Saturday, August 03, 2019

Arvid Falk's freedom

In Sweden I fell eagerly on this graphical version, by Per Demervall (originally published 1986-1988), of August Strindberg's early novel Röda rummetThe Red Room (1879). The cartoon format made nineteenth-century Swedish a bit less formidable, but not much. Strindberg's satire of Stockholm life is replete with difficult registers: bureaucratic pomposity, commercial dissimulation, political sloganism, intellectual pretension and intoxicated fury.

Having struggled through it, understanding barely half the text, I'm now reading the full novel in Ellie Schleussner's English translation, thanks to Gutenberg. I'll write more about it at some point. In the mean time, here's a few pages from Chapter 3, the same section that's shown above.




It was between eight and nine o'clock on the same beautiful May morning. Arvid Falk, after the scene with his brother, was strolling through the streets, dissatisfied with himself, his brother, and the whole world. He would have preferred to see the sky overcast, to be in bad company. He did not believe that he was a blackguard, but he was disappointed with the part he had played; he was accustomed to be severe on himself, and it had always been drummed into him that his brother was a kind of stepfather to whom he owed great respect, not to say reverence. But he was worried and depressed by other thoughts as well. He had neither money nor prospect of work. The last contingency was, perhaps, the worse of the two, for to him, with his exuberant imagination, idleness was a dangerous enemy.

Brooding over these disagreeable facts, he had reached Little Garden Street; he sauntered along, on the left pavement, passed the Dramatic Theatre, and soon reached High Street North. He walked on aimlessly; the pavement became uneven; wooden cottages took the place of the stone houses; badly dressed men and women were throwing suspicious glances at the well-dressed stranger who was visiting their quarter at such an early hour; famished dogs growled threateningly at him. He hastened past groups of gunners, labourers, brewers' men, laundresses, and apprentices, and finally came to Great Hop-Garden Street. He entered the Hop-Garden. The cows belonging to the Inspector-General of Ordnance were grazing in the fields; the old, bare apple trees were making the first efforts to put forth buds; but the lime trees were already in leaf and squirrels were playing up and down the branches. He passed the merry-go-round and came to the avenue leading to the theatre; here he met some truant schoolboys engaged in a game of buttons; a little further a painter's apprentice was lying in the grass on his back staring at the clouds through the dome of foliage; he was whistling carelessly, indifferent to the fact that master and men were waiting for him, while flies and other insects drowned themselves in his paint-pots.

Falk had walked to the top of the hill and had come to the duck-pond; he stood still for a while, studying the metamorphoses of the frogs; watching the leeches; catching a water-spider. Then he began to throw stones. The exercise brought his blood into circulation; he felt rejuvenated, a schoolboy playing truant, free, defiantly free! It was freedom bought by great self-sacrifice. The thought of being able to commune with nature freely and at will, made him glad; he understood nature better than men who had only ill-treated and slandered him; his unrest disappeared; he rose and continued his way further into the country.

Walking through the Cross, he came into Hop-Garden Street North. Some of the boards were missing in the fence facing him, and there was a very plainly marked footpath on the other side. He crept through the hole, disturbing an old woman who was gathering nettles, crossed the large tobacco field where a colony of villas has now sprung up, and found himself at the gate of "Lill-Jans."

There was no doubt of its being spring in the little settlement, consisting of three cottages snugly nestling among elders and apple trees, and sheltered from the north wind by the pine-wood on the other side of the High Road. The visitor was regaled with a perfect little idyll. A cock, perched on the shafts of a watercart, was basking in the sun and catching flies, the bees hung in a cloud round the bee-hives, the gardener was kneeling by the hot-beds, sorting radishes; the warblers and brand-tails were singing in the gooseberry bushes, while lightly clad children chased the fowls bent on examining the germinative capacity of various newly sown seeds. A brilliant blue sky spanned the scene and the dark forest framed the background.

Two men were sitting close to the hot-beds, in the shelter of the fence. One of them, wearing a tall, black hat and a threadbare, black suit, had a long, narrow, pale face, and looked like a clergyman. With his stout but deformed body, drooping eyelids, and Mongolian moustache, the other one belonged to the type of civilized peasant. He was very badly dressed and might have been many things: a vagabond, an artisan, or an artist; he looked seedy, but seedy in an original way.

The lean man, who obviously felt chilly, although he sat right in the sun, was reading to his friend from a book; the latter looked as though he had tried all the climates of the earth and was able to stand them all equally well.

As Falk entered the garden gate from the high road, he could distinctly hear the reader's words through the fence, and he thought it no breach of confidence to stand still for a while and listen.

The lean man was reading in a dry, monotonous voice, a voice without resonance, and his stout friend every now and then acknowledged his appreciation by a snort which changed occasionally into a grunt and became a splutter whenever the words of wisdom to which he was listening surpassed ordinary human understanding.

"'The highest principles are, as already stated, three; one, absolutely unconditioned, and two, relatively unconditioned ones. Pro primo: the absolutely first, purely unconditioned principle, would express the action underlying all consciousness and without which consciousness cannot exist. This principle is the identity A—A. It endures and cannot be disposed of by thought when all empirical definitions of consciousness are prescinded. It is the original fact of consciousness and must therefore, of necessity, be acknowledged. Moreover, it is not conditioned like every other empirical fact, but as consequence and substance of a voluntary act entirely unconditioned.'"

"Do you follow, Olle?" asked the reader, interrupting himself.

"It's amazing! It is not conditioned like every other empirical fact. Oh! What a man! Go on! Go on!"

"'If it is maintained,'" continued the reader, "'that this proposition without any further proof be true....'"

"Oh! I say! What a rascal! without any further proof be true," repeated the grateful listener, bent on dissipating all suspicion that he had not grasped what had been read, "without any further reason, how subtle, how subtle of him to say that instead of simply saying 'without any reason.'"

"Am I to continue? Or do you intend to go on interrupting me?" asked the offended reader.

"I won't interrupt again. Go on! Go on!"

"Well, now he draws the conclusion (really excellent): 'If one ascribes to oneself the ability to state a proposition——'"

Olle snorted.

"'One does not propose thereby A (capital A), but merely that A—A, if and in so far as A exists at all. It is not a question of the essence of an assertion but only of its form. The proposition A—A is therefore conditioned (hypothetically) as far as its essence is concerned, and unconditioned only as far as its form goes.'

"Have you noticed the capital A?"

Falk had heard enough; this was the terribly profound philosophy of Upsala, which had strayed to Stockholm to conquer and subdue the coarse instincts of the capital. He looked at the fowls to see whether they had not tumbled off their roosts; at the parsley whether it had not stopped growing while made to listen to the profoundest wisdom ever proclaimed by human voice at Lill-Jans; he was surprised to find that the sky had not fallen after witnessing such a feat of mental strength. At the same time his base human nature clamoured for attention: his throat was parched, and he decided to ask for a glass of water at one of the cottages. . . .


Per Demervall's more recent realization, the Asterix-style adventures of Siri the Viking girl. This one is Siri och Mimers Brunn / Siri and Mimir's Well.

[Image source: ]



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