Finnish PEN club: Kender’s ‘U12’ is a ‘grotesque thriller’, not child porn (5)

Kaur Kender (right) and his lawyer, Paul Keres (Siim Lõvi /ERR)
7/17/2016 8:39 AM
Category: Culture

“It is the work of the writer to investigate what it means to be human. The writer has to examine areas that can be social and moral taboos. Particularly in today’s world, where these taboos are a center point and commercial subject of the entertainment industry, including death, serial murder, pornography, and pedophilia,” the Finnish PEN club writes in its position on the Kaur Kender case.

Kender published a short story in 2014 that features what has been referred to as “graphic descriptions” of sexual violence against children. The story, called “Untitled-12”, was banned, the Internal Security Service began an investigation of Kender, and the writer was subsequently charged with the creation and distribution of child pornography.

His case has been the subject of plenty of debate around the question whether a story like “Untitled-12” can be seen as child pornography at all, and if its writer can be held criminally responsible for its production and distribution. Kender had made his work available online.

While Kender’s case has had a lot of attention, the subject matter of sexual morals in literature is hardly new. Dating back to the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, erotic poetry and fiction has always been part of Western literary history. The vast majority of erotic excursions in present-day writing seem outright tame when compared to some of these works.

Writers whose work was seen as pornographic at the time it was first published include James Joyce, Norman Mailer, D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Jean Genet, and many others. There is a whole line of books that are still considered at least scandalous, including “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, the works of the Marquis de Sade, and so on.

With child abuse, Kender chose a subject for his story that remains extremely complicated. As the Finnish PEN club writes in its statement, the awareness of the problem today and the measures taken against it are in stark contrast to the fact that anonymous porn, no matter the medium used in its creation, is spreading, making the literary dissection of perversions inevitable as well as uncomfortable.

As they point out, dealing with matters like war and genocide in literature often covers subjects that could easily be seen as immoral or even perverse, but they are hardly ever scrutinized. And where they are, fame and recognition can go hand in hand with judgement and damnation, as in the case of Jonathan Littell’s work “The Kindly Ones”, which got him the reputation of a racist and pervert as well as a Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary award.

“Kender’s story ‘Untitled-12’ is a grotesque thriller about the psychological decay of a sexual maniac and serial killer. It becomes a pornographic parody where it quotes bible verses and takes exaggeration to the absurd and borrows its ending from the Marquis de Sade’s ‘120 Days of Sodom’,” the statement of the Finnish PEN reads. They go on to compare the thinking patterns of the main character to the work of American writer Philip Roth (“Portnoy’s Complaint”).

“Kender doesn’t use an all-knowing narrator’s voice to relieve the reader, but takes them directly into the mind of the main protagonist. The strategy of such storytelling is a feature of his books. Throwing everything aside that could serve as a framework for his unpleasant topic, he only shows the true content of otherwise accepted works in culture and entertainment.”

As Kender himself once put it in an interview, his stories are what one gets removing everything from a novel like Bret Easton Ellis’ “American Psycho” except the violence it portrays. To see the subject of such literary reduction in “Untitled-12” as child pornography is absurd, the Finnish PEN states.

On the contrary, the story would be a good fit for the University of Helsinki’s “Literature and Evil” lecture series, the Finnish PEN club finds, the description of which it quotes as follows:

“In the lectures we familiarize with the way evil is expressed in European literature in particular, and discuss the philosophical and sociological examination of evil. In particular, we examine in depth the famous characters of literary history through which evil is expressed, the depiction of human and supernatural evil in literature, the representation of violence, shock and transgression in literature, but also discuss the danger of literature, how ‘bad’ writing can be abnormal and bring with it bad consequences.”

The Kender case continues, with the latest development being the judge’s order of a psychiatric evaluation of the writer.

Would you like to contribute to ERR News? Send your article or opinion piece to news@err.ee. If you can think of a topic you’d like to see covered, or if you have any other feedback, let us know.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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