Var det for ti år siden, ville det ikke have overrasket mig, men i dag, hvor mine dage konstant bliver afbrudt af: “Mamma, mamma, du skal komme her!” eller “Mamma, mamma, hvor er du?” eller ‘øh, shit, hvor er Fittibolli? Er han taget ALENE NED PÅ STRANDEN! LØØØØØØØØØØØØØB!!!’ (And the most distracted mom award goes to…). Eller hvad med den klassiske klokken-barnet-sover-endelig-skraber ZZZZZZZZzzzzZZZZ…?
Så er tre dage en guldmedalje i litteraturolympiaden.
Az ajtó, eller The Door – for lad os bare cut the bullshit! Jeg har ikke læst den på ungarsk, så jeg kravler lige ned fra min piedestal – er så meget en læsning værd. Og den sætter alt på spidsen allerede fra indgangskapitlet:
I seldom dream. When I do, I wake with a start, bathed in sweat. Then I lie back, waiting for my frantic heart to slow, and reflect on the overwhelming power of night’s spell. As a child and young woman, I had no dreams, either good or bad, but in old age I am confronted repeatedly with horrors from my past, all the more dismaying because compressed and compacted, and more terrible than anything I have lived through. […] Once, just once in my life, not in the cerebral anaemia of sleep but in reality, a door did stand before me. That door opened. It was opened by someone who defended her solitude and impotent misery so fiercely that she would have kept that door shut through a flaming roof crackled over her head. I alone had the power to make her open that lock. In turning the key she put more trust in me than she ever did in God, and in that fateful moment I believed I was godlike – all-wise, judicious, benevolent and rational. We were both wrong: she who put her faith in me, and I who thought too well of myself. […] The fact that I was trying to save her rather than destroy her changes nothing.
Romanen fortælles ud fra en ung kvindelig forfatters* synsvinkel, hvis karriere pludselig får fart på efter lang tids politisk eksklusion, og hendes forhold til husholdersken Emerence, som allernådigst har taget forfatteren og hendes mand under opsyn og vejledning udi livet. Og hvor fortælleren er hovedaksen hvorfra alle fortællinger udspringer, så er hun ikke den mest interessante karakter i romanen. Hendes handlinger, fortællinger og indblik er sekundær til Emerence. Denne husholderske har en stålsat karakter, formet af hårde vilkår og ikke uden sympatiske træk omend den strikse og til tider lidt overdrevne træn-dine-omgivelser-som-en-modvillig-hund teknikker frustrerer både mig som læser, men sandelig også forfatteren, som i sin unge alder og naive sind forsøger alle slags indfaldsvinkler at få Emerence til at kunne lide sig.
Emerence, som allerede er oppe i årene, da vi først hører om hende, er en hård arbejder, en no-bullshit kvinde, der ikke engang har en seng, for hvis hun skal lægge sig ned, så bliver hun ‘svimmel’. Alle i nabolaget respekterer hende og flere frygter hende i en vis grad: “Emerence was a caretaker, someone with a bit of authority; […] if she didn’t warm up to us, no amount of money would induce her to accept the job.” Da fortælleren (forfatteren) leder efter hjælp, er det ikke Emerence som bliver interviewet til stillingen. Snarere er det Emerence, som vælger at tage forfatteren og hendes mand under sin vinge, og det sker i en slags formel optagelsesceremoni både for at understrege at hun ikke påtager sig arbejde for hvem som helst og det handler i høj grad om hvem der har magten i forholdet.
Emerence regerer over sit kongerige med lige dele udskamning og næstekærlighed. Der er en måde at gøre det på og det er Emerences måde.Til de syge kommer hun med suppe og sidder hos dødeligt syge uanset stand. De slette – dem hun anser for at være slette – revser hun med hårde ord og fryser dem ude indtil de kommer krybende tilbage.
Emerence er ikke en kend-din-plads type. Hun harcelerer over Gud, som ingen plads har i hendes hjerte og gør det til stor frustration for den troende forfatter, som begynder at tage lange omveje til kirke for at undgå Emerences kritiske øje og dertilhørende verbal udskamning. Den unge forfatter er gentagne gange åbenbart frustreret af denne person, som udvikler sig i flere spor til en striks mor, ven, hjælper og et moralsk kompas, hvor livet former sig gennem årtier af litterær modgang, personlige forhold og succes i karrieren. Det er klart at de to – omend de begge er kommet fra samme egn – opholder sig i forskellige verdener og hvor de to mødes, sker der sammenstød, misforståelser, og i sidste ende uoprettelig skade.
Det afgørende fokuspunkt i historien – døren – og det stykke information indgangskapitlet lægger op til og pirker ved vores nysgerrighed, er Emerences meget bestemte afvisning af alle mennesker, som forsøger at komme ind på livet af hende. Den eneste, som har fået lov at komme inden om døren til det allerhelligste – hendes lejlighed – er den gamle militærmand i den gade, hvor al fortælling udspiller sig. Og dette kun én enkelt gang for langt tid siden, fordi myndighederne er nødsaget til at undersøge en række mistænkelige dødsfald blandt en nabos transportduer – en strid, der strækker sig langt ind i bogen med insinuationer, som yderligere grumser al “viden” om Emerence. For én ting står lysende klart – mennesker får ikke Emerences kærlighed i form af søde ord og tilkendegivelser. Men dyr, det er en anden sag. Emerence kaster al sin kærlighed på en lille udstødt hund, som hun påtvinger forfatteren og hendes mand, kun for derefter at gøre det meget klart for dyret, at Emerence er dens relle hersker i den lille flok. Igen til stor frustration for forfatteren, som ikke kan få hunden at adlyde – hunden, hverken hun eller manden ville have – hvis Emerence har sagt andet. Det er komisk, tragisk og enerverende på en og samme tid. Men når det er sagt, så er det svært ikke at se, at Emerence nærer stor kærlighed for forfatteren. Udsagnet, she grows on you, er meget passende her. Forfatteren misforstår – forståeligt nok – konstant Emerences forsøg på at gøre godt, og det gør det også så pinefuldt at læse. For de cirkler om hinanden, viser stor omsorg for hinanden og deres omgivelser, men fordi de er så forskellige, så rammer de lige så ofte ved siden af. Alt imens forfatterens og Emernces forhold udvikler sig, får vi også små indblik i Ungarns politiske landskab og ikke mindst litteraturens position i et svært polariseret miljø. Og her ser vi endnu et eksempel på Emerences studse hengivenhed. Da det litterære parnas skyr forfatteren og hendes litterære udtryk, sørger Emerence for at alle i gaden ved, at de skal stille op for forfatteren og vise deres støtte. Til trods for at hun ikke er en belæst person – den slags intetsigende fritidsaktivitet har hun ikke tid til – og at hun ingen respekt har for en person, hvis arbejde ikke handler om fysisk udfoldelse, så gør hun det meget klart, at hun er forfatterens største forsvarer. Hun er som en løvinde, der beskytter sit kuld, og hun gør det med stor ihærdighed.
Magda Szabó – og i forlængelse af hende oversætteren Len Rix – skriver sublimt og indlevende. Jeg havde så svært ved at rive mig fra bogen og fandt mange undskyldninger for at snige mig væk fra solbadningen ved Jammerland bugten bare for at læse et par sider eller bare et par sætninger. Jeg måtte høre mere, læse mere, forstå mere af denne forbindelse forfatteren havde til Emerence, vide mere om Emerence, som alle andre, der cirklede omkring den gamle dame, ville jeg også snage i hendes mest intime helligdom bag den skide dør, hun aldrig åbnede for nogen på nær én.
Det er ikke kun dele af Emerences tilgang til andre mennesker, der frustrerer mig, og derved også gør denne fortælling så indlevende. Det er også forfatteren/fortælleren, som er så opsat på at alle skal kunne lide hende. Hun gentager flere gange, at hun er en social og sympatisk person, men af og til krakelerer udsagnet og især sammen med Emerence, som gør det meget klart for forfatteren, at hun ikke er sat på jorden for at behage andre. Forfatteren bliver konfronteret med denne pæne pige i sig, som fluktuerer mellem selvoptaget godhed, manglende indsigt i egne adfærdsmønstre og reel omsorg for Emerence. Og det er også gennem denne linse vi tvinges at se og høre om Emerence. Ikke på noget punkt i historien får vi direkte indblik i Emerences tankemønster. I stedet må vi klare os med forfatterens udlægninger og de gange Emerence ytrer sig – ellere rettere sagt presses op i et hjørne af den kære forfatter – hvorefter hun uddeler sublime verbale smæk, som ikke mangler noget i grandios enetale og som i sig selv er værd en læsning. Men dette er også med til at gøre historien værd at læse – for hvem vil du tro på? Hvordan afkoder du Emerences væremåde og handlinger? Og hvad mener du om forfatteren? Så meget ligger åbent til fortolkning om det var Szabós hensigt eller ej.
Jeg kan ikke sige, at jeg bliver efterladt med fuld forståelse for hverken fortæller eller Emerence eller får en grand finale og happy end. Og som den sande tragedie fortællingen er, er det heller ikke meningen. Men jeg kan sige, at jeg nød at se livet fra Emerences (mærkelige) logik og morale omend det var gennem fortælleren. Jeg følte sympati for fortælleren, som gang på gang misforstår Emerence og gang på gang modtager skældud for derefter at undskylde – uanset om der er tale om reel skyld eller forestilt ud fra Emerences synspunkt – og krybe til korset. Til tider også nyde at arbejderen og kvinden udviser så stor autoritet i et lettere betændt miljø, hvor man ikke skal træde meget ved siden af før man straffes. Og jeg gik ned ad mindernes gade til mine egne store maternalistiske helte, som virker irettesættende strenge og absolut ikke er sat på jorden for at behage andre, men som til gengæld har et hjerte af guld og hvis løvindekamp har været til gavn for mange naive og søgende sjæle. Omend de – som alle os andre – også snubler fra tid til anden.
Et sidste citat, som symbol på denne jernlady (ikke at forveksle med Thatcher) og den måde forfatteren lægger scenen for os og inviterer os at betragte Emerence og gøre os mange, mange tanker om hvad der gemmer sig bag:
“The old woman worked like a robot. She lifted unliftable furniture without the slightest regard for herself. There was something superhuman, almost alarming, in her physical strenght and her capacity for work, all the more so because in fact she had no need to take so much on. Emerence obviously revelled in her work. She loved it. When she found herself with free time, she had no idea where to begin. Whatever she took on, she did to perfection, moving around the apartment in almost total silence – not because she was over-familiar or snooping; she simply avoided unnecessary conversation. “
* Al omtale af forfatteren herefter skal forstås som karakteren i bogen, ikke Magda Szabó selv.
Ok, so in the end I was not at all into The Time Traveler’s Wife, it slowly started to rub me the wrong way. And about 150 pp. in, there was a scene worthy of 50SoG, and it was so toe cringing that I stopped investing in the narration completely. A bust for me.
So then I started on McCarthy.
As I was reading this apocalyptic novel The Road, my mind occasionally wandered off to AMC’s TV-series The Walking Dead. From the theme over imagery to language, the similarities were abundant. Although in The Walking Dead the world is overrun with zombies in never-ending waves, and The Road has just moved human life to a postapocalyptic state without the fantastical bonus, they share an underlining fear that goes to the core of the human condition and both serve as takes of just how far our imagination can take us when facing never-before tried situations. How truly horrific the end of days can or could be. What will become of humanity, love thy neighbor, gender equality, the PC-attitude.
The plot in The Road is fairly straight forward and that is not a criticism. The highlight of the novel is not in the plot. The world as a postmodern, social-media frenzied place run on the capitalists’ logic of growth and world diplomacy has ended. No need to embellish the pages with fast-paced action sequences and heroism. The quiet does well in foreboding the dangers up ahead. McCarthy employs a technique of undernarrating the events. We know nothing of why the world is reduced to ash, so we can only imagine. We are not told specifics about either characters, there is no great build-up. One part cynicism, one part filial affection, and a dash of eerie apathy. Add father and son walking on dusty roads surrounded by charred forests, covered in dust and pushing a cart filled with their last possessions and you have yourself a shitty situation. As I am reading it, I actually get a physical reaction and feel my mind starting to work the same way I do when watching scenes of The Walking Dead. A bit nervous of the scenes up ahead, the style does nothing to forewarn me. Even though I am only 50 pages in I am aware that McCarthy would not hesitate to kill off one or both of the main characters right there and then. Come to think of it, I think that would actually be an interesting development for the novel and narrator.
However, I do have my reservations about the genre or, should I say, to some pre-specified components of the genre. Mostly, these types of books/shows etc. seldom have the balls or ingenuity to leave the past or present behind to create something completely other, but instead use already lived or taught experience. It plays with the writer, viewer’s and/or reader’s knowledge of the world, and how we perceive or understand a human response. And so the imagery is very much embedded with the (nostalgic) brutality of traditional historical terror-infested reigns of emperor’s, kings, and dictators that have walked this earth. As such there is no room with the writer for a belief that maybe a couple of thousand – or hundred, hell, even ten – years of growing and change would have any effect on the life after the next big bang. We are predestined to regress into cave mentality and brutal slaughtering as a go-to, know-no-better alternative. It irks me that they continuously choose this easy way out. We already know that a lot of people will die. Some for ideological reasons, some because of their caring instincts which has no place in this setting (mostly women), some because they (mostly men) are rat bastards. And those who live develop into very stereotypical characters and take to extreme hierarchical structures that shut out the last 300 years of Enlightenment critical thought. There is a God, we have failed, are sinners, and survival of the fittest means those who shed evolution and go down to the nitty-gritty – not a single pause to question that which seems too obviously answered with reckless violence.
On that point the two however differ in strategy: Where TWD is visual in its core, it creates very in-your-face sequences to show the violence up close, TR uses a lot of subtle hints and uses the quiet, eerie mood to convey the dehumanizing development. Both work their way though like a sort of platform game – find food, shelter, medicine, avoid as best possible danger, search and destroy threats if necessary – bonus rounds expected when the heroes find hidden stash or a untampered supply room. I am tempted to be more inclined towards the latter – maybe because there is more of a challenge for my mind. As McCarthy operates on the very minimal when it comes to the build-up I am not bound by so many presets and can ask myself the question: How freely will I let my imagination run, to think up possibilities for the meltdown, the future, the middle, the characters? And in that sense, I can also test my own theories of how, what, and why the characters are what they are. As he only paints a scene of very few days and settings, I can use that little snippet and create a completely different world. It would be very hard to do so in the universe of The Walking Dead as the information of the characters in this sequential narrative form is always changing and layered. All the fan fiction in the world would contest me and prove the possibility of a reader taking control of a narrative such as TWD, but in the sense that there are hardcoded facts that would run counter to this action, TR offers me more of a say without tampering with the ‘truth’ (to be read in a very light manner, mind you!). I don’t have to read/write against the canon, but can create possible otherworlds to run alongside McCarthy.
With regards to the language in The Road I alternated between disappointed and elated. There were a lot of annoying metaphors which threw me off and in some sections the religious emphasis was too much for my taste. But there is no denying that McCarthy has a way with words that relays a certain underlying strange emotional current in the novel that sits longer with the reader. I can’t explain it, but just how annoyed I was at the religious rhetoric, as appreciative am I of the reaction it caused. So for those who contemplate The Road I would recommend reading it and discarding the temporary annoyance this poses. The long-term effects are much more pleasing.
A mind and a memory
Did I already read this passage? He used that same sentence before didn’t he? What? Is there a code in this text?
I’ve been reading Bjørn Rasmussen’s ‘Huden er det elastiske hylster der omgiver hele kroppen’ (‘The skin is the elastic holster that enshrouds the entire body’ – although in effect, due to the massive connotation linked to every word, the translation is open-ended) and in its best postmodern fashion it resists me and my desire to immerse myself in its story. Not to say it is a closed off piece of literature, on the contrary, it lays it all out there in rich condensed prose. However, it does what it can to resist me by saying “hey! I’m a text! I’m a text and I’m a person! I am a narrator and a text and a person! Only, there is no I, I is just a figment in a circular motion towards memory!”
And so it goes on, until I let go of my desire to establish a communication with it and just let it tell me its story. ‘Cause we really like that, and especially when we lose it; we like to communicate with texts and talk back, in essence often just to test out our own identity, mirror our own desires and fears. But this work, and others like it, just wants to tell its story, constantly trying to counteract what you think you already know about it, how it’s going to play out, what it wants. How? By saying it, and by borrowing others’ I’s and texts, and by negating your knowledge because it is not a You and even you don’t know You. The text, the I, can only present itself to a you and that’s that. What you do is either constantly trying to figure the It out, or just leave. No harm, no foul.
Tro intet af, hvad jeg fortæller om følelser. Jeg har kun tilnærmelsesvis ansatser mod at føle noget ægte. Så snart dette ægte indtræder, vil det nødvendigvis opløses, fortæl mig om implosion, om atomer. Når man jagter en frø i timevis, når man endelig lukker hænderne omkring den, dør den af chok. Og hvis jeg virkelig får dig en dag. Så vil jeg ikke have dig længere. Så vil jeg have noget andet. Hvad. Fortæl mig om forskellen på want og need, jeg tror ikke på, at der er nogen. Hvad er der så, kapitalismen, fortæl mig om kapitalismen, nej, den menneskelige natur, åh, hør her: Oppe i mit røvhul er der sort som kul, oppe i mit røvhul, ca. 6 cm. oppe, findes et punkt, en erogen zone, der svarer til klitorissen eller pikhovedet. Det er fakta. Når dette punkt berøres, forplanter vibrationerne sig til rygraden, hammeren, stigbøjlen og hør her: Røvhullet er dialektisk, røvhullet er en død mands blomst, død kvindes blomst, røvhullet er en fuga, et tema med variationer; følelser derimod; frøer, mødre, ridelærere og følelser, de er den samme gamle historie, sut mit plot.
Don’t believe anything I say about feelings. Far from it, I only have beginnings of feeling something real. As soon as this real comes around it inevitably dissolves, talk to me about implosion, about atoms. When you chase a frog for hours, when you finally wrap your hands around it, it will die of shock. And if I really get you one day. Then I don’t want you anymore. Then I’ll want something else. What. Talk to me about the difference between want and need, I don’t think there is any. What’s next, capitalism, tell me about capitalism, no, human nature, ah listen: It is pitch-black up my asshole, up my asshole, about 6 cm. up, there is a point, an erogenous zone, comparable to the clitoris or the penis head. That’s a fact. When you touch this point the vibrations transmit to the spine, the malleus, the stirrups and listen: The asshole is dialectical, the asshole is a dead man’s flower, a dead woman’s flower, the asshole is a fugue, a theme with variations; feelings, on the other hand; frogs, mothers, riding instructors and feelings, they are the same old story, suck my plot.
‘Huden…’ presents this figure named Bjørn, this persona who experiences in reality an array of confusing ‘realities’, that of a sexual being, a victim (of himself), an offender, an identity(?), where the language and the narration join in in a mix of stream-of-consciousness, repetitions, fragmented sentences and scattered punctuation to convey a sense of loss and confusion, shifting the mood and POV’s every which way. There is ample reference to the corporeity of existence, the anatomy, bodily functions, and how emotions and sensations affect the body. The body has long held a strange position; it is both the most real and physical we can think of, and at the same time because/in spite of its obvious and common everyday functions it is constantly embellished, observed and scrutinized from a distance or functioning as a satirical/comical input to check our masked appearance. But in a lot of more recent works, the body is incorporated at a very hands-on level – the shit, pee and puke, reactions to external and internal factors that set off a chain effect that, although it is a very felt thing, we take for granted and with it the emotions, the mind that belongs to it. When you eat, you shit, and sometimes it hurts (depending on how much chili you had the day before). When you cry nonstop for 45 minutes, you get dehydrated and a headache to boot. And the works I am referring to – ‘Huden…’ being an example – don’t necessarily incorporate the body because of fascination of the grotesque or comical input, but because it IS, and when it is, what and how do you do with it? In stead of spending time distancing ourselves from our skin, our blood and teeth, these works spend time incorporate it in the gorges of fiction. A very complex process because both the body and mind seem to constantly resist the being, moving forward and regressing all at the same time.
Of course, I could choose to focus on the massive amount of sexuality, sex (actions and thoughts) and what that means to societal evolution. I could also focus on the character and his relation/resemblance to the Author, is the author dead or very much alive? I could even focus on the symbolic effect of putting pictures, and at that in the dead center of the book, possibly as a form of legitimizing the linkage to reality or precisely to fuck with the whole notion that a photo would legitimize anything as real. All those aspects are fascinating for its own chain of thought. But when it comes down to it I keep coming back to the circular motion of mind and body towards memory and reality.
This Saturday has been all about fan-fiction and children’s literature for me. I have been researching and reading and canvassing every line on the web for participatory readers and online sharing communities – anticipated thesis fever is hitting me after the summer vacation and I am knee-deep in theories and literature, it is so exciting (for future reference remember this joyous occasion, this positive attitude might not prevail over the hair-pulling and nail-biting when it is crunch time). Anyone out there with some inside knowledge of online fan-fiction is welcome to my comment field.
Next up: children’s literature.
Harders, our local Nørrebro bookshop, had arranged a reading with Manu Sareen that I thought sounded incredibly interesting. For those of you who do not know his works, he is the author of the series on “Iqbal Farooq” – the humorous story of an immigrant family living in the heart of Nørrebro – and has just published two stories (seen in picture above) in a series loosely based on some of H.C. Andersen‘s fairy tales.
One of the reasons I wanted to go to this event was because Sareen is one of Denmark’s contemporary authors (without distinguishing adult from children’s authors) who uses his background as an Indian immigrant as a starting-point for his stories. He explains early on that he started writing because of political motives, stating that there was a gap in literature for and about ethnic minorities in this country. Another reason was because at that time the Minister of Cultural Affairs, Brian Mikkelsen, had just launched a culture canon to profile Danish values – values Sareen says he shared, such as democracy and free speech, but unfortunately values that also ended up being used as a lifted finger against ‘the foreigners’ in the country, dividing inhabitants even more. A “this is what it means to be Danish – a.k.a. not You”.
So he created Iqbal in order to send a message. Not only to the ethnic Danes, but especially to the immigrants. Sareen claims that often literature written by minorities ends up reaffirming the negative discourse, whereas he would rather give the ethnic groups some pride back, something that could unite and identify them as part of the community.
The next thing he said shook me somewhat. I must admit, although I am not oblivious to the culture clashes in this country, I had not really thought fully about this: he said that he encountered many ethnic kids on his readings that were ashamed of the things that set them apart from the ethnic Dane, amongst other things their parents dialect when speaking Danish. And that faith in future achievements was depressingly low. Immigrants, he said, could drive taxi’s and make pizza’s: not grow up to write children’s books; which is an attitude he encounters when young minorities come up to him at readings in schools and ask him who really wrote the book he is reciting. This is a disillusionment Sareen wants to stand against. He says his goal is to make readers laugh with each other rather than at each other.
Sareen then proceeded to explain how his characters are based on real persons, to the great joy of a little kid in the room who said “I knew it”, which in return put an even broader smile on Sareen’s face. At that time it was clear that the adults in the room were mere shadows in the setting.
When he read from one of the Iqbal books (Iqbal Farooq and the Indian Superchip) I noticed how Sareen’s books use humor, preconceived notions of the ‘Other’ and stereotypes to form a narrative that touches upon some, at times, very disturbing and tough subjects in an approachable way, making these topics easier to talk about rather than avoiding them.
Being that he gets inspiration from his surroundings, his books are filled with multi-cultures and political figures – which adds to the fun for those who know these characters.
Whereas the Iqbal character was loosely based on his own person and characters of that universe of those around him, Sareen chose to go outside his own surroundings in “Hvad fætter gør er altid det rigtige”, saying proudly that this has been his best book so far. It is also a book that is, in his words, “semi-controversial”, joining a trend in Western children’s literature of using unorthodox characters and settings. “Hvad fætter gør er altid det rigtige” includes homeless people, prostitutes and drug addicts surrounding the Copenhagen quarter of Vesterbro. As many children’s authors who chose, what some would call extreme figures, to portray in the books, he justifies it by saying that this is what the world looks like – teaching children that it’s out there can prove to have a positive effect.
I asked him if he drew his inspiration to write from any external sources outside of Denmark, seeing as he claims that ethnic minorities were not writing to/about ethnic relations in Denmark. But instead he said he drew his inspiration from Olsen banden (classic Danish comedy) and Bjarne Reuter, stuff he, as well as the rest of Denmark, grew up with – only he had one foot in each culture at all times.
Setting aside that these books are classified children’s literature I would think that many adults could benefit from reading one or two of his books, maybe we could all loosen up a bit for a change.
Do you know that feeling you get when you come out from a movie eeeeeverybody has been talking about and running out of superlatives to praise? And anticipations have been building up, excitement is in the air – what have the makers of this film done that will blow my socks off? The feeling that you missed something, or a sense of annoyance creeps into your mind…
I have that exact feeling with Franzen’s “Freedom”. Did I miss something, or did my anticipation build the story before I had a chance to read the novel? Maybe I just want to be on the other side of the table because every critic, publisher, bookseller and Betsy has listed the novel’s superior literary value up and down the isles. Maybe I just want to thwart this good feeling with my negative attitude. I don’t know.
I do know I cannot join in on the praises fully. And it sucks, because I was really craving that distinctive American narration and style. It can be quite luring.
To begin with the positives: the novel deals with and criticises the glorification of family values, the go-getters and just about every (post)modern tendency within Western culture. It is an attempt at delving into what we think and how that translates into (in)action. It is a story of the family – Patty and Walter Berglund and their two children Jessica and Joey (scene: the perfect nuclear family image – Americana Perfectum). But they are not images of a united front with shared values, a community within a community, but the fragmented, über-individualised family member whose family values and relations shackle rather than ground him/her. Going behind the scenes (something their nosy neighbors are not allowed, to their great annoyance) we are let in on a secret: family sucks! Appearances deceive and everything’s a mess; communications are rapidly breaking down – how can one talk of solving world crises’ like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, when families can’t even agree on day-to-day arrangements? The interplay is really fascinating and Franzen delivers a great deal to the table – we could discuss interpersonal relations with the Berglund family as a starting-point.
On the other side: it is a very, very long point to make. I have nothing (on the contrary) against lengthy novels. However, there are sections in “Freedom” that could well be cut and tightened to secure the flow of the narration. The Danes have a funny word for this type of novel. They call it a ‘murstensroman’ (brick novel, fat volume) but use it mostly in positive terms. In the 1930s this was a term used for popular short novels that were printed on extra thick paper so it would seem fuller, making the higher price more justifiable.
But to return to “Freedom”, I am in the process of constructing a theory based on age discrimination which I am a little hesitant to blow up full-scale. Franzen speaks very adamantly to/as a generation who invented, but not fully lived or constructed lives within digital realms. And a generation that still can’t make up their minds if family values is something to hold on to or discard completely. To tell this tale he has to make his characters into a specific target class – one that everyone presumes composes a family, but at the same time is almost too good to be true – characters that are destined to play their parts to perfection so that there is a bow on in the end. It feels constricted by the greater goal. I guess what I am proposing – bear with me, it’s a theory in progress – is that I don’t really identify with this struggle. I find what Franzen writes about fascinating, but more in terms of a curious fantasy world, where dysfunctional family structures are a source of astonishment. I would not go as far as to say that the walls have crumbled and everyone has gotten ‘real’ all of a sudden – not at all. People are self-promoting and glamorising their lives as ever before. But as networks have grown larger and your run-of-the-mill duck pond is no longer dependent solely on geographical settings, so have people come to interact and relate on new platforms. The term “family” and “relationships” are as diffuse entities as geographical or political affiliations. Being born into a family doesn’t mean you are obliged to relate and interact – that was not a choice, but everything after that could be. It may seem superficial to some, rootless to others, while a third-party hails the reign of ultimate choice, but this might offer me some explanation regarding my attitude towards “Freedom”. Somewhere along the line “Freedom” stops discussing with me as a contemporary voice and begins talking at me about the breakups and fuck-ups of Western cliché crybabies.
So yeah… you tell me, someone out there must have read “Freedom” by now and can explain which exit I missed.
In this lovely sharing culture of our days, Turidbloggar made me aware of this video called The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. At about 14-15 minutes in he points out that even if we inherit identity from our family and community it is a changeable factor. And that all this choice is not necessarily a good thing.