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.
Scene setting: glasses of red wine, good food and background music. My good friend ampoule at beinglorious told me about one of her favorite books with such passion, that I just had to have her write about it so I could share her thoughts. So, enough of my solipsistic rant on this blog, now for another’s view on literature:
Recall that tickling sensation when closing your mouth around a particularly delicate piece of chocolate, that bursting joy you feel when its inside is just as good as its cover. Now this is how I felt devouring Just Kids every night.
Just Kids is an extremely well written book; perfectly mastering the Arts of unfolding the story of two buoyant kids yearning to become artists and finding their way. This is done in an inspiring and truly honest way, which makes this book a rare and refreshing contribution to the bulk of star-literature. Patti Smith unfolds her artistic capabilities in this book and it is a pure joy to read this book.
I sought the morphine angel… He gave me a moment of lucidity. We promised to never leave each one another again, until we both knew we were ready to stand on our own. …we had our vow. It meant we were not alone. –
It is the story of Patti Smith and Robert Mappelthorpe, how they found each other when they were just kids and hopelessly entangled in the drawing universe of New York, the stardust of Andy Warhol and his factory and at the same time the disillusion of growing up in the era of technological dawn.
Yet you could feel a vibration in the air, a sense of hastening. It had started with the moon, inaccessible poem that it was. Now men had walked upon it, rubber treads on a pearl of the gods. Perhaps it was an awareness of time passing, the last summer of the decade. Sometimes I just wanted to raise my hands and stop. But stop what? Maybe just growing up.
The reader is taken by the hand and wanders the lines of her early life – we are taken to the loft, the Chelsea Hotel, their other loft, Robert’s sexuality and her development as an artist and songwriter. In an inevitable high pace and with disarming honesty, she writes a book truly authentic, almost growing wings. Every single page is filled to the brim with beautiful words, sincerely felt love and references. Reading them came close to slowly melting a piece of Pierre Marcolini chocolate on your tongue – each sentence fits perfectly in your mouth, strikes the delicate balance between light and dark and encompassed that energy and intensity which holds you from eating everything at once.
Addictive, highly inspiring and pure pleasure. Once you go there, you never you back.
Jane Eyre: An Autobiography ‘edited by Currer Bell’ (Charlotte Brontë), was published in 1847 and became an immediate success, and is to this day a popular choice around the world amongst readers, whether they fly solo or discuss it in groups.
The story of Jane Eyre is as classic a Bildungsroman as they come: an orphan, placed with an unjust aunt who begrudgingly makes a promise to her husband on his deathbed to keep her safe, is shipped off to a (horrible) charity school to toil and endure a bleak faith in the temperamental English countryside. Very Brontëesque, the weather plays a symbolic role in this constancy of inner and outer rebellion and feelings of injustice across the board. Injustice as to the way you treat an orphan, injustice as to how you educate children, not with pedagogical means but terror and the fear of an avenging God imprinted on their minds. And most of all injustice to women, how their station and role in life is predetermined and how this constantly and thoroughly impairs their independence.
As a young woman, Eyre leaves the school to become a governess for a little French girl at (da-da-da-da) Thornfield Hall, where dark and enigmatic master Rochester sits by the fire challenging this fresh and untainted, yet determined, addition to the house. Eyre becomes more and more infatuated by this Master – not just as you would expect in a romantic fashion, but more importantly as an equal. In the course of the story events and eerie sounds around the house, however, make her question daily life at Thornton Hall, and the peak of events which will send her spiraling in a new direction is just around the corner…
So what does Charlotte do when she does what she does to you and me through Jane?
For one thing there is a constant toying with perspective. The narrator (Jane) every so often directs her speech at you, involves you in the scenes, breaking down the wall between her life as a series of events and your comfortable situation as voyeur. She disarms you by presenting herself as a plain, working woman – let your guard down, no threat here, feel free to read on – but in reality the very fact that she is NOT that, is fascinating and, I think, part of the reason she gets under your skin as a narrator. The reader is not just a spectator, but one who lives through and with the narrators’ situation. She guides you through the story, and you build up a sort of special interconnection between you and her because of this narrative change.
This way, it’s like I, being the reader here, can invest emotions and bond with the experience on another level than the laid-back reader, cruising in and out of the pages. I know it sounds cliché, but examining the emotional/moral/ethical levels of the story, you are there in the moment, and the moment may as well be 2012 as 1847.
And this leads me to another interesting aspect, which is the philosophical discussions Eyre and Rochester spend many a page debating, as well as the many layered and complex issues otherwise presented throughout the novel. Unlike your ‘tacky’ romance novels with very little to offer on the contemplative side, Jane Eyre is not merely a story of two people from different standings in life that end up emotionally and passionately attached. For sure there is that too – and descriptions of their emotional connection in spite of their stature reaches toe cringing cheese-levels at times (just remember it’s mid-1800’s literature). But Brontë still manages to interlace this rather corroded theme with sharp socioeconomic critique, the question of human value and equality of the sexes in a 19th century melting pot that might just as well apply to current debates. What does it mean to be a responsible and ethical person, and how do the theoretical high-level terms of intellect and reason stand up when you have to get up from your chaise longue and apply them to daily life choices.
To me Brontë presents us with a type of girl who grows up to be a combination type of heroic-stoic-plain woman, hellbent on questioning these power plays, and notions of justice, meticulously picking her battle grounds and rhetorical weapons, and in just the ‘right’ situations answers them with a kindness that verges on the point of sacrificial behaviour. But she is not without fault, nor is she the self-sacrificer per excellence. Eyre is Rochester’s redemption, but not on his terms as one would expect in the power display that is very evident from the first meeting on. Jane is very much her own, an Individual – not property, or a mere employee. In the character of Jane Eyre we are presented with someone who is very much aware of the injustice towards her, and signs of power plays that complicate the notion of simply ‘getting along’ and respecting your fellow human: be it child, man, woman, peasant, servant, they all face unjust authority plays, lain on them by a system, other people or most challenging of all: one’s self.
Of course, many of the choices and situations throughout the book are irrevocably connected to religion or religious rhetoric/ethics – more precisely the Christian faith – and so issues of self-sacrifice, redemption and belief in a just power higher than that we can experience from any personal and worldly gain are abound. Nonetheless there are what I would deem to be universal humanistic features that go against that pious attitude displayed by for instance St. John, a clergyman with whom she does the epic battle of wills with: can she, a plain governess, really turn down marriage that will be based on duty to God? It comes down to a core element of proto-feminism: the fundamental right to decide one’s faith and worth.
I could highlight many more points, whole sections of dialogue in fact, that tickles my brainstem. It says something about the test of times, when you think of the language which is altmodisch in general, and yet manages to suck in a 21. century reader just as easy as modern-day narratives. And I know that many too have had this experience of immersion I have had with Jane Eyre, in spite of different time periods, and antiquated language, when I mention the book, and another replies ‘aahh, Reader, I married him‘, and smiles in the sort of ‘we-share-the-same-experience’-way.
Beginning with an ouch and some altogether unrelated non-literary news (which, however, will excuse to some extent my complete awol from the blogosphere): My hand is f*%& up from doing work at my father’s farm weeding in his potatoe fields – maaaan it hurts. My wrist crackles and fizzles! Fascinating on one side, and completely turning on my gagreflex on the other. I have enclosed photographic evidence to corroborate this little tale and as proof that it is pretty hard to write with this thing on my arm, and it hurts if I strain my wrist too much. No snide comments a-thank-you-very-much!
So, I have been at home on the Faroes for two weeks now and I am kind of surprised at how good the weather has behaved – usually I can use rain and storm as an excuse to sit up in my room and read all day, but when the sun is shining I get my productive on! Which means I have not read that much. But my bread-making skills have been amped quite a bit (another ouch point for my wrist).
One of my favorite things to do when I’m home is going to my mother’s bookshelves – it’s like therapy to me. 5 days into my trip on the Faroes I was already rummaging through my mother’s bookshelf about three times a day. One morning I found a collection of class struggle songs, including of course “The Internationale” and just about every theme under the sun, whether it’s women’s lib or an alternative tune to celebrate Christmas. Some of the songs are quite funny and others are downright disturbing, but as a whole we could do with a lot more united singing to build morale these days when the right/liberal/conservative political power is rising to disturbingly new hights every day.
But back to literature:
After a long brake from Herta Müller‘s “Der Mensch ist ein großer Fasan auf der Welt” I started reading it again on the plane home. It’s harder than I thought picking up the nuances of literature when it is in German (or maybe it’s just Herta’s style), but then again it is also a totally different reading experience – paying a lot more attention to the language, and looking up words along the way, having to reread the senctences and going back to passages that need further clarification – where I normally gob up pages. The poetic language takes precedence in this case, and the textual layering is beautiful – I could spend hours at passages reading and rereading to find new meanings and hints open up in the language. I would really like to read it in other languages to see what the translators do with this text.
The German-minority family Windisch in Romania are waiting for an exit permit to the West. It is 1980s Ceaușescu-land and Herr Windisch is dreading the stagnation of time and mind. The Romanian proverb ‘Man is a great pheasant in the world’ transmits the awkwardness of the broken-winged bird wildlife to human clumsiness and evil. And there is plenty evil and baseness in this short but brimmed novel. And I am in awe over how weightily Müller uses literary techniques with seemingly straightforward (but not pretentious) ease. And she approaches very tough and far-reaching tematics through this strong hold on the poetry of language, using it as respectively a light and a sword to enlight and cut through the experiences and actions of her characters. One of my favorite passages is called “Die Grassuppe” and is about Mrs. Windisch, Katharina and her time in a Russian work camp. It’s composition is reminiscent of a fairy tale albeit a grotesque postmodern one. I won’t recount it here, only note that the repetitive style in language is complementing the issue of intense survival instinct.
The political implications and how they are conveyed through literature is totally different to someone like say, Sofi Oksanen. Oksanen’s approach seems more with emphasis on the storyline, expressing the anger in the dialogue and thought processes and having characters acting counter to the events – whether it be detremental to themselves or others. And her narratives are also beautifully executed.
But Müller’s characters and setting in “Der Mensch ist…” are a product of this stagnant, cynical aura that destroys human’s from the inside out and betray’s sides of humanity we in good times try so hard to avoid to talk about and surpress with fervor. Makes you think what we could accomplish if we utilized this passion to positive change, instead of ending with yet another tale of ideology turned sour and dictatorical – are we really that thick that we to this day still lack the level of abstraction that can change this cycle of a history doomed to repeat itself in different shades and locations? I will end with a quote from “Der Mensch ist ein großer Fasan auf der Welt”.
Der Nachtwächter hat Windisch erzählt, daß der Pfarrer in der Sakristei ein Eisenbett stehen hat. In diesem Bett sucht er mit den Frauen die Taufscheine. “Wenn’s gutgeht,” hat der Nachtwächter gesagt, “sucht er die Taufscheine fünfmal. Wenn er gründliche Arbeit leistet, sucht er sie zehnmal. Der Milizmann verliert und verlegt bei manchen Familien siebenmal die Gesuche und die Stempelmarken. Er sucht sie mit den Frauen, die auswandern wollen, im Lagerraum der Post, auf der Matratze.” Der Nachtwächter hat gelacht. “Deine Frau”, hat er zu Windisch gesagt “ist zu ihm zu alt. Deine Kathi läßt er in Ruh. Aber deine Tochter kommt auch noch dran. Der Pfarrer mach sie katolisch, und der Milizmann macht sie staatenlos. Die Postfrau gibt dem Milizmann den Schlüssel, wenn er im Lagerraum Arbeit hat.
A friend and I went to yesterday’s International Author’s Stage to experience Beate Grimsrud, the Norwegian, now Swedish-based, author of works like “En dåre fri” (roughly translated to ‘A fool free’) and “At smyge forbi en økse” (again roughly ‘To edge past an axe’).
As far as the Scandinavian literary scene is concerned Grimsrud has been very much talked about – she is one of the, lately many, author’s who have been highlighted for their use of autobiographical material to a level of extremely concreteness.
She has been awarded several prizes for her authorship and recently she was nominated by Norway AND Sweden for the Nordic Council Literature Prize of 2011. Something she noted at the event yesterday was not the advantage some would claim. But, nonetheless, impressive. And in Sweden her style has even become a term in its own: Grimsrudsk (Grimsrudian) – narrative with detours, sudden associations to other subjects etc.
She started by reciting from “At smyge forbi en økse”, which, I’ll admit, was muy impressivo. Either she has done this a lot or her works sit so embedded in her she can just pick pieces to recount in front of an audience.
Even though Anette Dina Sørensen (the interviewer) did most of the talking (she whipped up quite an analysis of Grimsrud’s authorship, kudos, both relating to queer theory, psychiatry, and autobiographical matter) what Grimsrud had to say was very much to the point.
Her project is to open up or break down the barriers and categories we are so quick to set up and upholding – leaving us constrained versions of humanity. Men, women, mentally fit or sick, child, adult.
When she read from “En dåre fri” people in the audience were nodding, laughing, sighing and acknowledging the narrative vivaciously – the experience was fascinating. When she read from her works the atmosphere in the room was like the audience became part of a single entity whose shared reciprocity enlivened the story Grimsrud told. Much in the spirit of what she argued about books: that they don’t really exist before they have an audience/readership.
She told Sørensen how writing for her was like a sprinter at a marathon – she poured all into a book, writing with fervor and when she thought she had given all she could she realized that she had 40 km left to run! OK, she said it much better, with the calm air of a writer, or maybe you should have been there to hear it.
Then they talked about the character of Eli, how Grimsrud used the ambiguous name so it would relate to men and women, and Eli’s schizophrenia that resulted in hearing voices, 4 male voices to be specific.
One little tidbit: did you know that “En dåre fri” in Norwegian is not the same as its Swedish counterpart? And that the Danish translator has meshed these two into the Danish translation? This is fascinating to me.
I have yet to read one of Grimsrud’s works, but I have a feeling that won’t take long – my fingers are already itching to use non-existing moneys on “En dåre fri”. We’ll see how long the struggle will be.
Have you read anything of Grimsrud? I would love to hear what you think about her books, authorship, themes.