Saturday, April 21, 2012

Of heaven and hell, and good life

A long dream April 2012:

I am in a hurry rushing through Western Stockholm to keep an appointment with JE, supposedly at half past five, I'm going to be late (the landscape is a hybrid of several parts of the outer city and inner suburbs of Western Stockholm; it's occipitality is supposed to be indicated by its hilliness, in fact a poor indicator). I should have taken the metro instead. I see the platform of Thorildsplan station, a lot of people are standing waiting, but all the signs are unlit. Finally a train comes, but just rushing through; the station is actually closed, but they have failed to keep eager passengers out.

South of the main street the style is more continental, small irregular streets and picturesque small stores. I am climbing a steep hill where JE's school is supposed to be on top (I remember plenty of schoolyards on tops of hills). I find him up there and it is somehow part of my mission to drag him from courting a female colleague or student.

We go on a walk with the surrealist group. We find a strange old tower, some kind of medieval museum (like the alchemical tower on the west end of the Charles bridge in Prague), but the only thing they exhibit is toy cars of iron scrap. Apparently I'm distracted and lagging behind, CA comes back to drag me along, encouraging me to come along "out on the other side" to look how NN and JE "are fooling around and making laughing-stocks out of themselves for the whole city". The "other side" thing refers to the fact we pass under a valve, a small tunnel, to come out on the seaside (like those London tube station just north of the Thames, where you get out to the riverwalk on the south side). Not very eager to see NN and JE fooling around, I still come along.

And it's actually a sensational view. It is just like a large back alley, but one which is a part of the sea, a fiord arm, but the sea isn't there just now, the tide has drawn back. It is all just like an open cave, the ground is fantastically amorphous, delving organic forms mixed together like in a surrealist painting – the colours are dusky yet obscene, it looks a bit like internal organs but nevertheless mostly like modelling clay covered with drying slime (or when excited furniture architects have gone wild with a plastic spraygun...); just like in a normal maritime scene it is all evenly seasoned with small pools, tufts of seawrack and mixed human garbage like shopping carts, old dolls and plastic containers.

It makes me wonder if maybe these dramatic tide landscapes are in fact a condition for surrealist mentality, and this is why there never could have been a surrealist group in Sweden, only in for example Norway and Galicia, because there has to be a fundamental vision of a landscape without homogenity or onedimensionality, based in the experience of the tidal coast, where one had to wade around and collect mussels and stuff as a poor child laborer, in order to be a surrealist...

So I am standing in awe, thoughts and admiration before this landscape (remember that even if grandiose it is not bigger than a larger back alley or a theatre prop); only after a while I notice NN and JE have climbed up the gushing rock- and wrackformations and are sitting squatting each in a small niche, I think they are trying to imitate birds, skuas or albatrosses, or maybe dodos. CA stands laughing next to me, he finds it unambiguous that their squatting positions proves the've gone aside for a dump and actually are sitting there each in their little cave pushing. Admittedly there are single turds to be distinguished in the richness of shapes and litter around us, and just like any "worthless place" of more or less remarkable beauty it's unavoidable that one of the most popular "uses" will be to simply dump waste of one or the other kind, which will contribute to richness of forms, and to the deep emotional ambivalence for the place... Still I am not convinced by CA:s interpretation, I think our friends look philosophical and simultaneously blank as they crouchingly look out over the little alley, indeed with the same combination of wisdom and utter lack of thinking (with a dash of cruelty) as a big bird...

Then I find a dead dog, it arouses much compassion in the other tourists, because they think it's a harmless pup, they can't see that it's on it's way transforming into a sea monster which will be a crime against its phylogenetic position, in fact it already started to demonstrate some characteristics of a sea urchin, and others of an octopus...

We should continue our walk, I'm lagging behind again, thinking I should go to the toilet in the museum in the tower first. Toilets are upstairs, but when I get there the whole floor is empty, it feels like an old bomb shelter, a homeless person's lair, but there is nothing at all there, no toilet, no furniture, just empty. Maybe it is just an obsessive thought but I think I can hear them turning the key in the door behind me; so have I finally ended up in my prison on water and bread for the rest of my life?

It is an american house where I live together with a woman and her brittle old parents. Just for fun we have hidden the telephone in a cookie jar, so when it's ringing the signal comes echoing eerily from an indeterminate place in the room: the old man can't find the phone, looks through the entire house in panic, he's losing it and going mad in the process. In the interrogations much later I said he could have ignored it, if it was important they'd probably call back on his mobile later anyway. My dead grandfather, apparently interrogation leader, soberly explains that old people do not always have cell phones.

An old girlfriend of mine comes home in the evening, I'm telling her enthusiastically that I am going to bed early because it is a very important day tomorrow. And I tell her about the closed metro station at Thorildsplan. I try to explain to her that I would prefer to sleep alone, but I do it so politely that I actually happen to suggest that we should sleep together; so I push together two plastic sofas so that they together form a big square pink plastic bathtub, and I start making the bed; it's always a little uncomfortable to sleep in bathtubs. Actually I was planning to go to bed very soon, so I go down to the kitchen and order some pancakes separately before dinner.

So it's some kind of hotel? or rather a holiday village? at least some kind of holiday resort (a bit like the main tourist building on Stora Karlsö island). In the main part of the building there is above all an art exhibition, an installation that makes no sense, but it is also the major dining hall. It's not half past five yet, long before official dinner hour, I have to go to bed, I dont know when my pancakes will be ready. And since I didn't remember to tell them it was only for me, I will probably get pancakes for the entire family, and I will have to ask for a bag to bring the rest with me – in fact I've never asked for a "doggie bag" in my entire life (I can't remember that I would ever have not finished my food) and it's going to be slightly embarrassing and quite exciting. The artist and some suspect character (the hotel manager?) are sitting talking very quietly in the middle of the installation/restaurant hidden in a labyrinth of sheets of transparent plastic. If I am the only one eating at this hour I suppose they deliver the pancakes to my room instead. I go out, and find the surrealist group again, and my brother. My brother is getting into a fight with NN about the artwork, my brother claims he understands it because he knows the artist, NN says he understands it because he knows something about art. It's just two ways of approaching the matter.

I return to my living quarters. This time the apartment is not directly in the corridor, instead the doors in the corridor open towards a big porch facing the forest edge where all private quarters are in the form of small cottages. And the pancakes have arrived. What pancakes! They cover the ground, they fill the entire space between the porch and the cottage. Each pancake (rolled) is big like a log, and I have got at least twenty of them (difficult to say because it seems my neighbor has ordered some too). This is food for a whole polar expedition. It is incredibly beautiful. What does it matter that the pancakes are lying directly onto the ground, it is a fresh forest landscape, there are just twigs, leaves and needles, it's not like that formless and dirty tidal landscape, in which you would not want to eat food straight from the ground. I'm sitting looking at the pancake landscape for some time. The pancakes are glittering, their patterns of moon landscape and the interference in the transition between individual rolls where they are lying pressed against each other, it is so beautiful and at the same time so profound. They are sorted in rows according to filling. Strawberry jam seems to dominate, but some are more golden in colour, I tear of an endpiece to taste, as small as I can, a little piece the size of a grilled chicken – it is full of apple sauce and it's trickling with syrup, and the taste is exquisite.

Later I am walking on a country road in a dull autumn landscape (looking entirely like southeastern parts of Swedish province Sörmland), realising it is a long way back to Thorildsplan. Some cars pass, yes indeed during the long and actionpacked way here it happened a couple of times that people stopped their cars because they found it suspect to see someone walking and thus offered a ride, just as a social control measure masked into "plain decency" – as usual in the countryside. So maybe I should actually hitchhike back. If I can do it without raising too much attention.

I have to turn across an open ruderal field with tiny sharp edges, probably a small household quarry turned into a parkinglot turned into a junkyard. There I meet an american family, I am a bit nervous that they would find me strange and report me to the police. But I can keep a superficial conversation going in the american manner, yes I can. But as we go through the sparse grass someone bumps into an old hay bale, and under it there are a lot of beetles. I even find a bolboceratid (horned fungus dorbeetle), fantastic! And since we are in eastern US it cannot be the single north european species Odonteus armiger. I get very excited and demonstrate the creature's horns for the ladies; who react with alarm and disgust. Ok, maybe I lost my chance to interact smoothly and unsuspiciously there...

 Gotska Sandön

Røst (in the foreground)


Ok this maybe contributes to atopos theory, to clarifying material factors in the geopolitical distribution of surrealism, to the analogy between beetles and horses (which IÖ also dreamt about in response), and provided an elegant one-sentence-shortstory. "Just for fun we have hidden the telephone in a cookie jar, so when it's ringing the signal comes echoing eerily from an indeterminate place in the room: the old man can't find the phone, looks through the entire house in panic, he's losing it and going mad in the process."

But the major point I see myself is the two surrealist landscapes, and their relationship based on primitive dualism: back and front, hell and heaven, anus and genus.

Maybe I should say that I recently reread the great recent Marvel comics miniseries where Dead Girl and Dr Strange do a teamup heading down into the deepest regions of hell to fight a band of dead villains (lead by "the Pitiful One") who found a way to take revenge on the living. Dead Girl and Dr Strange get romantically involved, and Dr Strange cures his painful hemorrhoids. In this story the anal morphology of hell is emphasised, and the bad smell is frequently mentioned.

Thus it is not difficult to see the fiord arm/ back alley as hell/ anus. As it's obviously among other things an alley in London (declared by more than one author to be "hell on earth" and likened to a rectum) and being "on the other side" as CA emphasised. There is a lot about crapping and turds. The morphology of the place is gushing, thronged, endless, surrealist, even the dog cadavers are transformed and transgress their conditions.

Equally beautiful and surrealist but in quite another tone is the pancake landscape. Being in a forest edge is significant, as is my association to the Baltic island Stora Karlsö. In fact, in my associations, Karlsö is just a more biographically recent available standin for Gotska Sandön, a more isolated island, just a little flat sand area in the middle of the Baltic, which more than one author has likened to a pancake. So have I, even though I've been interpreting Gotska Sandön as the more domestic variety of Røst, the outermost island in the Lofoten chain of northern Norway, which is also one of these flat, pancake-like islands, but with a quite labyrinthic outline, like a maze or a failed pancake, I did describe it as a pancake in a novel, and there and elsewhere I have attached hopes to it as the "dream landscape on earth", a sort of utopia in the middle of the Norwegian Sea. Now of these three islands it is in fact only Gotska Sandön which has coniferous forest, but the forest in the dream is probably a generalised forest representing the dream landscape as such, the forest as well as the isolated island is simply a privileged dream place. The origin of the particular conjunction of the forest and the pancakes was the anecdotal conclusion from my recent experience of calling in sick from all meetings an entire weekend on the verge of collapse - by cancelling all appointments I finally had an occasion – o so long wished for – to 1) take a walk in the forest and 2) make pancakes. Especially in its imbecil simplicity it becomes a rather beautiful image of good life (eudaimonia). And in contrast to the unambiguously anal character of the fiord bowel, the sexual symbolism of the pancake landscape is interesting. If we shouldn't refrain from picturesque clinical details we can acknowledge how the the hairyness of twigs and needles do not stand in the way for the exquisite pancake taste as a cunnilingal fantasy. Yet still the rolled pancake is hermaphroditic in its sexual symbolism (it is obviously a log, and at the same time a soft juicy nexus of folds) and may transgress simple sexual dualism already there? By being "contradictorily" genital it is nevertheless reinforcedly genital and non-anal, yet still it foremostly contrasts something celestial and utopian against the infernal and dystopian in the bowel fiord alley.

But also, once again, that the two landscapes are equally beautiful. But I recall now that it was only the tidal inferno that was called surrealist already within the dream... pancake heaven was perhaps more dreamy, more romantic, certainly surrealist but less specifically surrealist? Is this just the old fundamental aesthetical question from Milton onwards? Why did Swedenborg become such a bore, and who gave a shit about heaven when there was hell to sing about? Already as romantics and hegelians and even more as surrealists we would already initially dismiss the sterile choice between the two poles in a given dualism? Both do indeed seem equally productive, and the contrast between them more like forcing a blunt logical structure onto two actually autonomous fields, like one between earth and air in bachelardian terms? Not the least to point out that aerialness is still a material category and nothing "pure", mental, cerebral or abstract; and it is obviously here in the heavenly world that one focuses on banal earthly pleasures like good sleep, being in a pair, exquisite food, jam and sex. Yes indeed. Just not take sides. "It's just two ways of approaching the matter."

Mattias Forshage

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