With Ari’s death, a radiant intensity has been extinguished. That should be mourned, but that it existed at all must be celebrated.
In physics, intensity of radiant energy is the power transferred per unit area, where the area is measured on the plane perpendicular to the direction of propagation of the energy.
This is not what I’m getting at all, yet it is a good metaphor. Ari propagated an energy which transferred power to the lucky recipient. At this far too soon end of Ari’s life, intensity comes to mind because of what Jacques Brel once said: what counts in a life is not duration but intensity. Ari was an intensifier. The mundane event alchemised into a festival – if he was in the mood. And if he was not, a different intensity, sometimes dark.
Radiance indicates how much of the power emitted, reflected, transmitted or received by a surface will be received by an optical system looking at that surface from a specified angle of view. In this case, the solid angle of interest is the solid angle subtended by the optical system’s entrance pupil. Since the eye is an optical system, radiance and its cousin luminance are good indicators of how bright an object will appear.
The radiance of that intensity is situational. One has to occupy that specified angle of view to see the maximum radiance. I feel lucky to have been in that spot many times. Kafka noted in his diary, “Life’s splendour forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come.” And it comes too when one is in the right place to receive a radiant intensity. Consider these some brief notes on Ari, an intensifier of life’s splendour.
The only glimpse now available, a lamentable expedient, is the writings, a reckoning with which remains a future task, or the recollection of glimpses past. Unlike the recollections of, for example, Peter Fitzpatrick, which were our sad duty just over a year ago, the memories of Ari that might be recalled here are not really to do with encountering him first as influential writer, teacher, supervisor, then finding the person beyond the role. There may be those, particularly in Finland, who came to him that way, but most here, I suspect, encountered the person first, without pre-existing reputation or status. Institutional power did not frame or structure our encounters. Certainly, that’s how I encountered him. And continued to do so intermittently for thirty years. The academic life is strange, if you’ve occupied that part of it which gives occasional access to international conferences and budgets to travel. You meet many people, spend a few quite intense days together then part maybe for years, crossing paths randomly later, or not. Transient friendships are made. The intermittence is as much a defining feature as the brief intensities. I saw more of Ari than, I think, anyone else I have met through the job. Still, if I spent more than one hundred days with him over the thirty years I knew him, I’d be surprised. But such days!
He made a point of visiting us in Manchester if he was visiting England at all, even quite distantly. Then, he loved Manchester. Many ways – even Oasis.
But look, here he is. (You know those lines Harry Dean Stanton speaks to Nastassia Kinski in Paris, Texas? ‘He was kind of raggedy and wild. … And together they turned everything into a kind of adventure. … Just an ordinary trip down to the grocery store was full of adventure’).
Let’s go and look at the new Trafford Centre, apparently it is a postmodern horror. There’s a karaoke drum kit, you get to drum along to whatever – Smoke on the Water or Whole Lotta Love. Ari gives a performance of an intensity matched only by Animal from the Muppets, enough to draw a crowd.
Let’s go buy some records. Let’s have ‘just one beer’. Let’s go to Dry Bar. No, Ari, no one goes there any more. Off he goes on his own, to Dry Bar – but also to Mulvaney’s, the seriously rough pub round the corner in Salford. He’s fine. He also spent a week in Oban once, on a whim.
He wants to go ‘to a techno party’. Ach Ari, not really. He insists. We have a plan. Down to Rusholme, stuff us all full of curry, won’t want to dance after that. We have a big curry, lots of dishes, full bellies, we look at Ari to see if the ploy has worked. No. Off to Sankey’s Soap, where we slump at the bar, Ari takes to the dance floor for a couple of hours. He’s sore that we never took him to the Hacienda, even worse, we did take Panu.
When Ari’s your house guest, you fear for fittings and furnishings. The clumsiest ever. Suitcase bashed up the staircase, he is installed on the sofa bed in the spare room which is also the library. He elevates our library to the status of a research institute, notebook out and filled with references from books pulled from the shelves for future use – Laure is a favourite, later on Mark Fisher, also Mark Timlin novels. Sometimes he doesn’t emerge from the room for hours. He’s working.
One morning, there’s a clatter, and a shout – ‘I didn’t do anything!’ Somehow, the mobile has fallen on his head while he’s in bed.
To the table, he loves Lindsay’s cooking. We worry for the glasses as arms flail about in appreciation. How did the mobile phone end up in the patatas bravas?
Round black coasters for glasses stuck to the side of his head suddenly inexplicably become a Mickey Mouse performance. At any moment the swooping arms meant Bauhaus’s Bela Lugosi’s Dead was being invoked again.
Off to Old Trafford to pay homage to his beloved Man Utd. In the souvenir shop he says he’s looking for something for his partner’s child. It’s for him. When his friends in Finland put together a festschrift for his 50th, I suspect the greeting from Alex Ferguson was the part he treasured most.
He brought books, records, CDs (Pan Sonic), as gifts, bottles of Koskenkorva, foraged mushrooms and berries. A variety we never managed to identify, not cloudberries, we called Ariberries. As we got older Alvar and Ainu Aalto vases and glassware. There is almost nowhere in my home where there is not an object associated with him within view.
That’s just Manchester, there’s also the adventures in Helsinki, the conferences, but there’s a risk here of the ‘I guess you had to be there’ shrug of the shoulders. Often there was drunkenness, in the days when bringing a duty-free bottle of whisky was the expected thing. Dublin, up all night in the residence kitchen, then straight to Zizek’s plenary. Driving back from Canterbury or Oxford, hours alone in the car with Ari, he would pour out his current interests, worries, sadnesses and enthusiasms. More talk in basement bars and late nights at home.
You also need to hear how Ari spoke English, something which never improved in all the years I knew him. Helpless, in tears of laughter, in a Russian restaurant in Helsinki, as the old argument about where vegetarians like me drew the line regarding which living things ought not to be eaten. “Is a schwomp alive, a schwomp? Is it alive?’ with a strange hand gesture, grasping, releasing. “Why you laughing at me?”
His quite fussy regard for proper etiquette, not upstaging people if the limelight was properly theirs. His disapproval of those less respectful.
His love of Nick Cave, Blixa Bargeld, PJ Harvey. His love for Caravaggio, for Naples. His politics, from abolitionist when I first met him, to advocacy for refugee rights in Helsinki in recent years. His modest, humble critical work from his base in Helsinki, little interest in pursuing status and promotion ( he phoned once to ask whether he should take on the role of departmental head, not being keen, and when I urged acceptance, he later cursed me for the chore it imposed on him). His lack of interest in being the star, the plenary speaker, his preference for organising seminars and publishing collections alongside friends and with small presses, all this reveals a person for whom living a good life and doing some good work while having a good time seemed the obvious priorities.
In the intermittences, he scorned to bother with correspondence, email, facebook, phone call; physical presence was all, what mattered was being in the same place together, those intensities. Indeed, my last mediated glance was a Zoom to note his 60th birthday – less than impressed, his judgment on lockdown life: this is not living. Last time in the flesh was Perugia, at the wonderful CLC held there – a great few days, although to be precise my last sighting was of him wandering off disgruntled because a table in a restaurant could not be secured due to a festival crowd, and takeaway pizza was not what he wanted, he wanted us to sit down together. Never mind, we’ll see him again next time, we thought.
Does all this need to be said? The pitfalls, the indulgences, are obvious, so well established that Shakespeare had it down pat in the scenes between Justices Shallow and Silence and Falstaff in Henry IV Part II – ‘we have heard the chimes at midnight / That we have, that we have …. Jesus, the days that we have seen’. Maybe it is impossible for the reminiscences of one aging guy about another aging guy to be anything worth communicating, without provoking eyeball rolling from any not mutually acquainted. We got drunk in Dublin, we got drunk in Helsinki, we were gliding in Aberystwyth. Who cares? And yet, and yet, ‘What’s he like? What’s he like? In time, in time, I’ll tell you what he’s like.’ I’m on the spot. Never mind imagining how the younger Ari himself would have reacted to one 60 year old eulogising another, here we are and it must be done.
My friendship with Ari casts a light on this strange activity we engage in, an answer to the question why? And how? How do these people do what they do, and why do they constitute a community and a tradition, practicing critique within a system of funding that allows them international travel and occasional meetings for three days or so? Not the ones who become academic ‘stars’, but those who just manage to make it work for a while, until it doesn’t, or until a pandemic throws everything into doubt. How do we manage to be so ungrateful for the finance provided as to consider our obligation to be to some other value than productivity, output and rankings, but rather to bearing witness to injustice, challenging the legitimations of power, celebrating the power of art, literature and poetry?
Unlikely as it may seem, we do and we did, and Ari was my companion in the endeavour for 30 years, and the secret he held was in the glimpses he provided of not just what we were against, the easiest way to define critique, but the positive vision of a good life worth living.
I’m telling you all of this to put a smile on the faces of his bereft friends and to insist as a general principle, whether you knew him or not, that the work of critique is not a dry negative theoretical endeavour but rather a passion, a positive energy insisting on the value of everyday ordinary life and friendship as the starting point from which the refusal to tolerate the injustices and banalities of the systems economics and power force upon us becomes an ethical necessity.
My intent here is not to construct a narrative, paint a rounded picture or summarise a life – that is impossible, particularly with this life. Nor to assess the work and influence, although that will come, and certainly, everyone should read his last book, Ethics of Tragedy, available nearby. Nor have I said anything that will tell those to whom the name is unknown why he might be significant or important. I suspect being significant or important was not part of the plan. Even so, a eulogy or memento mori in pages such as these is necessary, but not a monument, and so, this deliberately anti-monumental, fragmentary series of glimpses. As Linda says of Willy Loman, ‘Attention must be paid to such a person’.
If my adventures in critical legal circles had brought me nothing more than the friendship of Ari Hirvonen, that would be for me reward enough.
How to say farewell to such a friend? I lean towards “Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. ” I can see Ari’s face at that. Too ceremonial. Too grand. He’d be whispering in my ear, “Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!” Ari Hirvonen’s dead. UNDEAD UNDEAD, Ari Hirvonen’s dead.