(from linkiesta.it – Nicola Baroni) – "Today Estonia is very eager to establish itself as a digital country and at the forefront of digital innovation: all right, but at the same time I believe that a country should not aim to be identified with one simple characteristic. A variety of possibilities and identities is better than a single definition ». Meelis Friedenthal is not the Estonian writer who would expect to find himself in front of those who know the Baltic country just as the media tell it.
Forget e-government and digital citizenship, Before becoming a writer, Friedenthal completed a doctorate in theology at the University of Tartu: theme of his research is the “Moral treatment of the eye”, Petrus of Limoges' thirteenth-century moral-allegorical writing preserved in the Tallinn archives. «That text is, one side, support for preaching, but at the same time it offers allegorical interpretations that draw on the most avant-garde knowledge in the field of optics and ophthalmology of the time ".
Many of the ideas, images and discussions of that treatise entered "The bees”, his second novel, the only one we can read in Italian, translated by Daniele Monticelli for Hyperborea, in that 2013 he was awarded the prize for European Union literature. Before he published the science fiction novel "Kuldne aeg" (Golden age), on the role of history in shaping our identity; "Language of Angels" (The language of angels) it is his latest novel and a collection of short stories will be released in the fall.
"The bees" is a historical philosophical novel set in the seventeenth century that follows the events and speculations of the student Laurentius Hylas: the young man, fleeing Leiden, goes to study in Tartu, small center on the edge of the then Kingdom of Sweden and home to a university where the revolutionary ideas of Newton and Descartes are already circulating. Scientific theories and magical suggestions, philosophy, theology, alchemy and medicine flow seamlessly into each other: the narrator tells the protagonist's ailments and visions, whose dreamlike diseases make ghosts indistinguishable from reality, leaving his own figure always shrouded in shadow.
If not as a digital country, as Estonia would describe?
Recently I was asked to write a story for "La Lettura" of the "Corriere della Sera” starting with the word that best described the country. I chose "delicate", but due to communication problems and a small accident the translator shifted the order of the words to obtain better readability and the story began with the word “skin". In a sense it is interesting and perhaps even more intriguing.
What he meant by "delicate"?
I wanted to draw attention to the fact that Estonia is quite swampy, covered with green forests, soft moss, slow rivers, thousands of lakes. Everything else - be it people, villages or cities - it is built on these foundations. This makes Estonia quite different from mountainous or arid countries. Of course, latitude also plays its role: long, dark winters, summer when the sun sets with difficulty, this affects people and their character.
I do not mean that there is a "national character", but that the earth influences the people who inhabit it in the same way that a bicycle influences the rider. It gives you some advantages but at the same time requires some behavior: you have to keep your balance, you tend to avoid certain roads. The earth is our bicycle. In addition, Estonia is a borderland, this means that we have a complicated history, which is reflected in our current situation. In addition to the earth, I think history is extremely important for understanding a person or a country, that I am what I am because of history.
Being on the borders of Europe is more of an advantage or a risk?
The border regions are always found, in principle, in a situation where I am neither - nor. This makes the inhabitants like homeless people: they are not fully understood by either party, they live in an exhausting condition that requires constant balance. Estonian writer Jaan Kross started his book "Kolme katku vahel" (Between Three Plagues) with the scene of a tightrope walker walking on a tightrope above the city. It was supposed to symbolize the Estonian situation during the Soviet era, but in a way it still symbolizes our situation. Borders are also an important one locus theologicus, to use the language of Paul Tillich, because even as human beings we are always on the border, between life and death.
To a certain point of "Le api", the protagonist thinks about the ancient concept of hyperboreal union and Swedish nationalism. There is still a feeling of belonging that unites the countries of Northern Europe?
I spent last year in Germany, al Max-Weber-Kolleg. According to Max Weber's famous theory, the spirit of capitalism arose from the particular type of Protestantism prevalent in the countries of the North. In his opinion it was the reformed-Lutheran-pietistic mix that gave rise to frugality, to a rigorous work ethic, to a discipline. This theory has now fallen out of favor, but in fact there would be something to be said about the religious mentality and background.
If the different regions of Europe want to understand each other, they must take into account the different religions, of this type of background. It is quite crucial if a land is predominantly Catholic, reformed or Lutheran, not to mention the Orthodox. The churches are, for better or for worse, carriers and expression of tradition and inevitably bring with them a historical dimension.
But it is not only recent religious and political circumstances that should be taken into consideration, even the Roman Empire still influences - without our knowledge - thoughts and habits. For a long time, for example, all the important universities were located in the territory of the former Roman Empire, only during the 19th century did things begin to change. The Danube-Rhine line is still somewhat visible.