The literary works of Kari Hotakainen are extensive, well known and distinguished. He has achieved the status of a living classic also in the eyes of the Finnish public. His selection as the Alumnus of the Year was based on, among other things, his bold journey to the fringes of his comfort zone with the pedal to the medal, swerving round to conduct collaboration in a field not usually associated with the humanities.
Education is a life-long mess
Back in the day, Hotakainen was washed away in the vortex of life, work and family in the middle of writing his master’s thesis, which is why the nomination as Alumnus of the Year left him bewildered. Hotakainen’s chosen study subjects at the time were arch-humanist in their scope: Finnish literature, French language, communications theory, sociology, comparative literature, as well as the Estonian and Finnish languages. During the University years, he lived a student's life, guided by the watchword ‘curiosity.’
“Thanks to my education, I had a chance to familiarise myself almost free of charge with everything a twenty-something might be interested in, not an opportunity necessarily available to earlier generations. Education is an immense richness and a life-long intellectual mess.”
Hotakainen is a writer at heart, and perhaps also a learner of new things. His professional career has progressed from newspapers via an advertising agency to various literary genres, in addition to which he was interested in working as a translator. When faced with a new challenge, such as writing a play for theatre or radio, he studied the required skills.
“This is what education means: curiosity and studying,” Hotakainen sums up.
Humanism takes place where theory and practice collide
What interests Hotakainen the most in scientific research is how theory is applied in practice. This intersection is the birthplace of humanism.
“It’s not enough to announce from your ivory tower, for example, that you are humane and tolerant. You also have to answer questions about how your views are expressed, how they can be tested, how they work in practice and in difficult situations, for example, in the vestibule of the local supermarket. Only then can you draw conclusions.”
Generalisations and aggravations annoy Hotakainen who does not feel familiar in a world of quick information, on social media or as an opinion automaton. He yearns for immersion before practical application.
“I’m unable to give my opinion before I’ve dismantled a concept or problem into its constituent parts. In my profession, it’s evidenced as tall stacks of unfinished books. At times, background work can consume an enormous amount of time. To me, long-form prose is the most natural way of dealing with various issues.”
When the author’s views as a social influencer are wanted, Hotakainen says he is often asked for certain statements that fit a certain mould. However, he is not interested in pigeon-holing. Hotakainen would like to see more unexpected situations, disputes that open up new kinds of perspectives.
Incompleteness and lack of knowledge, rather than ready-made answers, might better describe a person who is curious and continuously learning new things.
“’I don’t know’ are the most beautiful words I know. Saying them out loud would turn this world into a more humane place,” Hotakainen explains.
Knowledge of everything rouses the modern humanist
The pedals and swerves mentioned as grounds for bestowing the Alumnus of the Year title on Hotakainen naturally refer to Unknown Kimi Räikkönen, his book published in the autumn. Hotakainen had no prior knowledge of the Formula 1 sphere, nor had he earlier written similar profiles. Once again, curiosity and studying were in demand. The hope is that the attention gained by the book and its success will help those not accustomed to reading, such as boys, to take it up.
“I call it a human book. It’s a hybrid of several literary genres, in which I have used many techniques of prose from fairy tales to indirect narration. I can’t see myself as a non-fiction author.”
Hotakainen does not want to classify himself in other terms either, not as an author of Finnish literature nor as a humanist in modern society.
“You don’t start your mornings thinking you’re a humanist or author, just as you don’t have time to consider the kind of human being you are otherwise. Nevertheless, I'm always driven by motivation to find out more about as wide a range of subjects as possible.”