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robertogreco : insignificance   6

Interview with Sjón | The White Review
"Q: THE WHITE REVIEW — Where are you from? And how did you come to write?

A: SJÓN — I was born in Reykjavík in 1962. From the beginning I read everything, from children’s books to newspapers – whatever printed material came into the house. At the age of 8 I discovered Icelandic folk stories, which is when I truly started waking up to literature. A year later, I discovered poetry. In school we were given a big collection of poetry, which was to last us throughout our school years, and I started reading this book for pleasure at home. I was reading detective novels, Icelandic folk stories, and Icelandic romantic poetry from very early on. Early reading teaches you the different possibilities of text.

When I came into my teenage years I became a huge David Bowie fan. To be a David Bowie fan in Iceland you more or less had to teach yourself English – to translate the lyrics, to be able to read the interviews in NME. My infatuation with Bowie prepared me for my discovery of modernist poetry, first in translation. At the age of 15 I found a book of Icelandic modernists from the end of the Second World War. That’s when modernism came to Iceland – and they were very much influenced by the surrealists. Somehow, I was bitten by the bug. It simply fascinated me that you were allowed to use the Icelandic language in this way, to create these incredible images and metaphors, and to present such ideas with the Icelandic language. I felt like I should be a part of it. So I started writing poetry and in a few months time I had written enough poetry for a book. I published my first book of poetry the summer I turned 16.

Q: THE WHITE REVIEW — You speak of an early interest in the various kinds of text, and your own writing is not easily assimilated into any single textual mode. As a writer, lyricist and poet, you move in and out of these different formats. What do you classify yourself as first and foremost, if anything? How might this resistance to categorisation link in to your interest in surrealism?

A: SJÓN — I’m a novelist who occasionally writes poetry. I write librettos, lyrics and children’s books but these are all collaborations that I do in between working on novels and poetry. One of the wonders of the novel is how easily it absorbs diverse texts. Everything that is written, whether it is non-fiction, old archives, newspaper articles, lullabies – somehow it can always find its place in the novel, and for that reason the novel became more important to me than the poem.

The novel is encyclopaedic: all of the different manners of expressing oneself in words can find their place there. In the Eighties my friends and I formed a group of surrealist poets called Medusa. Surrealism brings so much with it and one of the first things I realised when I became excited by surrealism was its link with folk stories. Surrealism is always non-academic, always looking for the source of human activity, looking into the back alleys and the darkest clearing in the forest for excitement. Somehow it was always very natural for me to bring all these different things together in what I was doing.

Q: THE WHITE REVIEW — Your novels are hybrids – a crossbreed of narrative fiction, historical fact, myth, music…

A: SJÓN — I like my novels to be made up of different parts, realities, states of consciousness. I now see my work as realist because everything I write is grounded in at least the experience of the character, here, in earthly life. The strange things that happen in the books are what happens in people’s minds, what they experience as truth. That of course creates a hybrid, when your standard is something normalised and accepted as the only way to experience reality.

Q: THE WHITE REVIEW — Music is a great part of this assortment – you’ve mentioned Bowie as an influence, and you have collaborated with musicians such as Björk. Do you think that words can achieve the condition of music, which has a much greater immediacy and is far less freighted with multiple meanings?

A: SJÓN — I think it’s very important to be open to influence from diverse artistic forms and forms of expression. I have been very much influenced by music and one of the routes I took to literature was through the music of David Bowie. I have worked with musicians in all fields – contemporary composers, pop artists – and I’ve worked with very diverse styles of music. But there is a huge difference between words being sung, spoken or read. The emotion that the singing voice brings to the world when sung out loud is something you cannot recreate on paper. I don’t think you should even try.

Q: THE WHITE REVIEW — You have spoken of realising that ‘you could take the classical string quartet as a model for the composition of THE BLUE FOX’. How did you achieve this?

A: SJÓN — I think the fact that I can take the form of the string quartet and use it as the basis of a novel is another proof of how dynamic the novel is. I’m sure that a composer writing a string quartet can learn something from a movie or the structure of film. It was music that gave me the idea of constantly breaking up the narrative. THE BLUE FOX would be a completely different novel if it were chronological. In it, there are constant cliff-hangers and repeated refrains – I’m playing with the element of two melodies that come together but never fully, only in the end finding a solution. It was very interesting that the first people who commented on the book were composers. They said it was very clear to them that I was always playing with volume of information versus text, which is the same thing they do – volume of tones versus time. You can take a melody and stretch it over five minutes, or compress it down to three seconds. They were very much aware of how I was playing with text versus information.

Q: THE WHITE REVIEW — Does your involvement in the world of music, and the musicality of your novels, betray some sort of frustration with the limits of the written word?

A: SJÓN — No. I am in the position where I can move between those different ways of writing. For me, it is a celebration of the many possibilities given to an author. I play no instruments, my only involvement with music is in collaborations with people who know how to do it. It is a privilege to be working with these musicians and to be allowed to bring my words to their work. To hear the words sung is a wonderful present from these people."



"This view actually went against everything that I had been taught in school. The Reformation is presented in Icelandic history books as something very benevolent and it was convenient to ignore that in the first decade after the Reformation life was very difficult for the common man and for scholars. The Methodist church became very dogmatic, and everything that had to do with the old Nordic religion, with old wisdom or old medicine, was banished as sorcery. He is the only historical voice that we have speaking against this. It was an opportunity to put a seed inside somebody’s skull, and take a walk through those times with his eyes."



"The reason that I felt it right to enter this world, this state of complaint against a world going to pieces, is because he lived through the period when the Catholic Church, the only socially responsible institution, was all of a sudden taken away. In Iceland, it is a fact that the Catholic Church was the only welfare structure in the country – we had no king, no dukes, we had no one to take over the social responsibilities when the Catholic Church vanished overnight. All the monasteries were closed down, all the orphanages, the old people’s shelters – everything, overnight. And the duty that the rich had – to keep the livestock alive on behalf of the religious priests who fed the poor – that vanished too.

Jón Guðmundsson is unique in that he is the only one who wrote about this. He bore witness to a world in which man had been relieved of his duty to show charity to his fellow men. This is very much what the last decade has felt like, at least in Iceland, if not many parts of the West. With the deregulation of the economic system, social responsibility was thrown out of the window and all of a sudden the rich became richer and they had no duties any more. This is something that happened with the fall of the Eastern Bloc – the message that we were told then was that capitalism had won and communism was the dark art. The Left lost its voice, at least in Iceland. The centre Left – the social democrats – they decided to start playing along with the capitalists, which is what you would call New Labour here. The real Left was all of a sudden presented as the losers of history, even though these people had been in opposition to the totalitarian regimes in the East for decades. All of a sudden everything that began with the word ‘social’ was a dirty word. The social contract that was established in most of the West after the Second World War, was dealt the final blow."



"In times where grand narratives are needed we look to the grand narratives of our culture. In our case it is the great myths, and sometimes it is to give name to something like the panic after September 11. Myth always puts man down to size, and man realises he is just this tiny figure moving from one meal to another on his way to the grave.

Q: THE WHITE REVIEW — Oral tradition is very much a part of myth. Is this something that can still exist today?

A: SJÓN — You have a whole continent, Africa, which has so many languages that have still not found a written form. There are places that have an unbroken tradition, stretching thousands of years back, of telling the same stories over and over again. Mostly here in the West we have lost the ability to protect our culture orally, and maybe we are in danger. What will happen when all the books have flared up and all the Kindles lost their battery power?

Q: THE WHITE REVIEW — Literary translation and the rise of world … [more]
sjón  2012  interviews  iceland  poems  poetry  novels  literature  writing  music  björk  reality  collaboration  surrealism  existence  humans  storytelling  davidbowie  mogenrukov  dogme95  life  living  perspective  curiosity  translation  africa  diversity  myths  myth  mythology  charity  catholicism  history  capitalism  economics  society  collectivism  interdependence  individualism  insignificance  folklore  nature  reformation  religion  magic  mysticism  enlightenment  catholicchurch  9/11  oraltradition  ebooks  books  words  coldwar  socialism  communism  jónguðmundsson  sorcery  songs  posthumanism 
december 2014 by robertogreco
From Fernando Pessoa, “The Book of Disquiet”
"What happens to all those people who, simply because I saw them and saw them again, became part of my life? Tomorrow I too will disappear from the Rua da Prata, the Rua dos Douradores, the Rua dos Fanqueiros. Tomorrow I—the soul that feels and thinks, the universe I am for myself—I myself, yes, tomorrow I will also be the man who stopped walking on these streets, the man others will vaguely evoke, saying, “Whatever became of him?” And everything I do, everything I feel, everything I live, will be nothing more than one pedestrian less in the daily routine of any city anywhere."

— Fernando Pessoa, “The Book of Disquiet”
fernandopessoa  death  life  mortality  insignificance  sonder  universe 
september 2013 by robertogreco
Total Eclipse of the Sun (Idle Words)
"How do you keep a featureless blue square fresh and interesting for fourteen hours?"

"I have set two alarms, arranged for a wake up call, and have been waking anyway every hour out of excitement."

"On the drive-time radio show in Port Douglas, Australia, the host promises to bring on an astrologer to talk about “what the eclipse means for your life”. But for me that's the opposite of what makes it wonderful. The eclipse doesn't even know you exist. Nature provides a brief alignment of the Moon and Sun that is completely foreordained, immutable, and will happen with Swiss precision for another billion or so years, whether or not anyone is looking. It is on us to aggregate into litttle bubbles of protoplasm, develop eyes, emerge onto land, discover fire, evolve language, ask the brainier among us where the thing will happen, and and make the appropriate travel arrangements."
storytelling  travel  life  insignificance  significance  astronomy  solareclipse  2012  maciejceglowski  maciejcegłowski 
november 2012 by robertogreco
Little Things of Great Importance | This Moi
[Wayback link: https://web.archive.org/web/20110123052115/http://www.thismoi.com/2010/11/little-things-of-great-importance/ ]

"It would be easy to say, that no one *needs* a piece of lemon loaf, and you might be correct, but maybe *this* boy *did*. Maybe he had a very real need for a piece of iced lemon loaf. Maybe he needed it for comfort. Maybe he needed it for power. Maybe he needed it for the Indian in his cupboard that would only eat iced lemon loaf and would starve to death if he didn’t get it for him. Maybe he had a whole wealth of emotional difficulties or mental challenges I didn’t know about. Who knows? Do you? I don’t…

…It was a panic that I remember having experienced sometimes. Perhaps you do too. The panic in realizing that you have no power at all. You are a child and you are powerless. There is nothing you can do.

I understand it may be extremely hard for many to have sympathy for a little white western boy deprived of a sweet as this is precisely what I would say if I had not observed the child in person, but the look  on his face is a universal one: “Life is not fair”."
powerlessness  childhood  kartinarichardson  fairness  poetry  life  empathy  power  insignificance  frustration  emotions 
july 2011 by robertogreco
You Can’t Read Everything - The Rumpus.net
“I had gone through and thought about the number of books you could conceivably read in a year, for example. And then if you extrapolate it out over your lifetime, how many can you reasonably read? And it got me thinking about how vast the world of books is, and how small what you will ever take in actually is. And it becomes a sort of overwhelming thought when you realize that no matter how hard you try, no matter how smart you are, no matter how much you love to read – as I put it in the piece, statistically speaking, you’re going to die having missed almost everything.”

[via: http://jslr.tumblr.com/post/7205844487/i-had-gone-through-and-thought-about-the-number ]
reading  limits  human  scale  books  insignificance  antilibraries  life  wisdomofcrowds  statistics  lindaholmes  slow  patience  knowledge 
july 2011 by robertogreco
The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going To Miss Almost Everything : Monkey See : NPR
"Culling is easy; it implies a huge amount of control & mastery. Surrender, on the other hand, is a little sad. That's the moment you realize you're separated from so much. That's your moment of understanding that you'll miss most of the music, dancing, books & films that there have ever been & ever will be, & right now, there's something being performed somewhere in the world that you're not seeing that you would love.

It's sad, but it's also ... great, really. Imagine if you'd seen everything good, or if you knew about everything good. Imagine if you really got to all the recordings & books and movies you're "supposed to see."…That would imply that all the cultural value the world has managed to produce since a glob of primordial ooze…can [be] gobble[d up]…in one lifetime…

If "well-read" means "not missing anything," then nobody has a chance. If "well-read" means "making a genuine effort to explore thoughtfully," then yes, we can all be well-read…"
culture  books  history  future  npr  music  films  cantkeepup  needfrequentremindersofthis  content  flow  control  culling  curation  curating  lindaholmes  rogerebert  humans  life  lifetime  reading  listening  watching  hearing  literature  science  fiction  nonfiction  beingwell-read  takethatedhirsch  culturalliteracy  beauty  insignificance  love  happiness  wisdom  thesumofhumanproduction  numbers  tv  television  art  cv 
april 2011 by robertogreco

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