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Crossing borders and redifining Oneself: The treacherous life of Aino Kallas

Chapter in book
Authors Katarina Leppänen
Published in Cultural borders of Europe : narratives, cencepts and practices in the present and the past / edited by Mats Andrén, Thomas Lindkvist, Ingmar Söhrman and Katharina Vajta.
Pages 128-142
ISBN 978-1-78533-590-7 (hardback : alkaline paper)
Publisher Berghahn Books
Place of publication New York
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion
Center for Public Sector Research (CEFOS)
Pages 128-142
Language en
Keywords Cultural pluralism Europe. Ethnicity Politcal aspects Europe. Borderlands Etnicitet politiska aspekter
Subject categories History of Ideas


The idea of cultural borders forms imaginative and creative mental spaces for thinking about identity and otherness. Whether cultural borders are thought of as following linguistic, national, territorial or other officially drawn lines on political maps, or only as states of mind, their consequences and meanings are unpredictable. Historically and geopolitically, the Gulf of Finland, with Finland to the north, Russia to the east and Estonia to the south, has been a region not only of wars but also vigorous cultural and national negotiations. The cultural histories of Finland and Estonia must always be interpreted in relation to current and previous powers. The representation of a national us has, furthermore, been articulated in relation to, but not always against, inner others who could be interpreted as residues of foreign dominance. An analysis of the work of Finnish writer Aino Kallas, née Krohn (1878-1956) shows how multiple dimensions of belonging build on the tension between language, nationality, and identification but nevertheless offset the longing for oversimplified unity. The written and printed word, more specifically the novel, has been identified as paramount to the establishment of the modern nation-state. This article works with life writing as a textual site for negotiating national belonging during the turbulent first few decades of the twentieth century. The fundamental questions are as follows. How does Kallas choose to depict her loyalties? What aspects are given meaning: culture, language or official citizenship? What limitations did she encounter? I will argue that nationalism can also be articulated without invoking sharp distinctions between nations, languages or cultures. Kallas did not write anything that could be defined as an autobiography in the narrow sense of the word. Her diaries were minimally edited, and three books published in the 1940s and 1950s are rather reflections on past times and people with autobiographical elements than autobiography per se. Because the various genres involve differing author/reader expectations, the term life writing may be better suited to describe the material. Life writing brings together autobiography, biography and diaries.

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