The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 13 April 2017

Jon Fosse’s: Trilogy

Hello Gentle Reader

Theatre is a commodity for both entertainment and second hand emotion, which is to be delivered with the greatest talents of oration and body language. Actors however are only human puppets who give voice and body to the characters in which they are told to represent with the greatest powers of their ability. Actors are merely voice and body to characters far from their imagination. Theatre technicians are more or less magicians and landscapers, who through smoke and mirrors are able to conjure and project the image necessary for the theatrical envisioned reality to find its physical space in which to occupy. Now working both at a hockey arena and a live theatre, while slogging my way through school—I have the unique position to watch the imagined take its illusionary physical form. Yet who you don’t see the writer of the production. You meet the actors of course; wound up to the point that they are as tight as ticks, the introverted technician doing their best to interpret direction into the desired form; and the director who sees fit to oversee the production, and ensure it’s a swimming success. No line is dropped; no light out of place, no movement improvised—everything must be tightly controlled. But the writer; they most certainly have washed their hands of this project; they’ve completed their task and moved on to something new. A writer (as it was once stated) is next to god. They are introverted and quiet creatures, but beneath their bookish appearances lay the most egotistical creator. In their minds resides a personal paradise, a place reserved and untouched by others, populating this world are the most subservient of people, who will do as dictated and instructed. With a scribble of a pen, this world will come into existence; with a strike of eraser or pen, the world can change. Magdalena Tulli herself had commented on the absentminded ability of people to create worlds with impulsive fervor and then soon lose interest in them, where they pop and dissolve back into the nothingness in which they were fabricated from. Writers I can only presume write, and once the craft is honed and completed its left at that; what is on the page is the beginning and the end of their involvement. Actors are to bring to life the characters which have been envisioned, while technicians use light, smoke, and mirrors to decorate the world imagined. Beyond this though, writers it appears have no interest in their creations. Too many chefs in the kitchen is after all rather damaging to the ego; and when someone else has a different idea as to how your characters should act or behave, will certainly leave ones toes throbbing. The meddling of other associates and reality itself can never truly come to achieving the imagined world, which has been documented on the page.

Jon Fosse is the worlds most performed living playwright. He has written around forty plays including adaptions; with his debut play: “Someone Is Going To Come,” written in nineteen-ninety two to nineteen-ninety three, and was first produced in nineteen-ninety six. The theatre has not been Fosse’s greatest love or even h is foray into it. His first love and debut into literature was prose, in which he debuted in nineteen-eighty three with “Red, Black.” He did not turn his eyes to the theatre until he was in his mid-thirties. Yet in two-thousand and fourteen, Fosse has ended his affair with the theatre, stating he would prefer to write more slowly and less of course, and the thought of writing a new play does not bring any sense of enjoyment or pleasure for the writer.

Though Jon Fosse has written many plays, novels and poems, and has been translated into more than forty languages, the reception of his theatrical dramas in the English language, have been polite but ambivalent or muted at best. There is no denying Fosse’s talent for the theatre, with his splintered dialogue, silences, pauses; all reminiscent of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter; yet Fosse brings something else to the table with both his prose and dramatic texts; there is a certain poetic stream of consciousness movement, and a lack of absurdity or humour, and a more cooler and apprehensive take to his desolate scenery and equal hesitant characters, completely uncertain with regards to life. The characters of Fosse’s universe are marooned and are often at odds with their life and their surroundings; and yet they always appear apathetic or incapable of doing much else beyond brooding over the casual existential anxiety which looms well overhead. It could be said the English stage is less welcoming or forgiving of those it deems of foreign languages. Despite the lack of appreciation or warm enthusiasm Fosse has received in the English language world, he is world renowned and successful. There is not a year that goes by in which Jon Fosse is noted a noted possible contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature; were in two-thousand thirteen looked like his year.

Two years ago Jon Fosse received the Nordic Council Literature Prize for his Trilogy: “Andvake,” (“Wakefullness,”) “Olavs Draumar,” (“Olav’s Dream,”) and “Kveldsvævd,” (“Weariness,”).
The adjudicating committee for the prize had the following to say about Jon Fosse’s win:

“This year’s prize winner is a rare example of innovative style hand in hand with content that has the ability to touch readers across time and place. Conveyed in a highly poetic form of prose and with a wilfully playful attitude to the narrative, this love story spans all times and no time. Like few others, the author manages to chisel out a highly personal literary form. Weaving biblical allusions, Christian mysticism and poetic imagery into the tension of the plot in a way that opens up the story of two people in love to a wider world and to history.”

Jon Fosse’s trilogy is less then two-hundred pages in length, but in its small packaging, it packs a poetic punch, which novels twice or tripe its size fail to achieve.

“Andvake,” (“Wakefulness,”)

The first in the Trilogy, introduces the characters Asle and Alida, two poor and unfortunate souls lost and wondering – whose circumstances mimic that of Joseph and Mary, in the famous nativity story. Alse and Alida are poor, homeless and Alida is pregnant. The short novella showcases Fosse’s renowned style: his long meandering sentences, his repetitive and stream of consciousness style, and his almost simplistic (yet hypnotic) vocabulary, not to mention the hallmark of his theatrical works, the splintered dialogue.

Through the novella the reader is given witness to the plight of Asle and Alida, orphans left abandoned to the world. Asle’s father had died when he was younger, but he remembers the fiddle his father played at weddings (where by happenstance he would meet his future love: Alida), and as the novel opens his mother is also now deceased, which leaves Asle to the cruel world on his own. Unfortunate turns to misery shortly after, where the boat house in which he lives in is repossessed by its owners who informs Asle and Alida to vacate. Alida’s prospects are no better either, her mother and her are at each other’s throats. Ma Herdis has greater faith in Alida’s sister Oline (described as the ‘good one,’ or ‘the white one,’) was more capable of taking over the farm. Desperate times call for even greater desperate measures; thievery and perhaps some murderous intrigue in the mix. Fosse however allows such dramatic events to play off stage and are commented on with an understated inclination.

The novella finishes with Asle and Alida in Bjørgvin seeking a room for rent, where they are out of the rain and the autumn chill. Much like Joseph and Mary though, they are met with insult, injury or a slammed door. No one could possibly desire to take such people in. Salvation can only come when it is once again taken, and so Alida should release her child into a cruel world, which has only been capable of receiving him through cruel actions. Yet despite the actions of Asle and Alida, there is always a sense of pity and sympathy which radiates from their souls and shadows; where forgiveness is sought, and through kind portrayals given.

“Olavs Draumar,” (“Olav’s Dream,”)

No one can escape their past. Change your name. Sweep your past beneath the rug. Stay in the fog. Solitude and silence is ally and lover. Yet every shadow follows like a stray dog. No one can retain opaque perspective or image forever.

In “Olav’s Dream,” Asle and Alida now run hide among assumed aliases: Olav and Asta with their new born child Sigvald. They live on the outskirts of town, scrapping together a meager existence, for themselves, but it was better than their previous life and circumstances. Olav has decided to head off to Bjørgvin where he will procure rings for Asta and himself, to solidify their status as an item. As Olav leaves the house however, Asta remarks it will be the last time she will see him.

On his journey to Bjørgvin Olav is referred to by a similar name: Asle. He does his best dissuade this remark as nothing more than a mistaken identity. Yet the man who calls him Asle does not let up on Olav, and again refers to him as Asle. Thankfully Olav is capable of shaking the unwanted spectator off, and makes it Bjørgvin—though it’s not much a sanctuary in itself. It is here though Olav is treated to a few tankers of beer, and even finds the most beautiful bracelet in which he is able to gift Asta. The most wonderful bracelet, which she so fittingly deserves. Luck and love is always in short supply; and unrest is quick to absorb such a small commodity within its quantity. The man from the past resurfaces once again, and this time confronts Olav about questionable actions he has done when he was Asle.

Innocence, love, crimes of desperation with passion as reason—these are no longer excusable; as fate now requires payment and penance, through the noose of justice. Olav’s life (or lie) quickly shatters and dissolves around him. The bracelet for Asta stolen; the life he dreamed for his family and himself is quickly tied off with a tourniquet. Asle is brought forward on accusations of murder, and by the law of the day (whichever unfortunate day this is) he is to meet his maker through the same shadowy old geezer who exposed him, who now is given the satisfaction of ruining and taking Olav’s life, as hangman.

“Olav’s Dream,” is perhaps my personal favourite of Fosse’s trilogy. It is often reviewed and stated with Jon Fosse’s prose, that when one reads Fosse’s work, there is a rhythm which one must get in sync with in order to truly appreciate the repetitive and poetic qualities of Fosse’s prose. Often I’ve found myself slightly out of step with the waltz of Fosse’s work, and yet now finally, with the final passages of “Olav’s Dream,” his miraculous prose finally revealed their poetic ingenuity and beauty, and left me cold with an uncertainty whether or not it would be possible to continue. Finally it seems I got Jon Fosse’s work, and it was a startling and welcoming revelation.

“Kveldsvævd,” (“Weariness,”).

Conclusion and curtain call. “Weariness,” opens with Ales an old woman ruminating on her life. She recalls Little Sister who died young, and her older brother Sigvald had left when she was still young and never return, though he played the fiddle—much like his father Asle (Olav) and his grandfather Pa Sigvald. Ales see her mother Alida through her living room window, and follows, her aged mother into the kitchen the coziest place in the home. For the kitchen is heart and hearth of any home: with stove, coffee and tea.

Through Ales we see the conclusion of Alida’s life without Asle. Salvation was to be found for Alida, now homeless and starving, doing her best to take care of her still new born child: Sigvald. With the beginning charity of Åsleik, Alida is treated to a meal and beer, and then a home, where she would work as his house keeper, before finally marrying him. Though Asle still lurks deep in her heart—and with a serendipitous hand of fate, she would find his stolen bracelet, in which he planned to place upon her wrist; the most beautiful bracelet in the world.

“Weariness,” recounts with great clarity the events of Asle and Alida’s life. How Asle murdered Alida’s mother, the boat house owner, the midwife; and through these crimes, he is hung for them, leaving Alida in the cruel and unforgiving world, where she returns to Bjørgvin to find Asle but in return once again finds doors locked and slammed shut. In contrast to the depraved and uncertain world of Alida enters Åsleik whose life appears to have gone in its mundane usual certainty with no major hiccups or acts of desperation. He informs Alida of the fate of Asle, though she cannot bear thought of her husband a murder who has been hung.

Tragedy however is in large supply for the lovers Asle and Alida. As Alida points out Asle is in the waves, the sea, the clouds and the sky. He is there, around her, enveloping her, and yearning for her. Ales comments early, she never saw her mother Alida old. As the novella ends, Alida is caressed and carried out to the sea, to be with her beloved Asle.

Concluding Thoughts –

Jon Fosse is an expert in the miniature and the minimal requirements to get the biggest impact in his writing – a trait that is greatly admired (at least on my end). However, Fosse’s language a already noted requires a certain amount of synchronization in order for the affect to be profound, provocative and to truly realize how he has staked his claim as one of the greatest writers at work on the international literary stage. Personally, I find I either read to fast, or skim lightly and often am not capable of slipping into his rhythmic language often; but when I have, it’s an amazing impact, which leaves one completely cold in the way the best writers are capable of managing it. Fosse’s use of simple repetitive language to create a profound poetic love story and love song to the unfortunate lovers fighting against fate and life is an endearing read. It has many mystical as well as theological overtones, with comparison to the nativity story; but all inclinations of religious themes begin and end here. Fosse’s work is his own, and it’s a sharp shard of a gem which pierces and penetrates, with sly mastery which evokes real sentiment, not second hand emotions or panhandled sympathies. The plight is human, and the world is cruel; but through it all love exists and moves forward, on the smallest string of a fiddle.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary 

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