In late August, the beautiful, serene museum north of Copenhagen in Humlebæk hosted its annual literature festival. The events from Louisiana Literature 2012 are over and done with, the reviews have been made, photos snapped, books autographed, and the long queues have dispersed outside the Concert Hall and in the café. Mingling, but skillfully distancing themselves in this tiny space for such magnitude, are all the old wealthy and new wealthy, the bookworms, the I’m-sorry-I-can’t-come-to-work-I’m-sick-cough-cough, the elderly, the hip hipsters, bohemians, squares, the noobs and snobs, the well-rounded, the unshaved-in-that-hip-way, the messy-haired-in-that-hip-way, the Patti Smith fans and David Vann groupies, the Aira connoisseurs, the gender theoreticians and literary scholars.
Getting down on Friday
It’s a world of fascination and owes much of it force to its settings. Out there, in the quiet of the architectural woods next to architectural buildings overlooking the Sound, is an outdoor stage. And on that stage sits Patti Smith – the stage is in her honor. She is entertaining an audience of hundreds that are semi-circle placed around her stage. Inside the buildings there are long lines of ant(s)y people waiting to get in, to get out, to move forward or just move! goddammit. The outside is mellow, lots of open space, no queues, laughing. Inside is Eugenides, Matar, Moestrup, Lee, Fruelund, Sonnevi and Vann. A(nother) Smith, Matar-Vann-Hollinghurst, Desai, Aidt, Ullmann and Aira. And queues and laughing. Not quite mellow per se, it’s a bit hot and personal boundaries are challenged when it proves hard to uphold the Scandinavian ‘this is my dance space’-ethos. But the anticipation is hard to corrupt. And there is life and liveliness all around.
My trusty camera woman and I arrive as Patti Smith makes her first appearance on the Park Stage. Her voice is drifting through the vegetation towards the museum and floating to sea all at the same time. It’s mellow. But we, that is I, have no such time for mellow right now, onwards my trusty camera woman! We must find the Meese stage. There is plenty of time for mellow Patti’s voice. So, naturally, we head in the totally wrong direction, that is, by my lead, even though camera woman says ‘hold on! I think it’s that way (pointing in opposite direction)’. After minor adjustments of inner compass and turning of map in direction that befits said inner compass, we again head to the Meese stage.
Hisham Matar, I read, and then recount to camera woman, ‘comes from a strong background’. His father was kidnapped and has as of yet not turned up – a situation that weighs heavy on his authorship. Matar reads from his debut novel ‘In the country of men’ a section about a son and his mother. Tonny Vorm, the interviewer, enthusiastically lays the scene with the ‘need to know’ about the link between his/story and story and the process of writing. But Matar holds that the connection between life and work is mysterious to writers, and that it is good to not know but in stead be driven by a desire to figure out that vague notion of what the end result will be for one’s self. In fact, there is no point in knowing already or too much, but in stead what experience feels like or what it turns out to be. Matar writes in a second language; it makes him braver, write more obsessive, he says. Language hints and points toward something, but it never says. And it is this unutterable aspect that fascinates him. He reads a passage from his latest book, ‘Anatomy of a disappearance’, and this time it is recollecting an episode with a drowning man in Geneva. He reads very well, mellow. You can see that what he has to say, and how he says it, resonates well with the audience. And Tonny Vorm.
Patti Smith is so anticipated that the notion of her precedes her actual presence on stage at 4 o’clock. She herself is a cool punk cucumber indeed as she from the second she goes on stage captivates and loosens up the Scandinavian coolsters: ‘Are we at the same place as before?’, she asks a mere 2 1/2 hours after her last appearance at the same stage. And when she can’t find the passage she wants to read, she gets her guitar player Lenny to flip through the pages, while she takes a question from the audience. This time there is no interviewer. Just her. And Lenny. She reads and recalls her time spent with Robert Mapplethorpe in the Summer of Love. There is a mood shot: Vanilla Fudge and LSD, sitting together and drawing. Later Motown and dancing. She recounts the scene that gives her memoir ‘Just Kids’ its name: an elderly woman seeing Patti and Robert on the street nudges her husband to take their picture, because ‘they must be artists’, whereto the husband replies ‘ah go on, they’re just kids’. She has a fascinating voice, it’s husky and soft at the same time, rhythmic with a distinct Jersey accent. She captures past moods for the audience to enjoy in the Chelsea Hotel, Sam Shepard, and before she speaks/sings ‘Kimberly’, she reads a passage about her meeting with Ginsberg – which I recorded for you to enjoy.
After Patti Smith we went in again to the Meese stage, because there was a triple reading with Hisham Matar, David Vann, and Alan Hollinghurst. The three are very different in narration – Matar melancholic and calm, Vann bubbly and extrovert, and lastly Hollinghurst, well, British with a capital upper class, country house B.
Matar is first up, and he reads a passage that the audience who attended the previous talk would recognize; a scene with a mother and his son on a trip to Norwegian Nordland – a place Matar has only been to in his imagination helped by a photo, but so skillfully recounted that apparently he even fooled his Norwegian translator. David Vann takes the stage after Matar and he reads from Legend of a Suicide, and in spite of the seriousness of the theme and the knowledge that it is semi-autobiographical, the passages he reads are humorous. It shines through when his memory turns on his reading and he laughingly pauses the story to recount scenes from his childhood, shooting squirrels and fishing anecdotes in Ketchikan, Alaska. Characters like Daphne, Cecil, George, and Mother populate Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child from 2011 – I couldn’t from the short passage he read, figure out if he was on a level of seriousness or pastiche: I for one understood it a pastiche of the whole country house 19.-20.th century stiff-upper-lip British culture that generation after generation loves to dwell on – the once Greatest Nation in the world looked upon with nostalgia as the Kingdom is unwilling to face the reality of the 21. century. But I could be over-interpreting – he might just like the antiquated narrative style of ‘rather dreaded’, ‘blasted’, ‘dratted cigar’. It was nonetheless completely a different sadness from the previous two – but all three were dealing with some type of sadness and memory.
The next event was rather blasted to say it in Hollinghurstian, to my great annoyance as it was one of the authors I really was looking forward to get to know: Argentianian César Aira was interviewed by Rigmor Kappel Schmidt at the Giacometti. The fact that the interview was in Spanish evaded my attention as I hurried my camera woman along, but my lack of knowledge in Spanish was not the issue, as it was recounted in Danish along the way. But I cannot say much about him or his works as there was a terrible mess with the sound and every other minute the damn microphones started in on that oh so beautiful chalk-on-board, teeth clenching howl. Patient and polite as I am (read: I was in the second row and the place was packed – so I decided not to make a statement just then…) I stayed put through the whole séance and it was brutal! It was a bad cocktail of warmth that develops when you stuff 70 people in a room with 50 chairs, hissy and passive-agressive intellectuals behind me criticizing the interviewer in a voice just loud enough for everyone around them to hear that you have firsthand experience with the incompetency of the interviewer, and that incessant microphone howling and screeching. I could also sense that I had stretched my camera woman’s tolerance and goodwill to the limit, and offered her to call the day over and done with. So we had our traditional cake and coffee, listened to the very first minutes of Patti’s last performance of the day, and skipped off just in time to see ampoule and her co-conspirator Ida running, nay bolting like the devil was on their tracks up the street to make it to the evening concert.
So, it’s Saturday and I am up early and eager. Going solo to see Jonathan Safran Foer and Jeffrey Eugenides in the Concert Hall. My camera woman has politely declined to spend another day in Humlebæk with me. But when I get there – and I kid you not, this is over an hour before the doors to the Concert Hall open – there is a queue going from one end of the museum to the other. No way even half of the people in line are getting in! So I trot down to the Giacometti and overcrowded as it also is, I sit down on the floor with my back to the wall and a giant statue blocking my view to the front where Mette Moestrup (DK) interviews Mara Lee (SE). But the circumstances of my seating arrangement are quickly forgotten when Moestrup and Lee start in on issues concerning gender, sex, culture, body and power. Both are concerned with the project of uncovering various aspects of woman and power through literary/language/artistic projects. I remember the first time I saw Moestrup performing at Testrup with She’s a Show last year – loved it! Haven’t had the chance to read anything of Lee’s yet – maybe because ‘Ladies’ has wrongfully been classified as chiclit, a genre I try not to dabble to much into. They really covered all the bases in the talk: disciplining the body (Foucault), biopolitics and -power, the female ideal, fusing Lee’s Korean background with the Swedish that sounded like it bordered on language poetry; how the letters l and r are alike in Korean, linking words like ‘våld (violence) and ‘vård’ (caring) and dealing with what that means, how Lee made a transition from experimental poetry to literary market prose, how desire/lust plays out in a young girl who is not portrayed as a victim or airbrushed to anonymity. They also spent a great deal of the time discussing what feminism is, and how we have to acknowledge that women are competitive and are capable of displaying wrong or bad feelings/actions without being finite, and how not acknowledging this leads to totalitarianism. As I said; covering all the bases.
After a break, Judith Schalansky (DE) and interviewer Marc-Cristoph Wagner sat down in the Giacometti room. This time I had ninjaed my way to a chair in the second row. Wagner introduces Schalansky and her upcoming novel ‘Der Hals der Giraffe’. Prior to this, Schalansky has worked with fusing literature with the scientific approaches of typography and cartography. Her body of works mark out an author who approaches meaning in more ways than merely creating words that go onto a page – so that her books carry statements on more levels than content alone. ‘Ich mache Bücher’, she replies. And with a degree in Art History and Communications Design it is safe to presume that all components of the novel have been planned and thought through to a T. In ‘Der Hals der Giraffe’, she, in her own words, has turned the concept of the Bildungsroman upside down. The main character, Inge, is an elderly woman, a biology teacher fed up with the state of her pupils’ (mental) capacities. In the last throes of a closing school and a community where the young leave for Berlin and the old stay behind, Inge teaches, or rather preaches, biology, adaptation, evolution and change; conditions she herself is not prepared to live by. Running on logic and fully content with the conservative Truth of Nature, Inge is a fascination to Schalansky, who wants to make this ‘cliché’ possible, readable. “Sie (Inge) hasst ja Kultur”, says Schalansky, referring to the coupling of the term both within culture as most know it and the agricultural meaning of the word – pointing to the contradictory and stagnating nature of Inge herself. ‘Veränderung gibts nicht für sie,’ although she is constantly on the verge of situations of possibility.
Danish actor Charlotte Munk reads very vividly in between part of the interview – linked below.
After the interview I take my copy and get in line to get the book signed.
Schalansky has taken fountain calligraphy pens and an impressive collection of stamps with her covering various butterflies, seashells, leafs and other shapes and symbols. I stammer ‘Schmetterling, bitte’ and she signs the book, and I leave.
Leave for a new queue outside the Concert Hall to experience a reading of Anne Carson’s retake of Sophocles’ Antigone in the illustrated ‘Antigonick’ by a row of the authors presented throughout the festival and Carson herself. The room is packed, anticipation is high. Carson does the intro and then the authors one and two, sometimes three and four come up to the microphone to perform the ancient new tragedy. I particularly like Nielsen reading as king Creon. I do however have some issues with the overtly monotonous readings throughout a large part of the event – it was a bit too distancing and highbrow for my taste – maybe it was a symbolic retort to the centuries of describing Antigone and the female on a scholarly level that described and pictured her from every angle as Object and objectified. I just know I kept going back to the time I read Antigone one of the first semester at uni and recalling the mental images I conjured up to supplement what I was witnessing in front of me.
Going home I decided that I had experienced enough at Louisiana Literature 2012 and a third day of queueing and elbowing was not for me.
To conclude, although no regrets, I wish I had seen Cia Rinne’s sounds for soloists, Lilian Munk Rösing interview Nielsen, the Foer/Eugenides talk and gone on walk with authors Tomas Espedal and Morten Søndergaard. But then again, with the packed weekend it would not be LouiLit if I didn’t have to make a compromise or two during the festival.
My ticket for this year’s Louisiana Literature has arrived.
I am psyched and ready to dig my festival heels into the tarmac, up close and personal, first row baby, at the annual show of authors and audience galore.
Hoping that my smile and winks will get the attention of those heavenly, holy, saintly, divine, godly, godlike, ethereal, otherworldly; immortal, angelic, seraphic, cherubic beings, perhaps a quote, or at least a good snap with the hipster filter.
If you have any interest in names such as Patti Smith, Kerstin Ekman, Jonathan Safran Foer (you would), Cia Rinne (you should), Judith Schalansky – I could go on… so I will – Linn Ullmann, César Aira, Anne Carson and Tomas Espedal et cetera, and no interest in going to Louisiana to ogle (or you just plain and simple can’t), but still would know what it was like; stick around kid. This might get interesting.
Also, I am on Twitter – if you want to follow the hopefully steady live-tweets.
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.
Wow, middle of April my optimistic self! It’s been so long since my last update, I don’t know how to pick it up again.
I handed in my thesis on fanfiction in the beginning of April – such a weird feeling, just letting go of a 6-month project with no opportunity of making revisions. For a whole week after I made mental notes, questioned my thesis in my dreams and woke up with argumentative sentences flying around my head like cartoon birds after a knock-out 🙂 Did you know the whole world could revolve around fanfiction, I mean everything is connected to fanfiction, it truly is!!! (deactivate looney blip).
After all the bubbly and strawberry tarts and good wishes and waking up beside myself, I went on a three-week siesta to Seattle, self-claimed coffee-capital of the world. And they do make a lot of coffee and a lot of good coffee. I sat around in café’s (made a rookie failure and went into a Starbuck’s on my very first day – I blame the jet lag), drank latte’s and mocha’s and read Virginia Woolf essays and researched some more fanfiction, until my boyfriend was kind enough to tell me that I didn’t need to research anymore; I was done. What a blow! I was ready to pull out my “we are not in the 50’s anymore and I will not be reduced to a cand.mag.-housewife”-talk, but good thing for him a well hidden smile crept up right after that, or I might have had to go all Amazonian warrior feminist on his ph.d.-expected arse! I must admit; I have had my doubts about the truly bipolar experience the American lifestyle would be to experience. But to see just how friendly everyone was, I feel ashamed. Ashamed! I say. I mean, the bus driver greats you at the door, people thank him for the ride. Even snooty hipsters in Seattle are more friendly than your local CPH-porridge-eating-hipster…
Anyways, three days after I landed in CPH from a three-week trip to Seattle, I again took off on a very exciting mission that took me to that little blip in the North Atlantic Ocean known as the Faroe Islands. And guess what?! I just landed my first grown-up job!!! Seriously, I kid you not, it is possible for a humanist to get a job before spending at least six months on the dole and bottle slash park bench. I will tell you all about the job in my next post, but suffice to say, I am over the moon and then some!
So this is just my official “I-will-resume-my-blogging-now-!” post. Have a fabulous Tuesday!