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Jan Myrdal’s speech 2010

Questions about the radical

I am not a part of any jury and I have not participated in any discussion about prize winners’ names; it would be against the very basic construction of the society and the awards. But I was pleasantly surprised by the names of the winners. They provide an opportunity for a discussion about what is kinship in the radical.

Most of what is now being written and officially discussed about what is called radical – and even more so about what is called left – in art and literature is to speak with Balzac and Strindberg blague. At best – and then still in Strindbergian – adaptable dark speech.

I can go to my own youth to exemplify this. On the one hand, the hard consciousness that then became necessary. It was not a coincidence that in my debut novel “Homecoming” the dark blonde girl on the train in 1941 (with windbreaker jacket and low heels) sang Louis Fürnberg’s “Du hast ja ein Ziel vor den Augen” from 1937. It is clear from my text that it is a German or Sudeten German, Czechoslovak, girl. Refugee, young communist probably. It was then in the very early forties (and by them!) I was forced to awareness (and love). I do not know if the text exists in Swedish, it was in German I tried to sing along: ”Du hast ja en Ziel vor den Augen,/ damit du in der Welt dich nicht irrst, damit du weisst, was du machen sollst/ …/Und hast du dich einmal entschlossen,/ dann darfst du nicht mehr rückwärts gehen…” (You have a goal in mind so that you do not get lost in the world; so you know what you need to do. /…/ And once you have decided, you must not go back.) This is how life is decided. I thought of Fürnberg when I went with the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army in the jungles of Dandakaranya this winter almost seventy years after I first heard his songs in the war years Stockholm.

But life is multidimensional. One writer who helped open the world and literature to me was David Sprengel. I knew what was thought of him. When I spoke warmly about him and his mercilessly mocking critique anthology to Agnes von Krusenstjerna’s defence at the home of Jakob and Gabriel Branting, their father Georg Branting put down the cutlery and said: – We do not talk about him in this house. I knew why. I too had heard what was said about David Sprengel and René, Hjalmar Branting’s wife and Georg’s mother, from their time in Italy. Though I held and hold it, if it is interpreted in a sexual sense, as incredible.

For me, the beautiful mockery of the clean-cut Swedish writers in the critique anthology and David Sprengel’s work to clarify Diderot was crucial. Diderot and Strindberg became literary revelations for me in my early teens. Still is. Both for the great freedom in “Jakob the fatalist”. (As in “The Dream Game” “The Blue Books”, “Black Banners”!) It would take a long time before the romantics reached near Diderot and as romantics, they could not stand writing like him with their feet on the ground. And for the completely liberating literary attitude Diderot formulated, the one that I still find myself saying aloud to myself at the computer: – Fuck like unsaddled donkeys! I allow you the deed, allow me the word!

Or Per Meurling. Yes, I had read him. Not only in old issues of Clarté but in a book that was defining for me “From the French to the Russian Revolution” and I saw him at Ny Dag when I did my last year of volunteering as a journalist in 1946. In 1984 I also wrote the preface to the anthology of his selected articles 1931-1946 that we published on Folket i Bild 1984 under the title “The penguins of good manners”.

Of course, I remembered how he jumped politically at the beginning of the Cold War and jumped very far. I find his spy book not only crooked but intentionally low and bad. Although it does not affect my view of the good he wrote. When the academically well-behaved so-called Marxists in Gothenburg held a literary seminar on Meurling and the Swedish literary Thirties Marxism without inviting the main character, PhD Per Meurling, I found the behaviour typical and miserably Swedish. Would that be left-wing behaviour in any classical sense from 1793 onwards when it roared in the crater of reason? Kiss my ass! Well, Meurling had throat cancer when we were going to publish his texts. He laughed cancer-croaking in the phone when I discussed with him. – You are wrong if you think they will write something. At least write something reasoning and meaningful about my words. They never forgave me for being more talented.

And in that he was and is right. To realize that one only needs to read his texts alongside those by the academics and recognized of the time, right as well as left, or rather; in the ideological sense from admitted academic light and reft.

The magazines and newspapers Meurling wrote in then almost eighty years ago were small. The editions were hardly even at Folket i Bild Kulturfront’s current level. It may thus seem that the discussion he participated in was conducted only within a very limited circle. However, everyone who is interested in Swedish literature can see that what was written in this limited circle, nevertheless, had a great influence in the coming decades. That is also a lesson.

But go into it all from a different angle. Take the pictorial world. Angkor and Buddhist cave sculpture as well as thirteenth century Christian church sculptures in France and Norway belonged to what I – and Gun Kessle, do not forget her work! – engaged in. But why document late-feudal reliefs in Angkor while the United States bombers sought to annihilate popular resistance in Southeast Asia? And why document a Catholic world of images from a time when the question of female priests did not, in a now enlightened Swedish way, even exist in the Church? Yes, that’s exactly why. Not accepting the contemporary fixation of the ruling class, its propaganda that history is traditional bullshit (as the modern Henry Ford said in the time of the assembly line in 1916.) So, the task of opening time and thus making it possible for us to see!

Therefore, we wanted what was created then to also be reproduced correctly. The jungle around Angkor makes colour photography soak the sculptures in a kind of spinach stew; thus, photographing in black and white with an extreme red filter. This is how the surface of the stone is brought out.

The church sculptures from the early Middle Ages die when they end up in a museum. In other words, in the existing light, even if the exposure times are very long. In addition, from the right point of view; the one of the audience of the time for whom they were created. Respect for the stonemasons, therefore.

In addition, the right discussion. Present the societies where the images were created and do their ideology justice. (In order not to misinterpret the European Christian teachings of the twelfth century with ideological contemporary pollution, I asked both the high-church Dag Sandahl and the low-church Jonas Jonson to inspect. If both thought I had interpreted correctly; it was probably fairly correct). The Angkor book became an international success; it came out last year in Thai in Bangkok. But the book about the pictorial world of Christian Europe in the thirteenth century received no praise in Sweden either in the Free Church Movement’s Dagen or among the high church people. (However, it got it by the Swedish Catholics, they could read it!) In Västerås where some of Gun’s pictures were exhibited in the church as an example of past time Christianity’s view of sin and grace, both the church council and the leading newspaper tried to stop this – because they found the pictures obscene! The priest laughed: – That’s how little they know about their faith!

But after all. We got to exhibit Gun’s pictures of this twelfth and thirteenth century European breakthrough’s church sculptures from France and Norway at both the National Museum and other museums (and in France). Although I have no memory of either official Swedish “left” or official Swedish church showed interest in, and/or enjoyed, the pictorial world of believing ancestors.

It comes to balancing on a soaped bar if you want to work artistically in Sweden with honour and self-respect. I have been involved in producing a feature film that I am completely satisfied with. It’s “The Fiddler”. We made it for SEK 60,000 and it was immediately deemed to be non-artistic by both the Film Institute and the government. Yes, they were right in that description. The film was not only made in extreme poverty but was also deliberately unartistic. “For art lies with form”, as I then put it. We worked with understatement. Only then did everything become clear. (If you see it – watch how we portray the fiddler and his mistress!) After that movie, my opportunities to make movies were stopped. “Never Jan Myrdal!” said the companies then when we would resume the discussion from before “The Fiddler”. But the film got a huge audience breakthrough. (It created a new expression in the language.)

I could give many examples from more than fifty years of work with text and images, exhibitions, and documentaries. But my crucial experience is that what calls itself the artistic left is mostly a misery. Does anyone remember the debate about Balzac and the “victory of realism” thirty/forty years ago? It was big and noisy. But it slowed down and fell silent when Jan Stolpe pointed out that the opponents probably had not read the writings from which they quoted. They did not exist in any library in Sweden – only at the home of Jan Myrdal. The official Marxologists cited from third-hand sources. Intellectual wretchedness!

We already knew fifty, sixty years ago that the CIA invested large sums in getting the view of art that Museum of Modern Art in New York tried to characterize as modernism to dominate. We discussed this Svenolov Ehrén, Gun Kessle and me. The miserable thing was that so many of our artist friends kindly and passively let themselves be carried away by what was thought to be the modern thing when their master with the big money and fat gallery contracts pointed with his whole hand. It was in those years when even comrades at Mejan began to flow and square and let go of realism. Without any inner and own artistic necessity! I say about this as Gun used to say: – If they themselves really see it that way and therefore themselves start painting accordingly, it is right.

But when she asked her friends if they had started to see and experience in that way, they just started humming and looking askew and squint at her.

We can go back in time and discuss, for example, the radical art and literature of the 1830s in France. What period of transition? And what about the Orléanist profit society of the time? I have in Sweden as “5 Years of Freedom. Daumier and Grandville against the bankers’ King Pear” published texts and made an exhibition at the National Museum with pictures from “La Caricature” where I discussed precisely this. But in France I could not publish “Five Years of Freedom”. After much hesitation and many negotiations, the publisher, Picasso’s, and the Communist’s, gave up. Why? You cannot do anything that raw in France. Look at Sarkozy! He does not look like a pear, not even a shrunken one, but both his and his predecessor’s policy is that of Orléanism! Enrich yourselves!

But we should not boast but can also ask ourselves the question of what it was in Sweden that made the outward-looking debate about socialism and communism that still existed in 1850 from Götrek and in such magazines as Palmblad’s conservative Tiden be castrated and silenced in public until when Master Palm came home from Germany.

Thirty years of flat isolation! Of course, interesting texts were written, and a few things were painted then as well, but Sweden was just like “Revue des Deux Mondes” wrote at the time a backward and a bit feudal-Russian European exception. It was in the middle of this Swedish swamp Strindberg began to write when he took his inheritance from the older Dickens and Mark Twain on the other side of the ocean and thus became radical. It deserves to be thought of. (Engels explained the paradoxical context when he wrote about Henrik Ibsen.)

Even from the subsidiary wasteland in our modern-day backwater, we probably have something to bring!