Issue 17, 2016-11-20
You get an elbow in your ribs in the heavy, sleepy hours of Wednesday morning last. He’d won Ohio, you get told. The next day the news settles on and around you, hysteria softens to moping. David Mancuso died too. He had a few utopian notions about the worth of love, inclusivity and a fancy sound system. Don’t flicker. Pause for a spell but keep on the balls of your feet; stay sharp to hate and violation. Listen to a good record on great speakers. Read a poem or two. Have a good week. We could be a while in the shade or soon out of it.
Issue 16, 2016-09-18
The Double Image- Reflections On Social Responsibility – SRL No 16 Foreword by Alex March
Perhaps only three times have I read a poem and been truly affected by it.
One time was on reading an Anne Sexton poem (The Double Image) here in Stockholm, a poem which has the line:
And I had to learn
why I would rather
die than love.
The week I’m writing this (September 5-11) is National Suicide Prevention week and this line by Anne Sexton touched a particular nerve and made me think about two friends who took their lives three years ago. The phrasing in Sexton’s poem: ‘And I had to learn’, emphasises the cruel lesson which depression gives us, the chemical exchange in the brain which has no rational reason but asks questions of you that you don’t really have the answer to.
Sexton’s poem addresses how her desire to look after her child is being foreshadowed by her long standing struggle with depression. She writes an anti-love poem for her daughter, explaining all the reasons why she was unable to love her through her formative years. A confession which shows how her declining mental health has forced her to adopt a new kind of philosophy. The pain of having this intimate stranger in her life means she has to rethink her own existence, her own priorities and come to terms with the tragic situation in front of her. Sometimes life dictates that love is not something that can be simply tapped at the source. What Sexton does beautifully is take the chance to break the taboo that loving someone is for some reason natural or unconditional when everything around you is screaming lie.
Why this poem sings loudly for me now and this week in particular, is in the UK, where I am from, our public health service is being dismantled and privatised. Which means mental health services will be set upon by the free market and individuals in the same situation as Sexton are treated as customers rather than patients.
Beck Levy is an artist and writer who has had to deal with severe depression for a large part of her life and writes a rallying call on this subject for National Suicide Prevention Week-
“The bottom line is that in this ongoing crisis, “awareness” and “ending stigma” are toothless if depoliticized. All the awareness in the world won’t dismantle for-profit healthcare. Applying free-market principles to human needs wreaks havoc on our bodies. Awareness won’t end capitalism’s tyranny over our survival… All the awareness in the world won’t change the problematic definition of disability as contingent on one’s level of participation in the economy/desirability in the labor market. Ending stigma won’t end the reality that, in a carceral society founded on inequality, to be marked different/deviant is to be marked disposable.” (Suicide Didn’t Kill Me, but Capitalism Might)
What I loved and what pained me most about Sexton’s poem is the airing of her guilt in the ways in which society has made her feel for ‘abandoning’ her child. Choosing her self-preservation over her child’s is a selfish act society tells us, how can a good family function when you are choosing yourself over something more vulnerable than you. Capitalism will calmly place this idea in your head and then never protect you when you become vulnerable in the process.
Sexton writes in ‘The Double Image’-
Once I mailed you a picture of a rabbit
and a postcard of
Motif number one,
as if it were normal
to be a mother and be gone.
But what is normal in a crisis. When a capitalist society is stream-lined to function without the sick, when all pressure is piled back upon you by being apart, you have to grasp to the desperate idea of sending an image of a rabbit as a form of caring for someone. Turning to poetry, turning to a rhyme scheme is for Sexton a cave of catharsis that she has carved out for herself. She is sending to the shoreline of her and her daughter’s relationship something which will cloud out the witches calling her ‘selfish’, ‘absent’ or ‘irresponsible’.
Someone once wrote about poetry that it stops the clock. It casts all around you obsolete for as long as you are tuned into it. You are alone with a page and you are having a conversation. Far more than prose or drama, for me it is a two way exchange. With Sexton I feel she wrote this knowing it was a conversation she would have with her daughter later on, perhaps knowing she wouldn’t be around for much longer. When her daughter was ready she could take this explanation, like you might find an answer-phone message you forgot to listen to and understand that in writing this poem she is packaging the care she wants to feel for her daughter.
And I take comfort with this idea of poetry as packaged care. When the clock is stopped and you are alone with it, somehow it doesn’t matter that the words come years later than you were ready to hear them.
‘The Double Image’ Ending:
I, who was never quite sure
about being a girl, needed another
life, another image to remind me.
And this was my worst guilt; you could not cure
nor soothe it. I made you to find me.
Issue 15, 2016-07-17
How to belong anywhere (Even on planet Earth) by Sarvat Hasin
The Neapolitan books were the best thing I read last year. Like everyone else I had Ferrante fever. They spoke to something I knew. I could see myself, some of the girls I’d grown up with, stories passed down from my mother in those books and in those women. I couldn’t remember the last time I read a book and believed every word. Her words were real as bricks. It got me thinking (again) about books and their place of belonging.
Every bookish person will tell you that books are a source of comfort like no other. Every writer will tell you that books are where they found home. We pretend that we are more clinical about our literary loves than the layman, the ordinary reader. We pretend to be picking the stories apart for structure and language without emotion. If anything, I would contest we have more and not less – our hearts aren’t just in the books we write, they’re in the ones we read. Berryman did not worship Hemingway simply for the sparseness of his prose: he loved him because he saw a version of himself in between those manicured lines. The rest of us do the same.
When I was younger, I went from Enid Blyton to Austen, Roald Dahl to Shakespeare. My parents and teachers grew anxious about my literature. There was nothing in these books to reflect real life as they knew it. Real life that would be lived by a girl from Karachi. They tried to feed me books from within my culture, Bapsi Sidhwa, Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry and the like, kings and queens of South Asian literature from the eighties and nineties. Some of these were writers I would grow to have an affinity with (I read Kartography by Kamila Shamsie years later in one straight go, fascinated by the first literary portrayal I’d ever seen of my city). But at the time nothing clicked. It was a dead cause.
And then I read The House of Spirits. The book that radiated with the heat of Chile, its political turmoil. Its large creaking houses and larger more complicated families, of ancestral history winding down the generations, from one mouth to the other. The women were dark and real. This was something I knew. Even through the translation (I didn’t speak a lick of Spanish). And then from Allende, I found Marquez. Then later Sandra Cisneros and at twenty one, the stories of Junot Diaz. I read everything Diaz wrote in one go and then back again. The epigraph in his first book was by Gustavo Perez Firmat. It read:
The fact that I
am writing to you
already falsifies what I
wanted to tell you.
how to explain to you that I
don’t belong to English
though I belong nowhere else
I felt instantly understood. It didn’t matter that their experiences didn’t align directly with my own or that their languages were different, their religions and customs. There was a tangle I found familiar. What my parents had been trying to teach me when they wanted to broaden my reading horizons was the world of the other. And I found it, just not where they thought I would.
These books also gave me more than a reflection into families that looked more like my own than any I’d read before. They were outside the Blyton-bubble. I learned how to write from these books. Vargas Llosa taught me to weave history into my stories and Allende how to conjure a more complex femininity than I’d been aware of. These tools helped me build my own novel and I am now reshaping them to carve out short stories. That spark of familiarity is what I look for when I read the stories that come into the Review. What I would love as a writer and editor is precisely that: for someone reading to belong in the stories we put forth, the same way I did at thirteen.
These are trying times. There is a sense, everywhere, of displacement. As I walk through London, I see people wondering if they belong and I know that feeling is not in this city alone. It is snaking its way across the world. There is a keen awareness in our everyday lives of borders, their hard lines and their rules that seem so disassociated from humanity. We are standing outside reality, each day waking up to a world we couldn’t have imagined the night before.
So read. So write. It is a weak substitute for justice but protests have been born out of poetry before and they can be again. We have to light the words, let them burn up, our solitary matches joining up together. The journey is long. The conflagration could be great. And in the meantime, what you build on the page is home.
Upplös mig, av Ted Greijer
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
– Neil Gaiman
Jag står i duschen och nynnar av och an på introt till ‘Dissolve Me’ av Alt-J samtidigt som jag rakar mig framför spegeln på badrumsskåpet. Duschvattnet osar hett och spegeln immar igen hela tiden. Det spelar ingen roll hur mycket jag än gnuggar och torkar av, jag kan knappt se mig själv. Rakhyveln slinter för tredje gången och ännu ett skärsår öppnar sig. Blod blandas med vatten och raklödder och rinner sakta ned för min haka och hals.
Typiskt. Det är alltid samma visa. Första bladet slänger man bort efter en enstaka användning medan det sista bladet får jobba vidare tills det är slöare än någon gammal sommartorpslie.
I hörnet sitter Anna Hedenmo från SVT:s morgonsoffa i en rottingfåtölj med penna och anteckningsblock och intervjuar mig om min debutroman som jag ännu inte börjat skriva på.
Anna: Jag skulle vilja säga att din bok till stor del handlar om gränsen mellan det privata och det offentliga. Stämmer det?
Jag: Absolut. Boken handlar mycket om hur vi lever i ett samhälle där människor är varumärken, och hur utrymmet mellan den privata och den offentliga sfären mer eller mindre suddats ut. Innan den digitala transformationen kunde man intala sig själv att ens offentliga persona existerade i avskildhet från det som man upplevde som sitt sanna, riktiga jag. Det som man kanske skulle kunna kalla det självupplevda, privata jaget, alltså.
Ta Jogi Löw, till exempel – Tysklands förbundskapten i fotboll, det vill säga. Det kanske kan låta banalt, men för trettio år sedan hade hans offentliga varumärke varit begränsat till det han medvetet valde att dela med av sig själv. Han hade varit man, medelålders, fotbollstränare – i den ordningen ungefär. År 2016 är han emellertid inte bara det. Han är även mannen som fångades av lite drygt hundra olika TV-kameror när han stack ner handen innanför byxlinningen och kliade sig i rumpan. Det är lätt för oss att göra oss lustiga på Löws bekostnad, men sanningen om samhället vi lever i är att vi allihop har hundra TV-kameror på oss mer eller mindre hela tiden. Att använda Google eller Facebook är att överlåta sig själv till offentlig kartläggning. Att gå ut på stan är att bli filmad — och inte nödvändigtvis endast av säkerhetskameror. Samtidigt går det inte förneka att det minskande utrymmet mellan det offentliga och det privata i många avseenden visar oss som vi verkligen är. Däri ligger själva dilemmat — vi tvingas till att välja en sanning om oss själva. I samma stund som man sänker garden, om så bara för en sekund, försämras ens varumärke. Man reduceras till något mindre. Man blir han som kliade sig i rumpan.
Jag hummar jakande och tvättar rent rakhyveln och slänger den i handfatet. Plötsligt rodnar jag inför mig själv. Att låtsas bli intervjuad av morgonsoffan när man står i duschen är knappast bra varumärkesbyggande. Det är knappast något man delar med sig av i det offentliga. Samtidigt tänker jag att det här faktiskt blir en bra scen i romanen. ‘Det är självutlämnande,’ kommer min redaktör att säga. ‘Det är genuint,’ kommer hon att säga. ‘Det är äkta.’
När jag sätter mig ned för att skriva det här förordet är Anna tillbaka. Hon ligger raklång i den rosa länstolen och jag sitter vid skrivbordet framför laptopen i andra änden av rummet.
Anna: Varför skriver du om det där, för?
Jag: Vadå för något?
Anna: Det där vi pratade om i duschen när jag intervjuade dig för morgonsoffan.
Jag kliar mig på huvudet och tittar upp i taket. Jag har ärligt talat inget bra svar på hennes fråga.
Jag: Jag tror… Jag tror att jag hade tänkt att säga något om hur skönlitteratur avslöjar hur den digitala transformationen har haft en katabolisk snarare än en anabolisk effekt på sättet vi ser på andra människor. Det totala informationsflödet gör inte att vi bättre förstår våra medmänniskors inneboende komplexitet. Det är snarare tvärtom. Förenklandet blir till en sorts försvarsmekanism. Vi swipar till höger eller vänster. Vi följer eller avföljer. Vi ser hur någon skrev något korkat i 2009 och vi tycker att den personen är en idiot. Vi avsätter ministrar för saker de skrivit på Twitter.
Anna: Men på vilket sätt menar du att skönlitteratur förmedlar en sannare bild av människor?
Jag: Om övervakningskameror och den indirekta, sociala övervakningen som sker via sociala medier skulle kunna liknas vid Jeremy Benthams Panopticon – alltså ett fängelse där man aldrig vet om man är övervakad, eller när man är övervakad, och där man följaktligen konstant modiferar sitt beteende för att inte dra uppmärksamhet till sig själv – då är litteraturen det som beskriver människan när hen inte är övervakad. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Doktor Glas, Tropic of Cancer, Naked Lunch, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, American Psycho – det är vad som händer när författare försöker visa oss i vår fulla komplexitet. Det är vad som händer när vi glömmer bort varumärket. Problemet med människans fulla komplexitet är att den oftast inte är varumärkeskompatibel. Allt som oftast är den inte särskilt sexig eller attraktiv – allt som oftast är den något som får oss att känna att vi förstår mindre om den värld vi lever i.
Anna ler försynt och ser på mig. Jag tittar ned på golvet och inser att jag öppnat mig för en rad frågor som jag säkerligen inte har några bra svar på.
Anna: Den här texten då? Här har du alltså mig, det vill säga någon sorts narrativ statist som du använder för att dramatisera någon sorts halv-teleologisk – (eller? det får vi väl åtminstone förmoda?) – monolog som i grund och botten handlar om att människor är för komplexa för att förstås genom exempelvis monologer, eller för att på ett meningsfullt sätt kunna kommunicera betydelsefull information om sig själva genom, som sagt, monologer. Såvitt jag kan se, bestrider formen i sig hela textens budskap och ändamål. Eller vad tycker du? Är det här genuint? Är det äkta?
Jag rodnar och slår ihop händerna.
Jag: Jag menar inte att vi definitivt finns i texterna…
Jag inser det kritiska dödläget. Anna har sett igenom mig. Det finns bara ett svar, och det synes ungefär lika löjligt som korrekt. Jag ser på Anna och blinkar och sväljer.
Jag: Problemet, antar jag, är att vi inte finns… eh, alltså. Att vi inte finns någonstans, egentligen. Att det enda vi kan göra är att söka.
Den 14:e juli 2016 vaknar Anna Hedenmo tre minuter i fyra. Hon har drömt något men hon minns inte vad. Hon tror att det var en bra dröm.
En och en halv timme senare sitter hon på ett kafé på Drottninggatan och ska precis börja äta frukost. Hennes väninna, Agnes, dricker kaffe och ser koncentrerad ut. Plötsligt lutar sig Anna tillbaka i stolen och ser ut genom fönstret. Hon känner sig inte hungrig längre och hon vet inte varför. Hennes inre uppfylls av någon sorts förnimmelse. Hon kan inte riktigt lägga fingret på vad det är.
Agnes ser på Anna med blida ögon. Hon upptäcker nästan omedelbart att Anna övertagits av en främmande känsla.
‘Är allt bra, Anna?’ frågar hon.
‘Jag måste ta bussen,’ svarar Anna.
‘Vart då, någonstans?’ undrar Agnes.
‘Jag vet inte,’ säger Anna.
N.B. Alla karaktärer och händelser i denna text — även de som baseras på verkliga personer — är fiktiva.
Issue 14, 2016-05-15
When Words Are Magic: Foreword SRL 14, by Sofia Capel
I don’t wish to silence the world, but sometimes I would like to mute it, like I mute trolls on Twitter. One simple click and the haters would be gone, out of my channel, now shouting to no-one but the abysses of their ignorance.
Neo-nazis, protected by the Police, might still march the streets, spewing their hatred, physically attacking protesters, but I would be none the wiser. London’s new mayor would, to my knowledge, just be the mayor of London, rather than the Muslim who is supposedly going to radicalise the whole of Europe. Relatives might drop inane comments about immigration and I would only see their lips move.
“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” By now you will know who wrote that – a sentence quoted by Benedict Cumberbatch and repeated throughout the worst refugee crisis of our time. By now you will have seen her name flash by in your Twitter feed, heard it mentioned on the bus, read an article in the Guardian. Poet Warsan Shire, since being featured on Beyoncé’s new visual album, has been on everyone’s lips like lemonade.
What is the hype about Shire? Why is the world’s most popular female singer quoting a 27-year-old London gal throughout her one hour-long music video? Why does she get to narrate this musical about a husband’s love affair? Long before collaborating with international superstars, Shire had made a name for herself. As Young Poet Laureate for London, she wrote about womanhood,
love fuckboys, and experiences of being a young African immigrant – her own as well as those of others. Some of it is very uncomfortable – like Your Mother’s First Kiss (“The first boy to kiss your mother later raped women when the war broke out”) Some of it is very beautiful (“I think of lovers as trees, growing to and from one another searching for the same light”.) And her words are almost always too close to home. I was once told that her poem ‘For women who are difficult to love’ was about me. I tried to take it as a compliment. Maybe it isabout me. Maybe it’s about Beyoncé. But it is most likely about anywoman you know, and that, really, is the whole point. When you read a stranger’s words and think they were written about you, or that they are in fact your words for someone else, that is when you have a lyrical magician on your hands.
Some of Roald Dahl’s final written words were: “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” (1990) The sentence has since been turned into a meme and is still actively shared on social media (especially among J.K Rowling’s very devoted fans). This has caused me mild concern. Do I have reasons to worry? Is Hogwarts like Heaven (?) — once you articulate that you don’t believe in it you are sent in the opposite direction? Because I don’t believe in magic, frankly, if magic has got anything to do with spells, fairies, Minpins, unicorns, flying cars, hobbits, mudbloods or quidditch. I mean, I live in the real world. Here we believe in hard work, strong cocktails, healthy diets and class war.
Besides, magic isn’t really necessary. Not when we have dancing, music and sex to entertain us. Alcohol to cloud our judgement, medicine to cure the pain. We don’t need wings when we have airplanes to take us to foreign countries. In my dreams I’m flying all the time. We have whole worlds under the sea, with spectacular creatures and societies we can only imagine. We can alter our appearance when we want, create miracles with social media, build rockets to the Moon. We time travel through photographs. I have seen bodies twist in demonic ways, heard voices whisper “how is it possible?” (By determination and practise, that’s how.) We have waterfalls, northern lights, mountains that spit coal and fire. We have radio waves. Coral reaves. Optical illusions. We don’t need potions when we have the ability to fall in love again and again and never get tired of it, or too scared of it despite the times we’ve had our hearts broken. And we don’t need black magic when we have manipulation, drugs and peer pressure.
Above all, we have words. Words that, if assembled correctly, can save lives or end the world. Make us see sense of it all. Define a crises, compel empathy, take your eyes and put it in someone else’s head. Words can transport us to a different universe for a brief moment. Like when you pick up and crack the dusty spine of the book you read a thousand times as a child. The feeling. Some might call it nostalgia, but I know it as magic.
Livet i en ekokammare: Förord till SRL 14
———————————“Love should be put into action!”
—————————————————–screamed the old hermit.
——————————————–Across the pond an echo
————————————————–tried and tried to confirm it.
Har ni hört den gamla berättelsen om bergsnymfen Eko? Låt mig friska upp era minnen:
Zeus – himlens notoriskt sedeslöse härskare – ville roa sig på ett sätt som äkta makar gör bäst i att låta bli. Varför han ville det, det vet jag inte. Kanske hade han tröttnat på att fittpiskas av Hera; kanske handlade det om någon sorts manligt privilegium upphöjt till tio; kanske var det bara så, att alla singelnymfer lockade och frestade så till den höga grad, att han slutligen givit upp hoppet om äktenskapets dygder.
För att möjliggöra förhållanden under vilka utomäktenskapliga relationer kunde gå obemärkta, anlitade han Ekos tjänster. Planen: Eko skulle distrahera Hera (eko!) medan Zeus dansade byxlös med oreaderna. Idiotsäkert, trodde Zeus.
Tyvärr hade han fel. Kanske hade den gamle gubben glömt att Hera var äktenskapets gudinna.
Planen misslyckades alltså – tyvärr är det svårare än man tror att lura Olympens drottning – och Hera lackade följaktligen ur. Ekos bestraffning? Att aldrig mer kunna uttala egna meningar. Att endast kunna upprepa det som senast sagts till henne. (Att aldrig mer kunna tweeta. Bara retweeta.)
Och vet ni vad som hände sen? Jo, Eko gick och blev kär i Narkissos, det svinet, och han sket ju totalt i henne. Lät henne tyna bort, helt enkelt. Lät henne tyna bort tills det enda som fanns kvar av henne var hennes röst.
Det känns lite jobbigt att tänka på Eko.
Den amerikanska författarinnan Maya Angelou sa en gång att det inte finns något som smärtar mer än att bära omkring på en historia som man aldrig fått berätta. Den saken är det nog rätt många svenskar som för tillfället skulle skriva under på. De förlösande orgasmskriken efter att Stefan Löfven sagt att ”här hälsar man på varandra” studsar fortfarande fram och tillbaka mellan det provinsiella Sveriges pollendammiga husfasader. Vem hade i ärlighetens namn kunnat tro att svensken var så här mån om sina handskakningsprivilegier?
”I det här landet tar vi varandra i hand / i hand / hand…”
Men stackars Eko fick aldrig berätta för Narkissos att hon var kär i honom. Jag kan förstå att en tynar för bort för mindre.
I det femte kapitlet i Mark Z. Danielewskis roman House of Leaves(ett kapitel som handlar om just Eko) återger den fiktive författaren Zampanò ett citat från en okänd upphovsman:
——-”Why did God create a dual universe?
————–So he might say,
————–‘Be not like me. I am alone.’
——-And it might be heard.”
Teorin om att Gud skulle ha varit the original Narkissos känns inte helt orimlig. Gud som ju var ordet, logos, ordet som skapade världen och människorna – och människorna i hens egen avbild. I människan hittade Gud sin egen lilla retweet-knapp. Men även om vi är Guds ekon, är vi likafullt små narcissister. Det säger sig självt.
På ett sätt är det tur för oss att Eko finns, att vi har henne. Hon återspeglar vårt begär att höras, och hon återspeglar också vår känsla av att aldrig riktigt kunna sätta ord på vad det är vi känner – att aldrig riktigt få fatt i verkligheten. “Finns det någon här?” “Här!” / “Visa dig du!” “Du!” / “Vad hör jag?” “Jag!” (Ärligt talat: jag trodde att det var helt OK att kramas när man hälsar på varandra.) Hon återspeglar också Narkissos frustration: att höras men att inte helt och hållet förstås. Man behöver inte nödvändigtvis ha fått ett refuseringsbrev från en publicist för att känna igen sig i den saken.
Fysiskt sett förutsätter Ekos närvaro ett begränsat, definierbart utrymme. Hur ensamma vi – eller Gud – än må vara, hur orimligt stor tomheten, kan vi känna oss trygga i att Eko förr eller senare hittar tillbaka till oss. Eko må, likt mången fattig författare, lida i sin avskildhet och ensamhet, men hon tillfredsställer vårt begär efter samhörighet. Samtidigt får vi inte glömma att Narkissos avvisade Eko. Inte heller att Narkissos själv tynade bort framför sin egen spegelbild. Livet i en ekokammare (retweetkammare) kan sannerligen ha förödande effekter. (Fråga bara Gud om den saken – hen har haft sjukt mycket problem med folk som embeddar hens tweets i helt fel sammanhang.)
Välkommen till det 14:e numret (ute söndagen den 15:e maj) av ekokammaren The Stockholm Review. Här fortsätter vi att publicera dikter, noveller och essäer i hopp om att någon någonstans hör oss. Här låter vi views per visitor-statistik förvissa oss om att våra författares röster ekar genom cyberrymden. Här räknar vi retweets för att bedöma hur stort universum är. Här skapar vi alternativa världar i hopp att någon någonstans lyssnar, så att vi inte längre behöver vara ensamma om att bära på våra berättelser. Här kämpar vi vidare för att inte tyna bort.
Issue 13, 2016-03-13
Kärleken består – Förord SRL 13, av Sofia Capel
När de först möts ska Jorden strax gå under. Kanske är det därför gnistor slår. Han har hört om henne på ryktesvägar, om linluggen och hur hon brukar ha blommor i sitt hår. Om natten drömmer han att han ger henne en ros som hon fäster bakom örat. ”Hon är väldigt vacker,” berättar den nya vännen och blossar på sin pipa. ”Ni verkar fåniga båda två,” fnyser trollet som svar.
Kärlek är ett tema som förblir aktuellt. Om min insomni har lärt mig något så är det just det. Om nätterna skruvar jag isär möbler och sätter ihop dem igen – allt medan jag lyssnar på ljudböcker. I dagarna släpptes Tove Janssons verk på Spotify.
Jansson skrev böcker om mänskliga relationer, om vänskap, familj och inte minst kärlek. Om du som barn fått Muminböckerna lästa för dig, eller om du sett den animerade TV-serien, kanske du tänker att det i första hand handlade om smådjur och deras äventyr. Men Jansson, som själv hade kärleksaffärer med både män och kvinnor, lyckades under andra världskriget med att berätta sagor om sexualitet och icke-normativa förhållanden, och sälja dessa historier förklädda till böcker för barn.
Kometen kommer beskriver Mumintrollets första möte med vad som kommer att bli två av hans närmsta vänner – Snorkfröken och Snusmumriken. För de som bara tagit del av den japanska animerade TV-serien är det lätt att tro att Snorkfröken är Mumins flickvän, ungefär som Mimmi är Musse Piggs flickvän, Kajsa är Kalle Ankas flickvän och så vidare. Men relationerna i Mumindalen är mycket mer komplexa än så.
Trots att både Snorkfröken och Snusmumriken är viktiga personer i Mumins liv, är de varandras motsatser. Snorkfröken är en kokett ung dam som älskar pärlor och att plocka snäckor och blommor. Hon är en stereotypisk flicka, eller kanske ett mer modernt uttryck: ”unapologetically femme”. Snusmumriken, eller ’Mumrik’, som han kallas, är på många sätt en stereotypisk man. Tystlåten, tankfull, rädd för åtaganden. Medan Snorkfröken älskar diamanter, vill Mumrik äga så lite som möjligt.
På det emotionella planet får Mumin ut olika saker av relationerna med respektive parter. Snorkfröken får det naiva lilla trollet att känna sig modig och stark, som när han tvingas rädda henne från diverse faror. Hon är hängiven och öm, och visar ofta att hon behöver honom. I Mumrik och Mumins relation är Snusmumriken den svala av de två. Han är äldre, cool, en vagabond utan måsten. När han ska bege sig ut på sin årliga höstvandring ber Mumin om att få följa med, men blir avvisad. ”Jag behöver få vara ensam,” svarar Mumrik. Medan Snorkfröken får honom att känna sig prioriterad, ger Mumrik honom någon att tråna efter.
Mumin blir förälskad ett antal gånger. Var gång står Snorkfröken och tittar på med armarna i kors. I seriestrippen Mumin blir kär är det en cirkusprimadonna som lyckas fånga hans intresse. I boken Trollkarlens hatt hittar familjen en galjonsfigur föreställande en vacker kvinna som lossnat från en båt. Känslorna som beskrivs för dessa två damer är av en mer passionerad natur än vad han känner för Snorkfröken. Hon, däremot, går så långt att hon letar upp föremålet för hans känslor; galjonsfiguren, eller ’Trädrottningen” som de kallar henne, och ror henne tillbaka ut till sjöss, för att se till att hon aldrig mer kommer tillbaka. Månader senare, när Trollkarlen kommer till Mumindalen, ber hon honom att få lika vackra ögon som Trädrottningen. Mumins och Snorkfrökens relation är på så sätt en tragisk historia som många kvinnor kan känna igen sig i än idag. Hon gör sig till, förändrar sitt utseende och gör sig av med rivaler, men han är ändå mer intresserad av annat. Snorkfröken förblir hans närmsta tjejkompis, men hon är aldrig den viktigaste personen i hans liv, så som han är hennes. Kanske var känslorna som starkast för henne i drömmen, då innan de hade träffats.
Muminmamman och Muminpappan faller även de inom könsnormativa ramar. Pappan ser sig själv som familjens överhuvud, men det är i själva verket den snälla, tålmodiga Mamman som alltid har koll på läget. Pappan agerar självupptaget då han prioriterar sin egentid genom att sitta på sitt kontor och skriva sina memoarer, medan Mamman ser till familjen. Men ibland lyser kärleken till Mamman igenom, inte minst vid deras första möte, där han räddar henne från att drunkna, och strax efter det även dyker i efter hennes älskade handväska. Pappan är dock inkonsekvent i sitt sätt att visa känslor. Hennes känslor uttrycks ofta genom självuppoffringar. När Pappan plötsligt en dag börjar känna sig onödig och bestämmer sig för att börja leva äventyrligare, hjälper hon honom att packa och tillsammans tar familjen båten till en öde ö. Hon låter honom ha sin medelålderskris utan att ifrågasätta eller kritisera honom en enda gång.
Kanske detta symboliserar Janssons syn på äktenskap och olust att gifta sig. I Boel Westins biografi Tove Janson – ord, bild, liv citeras Janson: ”Jag ser vad det blir av mitt yrke om jag gifter mig. För det hjälper inte; jag har alla dessa kvinnans instinkter att trösta, beundra, underkasta sig, ge upp sig själv. Jag skulle antingen bli en dålig målare eller en dålig fru. “
En av Mumins äldre vänner är det lilla djuret Sniff. Varför är oklart. Många av hans personlighetsdrag liknar Snorkfrökens, då han också är materialistisk, feg och beroende av andra. Deras relation liknar något av en gammal vänskap där ena barnet har vuxit ifrån det andra, men ändå umgås med det för vanans skull. Mumin är väl medveten om Sniffs brister och är inte sen med att påminna honom om dem. Ändå stannar Sniff vid Mumins sida. Sniff, som inte har några föräldrar, eller någon som kallar honom sin bästa vän, känner sig oälskad. Kanske är det därför, när han ser en kattunge i början av Kometen kommer, som han mer än något annat att vill bli omtyckt av den. ”Låt mig få henne, och låt mig imponera på Mumintrollet” ber han alla smådjurs beskyddare. Sniff vill att katten ska vara hans vän och följa efter honom vart han än går. Han vill, med andra ord, att katten ska älska honom som Mumin älskar Snusmumriken.
Mot slutet av Kometen kommer tar Muminmamma emot Mumin, Sniff och Mumrik när de återvänt från sin kometfärd. Mumin presenterar Mumrik, som han nyligen mött, som sin bästa vän. Mamman har bakat en kaka med texten ’Till mitt älskade Mumintroll’. Allt detta framför ögonen på Sniff, som snart därefter rymmer iväg från dem. Medan Sniff i den animerade serien framstår som jobbig och som någon som inte förtjänar sympati, är han en av de mest mänskliga karaktärerna i böckerna. Det eviga gnället efter självbekräftelse hade kanske inte existerat ifall de andra hade visat honom lite av den ovillkorliga kärlek de visar the golden child, Mumin. När man börjar tänka på Sniff som det oönskade fosterbarnet blir det svårt att inte se honom som sagans hjälte.
Jansson själv dyker upp i antropomorfisk form som Tofslan, ena parten av duon Tofslan och Vifslan. De två är oskiljaktiga, talar ett eget språk och delar en stor hemlighet; i deras kappsäck gömmer sig kungsrubinen. Mårran, som förvandlar hela världen till is med sin ensamhet, vill åt rubinen. Vad jag inte visste som barn var att detta symboliserar Tove, hennes flickvän Vivica Bandler, deras hemliga kärlek samt hotet mot den. Det är de mindre centrala karaktärerna som får gestalta kvinnorna i Janssons liv. Janssons livskamrat Tuulikki Pietilä inspirerade karaktären Too-ticki, en lugn och vänlig butch-kvinna som först dyker upp i Trollvinter, den sjätte Mumin-boken. På det hela är det den heterosexuella kärnfamiljen, fullbordad med könsroller och stereotyper, som dominerar böckerna, medan queer-karaktärerna hamnar i skymundan. Jag kan inte göra annat än att ta ett steg tillbaka och beundra satiren.
Att läsa en bok som barn och komma tillbaka till den som vuxen kan lära en mycket om berättarkonst. En saga om smådjur på äventyr kan lika gärna vara en skildring av ett land under krig, av människors små oroligheter och oförmågor. Det kan framför allt vara en berättelse om kärlek. För det finns en relation i Mumindalen som kan ses som jämlik, där bådas kärlek förblir ömsesidigt stark och okomplicerad:
“[ Mumintrollet] tänkte på hur förfärligt mycket han älskade allting, skogen och havet, regnet och vinden, solskenet och gräset och mossan och hur omöjligt det vore att leva utan alltsammans. Men sen tänkte han, Mamma vet nog hur alltihop ska kunna räddas.”
I nummer 13 av SRL (söndag 13 mars) får vi även här läsa om kärlek, bland annat. Den dysfunktionella, den inom familjen och den sedd från ett barns ögon.
SRL 13: The Illest Issue Ever (Foreword)
For this issue I had planned to write a foreword about something I once read in The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. I can’t quite remember what it was — something about personal dignity and it being connected to creativity, I think.
Unfortunately, I won’t be writing about that, and that’s mostly because I currently look a lot like this:
In fact, I won’t be writing about very much at all, this time. I’m not quite lucid enough for that. A couple nights ago I dreamt that Donald Trump tried to show me what’s underneath his hair and last night I dreamt that Jeremy Corbyn was chasing me through the London Tube system. Truly, this fever really is getting the better of me.
Instead, and without further ado, I leave you in anticipation of the 13th issue of The Stockholm Review. Do come back for it when it goes live tomorrow. It’s gonna be good.
Sofia and I wish you happy reading.
Issue 12, 2016-01-17
Vem bestämmer vad som är bra? – Förord till SRL 12 (Swedish Foreword, issue the 12th)
I 1940- och 50-talets Amerika var det lätt att veta vad som var bra litteratur och vad som var dålig litteratur. Cleanth Brooks och Robert Penn Warren hade 1943 skrivit boken Understanding Fiction, och därmed inleddes den period som i litteraturkritiska termer brukar kallas för New Criticism. För att ett verk, under den här perioden, skulle anses vara bra, var den tvungen att leva upp till vissa kriterier (romaner skulle, framförallt, uppvisa strukturell enhetlighet), och det var följaktligen upp till kritiker och akademiker att bedöma huruvida författaren i fråga lyckats i sin ambition om att skriva stor litteratur. (Amerikas kanske allra finaste poet, Walt Whitman, skulle med bestämdhet ha strukit på foten under sådana omständigheter.)
Sommaren 2015 skrev poeten Anna Axfors ett par uppmärksammade debattinlägg i Aftonbladet. I det första (3/7) menade Axfors att svensk litteratur lider av att svenska storförlag, till skillnad från deras danska motsvarigheter, inte satsar mer på unga författare. I det andra (17/7) hävdade hon att det, för den stora majoriteten av svenska litteraturpretendenter, är nästintill omöjligt att slå sig in bland kultureliten (”har man inte rätt bakgrund tar det nämligen år att förstå vilken skrivarskola man ska söka eller på vilket sätt man ska skriva för att komma in. Sedan får man gå igenom ytterligare flera år av minglande på tråkiga litteraturtillställningar och liggande med Augustprisnominierade [sic] kukar innan man har självförtroende nog att skriva en dikt”). Svaren lät givetvis inte vänta på sig. Många uttalade stöd för Axfors synpunkter, men lika många, om inte fler, motsatte sig hennes inlägg (inte minst Jack Hildén, som beskrev Axfors ”konspirationsteorier” med förkortningen ”LOL”). Debatten pågick en dryg månad, och lämnade debattörer såväl som läsare med en fråga snarare än några svar: Är unga svenska författare tillräckligt duktiga och intressanta för att publiceras av de stora förlagen?
Ett par månader innan Axfors-debatten bröt loss skrev professorn och kritikern Ebba Witt-Brattström en kulturartikel (11/5) om Karl-Ove Knausgårds debutroman, Ute ur världen, som kom ut på svenska i augusti. Witt-Brattström ifrågasatte i sin artikel rimligheten i att författare som Knausgård hyllas till unga kvinnors bekostnad, rimligheten i att författare som Knausgård hyllas för deras skildringar av något som i grund och botten är onanitankar. Knausgård själv såg inte rimligheten i Witt-Brattströms resonemang. Tvärtom. Knausgård lackade ur (19/5) i maximalistiska proportioner, och för det hyllades han (ironiskt nog) stort. Svenskar, skrev Knausgård, är ett pack enögda idioter som inte förstår vad litteratur är, och vad litteratur är, jo, det är nämligen hans bok (som alltjämt faktiskt ges ut i Sverige, precis som allt annat Knausgård skriver).
Som redaktör för en litteraturtidskrift som varje månad säger nej till att publicera flertalet dikter, noveller och essäer, anstår det mig att ställa mig själv frågan som föranleder den här texten. Vem bestämmer egentligen vad som är bra? Vem bestämmer att en text är tillräckligt bra för att publiceras, medan en annan inte är det? Och vilken rätt har jag att utge mig själv som en person med den rätten?
Vi är, så klart, många som står bakom Anna Axfors när hon menar att de stora förlagen sviker svenska läsare. När jag var inne på Akademibokhandeln i Gallerian i Västerås för några veckor sedan, i jakt på bra poesi, hittade jag totalt fyra sorters böcker: en bok av Frostensson, en bok av Yahya Hassan, några stycken av Tranströmer, och en antologi. Det är inte endast Akademibokhandelns fel att de inte säljer mer poesi.
Vi är också många som står bakom förlag och kritiker när de förbehåller sig rätten att tycka vad de vill, och att publicera vad de vill. Vi vill alla ha rätten att älska, såväl som avsky, det som författare skriver, vare sig det handlar om Axfors eller Knausgård.
Vi är även många som står bakom våra författare, poeter och artister, för utan dem lever vi inte längre i ett drägligt samhälle. Och vi är, tillika, många som anser att det offentliga rummet tillhör alla, och att den som där ger sig in, har sig själv att skylla.
Det finns nämligen inga skyldigheter i de här avseendena. Ingen har bett Anna Axfors att skriva dikter; Bonniers förlag har inte heller någon skyldighet att representera svenska poeter, eller att överhuvudtaget försöka göra sig till en relevant eller intressant kulturbärare. Ingen behöver heller lyssna till vad Karl-Ove Knausgård tycker; likaså tvingas ingen besvära sig särskilt över vad Ebba Witt-Brattström skriver i DN.
Vem som har rätt att bestämma? Ingen. Och, så klart, vem som helst. Att bestämma, är att ta sig själv den rätten. Att lyssnas till, är att göra sig den mödan värd. Det krävs mod för att ge sig in i offentligheten, och det krävs mod för att bemöta den. Som redaktörer för en litteraturtidskrift med ambition om att bredda den litterära offentligheten är jag och Sofia stolta över att vara en del av en alternativ rörelse. Vi är stolta över att vara en del av en grupp människor som ger sig själva den rätten. Vi är stolta över att vara en del av en rörelse som inkluderar tidskrifter som Floret och Staden, tidskrifter som erbjuder en sorts alternativ till de större aktörerna. En tidskrift som Floret, som uteslutande läses online, som publicerar poesi, kritik och prosa på tre olika språk, tar effektivt vid där större aktörer inte längre klarar av att föra det litterära samtalet vidare, där större aktörer är för begränsade, till sin identitet, för att möta ett visst behov.
Om det är något som betingar den här rörelsen — en rörelse bestående huvudsakligen av unga människor med en tro på avantgardism — så är det dess relativa gränslöshet. Vi publicerar vad vill, när vi vill, och vi gör det för att vår handelsvara först och främst är litterära upplevelser.
1937 skrev den amerikanske litteraturvetaren John Crowe Ransom att litteraturkritiken i USA, en gång för alla, måste tas hand om av de som på riktigt är kunniga inom området. ”Vad vi behöver,” sa Crowe Ransom, ”är ett Kritik AB” (”what we need is Criticism, Inc., or Criticism, Ltd.”). Han menade att litteraturen nödvändigtvis måste skyddas från undermåliga och inkompetenta utövare, och att det enda sättet för litteraturen att föra mänsklighetens utveckling framåt, vore genom att begära från den en ökad komplexitet och, framförallt, strukturell enhetlighet. Vad Crowe Ransom kan ha glömt, när han sa allt detta, är att det så klart kan finnas mer än ett sätt på vilket ett litterärt verk utmärker sig. Vad han kan glömt, är det etiska i möjligheten att det inte nödvändigtvis finns ett tydligt bra och dåligt, rätt och fel. Det etiska i att möjligheten att det inte finns någon tydlig hierarki inom litteraturen.
Issue 12, 2016-01-17
SRL 12: Foreword
I walked through Brixton market last night. It was raining.
The girl with the mousy hair is lying on the floor of her childhood bedroom, staring up at hypothetical stars. The record is spinning on repeat, playing the same old songs as yesterday. She is thinking about life and death in intergalactic spheres. The record moves in a circle, like a planet. All the spinning has gone to her head. Mum has left, the friends are gone and nothing makes sense. Her dad knocks on the door. They haven’t exchanged many words since her birth. Silently he hands her a cassette tape from his youth. He leaves the room again and the record brakes to a halt. The music stops. The tape starts rolling. The Thin White Duke appears. He tells her about a dream he once had. She listens, all ears.
Writing never came naturally to me. I would sit down with my head full of ideas, open up a word document and stare at a blank screen for hours. Characters came easily, dialogues and monologues too. The problem was with narrative. I would try to make up little stories. They were alright, I guess, but not much happened in them. I would lose my patience too quickly, not being able to think of a satisfying ending, and ultimately just leave it. Plot was never my strong side. Whatever I wrote felt contrived.
It is the end of an era, the beginning of a different one. Labyrinth is on TV. Everybody watches. Little brother is angry. “They look weird,” he sulks and she wishes he would go away. He is experiencing his worst anxiety attack since The NeverEnding Story. The puppets freak him out, but they are equally enchanting to her. She blocks him out and focuses on the film. King Goblin’s eyes pierce hers through the screen. Little brother climbs on the sofa handles, moaning and yelping. “It doesn’t even make sense,” he cries and she snaps at him: “Shut up! It doesn’t need to make sense. It is not meant to make sense. That’s the whole point!!”
When Amy died the pub floors all over Camden were slippery wet from tears. A whole town broke down in grief. We had to get away so the same night we took the train to east London, to a party in an old factory that once was used to make cheese. There was a barbeque in the garden and a band playing inside, but no one danced. No one moved. An old man in the street glared and asked us if we even knew her in person. We didn’t. The news was a harsh reminder that we were all slowly dying. My friend wept and told us: “I don’t know how to move on from this.” We had five years left to cry in.
Squats fill and empty, a glam rocker dies from an overdose while queuing for the Blitz. Queers and cavemen dance on tables. The dreamers sit silently in solemn thought. The heroes and thieves, the rebels and sailors, there is no need to fight; the dancehall is big enough for them all. And then, he appears, sends a lad insane. King Goblin goes under a hundred names, but he is always king. Three decades, at least, have passed, but he doesn’t age. He merely reinvents himself, like a day reinvents itself in the morning. The sun sets and rises. They dance and dream and they never stop, not even after the man in dress has sold the world.
The sky opens up, displays a ceiling of black stars. The music stops. The man who fell to Earth, returns.
Thank you. For taking LSD so that I don’t have to. For saving my sanity at a time when nothing made sense. For lending us the key to your spaced out galaxy. For inspiring a dreamer to write texts that don’t need to make sense.
The girl with the mousy hair is all grown up. My friend is inconsolable. Black tears stream down from her eyes, zigzagging into a lightning bolt on each cheek. She says: “I’m sorry, I know it’s silly”. I say: “Shut up. It’s not”. You can fall in love with someone you’ve just met and you can mourn someone you’ve not met once. The rain still pours in Brixton, flooding the streets. These tears can never dry. Everyone and everything that comes in its way, dissolves. Like stardust.
Afterword, Second Feminism Series, 2016-01-01
To a New Year of an Unstoppable Force
She looks like the enemy. Upon first encounter she resembles everything I fight against, with her oven glove in one hand and Bible in the other. Clara is a Christian housewife in her mid 20s who loves baking and decorating. I know this because I have just visited her blog for the first time. It is the early noughties and I have a narrow view of what a feminist should look and act like.
‘Run’ screams the prejudice monster at the back of my head. ‘Run before she lures you into a life of mindless cupcake serving and floor scrubbing!’ But Clara isn’t interested in domesticating me. She is interested in women’s rights. She’s interested in women getting recognition for their unpaid work in the home. And above all, Clara wants to convey the message that your idea of female empowerment and self-fulfilment is not necessarily the same as hers. She is a feminist, loud and proud, and those who dare reducing her to ‘just’ a housewife, will taste the lead of her country rifle.
Growing up, all of my feminist role models looked the same, acted the same, said the same things. In my eyes, a feminist was a white middleclass woman who talked about body hair, pay gaps and the right to be sexually liberated without being called a slut. While these subjects are important in their own right, they still left a lot to be desired. Clara was one of the women to challenge my view of what feminism had to be. After her there have been several others. When Malala Yousafzai accepted the Nobel peace prize for her activism with female education, the whole world got to witness a true warrior of women’s rights – and she was a far cry from my and, I’m sure, many others’ idea of the archetypal feminist.
My mother was a feminist in Finland in the 70s. Part of her activism was about outing shops that sold men’s magazines with naked, hyper-sexualised pictures of women. I am in London 40 years on and the same fight is still being fought by organisations such as No More Page 3, who oppose objectification of the female body. On the other side of the spectrum is a different group of feminists who demand rights and respect, not rescue, for sex workers, glamour models included. The two movements contradict each other, but both fight for sexual equality. Who is to say whose feminism is right and whose feminism is wrong? While internal criticism is vital, we must again remember that these are two different movements, just like Femen is an entirely different movement from the Muslim women standing up for their right to wear veils without being patronised and ‘saved’ by well-meaning Westerners.
We have recently finished our second series of feminist non-fiction. The aim of the series has been to publish a range of different points of views. Mainly because there is a widespread misunderstanding that feminism is one ideology or one movement. Rest assured, it is not. And it does not have a de facto manifesto, as the Swedish student, Nigerian wife and the Indian schoolgirl may experience patriarchal oppression differently. Feminism is an umbrella term for all ideologies and movements that cater to women’s rights. Where there are women, there is a fight for change. And where there is feminism, there are trolls. Anyone who has ever stated a feminist opinion online has surely had to deal with abuse. The same goes for anyone who has ever read the Mail Online or tried discussing the subject with a drunken older male family member. It just goes to show that we are shaking the shackles of patriarchy. And as feminism continues to become more diverse, it will surely continue to grow.
Ted and I hope you have enjoyed the feminist series. Here’s to a new year of the unstoppable force.
The struggle continues.
Issue 11, 2015-11-13
With your heart fixed on the Supreme Lord: Foreword, issue the 11th
Last week I was tasked with the grievous responsiblity of sending out a rather large number of rejection e-mails. Many of these e-mails were (as always) sent to some very talented writers.
And as I sat there, preparing to Press Send on We-regret-to-inform you-number-52, I wondered, as I’m wont to do in these situations, how they take it. And when I say they, I obviously mean you. You guys. Writers. Week in and week out.
You write & write and and week in and week out you receive these same e-mails.
Dear Mr/s Writer, We're sorry – it's very good, but it doesn't suit this publication.
– Hello, We will not publish your piece.
Submission status has changed
Nothing. No reply – only that 8 months have passed and you... well, you get it.
So how do you? How do you take it?
To be rejected by someone who isn’t nearly as good a writer as yourself. To be rejected by someone who…
…heck – why don’t I just let Richard Smyth do the talking, here? After all, he’s one of you guys. He’s also a much better writer than I am.
”You ever write a book, son? Ever write a story? Hell, I bet you never even spun a yarn round as campfire.
”So here I sit, writing, writing. My fingertips bleed from the typewriter keys. I got hemorrhoids you wouldn’t believe. I’m a writer.
And there you sit. Counting words, counting words. What are you?”
”Only you won’t pay me for this. Will you, mister editor man? No, I know, you won’t buy this, you won’t print this, this won’t suit your needs, this won’t play with your target audience.”
Richard Smyth’s “Hamburgers” appeared in the first issue of The Stockholm Review, and it’s still one of my personal favourites. I reckon the passage quoted above goes a long way to sum up how many of you feel a lot of the time. I reckon it also goes a long way to answer my initial question – how do you take it?
Of course, Smyth’s demoralised, enraged narrator isn’t in this biz because he wants to be — he’s in it because he has to be. He’s in it because there isn’t really any other way. Maybe he wishes there was – maybe he wishes he’d been different, maybe he wishes that his calling wasn’t writing, maybe he wishes that a career in engineering was all he’d ever wanted. But isn’t so.
He’s a writer – and that’s why, no matter what, no matter how many rejection letters hang nailed on that wall, he’ll continue writing. It’s his life, it’s his curse, it’s what he was called on to do.
Back at university, I used to spend a lot of time in the company of J.D. Salinger. I have read all of his published works several times, I have read most of his critics, and I have read pretty much every biography ever written about him. Hey, I’ve even written some 30,000 (fairly) academic words about him myself.
If I were to tell you a single thing about Salinger, and if that thing were to both summarise his life’s work and to capture but precisely why he is a writer that you, as a writer, should care about, then I would, quite simply, quote (as Salinger does, too, in Franny and Zooey) the Bhagavad Gita:
“Perform every action with your heart fixed on the Supreme Lord. Renounce attachment to the fruits.”
It’s a lesson that Salinger himself only learned the hard way. To not write for publication. To write only because it’s what you have to do. And to leave the rest, if you will, to God.
Most of Salinger’s work was published in a time that one of his contemporaries, Randall Jarrell, called “the age of of criticism.” Literary success in the US in the 1940s and 50s was largely dependent on how well a text conformed to conventional story structures – either you wrote properly, as it were, or you didn’t write at all. The reception of literature, plays and art was just that deeply connected with academic reviews. Most of you will also know that, as much as Salinger resented editors, The New Yorker was always the standard against which he measured his own writing.
Even if things are different today, they’re not a whole lot better. Creative Writing MFAs and MAs work hard to produce what their universities consider mature and competent writing (mostly, in my experience, imitations of easy-to-read bestsellers) and journals and newspapers review work mostly with that one, punchy dustjacket-sentence in mind (“It’s riveting – 4 stars”).
Over the course of half a century – from Salinger to Richard Smyth — we have moved from “this reads well” to “this sells well”. It’s not a huge leap, but it’s a leap that many people would have seen coming, Salinger included. The Western world, to employ the vocabulary of Late Capitalism, turns everything into a commodity, be it short stories, poetry, hobbies or even entire human lives. Salinger, albeit in the 50s, hoped to make his readers realise that against this backdrop, any endeavour must be undertaken for the sake of the endeavour itself. Attachment to the fruits thereof is what deflates the world of meaning.
And attachment? It’s the feeling that your work needs to sell, that it must be liked, that it must be published – and it prevents you from finding your own true expression. Attachment is the reliance on what is understood, by the many, as success or accomplishment or achievement, and it will hold you back from fully understanding who you are as a human being.
It is hard to be eloquent these days. Video games and the internet rot my mind. Am I making any sense?
As editors of The Stockholm Review, Sofia and I try, as much as we can (I hope & believe), to read your submissions with our hearts fixed on the Supreme Lord*. It is, really, the only way we justify publishing anything at all. Similarly, it is how we justify our rejection e-mails.
We ask nothing less, nor nothing more, than that from the writers who send us their work. So if you rage (like Richard Smyth), then let your rage be pure. Discover in that rage that you are still a writer, and that you’re not going to stop, regardless of who’s on the other side of that screen. And trust that if you take care of your writing, then the Supreme Lord will take care of the rest.
In publication as well as in rejection,
Ted & Sofia
*Read Supreme Lord however you wish. It’s the greater implication that is important.
The 11th issue of The Stockholm Review of Literature will go live on Friday November 13th.
It will feature work by the following writers:
Philip Alan Sandberg
Issue 10, 2015-11-13
Stockholm Review issue 10: A Long Foreword
Nadja begins with a question. To set up the particular universe that readers encounter in this text, Breton, the narrator, must ask: “Who am I?” But who he is, is not a question he is intent on answering — at least not by giving a straight answer. “If this once,” Breton proceeds, “I were to rely on a proverb, then perhaps everything would amount to knowing whom I ‘haunt.’”
Many years ago, I played a game of chess with my father. It was evening, and I was in my pajamas.
“Father,” I said, and moved a pawn from E2 to E4 (or, perhaps, a knight from F3 to G5 — I couldn’t possibly remember), “what does the word ‘irrational’ mean?”
“If you were to leave your seat, right now,” said my father, his eyes fixed on mine, “and go straight to bed, then that, I suppose, could be considered irrational.”
“So,” said I, and looked at the chessboard, “‘irrational’ means going to bed?”
“Yes,” said my father.
It is hard to understand how anyone learns anything.
To Breton, a sense of personal identity is not communicated easily, or quickly. While he may accept that the self can be reduced to the idea of an image (“of the ‘ghost,’ including everything conventional about its appearance as well as its blind submission to certain contingencies of time and place[…]”), Breton insists that personhood is better extracted out of simple observation and out of felt experiences. In relating the story of Victor Hugo and his mistress Juliette Drouet’s daily, and highly ritualistic, carriage rides, the narrator suggests that, by comparison, no amount of understanding of Hugo’s literary work could possibly yield a better insight into who Hugo was as a person. What Breton says could either be understood as a rather defensive statement – as in, as readers, we ought not to conflate the narratorial Breton with Breton the human being – but it could also be understood as a comment on the nature of the reality he is trying to establish in Nadja.
I was recently invited to attend a job interview. I had applied for the position as Direct Directives Executive at a company that produces funny stickers. Job duties, the advert had specified, would include copying, faxing and answering the phone between 2.30 pm and 4 pm.
“Let’s hypothesise,” stammered one of the two interviewers — the bad cop, I reckoned — “that your computer crashes. Every now and then, that happens, here. How would you react to that?”
“Is it OK if I quote Jean Metzinger?” I asked.
“Look,” said the other interviewer — the good cop: a hyperactive, nervous looking woman who spoke with a type of English accent that, I’m certain, doesn’t, on account of it being a slightly exaggerated, 1920s BBC accent, actually exist — a sure sign, as all people in Britain know, that the person isn’t, in fact, British, but in fact, an alien who, much like myself, indeed much like myself, does not want to be British, but does not want to be considered an alien, either — “sometimes, the system sort of, you know, throws a hissy fit, sometimes, and whilst it’s not very common, it is something that does, sometimes, occur. How do you think you react to that, if that were to happen?”
“The job advert didn’t say I would be using computers,” I replied.
Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.
Despite her initial status as a person that Breton greatly admires and is drawn to, it is significant how Nadja, ultimately, and also tragically, is not a successful heroine. Breton eventually grows tired of her, and remarks, conclusively, in apprehending his recollections of Nadja, how he “no longer [wishes] to remember, as the days go by, any but a few of her sentences.” There is certainly a dark flipside to who Nadja is and has been: she is careless with money, she seems to have a history of drug use, she may have a child, she may on occasion have prostituted herself and, of course, she is, at the end of the novel, spending her days in a mental asylum. Sadly, Nadja as a character keeps falling prey to a reality that she is seemingly unfit to handle, and her mental condition is suggestive of schizophrenia. Among other critics, Wylie the Coyote is one who has drawn scholarly attention to the psychological mapping of Nadja, and he points out in the article “Breton’s Influence on 20th Century American Cartoons: Don’t Look Down” that the eponymous heroine’s art work is highly indicative of mental illness. While on the one hand there is seemingly a very symbolic, philosophical element to the construction of Nadja as a character, she is at the same time, as it were, all too real, and all too weak.
When I graduated from boarding school, headmaster Lawrence told us — the leaving class, that is — that we were destined to become the future leaders of the world. On the same day, my French teacher, Ms Fabian, told me “hey kid, keep writing those stories of yours.”
A few years later, at my BA graduation ceremony, the key note speaker — a female professor from Oxford University — told us — the leaving class, that is — that we were destined to become the future leaders of the world.
And “hey,” thought I.
“Wait a minute.”
Breton despises the idea that reality can be fixed on an institutional level. If a person simply does not subscribe to a generally accepted perception of reality, then he or she will be deemed mentally unfit. “’You hear voices, do you?’” Breton mimics Professor Claude. “’Well, are they like mine?’ – ‘No, Monsieur.’ – ‘You see, he has auditory hallucinations.’” Nadja or, if you will, Surrealism, is an attack against the ontological stability of the world: it is a poetic launch against stable material referents and a lack of cultural difference. The question “Who am I?” is mirrored in the question “Who is Nadja?” Breton suggests that the psychological self is not finite, and that it cannot be mapped with any degree of certainty. Insofar as the self is an enigma, then perspective, too, is bound to be radically subjective. The world exists materially and is, so to speak, ‘out there’, but human beings are constantly held at the edge of any definite experience of it. As Breton so subtly hints, by showing how the word ‘ROUGE’ may be read as ‘POLICE’, the world looks different depending on from what angle you look at it. When, at the end of Nadja, Breton calls out “Who goes there? Is it you, Nadja? Is it true that the beyond, that everything beyond is here in this life?” he gives a final blow to the notion that there exists any grand scheme of thought, external of the individual mind, that explains the world. As readers, we cannot know who Breton is, and we cannot know who Nadja is: we can only rely on ourselves, and our own capacity to imagine the world.
“I once shagged an old professor of mine. Don’t judge me. Stag of an old dude. I’ve never been on an airplane, but I’d quite like to, some day. I’ve never left the US, you know. What’s there to see? Cats in Zanzibar, you know what I mean? I prefer my letters toasted. I always toast all incoming mail. My flat reeks of toasted mail, can you tell?” said Vienna the first I time met her. She said she’d been conceived in Austria. I was visiting a friend at Vassar College, and she’d put me up with Vienna, who happened to study at Vassar, too, but who didn’t live on campus. “I haven’t seen Yann’s wife for a while. Yann lives next door with Ava. They’re just our age but they’re married and they fight all the time. She reminds me of Anita, an old friend from the sorority, who’d leave town every time her beau went horseback riding with his brother’s girlfriends. She knew they were trouble, those girls, she said, because they were Boston girls, and all Boston girls have typhus, or at least that’s what they say on Long Island. I never knew quite why she had to leave town — Anita, I mean — but she has a mind of her own, she always had. She’s from small town in Connecticut where all the boys have crooked fingers. When I asked her why, she said ‘why, because they’re filthy, naturally’. She’s hilarious.”
The 10th issue of The Stockholm Review of Literature features the following writers:
Charles Bane, Jr.
Jim Davis, Jr.
Ivan Binar, translated from the Czech by Corine Tachtiris
This 10th issue marks the one year anniversary of The Stockholm Review of Literature. It also marks the retirement of one of it’s founding editors – Adrian.
Here’s a short farewell from Adrian:
Ralph Waldo Emerson writes: ‘fiction reveals the truth that reality obscures.’ The following isn’t meant as a blowing of one’s own trumpet or anything (and for most of you reading this, you’re more than likely a writer who’s engaged in the pretty herculean task of soul-exposing artistic endeavour and thus not in need of someone else telling you that their thing is actually really difficult, you know). But I feel that this anniversary offers a good opportunity to consider the sheer effort that goes into bringing together an issue of the Stockholm Review. It starts just after the previous issue is published, and it finishes in the early hours of the morning on release day. It requires considerable mental exertion and a critical eye. More than anything, it takes focus. The site deserves this focus. The people whose work the Review has published, people who trust us with a small part of themselves in print, deserve that focus.
Regrettably, I don’t feel capable of giving the Review and its contributors the focus it requires anymore. Reality is currently kind of dense and opaque in various ways. In the SRL’s continuing search for writing that clearly illustrates its own truth – which is why we’re all doing this, really – I’m somewhat at a loss.
I feel privileged to have been able to watch the SRL’s growth over the course of its first full year, and I’m happy to have contributed in my own small way to that. And I’m aware of the self-indulgent rambling this has descended into so I’ll quickly wrap it up by thanking all who’ve contributed to the site to date, and special thanks to Ted and Sofia, who make the Review what it is and make sure it maintains the high standards that have been set. Their role is easily overlooked, but they genuinely deserve your praise/tweets of worship/etc. As I change roles from co-editor to reader of the SRL, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.
Adjö så länge,
The 10th issue will go live on Friday, September 11th.
Sofia and I wish you happy reading,
Issue 9, 2015-07-07
Good morning/evening/afternoon and welcome to SRL #9.
Upon being asked to contribute this issue’s foreword, I immediately set to work finding things to do that were not writing this foreword. A universe of infinite dimensions was opened to me; an endless selection of things To Do that were, in fact, just a selection of ways to Not Do anything. I went for a jog. I refreshed my email inbox and Facebook a few times. (A lot of times.) I spent a regrettable amount of time playing virtual pool. But more than anything else, I watched tennis.
The start of summer is the best time of year for the GMT-dwelling tennis enthusiast – of the four Grand Slam tournaments, the main events of the tennis calendar, two of them are in body clock-decimating time zones that I can never 100% commit to (the US and Australian Opens), but the other two, Wimbledon and Roland Garros in France, take place in the space of two months between June and July. This two-month period is traditionally considered the most gruelling part of the tour for players, which is due to the switchover in playing surfaces that takes place between the two tournaments; you have to go from the heavy, game-slowing clay of RG’s courts to the high-speed play of Wimbledon grass with about two weeks of preparation. To win both, the ‘Channel Slam’, is still a rare achievement despite the endless march of technological progress in the modern game.
All of which gives me an excuse to sink my spare time into watching as much of both tournaments as possible, because following RG becomes crucial to following Wimbledon and vice versa. Everybody at a certain level of the professional game has played everybody else, so there’s always a head-to-head record to compare, statistical comparisons to be drawn, lots of Things To Do while you’re watching.
The actual size of the court doesn’t really transmit well on television. The court is nearly eighty feet long, and most players play a few feet behind the baseline when striking the ball, so it’s a fair distance separating you from your opponent. There is a certain isolation to be felt.
The Loneliness of the Tennis Pro is a hackneyed trope – I have reached this point of this foreword with the realisation that any tennis-related reading that is not John McPhee’s ‘Levels of the Game’ is possibly time wasted, and I totally recommend you go read that if you haven’t done so already – but I always liked how tennis is almost uniquely zero sum in its construction vs. other mainstream solo sports (snooker, golf, etc all contain a margin for mutual error)*. Every mistake you make is a point for your opponent. Every point you don’t get, your opponent gets. Every set you lose puts your opponent one set closer to winning. Every single thing you don’t do, they do.
So the thoughts of my inability to get this foreword done came into sharp focus on Monday afternoon when I had 0 words written and Stan Wawrinka completed a (pretty laboured in all honesty, but with a delightful down-the-line winner for match point) straight-sets victory over David Goffin. I was similarly overwhelmed when working through our pile of submissions and I seized up at the prospect of processing them all before the issue is ready to go. My predisposition towards Not Doing continually makes me envy and admire not just those whose work we’ve selected to publish in the new issue – rest assured that this issue features some of the best work we’ve published to date – but everyone who bothers to send submissions our way. That probably sounds like a sop but I mean it. Like a player on the court, you’re on your own and you’re exposed, and the task to be done is the only thing in front of you. To keep returning that ball to your distant companion on the court, to keep finding the words to put in front of the other words, to keep Doing because it has to be done. Because for all the guidance, all the feedback and all the encouragement you get from those around you, only one person is actually hitting the ball out there.
Sofia, Ted and I wish you all happy reading,
*badminton is not a mainstream sport and it never will be. Don’t get me started on squash.
SRL no. 9 will go live on Friday July 10 at 08.30 GMT. The issue features the following writers:
Michael A Oliver-Semenov
Hilde Susan Jaegtnes
Ellsworth H LaFontaine
Austin R. Pick
James Joseph Brown
Issue 8, 2015-05-15
SRL 8 Foreword: ‘Prose, poems and other highs – a short hello’
I write this sitting in the bathtub of my north London flat. It’s a rusty old thing and altogether empty of water. I just had to hide away, where doors lock and the May sun doesn’t plead with me to run outside and play. There are too many stories waiting to be written and read. There’s also this short hello from your humble new friend (and editor).
Hello. Hej. Salut.
My first month at the Stockholm Review has left me sleep deprived and feeling a little bit bonkers. Life is funny like that. Yesterday my only concern was the choice between an Old Fashioned and a Mojito, today I’m sitting fully dressed in an empty bathtub, reading poetry submissions in the near-dark. As you do. The scented candles of London’s cellar bars, traded for the musty odour emanating from the crackled sink. That is not to say I haven’t enjoyed every minute of it.
“My library is an archive of longings,” Susan Sontag wrote in her 1980s journal. I’d say this very tub is a bunker of longings. I picture them whirling around my spread out limbs, overflowing along the porcelain sides.
Raise your hand if you remember what it was like being 16. The endless wait for life to begin. In skateboard parks and outside corner shops, apparently loitering, secretly longing. For the next adventure. Love, sex and other highs. For the radio to play that song that leveled the trees with the ground and turned worlds upside-down. For Proust and Plath to change your life. For anything but skateboard parks and corner shops.
Before I knew it I had finished school, left the motherland, been drunk for three years straight and thrown a hat in the air. When I’m not taking dry baths I often find myself in a noisy office, stirring my tea, wondering where time went.
And yet, I am still waiting.
I wait for summer to begin, for an agent’s call, for my mother’s illness to fade. I long for Stockholm’s white nights, new friends and car rides far away from home. And if I can’t have them I want to read about them. Prose, poems and other highs.
I haven’t been 16 for a rather long time now. Somewhere along the line some books did change my life. Other merely left enough of an impression for me to pay secret homages to them in this very short hello. But suffice it to say, the best is yet to come, a notion shared with keen readers everywhere. And that is where you, Dear Reader, come in.
On behalf of the Stockholm Review: we love reading the work you submit to us. So please do continue. Whether it’s about a feeling, a friend or a dysfunctional relationship. Send us your archives of longings. Hell, tell us about skateboard parks and corner shops too.
Unless my flatmate knocks on the door, desperate for the loo, I’ll be right here in my bathtub, waiting for your stories. Fully dressed.
For the SRL no. 8, the wait is almost over. The issue will go live on Friday May 15th at 10.00 GMT.
Franca Treur, in translation by Patty Nash
N. West Moss
Carrie L. Krucinski
Issue 7, 2015-03-18
Number 7: A rather long-ish foreword
I’ve thought, on occasion, that if I ever went on to write a doctoral essay, then it’d be about the
Significance of Arena Endings in American Films.
Now, if I ever do get around to writing a PhD, then it really won’t be about the significance of arena endings in American films — but suffice it to say, that the significance of arena endings in American films is something that I’ve thought about, on and off, for about… I don’t know — at least a while, and for no less than 20 minutes.
What do I mean when I say Arena Endings?
When I say Arena Endings, I mean films that — more or less, give or take a few perfunctory seeing it home//wrapping it all up shots of people with babies and dogs and new apartments or whatever — end with one or several extended scenes which take place in a full attendance arena or stadium or theatre, and in which one person dramatically declares his or her undying love for another person.
When I say Arena Endings, I essentially mean scenes in which a very large number of people become witnesses to an expression of love between two people.
There are numerous examples, such as
or such as…
Well, suffice it to say, that there really are many other films which end in a similar fashion, but that I, at this junction, just can’t think of any.
Now, on that note: yesterday, or maybe the day before yesterday, I watched some sort of documentary-ish TV-program about the meaning/potential/definition of good writing/literature. The program, to put it briefly, was essentially about Stephen Fry sharing his thoughts about his favourite texts and literary heroes, and about him interviewing other famous people to get their ideas about their favourite texts and heroes.
Towards the end of the documentary — though I’m hesitant to call it a documentary, because, I mean, what’s is a documentary? Anything that’s not fiction, but also not something that is definitely something else, such as a news program or a game show? — towards the end of the documentary, Stephen Fry recites W.H. Auden’s Funeral Blues. Most people, as Fry himself comments, knows Funeral Blues from the film Four Weddings and a Funeral, and most people find it an incredibly moving poem. Most people also find the scene in which it is read an incredibly touching and beautiful scene.
Fry, subsequent to the Funeral Blues sequence, goes on to discuss the power of verse with that guy Something Curtis – Richard, I think – who wrote Four Weddings and also Love Actually and also a few other films.
Curtis — if that’s actually his name — if I’m not mistaken, says about Funeral Blues that it was initially conceived of as song lyrics. Though no stranger to poetry, Curtis states that he has always been a greater fan of song lyrics than he has been of poetry, because lyrics — while often less complex, while often simpler, while often not, as it were, perfect — are backed up by music and can, thanks to that, transport us to places that mere (sic) words cannot. The combined power of music and words take us further, mentally, than could music alone, or could words alone. Chris Martin, for example, writes awful song lyrics but — as Curtis points out — when Coldplay performs a song such as Fix You, we can’t really help but being touched by Chris Martin’s staggeringly poor writing. (I mean, what the fuck? — “Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bone”?) At this point, however, and brilliantly, I think, Fry interjects and suggests: Well, maybe it’s also that lyrics, when sung, are often communicated to a large audience, that makes the experience of them more powerful, than the experience of simply reading a poem on one’s own. And maybe, consequently, it’s that Funeral Blues, in Four Weddings, is read to a large group of people, and that the experience of it is shared, that endows it with such power to affect?
Now, yet again, now – now now now now now
Now, what is it about the Arena Ending that makes it so popular and so frequently employed in American films? What is it about one person doing something in front of many other people, and by doing so, rendering his or her actions seemingly more important, than had he or she done it in private? What is it about saying ‘I love you!’ in front of 50,000 people in a sports stadium that makes saying ‘I love you’ cooler than saying ‘I love you’ in a tiny, cramped kitchen with no one else to hear it? What is it about W.H. Auden’s poem that makes it so much more powerful when we hear that actor read it at that funeral in the film? (Because really — it’s a good poem, but it’s never as good as when it’s read in that film. When Fry recites it in the documentary, he could just as well be reading out a particularly moving and touching list of groceries — we don’t really care. Stephen Fry is an excellent actor and Funeral Blues are beautiful lyrics, but it’s just not the same.)
Now, I would continue this discussion for a bit longer — I would try to elaborate, develop the argument a bit, give a few more examples, give a few other examples, and so on and… you know (why is it that we have to see a zoom-in of the proud face(s) of our (anti-)hero’s friend/homophobic father/ex/prison warden/socially dysfunctional friend/amazingly hip drag artist of an uncle/random people on the street when he or she kisses his or her beloved to truly grasp meaning of the act itself?). But I mean, c’mon — we get the gist, already, and this is no PhD so
I’m going to cut it short.
The Conclusion of my Would-Be doctoral essay is that it is the same reflex in the human psyche that throws people into mass-psychosis when hearing Adolf Hitler speeches and makes them vote for the nazis, that make people go bonkers at Coldplay concerts, and which make people cry to the funeral scene in which Funeral Blues by WH Auden is being read.
It’s the power of experiencing something collectively. It’s the power of the shared experience. The power of being seen, and seeing others. The more, the better, and regardless of what’s going on. As long as you’re saying something that people can relate to on some level.
Americans are just kind of friendly, I suppose. Like my mother once said: A Swedish comedy film is a film in which only one person commits suicide.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
In other news, one of our editors, Lucie, recently left us. We were sad to see her go, but she just doesn’t have the extra time anymore. Tant pis! (Lucie’s exit also means that we’re no longer accepting submissions in French.)
A few weeks ago we went on the look for a replacement editor, and we were lucky to find one in Sofia.
Sofia will join me and Adrian as we start working on the 8th issue of The Stockholm Review.
Until next time,
The following writers feature in the 7th issue of The Stockholm Review of Literature. It’s an awesome bunch. The issue will go live on Friday March 20th at 08.20 GMT.
Alex M. Pruteanu — “A Pursuit Race”
Meghan Greeley — “After the Bath”
Marko Gregur — “Booze Mirinda”
Kyle Manning — “Pre-Funeral Duty”
Sofia Capel — “War Child”
Monique Briones — “Kids These Days”
Andrew J. Hogan — “Obituary”
Clara Chow — “Want Less”
Rachel A. Blumenthal
Issue 6, 2015-01-08
‘So the Platonic year / Whirls out new right and wrong / Whirls in the old instead…’ (An early Foreword no. 6)
How many fresh starts are we going to get?
In writing this foreword to the Stockholm Review, Issue The Sixth, the first of 2015, it has been difficult to avoid the rhetoric of the New Year as new beginning. It’s compelling because it speaks to our better nature – an arbitrary temporal signpost on which to pin all hope for our collective soul, and to pitch for one more shot at not fucking up quite so badly. Quite frankly, 2014 was not a vintage year for our better nature as a species, even by our low standards (the murk illumined by the inception of the SRL notwithstanding, of course), so the mutually agreed upon resolution to better ourselves is mildly comforting in its way. For a couple of weeks at least, we can forget that every bigot, every extremist, every tyrant and angry Twitter user, probably had great intentions this time last year too.
Eternal return is a concept that comes to mind as I trudge back to work and the world goes back to the starting line once again. (I blame watching too much True Detective, one of the few good things 2014 gave us.) As a Sligoman of readerly pretensions, I’m already anticipating and dreading the 150th anniversary of W.B. Yeats’s birth, a fact declared on the front page of this week’s local newspaper even though it takes place in June; a tourism windfall is apparently in store for our outpost, cowering from the Atlantic ocean in a northwestern crevice. Yeats, born again, this time with walking tours. Make sure to tread softly. (Sorry.)
[A sidenote. Which version of Yeats will we display to the world when it comes to visit? The man whose ‘Lake Isle’ is taught to schoolchildren round these parts? Or maybe the Nietzsche enthusiast with fascist sympathies and a thing for the occult? The effect of reading latter-period Yeats can best be described as a kind of vertigo, a terrible grandeur and a grand terror, like gazing upon the monolith in 2001 or the circular book in Borges’s library. It’s kind of difficult to fit into a walking tour.]
* * *
Borges: ‘The fact is every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.’
Sometimes the New is overrated. (Our submission categories are named after a series of very old, very dead Swedish people after all.) The real wonder of the writing you’re going to read in this issue – as ever, many thanks to all who contributed – is the way in which it stretches off in both directions, backwards and forwards, into the past and into the future.
John Berryman and Philip Larkin, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Nicks. Nabokov, Tolkien, Bartok, Yeats; far be it from me to push a theme on you wonderful people, but pretty much everything in this issue speaks to me in some way about the new, the old, and the figures who influence us. They make us, and we pay them back by remaking them. Our contributors articulate this notion in ways that are by turns moving, absurd, unsettling, often very funny. As we embark on another year doubtlessly filled with any number of bigots, extremists, tyrants and angry Twitter users, people who shout loudest and have the least to say, we hope that the work we’re publishing in this issue can be a poke in the eye.
Lucie, Ted and I wish you all a Happy New Year.
Adrian, co-founding editor
* * *
SRL 6 (publishing at 12.00 GMT on Friday 9th January) features work from the following writers and artists:
Nathaniel Ogle: ‘The Cold Gap’
Vincent Chu: ‘Be Sweet and Loving’
Alisha Ebling: ‘Miss Christine Is Back, Baby’
Abraham Elm: ‘Alchemy’
Jyotsna Jha: ‘Bones Beneath’
Alice Kaltman: ‘Bigfoot’
Thomas McMullan: ‘A Wall on Dartmoor’
Oliver Newman: ‘The Man in the Box’, illustrated by George Greaves
Thomas Stewart: ‘Teddybears With Broken Legs’
Darrel Holnes, with translations by Keenan A. Vanot
Lord William: “On the other Side of Westminster Bridge”
2015-01-02: Project Feminist Non-Fiction: An Endnote
A few days ago, I was in a book shop in Islington (north London) when I saw this…
…which made me recall the following lines from Mary LéCuyer’s text “The Puzzle of Puzzles / And That We Call Being” (published in week 2 of our feminism series):
“The idea of creative genius has traditionally been aligned more readily with the male than the female, with those females emerging nonetheless often having their suicidal/depressive tendencies immediately critically highlighted. I learned ‘why not’ to read Plath (“dangerous”), before I met her poetry. The details of Hemingway’s passing (by his own hand, with a shotgun), on the other hand, I gathered long after I had read much of his work.”
Mad Girl’s Love Song?
Had I been a person who knew nothing about Sylvia Plath, had I never read any of her work, then I would, after that chance meeting a few days ago, have had reason to suspect at least one thing about her:
Girl was mad.
Interestingly, a quick google search for “Hemingway biography” yields no similar results – but then, why would it? Why would a biography about Hemingway suggest already by its very title that the man was loony? Because he committed suicide, like Plath? Because he was a macho, misogynist alcoholic? (I’m not saying that he was – but certainly, one of the duties of any sincere biographer is to show that the subject is more complex than the dozen or so tabloid headlines that have come to define his or her public persona?)
Mary LéCuyer worries in her text about the gap between the Real, and cultural Text. The cultural Text is that which has replaced the Real. It’s the book title that says that Sylvia Plath was mad before we even know who Sylvia Plath was. By extension, it’s the book title that says that women are mad.
In the tradition of depicting and describing male madness, there has been a Byronic ideal to uphold. Men, when afflicted with insanity, are typically victims of circumstance and of forces outside of their control; they are geniuses whose creative and intellectual abilities separate them from the ordinary human being, and their madness is either prophetic or eccentrically charming. They are the Victor Frankensteins of Mary Shelley, the Dr Coppeliuses of E.T.A. Hoffman; they are the Strindbergs and the Nietzsches. In the tradition of describing female madness, however, there has been a tendency to employ a rather negatively charged vocabulary. Women are not so much afflicted with insanity, as they quite simply express inherent characteristics of their gender; they are emotionally unstable, sexually loose, and they lack the capacity of rational thought. They are the madwomen of Thornfield Hall, the hysterical Emma Bovarys, the psychotic Rebecca de Winters.
Frederic Jameson argued in Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism that it is pastiche, as opposed to parody, that characterizes postmodern culture. When cultural expression has absorbed consumer culture/pop culture/mass culture, and eradicated the difference between high and low, fine and base, then everything, presumably, becomes Text. Pastiche does not re-invent, but rather, it recycles and reproduces. “The historical novel,” as Jameson has it, to take an appropriately illustrative example, “can no longer set out to represent historical past; it can only ‘represent’ our ideas and stereotypes about that past […].” In the era of, say, the ‘dead author’, there is little that is unique or distinct about any attempt to narrate the human experience. With the view that all has been said and done, it becomes increasingly difficult for writers to escape the confines of the literary canon: in other words, to escape the texts that helped to create a cultural reality.
One of the great cultural challenges for human beings is to navigate through what Jameson, Jean Baudrillard and many other cultural theorists refer to as the simulacrum: that is to say, the notion that our image of reality, through cultural production, has been replaced by the idea of itself (the cultural text that replaces reality). In effect, originally false images of reality can generate new images that in turn are true (as when we start referring to the original lie — for example, when I go up to the counter at McDonald’s to complain that my Big Mac looks nothing like the one on the TV – what can the till operator possibly reply? “I’m sorry, sir, but there is no Real Big Mac. This is it. This is the Truth. The Big Mac you’re holding in your hand is the Real” — or when, as Baudrillard would have it, we refer to the Gulf War, a war that took place on The News rather than in Reality).
So, there we are. This, I think, is what we wanted our Feminism Non-Fiction series to be about. We wanted it to say something about the Real. Because that really is the fundamental challenge for feminism. To replace the lies that have become truth, with truth. If there is such a thing, if we’re able to see it when it hits us. I’m not sure we can (see the Truth), but I’m sure we can find a better lie to live by.
Lucie, Adrian and I wish to thank all who’ve contributed to this series. We’re so happy to have given a home to your work. Thanks, also, to all who’ve read the series, and who continue to read The Stockholm Review.
Happy New Year!
Issue 5: 2014-11-13
“The artist’s task is to save mankind…”
SRL 5 will go live on Friday November 14th, at 14.00 GMT.
For those of you who would like to be featured in SRL 6 — you’ve got until January 4th 2015.
Thank you so much to all contributors and to all who’ve submitted their work to us. You are truly extraordinary. The SRL 5 selection can only hint at the incredible talent we’ve seen over the past weeks.
For this foreword, I had meant to write an exceedingly cheesy bit about Aristotelian virtue ethics and about how all of you contributors to SRL 5 really, in some way particular to your own work, show us readers how to go forward and how to become better human beings but it just –
you know –
It wouldn’t be worthy –
I trust, instead, that another great big Thank you will suffice. And perhaps a quote from a favourite philosopher:
“The artist’s task is to save the soul of mankind; and anything less is a dithering while Rome burns. If artists cannot find the way, then the way cannot be found.”
See you in 2015! (Though please do stay tuned — we won’t go completely quiet!)
SRL 5 features work by the following writers and artists:
“Hotel Manager” by Nahid Rachlin
“Assembly Instructions” by Agri Ismaïl
“Coming Dark” by Joe Halstead
“The Man Eater of Kotali” by Charles Bane Jr
“A Man’s Best Friend” by Andrew Pidoux
“A Swarm of Stars” by James Bruce May
“Beinn an Oir” by Neil Campbell
“Blue Glass Star” by Polis Loizou
“Personals” by Kalisha Buckhanon
“Saving Tim Murnane” by Donal Mahoney
“The Absorption Curve is Smooth” by Patrick Fitzgerald
“The Dog Whistle” by Daniel Shand
Janice D. Soderling
Michael A Oliver-Semenov
”De A à Z … Un chemin espéré …”, by Tifour Thameur
“Som man ska du inte behöva ta ett ‘nej’, eller hur?” by Sofia Capel
Issue 4: 2014-10-21
Shoot for perfection…
…because if the Stockholm Review of Literature ever was about anything, then it would have to be just that.
On an August night that was punctuated by shots of Aquavit, interjected by a small fist fight, and fuelled by a number of literary vendettas, this Review emerged, finally, in the red light of an ascending sun, on the fifth floor of a central Stockholm flat. A bit more than two months later, now on the sixth floor of an SE London flat, we congratulate ourselves on our initial Dionysian temerity, on that foolhardiness of spirit that prompted us to create a literary journal with a name I imagine not even our future Queen Victoria could object to (we don’t assume that King Carl Gustav reads a whole lot).
Allow me to say this: Contributors, readers – getting to know you over the course of these past couple of months has been a thrill and a delight.
Lucie, Adrian and I have always liked reading and, for the better part of our adult lives, we have all tried fairly hard to turn reading into that which we do to make a living. So far – disregarding the years we have been fortunate enough to spend in higher education – none of us have been particularly successful.
I suppose we’re not very different from most of the people who dabble in this line of business. I suppose we’re not very different most of the people who dabble in any line of business, really.
In the face of the machine, the ‘world out there’, the industry and its invariable rejection of how you see yourself, it’s easy to lose faith in one’s own ability. To evoke the words of one of our favourite rejects, Terence McKenna: “we tend to disempower ourselves. We tend to believe that we don’t matter. And in the act of taking that idea to ourselves we give everything away to somebody else, to something else.”
The Stockholm Review of Literature is perhaps an attempt to reclaim that small slice of power. It’s an attempt to, in whichever small way we can, set the agenda for what people are able to read. Most importantly: it’s an attempt not to give the agenda away. It’s an attempt to say that we matter, and that we have the right to exist on our terms.
As editors trying to extend that spirit of empowerment to our contributors, we’ve been guided in our efforts by mine and Lucie’s perhaps greatest literary hero: J.D. Salinger. (Adrian, that bona fide literary savant, although sympathetic of our particular romantic disposition, swears allegiance to another jester, one DFW.)
As Zooey tells Franny in Franny and Zooey: “An artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s.”
It might seem a tad ironic – our contributors are invariably bound to our terms – but insofar as it’s been possible, we’ve tried to search for texts that answer to some kind of need, even if it’s not been our own, and even if it’s not been one of particularly large proportions.
We don’t do themes, we don’t do coherence and we don’t do reader ratings or clicks per text.
What we do is: if one person finds this text and thinks that it’s the bomb, then that makes this text good enough. For us, that is where perfection on our terms meets the terms of our contributors and readers.
For this issue, our 4th, we’ve elected to only consider female writers and artists. Why? I suppose I could evoke yet another Terence McKenna quote – “The male dominant agenda is so fragile that any competitor is felt as a deadly foe” – and that would align pretty perfectly with our ambition to challenge the agendas of other people.
Alas, the real answer is much simpler than that. We’re simply challenging our own agenda. Upon publishing our second issue, we realized that – without having realizing it – it had included only men.
We hope you’ll enjoy the issue! We’ve got some great stuff ready for you. Glenda Burgess and Katherine Gehan feature with what I think are two of the best short stories we’ve published so far. Make sure to check both of them out! Hannah Keating, featured in the Swedenborg section, has contributed an excellent essay on space – mental, physical as well as virtual. Art scholars and philosophers alike will surely be pleased. I’m also pleased to announce that this will be our biggest and most eclectic poetry issue yet – check out Ella Frears, Maryam Hussain, Vinita Agrawal, Kate Wise, Charlie Hill, Christiane Prevost and Laryssa Wirstiuk. In the Zorn section, you’ll find fine art and photography by multi-media artist Ana Prundaru.
On behalf us all,
P.S. After our next issue, no. 5, the Stockholm Review of Literature will become a bi-monthly publication (as in every other month, not twice a month).
Issue 3: 2014-09-28
I WANT YOU TO BE WRONG (Foreword by Adrian)
Half of the people can be part right all of the time. Some of the people can be all right part of the time. But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time. I think Abraham Lincoln said that…
It has never been easier to be right at all times, and it has never been easier for everyone else to be wrong at all times. It’s never been easier to find people who agree with you, and it’s never been easier to avoid people who don’t. Wikipedia makes experts of us all. We don’t have questions any more, only answers. And pithy tweets.
Only thing is, being wrong is our default setting as human beings. Answers must be found by asking the right questions. In a world where people unironically read Paulo Coelho, perhaps it can be difficult to keep this in mind, but here goes: you have more to learn from everybody else than they do from you.
Maybe this is all very obvious and I’m wasting your time by making you read it again. (Apologies if so – feel free to skip the rest.) But it’s important to reinforce the point, just in case, and it’s critical to keep it in mind when we talk about art and writing. You know, the good stuff. The best artists know that being right isn’t our strong suit. They know that being a human being is about being wrong, and that makes us want to do better.
In other words, the best artists aren’t preachers. They do not always, as it occasionally may seem, Know Best. They’re ‘down here quivering in the mud of the trench with the rest of us’, as a pretty talented guy once wrote, not ‘clean and dry and radiant of command presence and unwavering conviction’. The work contained in this issue of the Stockholm Review – short fiction, poetry, photography – is all wrong, and I mean that in as nice a way possible.
The protagonist of Chuck Calabreze’s ‘The President’s Tour of Vermont’ is beset by doubt, confusion. There is a gap between how much he understands and how much he wants to understand. He’s also the most powerful man in the western world, someone we’d much rather imagine to be right and unfaltering when we want him to be (ie all the time). Nothing so trite as ‘hey, he’s just like us! He’s one of the guys!’; instead, a work of empathy and insight.
That same perceptiveness and desire to make a connection is present in Randi Ward’s Meyegraine series of photographs, a rendering of an interior world on alien landscapes. It’s there in Tristan Foster’s ‘Stories About You’, where the second-person narration goes past formal showoffery to illustrate how easy it is to get lost inside your own head. It’s there in Richard Scarsbrook’s genuinely-felt outrage and Susan Eisner’s collision of tidy scientific observation and untidy human relationships.
I won’t spoil any more of what we have lined up. But all of our contributors to this issue demonstrate, in various ways, the kinds of doubts and insecurities and failures that we’re all made up of. The ways we don’t get it right and we don’t Know Best, and the ways we try to do better. To everyone who’s contributed to this issue, it’s been a pleasure reading your work and corresponding with you – you have our thanks for paying a visit to our small section of the trench.
To conclude: a request.
I want you to getmud on your boots.
I want you to start writing with a question instead of an answer.
I want you to consider the ways in which you might just be full of shit.
I want you to tell me why I’m full of shit.
I want you to forge your convictions through self-doubt instead of complacency.
I want you to be wrong.
(Lucie, Ted and I hope you enjoy the issue.)
The SRL no. 3 features the following writers and artists:
LEGACY – An Editorial* From ‘the Desk’** of the Founding Editor of the SRL
In 2014, Ted, Adrian and Lucie, along with others, discussed art and literature and put on performances in the Stockholm Review of Literature expressing their disgust with the general state of Swedish literature and the interests that inspired it.
Some sources state that the Stockholm Review coalesced on August 6 at Indigo in Stockholm. Other sources state that the SRL did not originate fully in a Stockholm hipster salon but grew out of an already vibrant artistic tradition in Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, that transposed to England when a group of Bloomsbury wannabees (Ted, Lucie & Adrian, and others) settled in London. In the years prior to the release of the Millenium Trilogy similar ugly ambitions had already risen in Dublin and other European and American cities; it is likely that the Stockholm Review of Literature’s catalyst was the arrival in Stockholm of full throttle literary rejects like founding editor Ted.
Having left the Netherlands, Cambridge and Dublin during the heaviest waves of shitty Swedish literature, Ted, Lucie and Adrian found themselves in London, a city recognized for its pretentious South Eastern art ghettoes. Inside this space of relative relief from writers such as Daniel Sjölin, they decided to use honest, high integrity, ambitious and poetic writing to fight against the social, political, and cultural ideas of that time. The SRL editors believed those ideas to be a byproduct of a useless education system and of a, generally speaking, culturally lethargic society, a society so apathetic it would rather continue peddling crime lit than push the boundaries for imaginative re-description of society.
Ted recalled, “We had lost confidence in our culture. With the SRL we began by shocking common sense by publishing stuff that didn’t actually suck balls.”
Subsequent to the release of the first issues of the SRL, Ted, Adrian and Lucie began a relentless campaign to spread SRL ideas. They bombarded artists and writers with letters, and soon emerged as the leaders and master strategists of the online literary revolution of the mid ‘10s.
While broad, the movement was unstable. By 2024 in Paris, the SRL was melding into néo-surrealism, and some artists had gone on to other ideas and movements, including anarcho-surrealism and post-post-néo-conservative modernism. Some theorists argue that the SRL was actually the beginning of the Swedish literary movement Let’s Go Back to That Time When Our Writers Were Good, Mhm.
The SRL is a named influence and reference of various anti-art and political and cultural movements including the Clapham South Underground Reading group which takes place on the platforms of Clapham South underground station every first Thursday after the third lunar awakening of every month, and culture jamming groups like the Writers Who Don’t Write But Might.
At the same time that the Stockholm Reviewers harnessed 2000+ followers on Twitter and were liked, like, 30 times on Facebook, Camilla Läckberg was probably writing yet another meaningless crime novel in a nearby apartment. Jonas Karlsson used this coincidence as a premise for his play Ain’t It Funny? (2074), which includes Läckberg and Ted, Lucie, and Adrian as characters. Arubian-Argentine writer Arturo Desimone imagined Läckberg as a member of the SRL group in his friggin’ hilarious tongue-in-cheek Läckberg ‘Literature’ (2089).
Several notable retrospectives have examined the influence of the SRL upon art and society. In 2067, a large SRL retrospective was held in Paris, France, in which the legacy of similar publications of the online literary revolution (such as The Bohemyth, Pithead Chapel, HARK Magazine and The Incubator) was examined.
*N.B. The bulk of this text has been lifted from the Wikipedia entry (sections ‘History’ and ‘Legacy’) on Dada.
**N.B. Metaphorically speaking. Just blowing my own trumpet. I don’t have a desk.
The Stockholm Review of Literature’s third issue will be released shortly. Hopefully by next Friday. The third issue will be our first to feature a short story written in Swedish.
Issue 2: 2014-09-05
The Freakshow Is Here (in approximately three hours…)
Arturo Desimone is probably the reincarnation of Apollinaire or Bréton, and Connor Callahan does not write poetry like a recent university graduate but more like a 1930s former East coast bridge designer who spent years studying sun curves on railroad tracks in the Midwest and then stared into the sun until his eyes dried up but did he quiver? did he cry out in pain? no, he didn’t because he knew things that the rest of us do not.
Two weeks ago I wrote that THIS IS NOT FOR YOU but this week I write LET THEM SEE! COME ONE, COME ALL, SLAM THE BARNYARD DOOR BEHIND YOU AND CLAP YOUR HANDS FOR THE FREAKSHOW IS HERE. This is for you.
(Except for all you people for whom it is not, but we’ve been over that already.)
Carry on, folks, there’ll be plenty to see. Adrian, Lucie and I hope you’ll enjoy it. At 14.00, London time, that is.
SRL issue no. 2 writers and artists are:
Arturo Desimone (Fiction / Poetry / Art)
John Laurence Dunn
Alex Zucker (Jiri Pilucha’s translator)
Dr Mark Axelrod
Moses E Lavi
Ellsworth H. LaFontaine
Issue 1: 2014-08-22
Before no. 1 goes out (in less than 2 hours), there’s something I’d like to say…
THIS IS NOT FOR YOU
The vast majority of literary agents, literary agents’ assistants, publishers, editors, deputy editors, assistant editors and what else have you?
This is not for you. Why? Because
The rest of you may please be informed that you are hereby welcomed to the premier issue of The Stockholm Literary Review.
So what are we looking at, here? Well, we’re…–
We’re – we’re looking at…
Did someone say personal vendetta?
(Of course not. This is just a literary strategy. If you’re still reading this, then odds are that you’ve spent at least five years of your life learning everything there is to say about precisely that – literary strategies, that is – and odds are that your current job has nothing to do with it/you peddle literary garbage to women’s magazines to make a living/you sold out and “work” as a literary agent (in which case – get out, this is not for you)/you’re a cabbie or a hotdog man.)
Vendetta? It’s not exactly a vendetta. Or is it? (It’s bitterness.) No, I wouldn’t call it that. It’s just that… Well, OK!, damn it, alright – real quick, I’ll tell you the story. It’s real short.
Last year I went to interview for a position at a Literary and Rights Agency and I was really excited about it. It’d’ve, had I actually got it, been my first real job after university and it’d’ve, you know, been a great start for me in terms of getting a career going/working with what I love and all that.
Of course, I didn’t get it, and why didn’t I? Because I was too literary minded. To quote directly (albeit in translation) from the rejection e-mail: ”It is, after all, very seldom that this type of job is about great literary experiences – it is more often about what strategies to employ in order to make something fairly mainstream stand out…”
Well, if that doesn’t betray one’s position as a literary agent, then I don’t know what does. At least now there definitely aren’t any secrets in the Swedish world of publishing – they’ll be peddling crime ‘til Walmart carries toilet paper with Stieg Larsson quotes on it.
So, to get back to what this is really about – what are we looking at?
We’re looking at
language as crisp and crystalline as Swedish mid-winter air in Charles Bane, Jr’s wonderful “Summer of the Horseshoe Crab”;
ironic contempt of bourgeois ideas about poetry (it’s either that or we’ve been tricked by an automatic poem generator) in Nicolas Grenier’s poem Tu Bois La Parole de Dieu;
overt contempt of the literary industry in Richard Smyth’s “Hamburgers”;
a couple of paintings by Dan C Nielsen that I won’t try to describe because, to quote Mark Rothko, “why would you do that, man? Why would you even do that? Hey, hey – man – look at me, man? Why do you even think I paint, huh?”;
carefully selected poetry by Pippa Little, Jessica Drake-Thomas, Judson Hamilton and Arthur Broomfield;
gut punching, deeply moving and occasionally hilarious short fiction by Julia Lee Barclay-Morton, Charlie Hill and Thomas Chadwick;
and a short article of sorts by Ellsworth H. LaFontaine.
Lucie, Adrian and I really hope you enjoy it. Come back when it all goes live at 14.00 CEST.
P.S. Please send us more Art and Essays.