She has an Anglo-Saxon sternness. She could be twenty or forty years of age, her religious conviction writ large in her plain facial features. She loves warmly but disciplines firmly, an island of austerity in a world of plenty.
The Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard’s latest cycle of books, the Seasons Quartet, has recently seen its first release, Autumn, in English this month. (A quick note – the Seasons Quartet was originally published in Norwegian throughout 2015-16). Styled as a series of letters to his unborn daughter, the quartet takes everyday objects or landscape features as their starting point for Knausgaard’s short and varied digressions on what it means to be alive. I currently have Autumn by my bedside and it is a beautiful publication indeed, illustrated in style by Vanessa Baird and ably translated by Ingvild Burkey. I haven’t yet started reading it but I shall do tonight, as it seems fitting to do so as the clouds roll in and the temperature drops. Autumn truly is my favourite season and I look forward to the changing colour of the landscape as trees shed their leaves and the nights draw in.
The second volume in the series, Winter, is released on the 2nd November 2017 and I cannot wait to hold and to read it. I note on the publisher’s website that the volume has a different illustrator; I’m quite impressed that Knausgaard (or at least his publisher) is bringing together other artists into the fold of his new publications. It also introduces the English-speaking world to new Scandinavian writers and artists that they may otherwise have not come across. In the meantime Knausgaard’s much-anticipated sixth volume of his My Struggle cycle of novels isn’t released until late 2018, in the English translation, but the Seasons Quartet more than makes up for the long wait. Happy reading!
A small journey begins tomorrow and when I return from it I will also have to return to the world. This is something that I am having difficultly facing as I re-evaluate where my place is.
I carry you in my heart,
I carry you in my memories.
‘Don’t stop, don’t break,
You can delight because you have a place,
Quiet room, I need you now.’
– Majesty Snowbird by Sufjan Stevens
‘…and you are locked into a debt of which you will never become released of, I am certain of this and it is clear in my thoughts as such.’
‘But sir, don’t you deny the very foundation of being able to see beyond your own situation, of bringing hope into not just your life but also ours?’
‘What a petty imagination you have, for your futures I see nothing but dark horizons and cascading torments.’
‘Well be done with your thoughts and imaginations then as it is clearly visible to us that you have no such qualms in harming us with your words and misdeeds’.
‘Petty fool, please! Calm your house and make it in order, even though I fear it will never become so!’
‘Twice now you have called myself and others before you ‘petty’, but grant that I will not! We are not petty sir, nor miserable or locked into innumerable heartache, no sir, we are just, kind and civil. Our steady boat has become only rocked once by this heavy handed court and I, for one, will not have my name besmirched for any longer. It is a duty of the law, yes, the law, to guide in it’s civil advocacy the way in which we point our democracy (in this I agree wholeheartedly), but this expenditure in this adventure is surely just a mess, an exploitation that matters not a jot to the jailor or to the lawyer. Think twice before you call us petty sir, for we may yet bite the ass of the man before us!’
‘Order! Order in the court of law! Hark hear how thy sing such praises of only of yourselves, you disreputable rogues. It gladdens so to sit here and judge, preside over your fate and decree it so: 7 years hard labour for your financial irregularities, not a day more but not a day less.’
It was at this pronouncement that the witnesses in the stand burst into a flood of tears, wetting their lapels and dousing their frocks in so much salted water that the barristers and lawyers feared for their lives. The judge, jowls and all, had become, by this point in the proceedings, annoyed by this ragtag band of misfits before him. The sentence was harsh, he knew that, but it was just, it was acceptable and it was do’able. It was at this thought that his rage subsided and he became more relaxed in posture and tone.
‘…..and I’ve already told you of the experience, how demeaning it was, how I felt like utter shit abandoned at the end of the world- do we really have to go through it again?’
‘Yes I’m afraid so, you know as well as I do that we have to go through each experience of importance and process it so we can begin to understand more fully why you are here today and what we can do tomorrow.’
‘But it just feels like we are revisiting the same instance, the same scene, again and again, I do not feel that this is not the main theme of my life, I’ve gotten over it, why are we doing this?’
‘I think we could be at a turning point in this session if we pursue this particular point, please can you tell me again how you felt at that point in hospital?’
‘Okay fine. Well, it was maybe the 2nd week after the surgery, and I was managing to get to the toilet with a little help from the nurses to push me over to it on a portable commode (not the most glamorous mode of transportation), and on this occasion the nurse helped me get over to and on the toilet seat, told me push this orange button once I had been and done my business, as usual.
Fine I though, this wouldn’t take that long, heck it was nice to be sat upright, even if it was draining and made me tired and nauseous. So I was enjoying being out of the lumpy bed, my bowels moved and I cleaned myself up, lent over to the sink and washed my hands. After that was done I pressed the orange call button firmly and waited…’
‘I was located in a side room, away from the main bays of the ward by myself, and the toilet was also in my room. Effectively I was two doors away from the main artery of the ward, out on a limb from the nurses station, but I didn’t think this would be a problem. A few minutes drifted by and I sat and wondered where the nurses were, tried to remember what time it was and if they would all be busy serving drugs or meals.’
‘I could see the orange glow of the button I’d pressed so I knew it’d be making that humming noise every few seconds, with a light above my bedroom door flashing as well. It was only a matter of time, but the longer I sat the more sore my bum became, my bones ached more and I felt more and more uncomfortable generally.’
‘I began to feel like I’d been abandoned, lost, and I was racked with aches and pains. I hadn’t moved this much since the surgery, I began to tremble. and I… I…’
‘Go on, you are in a safe room here,’
‘Well I’m not afraid to say a tear fell loose from one of my eyes, I felt like I had been cast away, left to rot on a desert island of clinical smells and frustrated, worn out, bodies. Surely I must have been in there for more than half an hour? Maybe more? The seconds turned into minutes, and the minutes seemed to drag into hours. This can’t be right I thought, surely someone has seen the orange glow, has heard the hum above the hustle and bustle of the busy ward? it’s not hard to ignore, but at the same time it signifies that someone needs your attention.’
‘Sure, it hasn’t the red glow and the violent incessant thud of the emergency alarm but it was still a signal saying that someone needed attention, was waiting to be seen, hoping to be heard, right? I was there and I needed someone. And I just couldn’t help it or myself, I felt broken by such a small thing, by being left on the toilet atop of my own shit, my own weak body holding me back, and I just couldn’t fathom how… how I could get out, how to do it, I think at one point I shouted a bit, not much, I was meek, weak at the knees at needing attention but never actively seeking it.’
‘hmm right, please go on, how did the situation resolve?’
‘Resolve? It never resolved, I was found on the toilet half asleep from the weakness of sitting there for so long. The nurses told me that it had only been 30 minutes but it had felt like a lifetime.’
‘And how did you feel towards the nurses after the incident?…’
‘I viewed them the same as before, how could I not? I depended on them, I needed them.’
‘Did you think you were consciously abandoned?’
‘No, of course not, I mean why would they when they knew I was out of bed so recently after major surgery, they probably had better things to do right, you know this is a hospital, right? Some people are far sicker than me…’
‘I, I don’t know, I just thought that this is it, this is how my life is going to be, waiting for help, waiting to be moved, waiting to be noticed…’
‘Ah, I’m afraid the session is up for today, please can you come back next week, say Wednesday at 2pm?’
‘Yeah of course, I guess so…I just don’t feel as though we have made any breakthrou…’
‘Goodbye Mr Petersen,’
The day was bitter and the wind whipped at his face as he left the gray tawdy building. It looked warm in the sunshine, it looked relaxing to be outside in the great bosom of nature, but it was a facade, it was cold and unwelcoming. Mr Petersen knew this, but he could not comprehend it.
To all the things I haven’t done, will never do, have done or are yet to come…
Holding a loved one close as they fall asleep in a shared bed, waking up and kissing excitedly in the rush of a brand new day, walking up the highest hill in the lake district, eating a roast chicken in a car park with a friend whilst the gulls scream overhead, dance in the rain, swim in a lake as the thunder roars in the distance and the clouds gather and turn to the darkest deepest gray, walk down the aisle without metal inside my body, excavate a human body knowing that the last humans to see them were the people that buried the person, watch a person die, eat all of the salad, enjoy the sizzling sun kiss the horizon and bid the waking world goodbye, walk into the sea and swim amongst the fish, enjoy the full thrust and passion of sex, cuddle afterwards in the warm glow of two worn out bodies, taste the freshest made bread and watch as the butter melts, laugh with my nana and her best friend in the shed that they converted to a boudoir so they could smoke in peace, welcome my grandad and grandma to my hospital bed and watch with delight as they unload a heap of food out onto the waiting hospital table spilling chocolate whip warm mince potato carrots and coke, to watch the attractive form of older female nurses and wish they could kiss me good night, watch as the next muse takes off her clothes and I start to paint, to make love to a person who is older than yourself, curse the night away in a howl of desperation and pain, to ask your own mother and father to end your life as misery results from broken bones and misaligned broken stones, sitting in a graveyard reading my books and thinking thoughts, wanting to break out of a family mentality and escape the country I was born into, flying out into the eastern bloc, anticipation mixing with nervousness, being so happy to be away from every person you have ever known as to be stumbling over your own words, to be thankful that your friends have never changed, to be annoyed that your friends have never changed, to awake in a foreign land, feeling the rush of anesthetic as it rolls up into your arm as your blood takes it to the major organs and you start to drift off, to take a train and relive a passion, to just be happy with a finished painting, to cover and destroy and remake art, taking that perfect photograph, to being unplugged from social media and the internet, to take pictures of naked body parts in public, to bring your partner to orgasm in lush green grass and startling blue skies of the natural world, to be kissed again and again for the pure of joy of it, to reading a classic book and to get bored by it, to read a book and for it to move your world, to drive and to be driven, sleeping in and feeling the warmth of a person you love next to you, kissing the golden sands of land and drinking the lush liquid of the sea, to being selfish, to smoking the first joint of the night, taking the first pill, to not remembering when you last had sex, to want to visit all the corners of the globe, kiss every women in the world, to love yourself, and to be thankful to be alive in this brash rude beautiful world…
My parents recently returned from a visit to Prague, in the Czech Republic, and presented me with a gift of Franz Kafka‘s ‘The Metamorphosis’. It is a beautiful edition of the short novella, wonderfully bound with obvious care taken to present the work in the historical context in which it was wrote. I have a deep fondness for Central Europe, and hope to travel to the Czech Republic myself one day, but this gift helped highlight the literary scene in the early 20th century, before the rug of peace was well and truly ripped from under Europe in 1914.
As I re-read ‘The Metamorphosis’ it became clear that I had not appreciated the tale on a previous read many years ago. The disgust of which Gregor Sama’s family feel about him in the weeks and months after his ‘change’ renders the reader uncomfortable as we learn of Gregor’s own views on his new life climbing walls whilst starvation slowly sets in. Kafka never wanted his ‘vermin’ illustrated and the original edition, published in German in 1915, required careful consideration translation of the language used when it was published in English a few years later. Having finished ‘The Metamorphosis’, I delved back into my book shelf and read a few more of his short stories and excerpts. His work often deals with the themes of alienation, family conflict, isolation and psychological suffering. His substantial works, including ‘The Castle’, ‘The Trial’ and ‘The Judgement’, often deal with the above themes and the roles that are thrust upon the characters. Frustration is borne out of a maddening bureaucracy in ‘The Castle’, possibly influenced by the domination of Kafka’s own all consuming insurance job, whilst family conflict can be found throughout most of his fictional works.
By chance I’m currently reading Albert Camus‘s ‘The Rebel’, a philosophical essay on the role, meaning and context of rebellions throughout the past 300 years. It is a heavy going but enlightening read, and builds upon themes discussed in his previous novels, ‘The Plague’ and ‘The Stranger’ (heavily recommended!). Kafka, it is noted, heavily influenced existentialism, and this is reflected in the works of Camus and his contemporary friend and sparring partner Sartre. (Although it perhaps should be noted Camus is noted more for his opposition to nihilism and his closer links to the philosophy and debating of absurdism).
Influenced by terrible and sad tale of Gregor Samsa, I began a quick little painting portraying an allusion to the ‘vermin’, and the title and publication date of Kafka’s tale.
The tale of Kafka himself is perhaps to throw light onto the dark material that he wrote. Although publishing little during his lifetime, Kafka gained fame relatively soon after his death. Before dying of tuberculosis at the age of 40 in 1924, he ordered his friend Max Brod to burn his remaining unpublished body of literature and letters. Thankfully Brod disobeyed this last demand of his dear friend, and helped publish the short stories, unfinished manuscripts and letters to widespread literary acclaim. A prolific letter writer during his life, Kafka has left behind a substantial amount of letters describing his lifestyle and demonstrating his writing commitment. Lauded by the literary establishment and by the public as a true innovative writer of the early 20th century, Kafka would surely be happy with his status.
- ‘Nightmarish rather than surreal‘, a talk on the works and themes of Kafka by David Foster Wallace. Well worth a listen, as he explains Kafka’s plain and elegant writing style.
The definition of amateur reads as ‘a person who engages in an art, science, study, or athletic activity as a pastime rather than as a profession‘, and it is a rather delightful term. It strikes a strong chord with me, as I quite enjoy a spot of amateur painting or photography, not that often I have to admit, and I play an instrument, although that is mostly for personal fun with friends. To be an amateur reminds me of how lucky I am in life, that, at the moment, I am free to do things as I want (relatively speaking, and in between job applications). Although I would be the first person to admit I do not spend enough of my time being creative, I feel a great kinship to those who can so freely express themselves so readily. Below is a photograph I took on a Sunday walk, and although it is not a great photograph, it has helped me to capture a lovely moment in time. Each time I see it I think I’d love to turn it into an impressionist style painting. Of course I can only see it in my minds eye as I do not have the technical skill to paint such a picture, nor the genuine talent.
However it is in ignoring that voice, and just in trying, that you have overcome the main hurdle in expressing yourself. And it is a joy, even if you are not happy with the end results. When I was young I had always admired the people who had tried to express themselves in various different media, be it in prose, painting, drama, music or photography. Leonardo, after all, was not just an artist but a scientist and a visionary. Of course he was a genius, but we should take heart in our own efforts of self expression, and try a diverse range in which to communicate to our fellow man. This can of course leak over into other aspects of your life. Throughout my academic work I had always tried to maintain a multi-disciplinary approach to my work, to incorporate not just archaeology but also geography, osteology, pathology, history, ethnography and earth sciences, when needed, to help and develop a fuller picture of our integration.
Expressing yourself can include other people, either helping to contribute to a single project or idea, or as an individual as part of a group or society. It can be the smallest thing, in which no one will ever see, or it can be a massive effort that many will see and experience. It doesn’t matter, what matters is that if you feel a urge to be creative, to do something about that feeling, then to go ahead and see what happens. As with most things in life, the more you practice the better you will become. Speaking of which, I think I will pick up that paintbrush and have a dabble in art again…
To finish, have a lovely song by Green jelly, a lovely comedic rock band.