When you’re a genius, you need to be strong to be happy. Of course i’m not talking about myself; hey – even when, in a couple of years from now, these Stockholm guys finally put me on that Nobel Prize shortlist, i’ll stay completely modest. No, i’m talking about people like Murakami. Or Prince.
“The essence of fiction is solitary work: the work of writing, the work of reading,” Jonathan Franzen wrote in 2002 in his essay Why Bother?. Can’t agree more. Although please add ‘painting’ too. Reading, like writing, is creating, says Franzen. That’s what distinguishes it, for example, from going to a movie. Jonathan Franzen: “I’m able to know Sophie Bentwood (the main character in Paula Fox’s novel Desperate Characters) intimately, and to refer to her as casually as I would to a good friend, because I poured my own feelings of fear and estrangement into my construction of her (my italics).” ‘My construction’, while reading. So, basically, reading is indeed a creative act. If Franzen would have only known her by the on screen version, in 1971 with Shirley MacLaine as Sophie, “Sophie would remain an Other, divided from me by the screen, by the superficiality of film, and by MacLaine’s star presence. At most, I might feel I knew MacLaine a little better.” (Knowing MacLaine a little better, however, is what the country mainly wants, Franzen adds.)
I think coincidence – some might prefer to call it ‘fate’ - is strongly underrated. When i look back into my own past, i find at least four occasions which could have ended tragically if not fatally. When i was 6 we visited the Han grottoes, on a school trip. Coming out of the grotto a huge piece of rock, some 50 kilos, came down, missing me by an inch or two. Nobody had even seen it. A schoolteacher turned around, shouting, “Hurry up now boy, or you’ll miss the bus.” I’d almost missed my life.
Sixteen years later we had been painting the walls all day in the youth club i ran. It was almost night, we were exhausted, we were going to have a last drink in the pub some hundred meters down the street. For one reason or another i had to shut down the electricity. My friends were already waiting outside, the lights were out. My hands were wet, i had washed them. In the dark, i was stupid enough to go into the electricity closet. It was an old style handle. I grabbed it. It shot up my shoulder. When i came out of the door, someone asked where i’d been so long. “I’ve had a near death experience” wasn’t exactly the answer they’d expected.
Fate. Another 10 years later i run out of my office to go and have a sandwich. I’m in a dreamy mood (that’s no news: i often am when walking the streets. Actually, strike out ‘walking the streets’). I hear a loud TING TING TING.
If you’ve never seen these words in all of your life, you’ve never been to hell. Good boy. Or girl. But hey - what hasn’t been is yet to come. So, as a matter of preparation, you might be curious to know about how things evolve down there.
Fortunately, we’ve got Dante. He’s been there and wrote a book about it: La Divina Commedia. Been there - well… passing through, that is, on his way to his beloved Beatrice, who was waiting for him in Heaven. And as the way to heaven, at least in those old days, happened to be leading through hell he didn’t have much of a choice. Yes: true love conquers all, but - he was in fine company: as you can see in the marvelous accompanying painting (1850) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (pic 1), Virgil, the Roman poet, was guiding him.
When i had a look at Sarah Stefanutti’s pictures of her grandma (see preceding text), i thought instantly of Jacqui Kenny. She’s the woman behind the Instagram account ‘Streetview Portraits’. She’s highly agoraphobic too. She’s afraid to go out, so she travels without leaving her front door: she travels via Google Streetview.
What i like about her Streetview Portraits is that, through the eyes of Jacqui, functional images that were taken by the passing Google car become art. Look at her sense of composition, colour, her empathy filtering through.