Tag: literature

What I talk about when I talk about literature.

Do you remember what it was like when you were a kid and an adult would read aloud to you? Do you remember how it felt as if you were in a completely different world, each word spoken, each word you heard, formed an image, not in front of you, but around you; you were immersed in the story, you lived in another world.

To me it was torture whenever the adult stopped reading. “Enough for now.” It was never enough. Luckily, I fairly quickly could read on my own. Hiding beneath the covers with a flashlight when the adults had said: Go to sleep now. No more reading. But I needed just another chapter, and another. Never enough.

It really hasn’t changed much. Well, except no one tells me to go to sleep now. I’m aware of the consequences on my own, though, watching the clock ticking forward, knowing another day is approaching hastily, but I need just another chapter.

That feeling – that’s what I talk about when I talk about literature: the being immersed in another world, being swallowed whole, losing consciousness in the “real” world and living for a moment, a few hours, in another.

In my master thesis I wrote about how objects of art, paintings, books, sculptures, interact with the consciousness of people and how this meeting between art and consciousness has the power to change a person. Using the theories of Mikel Dufrenne and Jacques Rancière I showed how Leonard Cohen’s songs, for example, can change the (political) world.

The story of the song is echoed in the simple music, the simple set-up, which points the audience’s attention to the images. This combination of the song and the attention of the audience create the aesthetic object that leads to affect. A broken world unfolds and feelings of fear, anger, distrust, and inevitability reveal themselves. The audience retreats from the meeting with the song and its expression, and these feelings remain with a possibility to change how the audience perceives the world. The song points to these wrongs in the world. It points to how the world is driven by greed and lust, and how it is difficult to keep one’s balance in such a chaos.

The song takes on the shape of an appeal to people. The speaker of the song is trying to choose between life and death, he sees a broken world, people driven by lust and greed, and how these people pass this on to their children along with myths of enmity and need for fight. By way of the images, Cohen shows how human beings are small compared to the universe, yet they have the power to change their world. And this is exactly what the song can do by way of affect and dissensus. The audience is left with the feelings of these horrors happening in the world, and they retract to their world to look upon it with a different perspective.

In the song “Anthem,” we come upon a slightly different tactic in Cohen’s art. As usual, he depicts how the world is broken and at war, but instead of opposing this obvious wrong, he shows how this cyclic state will never change. This is a part of the human conditioning, there will always be conflicts, there will always be fights and hurt in the world. As opposed to “Democracy” and “Stories of the Street,” the song “Anthem” offers a solution. The solution lies in love, in turning towards love, which, as Cohen predicts, every human heart will do eventually. However, they might not do this voluntarily, but as refugees. In my analysis of “Anthem,” I show how this line is very important. It creates a rupture, which according to Rancière is essential to create affect and dissensus.

The song “Anthem” is a perfect example of how Cohen uses the concept of love to create affect. It shows how love, used both as a positive and as a negative, is an emotion that moves everybody. The song also presents Cohen’s idea on the highest form of spiritual love as a goal and an ending point for everything. This is where you transcend the world and the human condition.

In the song, Cohen both embraces and pushes away the world. He cannot be a part of it anymore but at the same time, he says the “killers in high places” will hear from him. Although he knows it will never change, he will not let it happen without speaking up about it.

The song shows how art can make a different. It shows how it creates affect in the audience and possibly changes how they perceive the world. The song becomes political due to the rupture, according to Rancière. The rupture creates affect and moves the audience. When the audience is moved, they might see how the police order keeps certain things invisible and how they are excluded from governing and power.

By showing the many forms of love both in “Anthem” and other songs, Cohen points to what is normally invisible to those excluded. He points to the lack of equality and freedom, to how people are victims of poverty, crime, violence, etc. He also points to the idea of spiritual love as a solution, not to save the world, but to transcend the human condition.

“Anthem” as well as the other songs is heavy with imagery and the intense poetic language that is characteristic for Cohen. It is clearly crafted to create affect, to play on emotions, build up a world in the imagination of the reader/listener and leave them changed. There is great intensity in the images and words, they come together as images rather than language, and they show possible worlds, as Dufrenne says. Whereas “Democracy” and “Stories of the Street” seem to leave the audience in a bleak state, “Anthem” offers a hope. The imperfections of the world, the flaws of human kind become their hope. Through the failures, light enters the mind, and this is where you can overcome the world.

“And that’s how I want to end it. The summer’s almost gone. The winter’s tuning up. Yeah, the summer’s gone, but a lot goes on forever”[1]

From language to imagination, from affect to dissensus, and from dissensus to a possible change of perception, poetry turns to politics. With the theories of Mikel Dufrenne and Jacques Rancière, I have analyzed Cohen’s songs to show how the carefully crafted poetry by way of the audience’s imagination can influence how we look upon the organization of the sensible: who are allowed to speak, what is visible and what is not, and how can we change how the sensible is distributed in our world by way of true politics.


And this is what I talk about when I talk about literature. The power of the written word, the power of the worlds created in our imagination, the emotion that can be transferred from a book to a reader, the intensity of a few lines of a poem, the way you can read something, look up and feel like another person. This is power. This is perfection!

From Narnia to Harry Potter to Tolkien to Ib Michael to Tolstoy to Umberto to Satanic Verses and Kite Runners. I have wandered through the World of Books, the Universe of Stories, not from one end to the other, but around and around, one corner to the other, changing, learning. We learn when we read, it’s not just about the entertainment, it’s about how we for a moment in time can be someone else, can feel differently, can see through another person’s eyes. Be it good or bad, smart or dumb, big or small, reading brings perspective, perspective makes you a better person, as does empathy, which is another great by-product of reading.

Don’t just sit there. Go read a book.



Just another girl

I recently stumbled upon a book named “The Girl on the Train”, while browsing the bookstore for birthday presents, i.e. Stephen King (all hail to the King) books for a friend. It was on sale, not very cheap, but still on sale, and even though I rarely buy new books, as I prefer second-hand, I bought this one for myself, adding it to the basket of King volumes. It was a strange thing for me to do for so many reasons: As mentioned, I rarely buy new books, and I rarely buy books I haven’t somehow been recommended through trustworthy sources, and even more, I rarely, as in never, buy books from the crime section. But there was something about this one. I had come across the title so many times in the past months. I had seen it mentioned over and over while browsing literary blogs, articles, news, etc. And it had caught my attention enough now to be put in my basket.

Luckily for this book, I was on my own in town, and I had some time to kill, which meant I was having lunch on my own before travelling home by bus. Lunch + bus ride means a lot of time for a new book, and I am a fast reader. Before I reached my house, I was almost half through the volume. And I was not very willing to stop reading even though home means kids, dinner, vacuuming, etc. I hurried to vacuum and pick up the kids so I could get back to the book. I managed to read for another hour and a half in the garden while the kids played and then I had to wait until after dinner when the kids were asleep. I didn’t go to sleep myself until I had finished the book.

This may not sound very unusual for other readers but for me it’s quite unusual to be able to finish a book in a day, especially a normal day with lots of other things to do. But I put aside everything I possibly could and just read. This book had something, that special something. The X-factor of books. It wasn’t my genre, not my normal preferred style, nothing normal, really, for me. But it was so good.

All this just to say that you’ll finally see me recommending a crime book. Off you go, now. Go and buy Paula Hawkins “The Girl on the Train.” You won’t be sorry.



All this light …

Just the other day I finished reading Anthony Doerr’s “All the light we cannot see.” This is one of those rare books that incorporate everything and forms perfection. It is beautifully written, almost hauntingly so, it has a great story, it touches upon the concepts of humanity, philosophy, love, what makes humans human – and what turns them evil … In all, this goes on the perfection shelf, and it has left me changed.

As I have mentioned before, this is what great literature does. It changes you and it stays with you forever. Even in the maelstroms of my very busy life, part of me is still sitting silently with Marie-Laure on the secret beach feeling the water slip back and forth over my bare feet, touching the world she will never see. Part of me still cries for the loss of the world, for the cruelty and the people pushed by fate to live in fear and longing.

Anthony Doerr writes in a voice that melts into your very soul and stays with you forever. In the blink of an eye, he’s become one of my favorite authors. His other books are now lined up for me to read, and I suspect they’ll be just as beautiful.

Another rare gem of perfection, an addictive Sea of Flames, this work reminds you of the humanity of history, how it wasn’t merely historic facts but real people who lived through this chaos and cruelty in our world, and not really so long ago. Where would you be in this, you ask yourself in the midst of this story. Wouldn’t you, too, try to hang on to your part of the world, having a hard time seeing it all from above. It is so easy, too easy, to see this once removed several decades from its whirlwind of events, but being in the middle of it, chaos consumes you.

Back to the literature, the art of it. This is what it does. It engulfs you and becomes so much more than printed words and a story. It moves you, touches you, makes you think and feel, and it changes your tiny cocoon of a world here and now. It moves from print to emotion to thought to world-changer. This is the life of literature.

I know there are people out there criticizing Anthony Doerr for normalizing and aesthetizising the Second World War with this book. I believe they are wrong. There is nothing normalized or beautified in this book. Quite the opposite. The horrors, the animalism and barbarism stand out clearly, it shocks, appalls and leaves you cold. With the underlying beauty and love that follow Werner, Jutta, Marie-Laure and the others, the horrors of the war itself, the killings, the torture and cold hate stands out even more clearly. And this is what fiction does compared to faction! Reading a list of facts on the war would never move you like Anthony Doerr’s story does, and this exactly is the power of aesthetics. Yes, his writing portrays Werner as a gentle soul despite the fact that he is trained as one of Hitler’s boys, and yes, he fights for the German side, but this is the point of it all! The people who fought, the boys who joined and found it glorious, how would they have been able to see it all decades removed and from above for a bigger picture? They didn’t have the time, perspective and history we have today. They wouldn’t have had the means to judge. This exactly makes it all the more realistic, the beauty enhancing the horror of it all – being right in the middle of this.

In conclusion, I’m adding this book to my shelf of perfection and I warmly recommend it to anyone who enjoys beautiful and moving literature. Now back to the maelstrom …


Life, books and everything …

We’re here, finally. Yesterday I finished my latest novel, which has been a long time coming. I started writing while still at the university, planning my master thesis. About the worst time possible to begin a novel, but sometimes, the words just want out.

Such a strange feeling after so long. A strange sort of vacuum. Waiting … but for what? Definitely waiting. And thinking: What next?

The messy stomach of my computer has another novel waiting … begun, far from finished. The shelves in my office hold meters of books I long to read. And life, well, life demands my presence as much as ever: clothes to be washed, pots to be rinsed, a dog to walk, pick up kids from kindergarten, cook, clean, play, talk, love …

Still, this waiting for something.

On the kitchen counter, next to the coffee machine, sits a half-finished novel. One from the many meters of Books To Read. I started it a few nights ago. I love it, but I am having a hard time reading it because it makes me cry all the time. It’s Arundhati Roy The God of Small Things.

Arundhati Roy

It’s so well-written, and so sad. Honest, brutal, beautiful. (Ever since I had the kids, I cry all the time. I bet some mothers out there know the feeling. Even the smallest things make me tear up, and definitely The God of Small Things.) I already gave it five stars on Goodreads. Even now I know it deserves it. It takes skill, depicting life like this. And it takes courage. I read some one-star reviews out of curiosity. One critic was angry that Arundhati Roy hadn’t made a happy ending. This puzzled me. I read it again. Yes, this person is angry that the story ends in sadness. Why, this is the whole point! This story, albeit fiction, is depicting life as it is. Not as it ought to be. This is writing! Writing with talent, with skill, with emotion and aesthetics all at play. This is moving the reader, moving the world with words alone. This is the heart of literature; what it can do and what it should do! Move something, do something, be something all on its own by its own heart.

I have read many authors that falls in category with The God of Small Things. To name a few: Ladoo, Achebe, Rushdie, Dabydeen, Coetzee. They have this in common that they depict the emotion, the sights, sounds, and smells of being there, living there, being stuck in this place, it’s about place, really. It gets to you, definitely, if you read with your heart. You want to help, to save, to do something.

And, why, isn’t this exactly what ought to happen when you read? You’re moved! The constructed words, formed by heart and brain of the artist, they form a life of their own, and they move from the text to you, into your heart and brain and they move you. You’re transported from your everyday life into a world formed by author, text and you, and here, you meet, you experience something else, something new, and you return to your everyday world, changed by the meeting with the world of the book. This is aesthetic experience! This is beautiful! And Arundhati Roy does it so well.

I guess, it all comes down to why you read. What are you looking for in a book? Pass-time? Quick and easy entertainment? Or do you want to immerse yourself in the experience of another world, life, experience, thought, feeling, knowing this might change your entire universe. Books can do that.

Now, go read something!