Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2023, the author delves into Jon Fosse’s ‘Scenes from a Childhood’ in this review.
In his 2022 interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jon Fosse elaborated on what it means to have a backhand in the praxis of literary pursuit. He confessed to a mystic quality, evident from the juxtaposition of his slow-paced plays, a language seldom considerate of the story.
He professes thus: “When I manage to write well, there is a second, silent language”. Quite alluding to this effervescent quality of writing, stands Derrida’s “Monolingualism of the Other: or, The Prosthesis of Origin” (1996), wherein the philosopher asserts that he speaks ‘only one language’ and that too, not his own. It is with this vehement audacity of lending voice to a visage called Life that Fosse emerged as a translated writer of an untranslatable oeuvre. He is cut adrift in a oneiric prosthesis, enabling him to recall and recollect broken fragments of pasts unknown. It is not an exaggeration when Derrida expostulates that ‘Translation’ is a hyperbole, one that is dependent on the impossibility of its own existence. At the same time, it is an author’s competence with transpositioning that lets him get fundamentally exposed to terrains that he had surpassed without paying heed to their unguent grease.
Recommended as the very first book to start with Fosse’s writings, the Guardian thinks an ‘entry point’ into the 64-year-old’s works would be an account (or not) of his preliminary years, with a collection of (very) short stories named Scenes From A Childhood. The thematic elements of Time, Memory, Erasure and adamant Reminiscence act as parts of the same world wherefrom he burgeoned as a writer.
Originally written between 1987 and 2013, Fosse’s compilations hold up a spectrum of individual possibilities that belong loosely to the same coherent plot. The mechanisms are fictional but journalistic, an investigation into the nuances of tact, resolution and hateful avenge, a virtuosity of notorious disclosures of a child. Although the question remains, how is the interstitial manner of the events reviewed (or revised) from the lack of experience as a child? Is the author telling the story of the Other, a face he had missed on the ground? The inconsistencies are the components of liabilities, an adage to the stream-of-consciousness based on ‘Nothingness’.
Choosing to write in Nynorsk in lieu of Bokmal, Fosse guarantees learning that fosters minority language, equally bereft in all spheres of mass interaction, be it the Church, business or literature. Augmented by these rolling habitats, Fosse has ‘created’ an avenue for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His win in 2023 garnered the Norwegian hiatus a humble presence in the background. With the Nobel Committee recognising his prose as the ‘voice to the unsayable’, Fosse demonstrates his ability to look ahead with a third eye.
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The Third Eye
The collection is essentially settling a deal with the beginning. In a Zen-like monotone, Fosse introduces a character that is himself. It is the self-critique, as if a reiteration of Beckett, that the initiated author grapples with.
The first story, “It’s Maybe Four O’Clock”, starts with a history of decay, a dilapidated character of the ruin that was: “My grandfather built this barn but now it’s falling apart… A rusty hook is hanging from the door-frame. The door is hanging from the door-frame too, attached with hay-bailing cord, swinging crookedly”. The author anthologised this momentary event with an enforced simplicity. This is recorded as an attempt to eulogise the language of the child, one that haunts the temporality of ageing.
In the section ‘Little Sister’, Fosse weaves a guilt surrounded by familiarities. It is recurrent, affirmative and exponential:
“… he must never go out in the middle of the night when everyone is asleep …, or else she won’t be able to sleep, your Mother won’t ever get a good night’s sleep, now really, lying down in the grass and just going to sleep, Mother says, and pulls him so hard by the arm it hurts, but he doesn’t want to cry. She, his mother, mustn’t see him crying because he looked at the fjord and the sky and a blade of grass in front of a cloud that was almost nothing but a couple of wisps.”
Existence as Violence
Fosse doesn’t shy away from violence. He ushers it in his stories, treating it as a near-protagonist. The longest piece amongst all the stories is undoubtedly “And Then My Dog Will Come Back To Me”. It narrates the story of a neighbour informing the child about a man who murdered his dog. The tryst goes on as thoughts are given an attire of words. The child buries the dog (‘getting lighter and lighter’) into a well-dug grave, only to manifest his intention to perform the same act with the murderer. The internalised terror of psychological reverberations is written in the form of interrogations, a Kafkaesque trial that has no meaning but, nevertheless, with an anticipation for punishment. The author can’t stop replaying the questions:
“It wasn’t you? she says.
Again she is asking me if I killed him. She needs to stop asking me that. Why is she asking me that? What does she want? It wouldn’t have been me who killed him.”
Instigating a state of denial, the conversations lack quotation marks. It is a confusing chasm of cracked words. The pattern falls apart with each new query, a brutality that shatters the avalanche within the mind in a quiet modality. In the series ‘Dreamt In Stone’, the reader comes across one such example of slowness. “Everything was black and a kind of fog in my sleep” and “the stones sing and they don’t sing” – the author reenacts nature in literary procedures. The sixth part ends thus: “The man who was saying that nothingness is in everything, you say. Yes, I say. What about him, I say. No, nothing, you say”.
Why Should We Read Jon Fosse?
Fosse is a mastermind who justifies dissolution and glimpses of disconnected phenomena. His stylistic quotient is in the unknown, the urge towards the faithful banality of life. As with eminent writers like Peter Handke and Kazuo Ishiguro, Fosse imitates the study of life through and in the stillness. However, he was not a widely read author till the announcement of the Prize. The United States doesn’t have an array of commercial translations as it lacks a market for the same. With Fosse, one witnesses a renewal with independent publication houses garnering the risk. The subtle art of acclimatising the reader with the confessions of youth is an informal form of prose writing, much influenced by stalwarts like Coetzee.
Fosse is the first Norwegian to win a Nobel in the last 95 years. The world had overlooked him. It’s time to get back to the lost art of translated remembrances.