjoying the nuances of language and savouring the words.

This demanding word art, which is not meant to be devoured for the sake of the plot and which does not even always feature characters in the traditional sense, can also be found in contemporary literature.  To offer a few examples:Mikko Rimminen's word artistry requires of us that we abandon haste. In turn, Antti Salminen's 2014 highly eclectic work Lomonosovin moottori (' Lomonosov’s engine') represents the abandonment of any striving for explicit meaning and surrender to the surreal world of poetry and fantasy.

Photo: Pirjo Lyytikäinen.​
Photo: Pirjo Lyytikäinen.​


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