Sep 062020

My dog’s health is declining. I won’t go into detail, but the latest development is that she has started to limp, on alternating paws. One of these days, I shall have to take her to the vet’s for the final solution. She has had 12 good years and will have a painless death. I will be heartbroken.

Not everybody dies painlessly. People in concentration camps, for instance… In Finland there was a terrible civil war in 1918. All I knew about it, until I read Kjell Westö’s novel The Wednesday Club, was that the “Whites” beat the “Reds” and saved the country (for the Germans, except that the Germans lost everything after WWI). Frankly, my ignorance was more due to lack of interest than to anything else. I mean, who cares about Finland? (Until I read the Wednesday Club, that is.)

But before I continue about the Wednesday Club, I would like to draw your attention once again to Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Don’t read about the book, just go get it. I mean, what are pandemics for if not for enlightenment?

In Finland, after the 1918 civil war, there appear to have been concentration camps in which thousands of people died, not from wounds but from maltreatment.

Kjell Westö’s novel is not about the concentration camps as such, but about how the winners of the war told their story. He describes the crippling shame felt, still in 1938, by women who had been raped in concentration camps in 1919. The author seems to be suggesting that since, in 1938, Finnish society had not yet started to understand what crimes had been committed by the winners in 1918, they were already busy excusing Nazi crimes, endorsing fascism and overlooking the ghastly moral consequences of easy fixes. I find the narrative very compelling, because I recognise it. I recognise the pattern.

My personal history links me to South America and to Palestine, where so much injustice has been inflicted and endured that I am almost in favour of endorsing euthanasia for entire populations to spare the victims more misery. After all, to quote Jane Fonda, “they shoot horses, don’t they?”

Your personal history might link you to Algeria or Egypt; or Iran; or India. At the moment, everything seems to indicate that in Russia, murdering Putin’s political opponents is just a cup of tea. Navalnyj, whatever else he might be, is nothing if not astoundingly brave, a hero and a martyr. In the West, we also have martyrs, Julian Assange, for instance.

But what about the rest of us? How did our governments react to Operation Condor and the vicious and systematic slaughter of anyone vaguely “leftist” in most of Latin America (not least in Central America). How did we react here, for that matter, to the emergence of Nazi Germany in the 1930-s and the pogroms and subsequent extermination of Jews? How did our governments react to the Vietnam war? In retrospect, have Bush Jr. or Tony Blair or José Aznar expressed any shame about the war on Iraq and its aftermath? On the contrary, it would seem that the US and the UK are hell-bent on preventing crimes committed by the state from being exposed, cf. the Julian Assange case, which in reality is about defence of a free press. I quote the N.Y. Times:

From the start, the charges against Mr. Assange have raised profound First Amendment issues because his actions are difficult to distinguish in a legally meaningful way from those of traditional news organizations. It would be unprecedented in American law for such activity to result in criminal convictions, so press freedom advocates have denounced the charges against him and have been watching the case closely.

The winner is always the one to tell the story. But even after a winner has had to leave the scene, he or she will rarely express shame. Shame is felt primarily by a perpretrator’s victims, who have often had to do things they, the victims, feel are indefensible.

The Latin American dictators and their henchmen (and their far from innocent wives) have shown no regret, no shame when questioned by the press or by judges. Not a jot of it. On the other hand, those who survived torture and many years’ imprisonment …, well, you can imagine.

On this cheerful note, I can recommend a whole stack of very good novels. Tonight I particularly wish to direct your attention to José Saramago. Any of his novels will probably astound you. I love his elegant irony and humour, as well as his penetrating insight. I believe the man must have been extraordinarily intelligent. His most important work may have been Blindness (Ensaio sobre a Cegueira). I would also recommend, for the sake of the reader’s sanity, the somewhat more cheerful follow-up Seeing (Ensaio sobre a Lucidez). If you cannot read them in Portuguese, read them in Spanish, if you can, because most of them were beautifully translated by his Spanish wife.

Feb 272016

A source of income for some, a means of revenge for others – for me and countless TV watchers, crime is just entertainment.

Actually, I don’t watch all that much TV, not even crime, for various reasons, one of them being that what happens on the screen all seems a bit irrelevant. Not that I’m not in favour of a little bit of escapism! I guess my escapism just takes other forms than, for instance, gory on-screen murders.

Sometimes, however, I do actually enjoy even a gory on-screen murder, and over the past week I have been watching the first five episodes (of 10) of an Icelandic film for TV titled Trapped / Innesperret (signed Baltasar Kormákur).

Anybody who has ever been to any of the tiny, remote towns that still dot isolated areas of the western world must have wondered: How do they manage? What makes them tick? Why do people stay? Are they in any way like us? And what if a murder were to happen here just when a blizzard was blocking all communication with the rest of the world?

On the coast of Iceland, blizzards happen all the time, and yes, they do from time to time block all communication with the rest of the world. That’s what the film is about. It tells a realistic story not only of a gory murder, but of a town you can actually see on the map, a town that has survived, survives and will continue to survive against all odds, despite isolation from glitzy honey pots. Although the location Seydisfjördur is real, the characters portrayed are fictional, but they are sure to exist somewhere, because they are the kind of people that are likely to live in any town.

Like any small place, it looses some people, who move to the big world. But all in all, the grandeur and courage of the film’s Seydisfjördur and its people is magnificent. Somehow, the film helps me understand why people I admire actually choose to live in such places, even to move there.

Jul 282015

Of course, you don’t have to believe the common-law wife of the late Stieg Larsson. They’d been living together for more than thirty years when he died, but I’ll grant you any day that we can’t rule out that she’s a scheming bitch. I mean, all I know, except that “know” is a misnomer here, is what I have read and heard – and as we all know, the official and generally accepted version tends, in the end, to have been that of the winning side and, as such, not necessarily the side that deserved to win. Hers is not the winning side.

So if you are one of the “Men who Hate Women” (the original title of Stieg Larsson’s first book – in translations it was changed against his wishes) or, for that matter, a woman who hates women, you will probably be more prone to assume that her story is a construct, and there are no doubt very many reasons to hate women, among the most common: there are innumerable bitchy sarcastic mothers, soft-spoken sadistic teachers, scheming seductive mistresses and, not least, intolerably stupid and ignorant wives. People who have had to endure any of the above for a whole upbringing, not to mention a whole married life, need to work hard to defend their sanity.

By now I will have infuriated some people to the extent that they are pelting tomatoes at me, so I hasten to add parenthetically that there are equally many God’s-gift-to-womenkind-narcissist men, presidents (male of course) of countries we wish we had never heard of, barons of gruesome crime, professional practitioners of torture (and I don’t mean dentists), ect., etc.

So, back to the men who hate women: They tend to crack in the end. Just read Stieg Larsson’s books: The female protagonist and principal hero is a woman who has endured every kind of abuse from men who appear to be normal, who lead normal lives, but who hate women and crack when they think nobody hears or sees.

She herself is anything but bitchy, sarcastic, sadistic, intriguing, seductive, intolerably stupid or ignorant. She’s not even soft-spoken. She’s blunt and abrupt and hurt, with good reason, though mostly silent and sullen. She doesn’t ask for pity, but the male protagonist and secondary hero, senses her pain through her silent anger and reaches out to her.

Do you honestly think that anybody could write three enormous bricks of crime fiction in homage to a pained, silent and talented woman if he had been living, for decades, with a scheming lynx?

So I go for the widow’s story. I believe her for various reasons: In those days – when they became a couple – marrying was something leftists just did not do. Moreover, this particular couple had every reason not to publicise their relationship because he was a profiled investigative journalist who occasionally received death threats.

I have not heard anybody dispute that they lived together for over thirty years or that he received death threats. That is not at issue. The pivotal element is that according to Swedish law, your estate passes to your next of kin when you die unless you’ve left a will. But he died young, in the sense that when you are 50 and in good health – to all appearances – drawing up a will feels ridiculous. I for my part have not done so either, and I am older than he was when he died (and similar laws apply in my country). Since they were not legally married, he was “intestate”, and his estate – the vast proceeds of book sales and the right to administer the copyright of his books – passed to his father and younger brother. And they, to my horror, accepted something that was theirs only through a jinx, since obviously his wife was his next of kin in every way but on paper.

Now in my initial list of pet hates – hates of certain kinds of women and certain kinds of men – I forgot to mention another hate object: that of certain kinds of parents.

Hating one’s parents is hardly more politically correct than hating one’s children. But I assure you that there are people who have good cause to hate the one or the other (not that hating does them any good).

It appears that until the age of nine, Stieg Larsson was brought up by his grand-parents in the country. When his grandfather died, he was sent to live with his parents in town but did not much appreciate the move, it seems. His mother died young, and I find little online information about his relationship with his father, except that there wasn’t much of it. Judging from what has happened after he died, I can well understand that.

You see, the most damning indictment of the father and brother is neither subjective nor conjecture but literally on paper: The fourth installment of Millenium has absolutely nothing to do with Stieg Larsson! It is true that he left material that he had intended for a fourth volume, but in her legal conflict with the family, his widow has refused to release his computer. So a second-rate writer has been hired to invent a sequel to Millenium. It is being released now.

I turn my back on it, and since money evidently matters more than honour to the father and brother of Stieg Larsson, I urge everyone who reads what I write to refrain from purchasing anything at all that bears his name, since the proceeds go, not to the person he would have wanted to inherit him, but to usurpers of his copyright. Please read only borrowed versions of Millenium I-III. Please do not purchase or even borrow volume IV of the series. It is a travesty.

The so-called “Larsson estate”, as well as the publisher and the rogue writer David Lagercrantz have abused what they usurped to even help themselves to Stieg Larson’s characters. This is all the more reprehensible since they have no understanding of his values, attitudes and views, according to the widow (and by golly, do I ever believe her!)

They are scavengers that feed on carrion. May they be perpetually haunted by foul smells.

Jun 012012

Though it is extremely unlikely, Mr Schiff, that you will ever find your way to this obscure Norwegian blog spot, I address whoever may be reading it in English, as what I am writing is intended for you.

Or rather, not only for you; also for some of the people you hoped to reach when you allowed the Guardian to post links to recordings of each and every one of your eight remarkable piano recitals of and about Beethoven’s sonatas, at Wigmore Hall – I believe it was in 2006 [sic]. I am also addressing some of the people who (in 2012) insist on preventing us from enjoying your work and that of others.

In the course of the past week (in 2012), after I had discovered the Guardian’s link from 2006, I learnt that none of the people I told about your recitals at Wigmore Hall, had ever heard about them.

Not to beat about the bush, I hasten to insert the link to your recitals here:

Guardian and Andrass Schiff recitals

I find that though I have listened to “classical music” since I was born, I learnt and am still learning a great deal from your recitals; not only about Beethoven, but about music in general. And that was, perhaps, why you sacrificed your copyright interests; for as you say in your very first lecture, “music education is not what it should be”.

There is a chasm between “classical” and “popular” music, notwithstanding the fact that even “classical” music was once popular. Moreover, just as Beethoven could not help learning from Hayden – and personally, I do understand his reluctance to admit the fact – popular music owes most of its bag of tricks to classical music. The chasm is, in my mind, based on the wide-spread misunderstanding that “classical” music is esoteric, something that requires special skills.

You say that music should be played, not talked about, but frankly, I think you have proved the very opposite: interpretation of what is construed as esoteric, also requires words. And your words are just perfect!

I carry very little influence, I’m afraid. Or rather, I don’t normally care what influence I carry. Only when I see a good thing that should be made known to many, do I deeply regret that I do not have a bevy of acolytes.

Apart from a sincere desire to express my gratitude to you for the delicious hours I have spent listening to your Beethoven recitals, I have another agenda:

When I had listened to what you played, and your quiet explanations of why you played what you played the way you played it, I was convinced that there was overwhelmingly good reason for playing the way you did. I turned to an Internet store to buy four records played by you. Had I not heard your recitals, I would never have known more of you than that you are one of a large number of star pianists.

I repeat:

– I heard your exposés and was grateful because you gave them to me.
– I heard your exposés and was convinced that your interpretation of Beethoven sonatas was well-founded, to say no more.
– I heard your exposés and felt they awakened in me an interest to hear more Beethoven.

I now turn to producers of music and film, and IFPI who have much – very much – to learn about me and from you.

[“IFPI – International Federation of the Phonographic Industry – represents the recording industry worldwide with some 1400 members in 66 countries and affiliated industry associations in 45 countries.”]

  • I am a discerning customer.
  • I will not accept unquestioningly whatever you put on my plate.
  • I have no time to wait until a film or record is on sale where I live: I want it online when I am ready for it.
  • I don’t buy blindly: I want information about the film/record I download.
  • Unless you cater to what I want, I will buy nothing from you.

I admit that I do not represent a majority of your customers or potential customers. I put it to you, however, that people like me make up quite a large group, and unless you are absolutely certain that you will top every popularity list, you should consider our requirements.

As a result of IFPI’s absurd and counter-productive demands to the Norwegian Broadcasting Company (NRK), I and many others no longer have the chance to hear about records we might want to buy and films we might want to see. For instance, the likelihood of our hearing András Schiff is virtually nil. So chances are that sales of his records will be paltry in Norway. That is, of course, unfortunate for those who miss something they never even knew existed. It is also unfortunate for András Schiff and for the company that issues or publishes his work.

Fortunately for me, I read the Guardian, which was where I found the delicious link that has generated such a flurry on my part. Unfortunately for András Schiff, most Norwegians do not read the Guardian and are victims of IFPI, meaning they will hear no presentation of his or anybody else’s music (or films).