How to live in a world where the very unfolding of life leads to violence?

The first words
Forfatter: Erland Kiøsterud
Forlag: Oktober, (Norge)
FICTION / In Kiøsterud's quiet recluse novel, life is weighed against the pain in a quest for reconciliation. Nature remains silent and ambiguous, even when the protagonist tries to step aside with his demands for meaning.


Nietzsche wrote his book That's how Zarathustra spoke, «A book for everyone and no one», about a hermit living in the wilderness to think through the question of good and evil. The book was part of Nietzsche's confrontation with the tiredness, emptiness and meaninglessness he saw seizing in the West, and which he called European nihilism. He saw this as a counterpart to the Buddhist pessimism, or Eastern nihilism, which he found in Schopenhauer, where the very will to live is seen as a painful obsession from which to free oneself. Erland Kiøsterud's latest novel invites to be read in a Nietzschean landscape, where a kind of Norwegian spruce bar-realistic version of Zarathustra tries to find peace with the world and himself after a total life crisis – which is also made a crisis for life itself, for the people of the West and humanity.

Unlike Nietzsches Zarathustra is Kiøsterud's main character Christian on the defensive, existentially speaking. Not only does he suffer, but he suffers from his own failing ability to give suffering meaning – and thus to believe in life, his own life or human life at all.

In the previous two books [i.a. The ecology of silence] in this novel trilogy, the reader has followed him through a life drama that is not spectacular in itself, but which is charged with an explosive meaning – or rather an implication of meaning – that he and his loved ones experience.

He has inherited a boarding house that has been left behind by the demands of modern times for profit. He and his wife, Magda-Marie, nurture the place with the utmost care, as if it were about saving a world, protecting everything that is vulnerable to destruction. When the destruction finally comes, it happens through his son Jonas, who has studied economics abroad and who returns to buy up the debt-laden guest house – to demolish it and build a golf course.

Charged symbolism

If the symbolism seems charged to the breaking point, it at least does not go over the head of the novel's reflected characters. They all seem like facets of the main character, not to mention the author – since each of them seems to live his life as an answer to the same question: how to live in a world where the very unfolding of life leads to violence? This problem bothers Christian's little brother Carlo in particular, who has given up an artist career to live a quiet, monastic and sacrificial life where he works at the Blue Cross and does not talk to anyone – like a Buddhist monk without a smile, who turns his back on the world and accepts all things. perishability. Thus we are back to Nietzsche, who was trying to find a western solution Buddhisms problem: Is it possible to embrace the world rather than turn away from it – and truly love this human side? Nietzsche's solution was to love the wrong steps, love the suffering, love the evil, even, but Kiøsterud's main character has no extra resources such as distance or mocking cheerfulness; he is traumatized, he has seen too much lost.

A kind of Norwegian spruce bar-realistic version of Zarathustra tries to find peace with the world
and himself after a total life crisis.

After the guest house is demolished and the wife has met her quiet death in a ditch with a buttercup in hand, Christian is alone – and has borrowed a hut in the woods by a water – where he tries to think through it all and process the grief while the landscape goes from autumn to winter. In a way, it's a story where nothing happens, where everything has already happened – an old age story. At the same time, this quiet stagnation allows for imperceptible changes and discreet miracles. The calm and bitter sensuality in the depictions of life in the hut: wood stacking, the life of the waders and the pockets out on the water. And Christian's half-hearted and ambivalent attempt to fish and hunt with snares.

For Christian, winter will be the big crisis. The cold and hunger become trials he almost chooses to expose himself to, as if he wants to elicit the will to live by stubbornly living on a minimum, without even encouraging himself, without really choosing before life chooses for him. "There is no pattern in the bird tracks outside," he notes somewhere. The numb feeling of emptiness haunts him until spring comes – and brings with it an ambiguous inner rebirth, which also carries death with it.

Dancing wild dancer

If Christian goes through his drama on behalf of the author, and Kjøsterud thinks through the lot of man on behalf of everyone, the elusive and quiet finale of the novel trilogy will also be a moment of destiny. Nietzsche, in his last lonely years of wandering, was observed by the housekeepers of the alpine pensions dancing wild dances alone, naked, in the chamber. Kiøsterud's main character dances on the crowd in the spring sun, and it is not meant to mean anything: It is an affirmation also of meaninglessnessone, of his own insignificance, of the transience of life. The match is neither won nor abandoned.

Kiøsterud's novel is a story that must erase itself and run into the sand to be finished, because in the end Christian also sees the words as a violence against the world. The question of what we should think about the fate of the West thus remains unanswered. The message is more mysterious and intimate: Maybe it's only when we let go , the raw # et we can experience the world and man without demands for meaning and justification. In silence, no one is accused: everything is as it is.

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