Poet and filmmaker Terje Dragseth is currently editing the documentary film project Jens Bjørneboe and the problem of evil. We initially asked him to tell us a little about the background and motivation for making this film.
- It's very simple – it is Bjørneboe anniversary this year and this is my contribution. I will return to Jens Bjørneboes three-volume work on the history of bestiality, The freedom, The silence og Powder Tower. The trilogy deals with something as large and extensive as the problem of evil, a main theme in a great body of writing. Although the work today is sadly little read, we will now mark it.
- What still engages with these books?
- These are three books that people have read in their youth, which gradually slip off, unfortunately, since you enter a comfort zone where you displace certain realities. It is this comfort zone that I intend to touch a little.
- Do you feel that you have ended up in this comfort zone?
- I'm in it, me too, but at least I'm aware of it.
Living in anxiety
- Bjørneboe writes about anxiety, and about living in anxiety as a motivation to write. When you talk about going into and living in the comfort zone, you think our safe and can established existence prevent us from understanding and engaging in what Bjørneboe writes?
- Yes, definitely. What the middle class represents is a kind of self-medication of complacency. The middle class, who are in all established positions in society today, are doing very well, and that is good, but it can also look like a kind of sleep, where they protect all their privileges. When these privileges are threatened, the situation becomes quite different, as we see in Poland, England, France and Brazil, where authoritarian figures see their cut to take the role of mouthpiece for the upper class and middle class.
- Back to the movie. Can you say a little about the subject, the layout does not seem to be what I associate with a traditional documentary?
- The film is divided into three acts, which refer to the three books. When it has been edited, it should appear as a ninety – minute conversation between six people, with evil as the common thread. My stylistic approach is quite dry and unspectacular. The purpose is to stimulate concentration, because good conversations require concentration. I want to use this remedy to get out of the mentioned complacency, which means that you do not read Bjørneboe. The film consists of this conversation, and partly clips of Bjørneboe himself from the NRK archives, and in addition some poetic still lifes that I put in to stimulate reflection. But it should be a film that is visual, dynamic and interesting to watch, otherwise I could only have published one book.
The conversation on which the film is based is led by panelists Truls Øhra, Arne Johan Vetlesen, Vigdis Hjorth, Maria Kjos Fonn, Lars Svendsen and the undersigned. My hope was that their intellectual capital could create exciting dialogues, which I believe it has also managed.
We are talking about whether it is theology and dogmas that do not tolerate reality
The problem of evil
- How did you set up the questions you ask the panel – what starting points do you use to shed light on the problem of evil?
- It is important to be aware that the questions linearly follow the order of the books and are taken from these. I focus, for example, on how Christianity has been in cahoots with power and contributed to the history of bestiality. I say, "I know well who Satan is, it is freedom, and that freedom we are afraid of," it demands a responsibility from us. We are talking about whether it is theology and dogmas that do not tolerate reality; the servant of justice in the book The silence says, for example, that he was raised in a lie. The ruling clergy are constantly sitting on the truth, but are in danger of losing their hegemony. Here it is especially the philosophers in the panel who speak, Svendsen and Vetlesen.
- Another panelist is Truls Øhra, who has also just written an important book, The History of Power, which places Christianity at the heart of the development of European civilization. Among other things, he operates with two opposing currents within Christianity throughout history, the superstitious, aggressive and the Hellenistic, humanistic Christianity.
- Yes, thank God, and this also affects Øhra in the conversations. Øhra's book is, as he himself also confirms, an in-depth study of this part of Bjørneboe's authorship, «The History of Bestiality». By the way, they were also friends. The book The History of Power implements and complements Bjørneboe's project on evil as a social problem.
In these books, Bjørneboe also deals with the phenomenon of madness and crime. Like the French philosopher Michel Foucault, Bjørneboe questions the deviation itself. Madness and crime are primarily seen as a result of the power's need to define itself by enforcing normality.
In particular with reference to Nietzsche and also theology, we touched on this. Power and evil go hand in hand. One cannot exercise power without using means of force which consist of having a police force, a force of violence which in particular exposes the periphery of society to discipline – where there is constant rebellion. Madness is also a very relative concept.
"Most of today's writers are adapted to the norms of 'normal' fiction."
Adaptation and formation
- What role does the school and education system play today – has it changed since Bjørneboe's time and the school novel Jonas?
- Adaptation and education are two opposite methods in today's education and school. Adaptation is the formatting of the individual, who grinds off the rebellious and critical edges and arranges the "adaptable and conventional" against the "rebellious and criminal", if we are to stick to Bjørneboe's metaphors. Formation has the opposite effect. Formation opens up for a free-thinking individual by stimulating critical analytical thinking and opening up alternative perceptual stories of a currently very limited perception of reality.
- In conclusion, how do you view the significance of Bjørneboe's authorship for today's authors and the literary public?
- Most of today's authors are adapted to the norms of "normal" fiction as it is formatted by the editors of the publishers. Jens Bjørneboe's authorship has been overshadowed by the romantic myths about the author, and if there is one thing that contemporary writers do not care about, it is the visionary romance. Stig Sæterbakken is an example of a visionary romantic who used approximately the same method as Bjørneboe. Jens Bjørneboe is a master at using both poetic optics and the very concrete fact-based realism. Contemporary writers have a lot to learn here.
VEGA Scene: Jens Bjørneboe and the problem of evil