NOT ME: Alienation, #MeToo and Maja Lundgren
Literature meets us somewhere between poetry and reality. While reading we are confined in ourselves, perceiving the text through the eyes and minds that life has created for us. I spend most of my time alone in our house, in the woods by the lake. For sure, I work three days a week at a school in Landskrona, by the coast some miles to the west, though there I feel like a temporary guest. This has often been the case for me - being a guest of reality. All my jobs have been temporary, lasting from a few months to several years and often taking place within a wide variety of locations. This has turned me into an onlooker. Sometimes I am reminded of some verses from Paul Simon´s You can call me Al:
A man walks down the street
It's a street in a strange world
Maybe it's the third world
Maybe it's his first time around
Does not speak the language
He holds no currency
He is a foreign man
He is surrounded by the sound, the sound
Cattle in the marketplace
Scatterings and orphanages
He looks around, around
He sees angels in the architecture
Spinning in infinity
He says, "Amen and Hallelujah!"
Now I spend my life between Bjärnum and Rome. Occasionally, I am together with one of my sisters emptying our parents' home, an epoch has entered the grave, carrying with it memories, some of which were forgotten a long time ago.
Driving the car from Bjärnum and Hässleholm I am listening to the radio, like the newspapers and the TV it is filled to the brim by with the #MeToo debate. It even made the cover of Time Magazine and in Sweden it has spread like wildfire. A phenomenon that always has been obvious now disperses a tremor all through a nation that seems to be able to concentrate on just one issue at the same time. It´s all or nothing.
I have often worked in surroundings dominated by female employees - in restaurants, schools and among the "development set", in the latter setting I have been involved with gender equality issues, both in the field and at different headquarters, among them the one of UNESCO in Paris, where I for a couple of years worked at the Organization's gender equality department, directly under Madame Bukova, UNESCO's Director General.
In several of these places I have witnessed how power structures govern and distinguish people´s behaviour – for women as well as for men. For sure, I have several times witnessed how men abuse their positions by harassing, offending and insulting women, safely resting within their own sense supremacy, while being protected and spurred by powerful pals. However, I have also experienced how powerful women have abused their authority by harassing both women and men. How they have used the gender weapon as well: "Look at Sture, he is a real, compassionate man who willingly accepts his parental leave to support his hard working wife." "Greta! How can you have the audacity to ask me for maternal leave just to take care for your son, who only suffers from a slight cold? When I had a seriously ill child at home, I sat by his side day and night while I was doing my work from his bedside. I did not take out any leave. Oh no, not me. I have always done my best to fulfil my duties" Or when one of my bosses was accused of harassing her female staff and was able to avoid an internal investigation by accusing the male chief legal officer of sexual harassment directed towards her, thus causing the investigation to be dropped and the numerous complaints against her were eventually left without any measure whatsoever.
No, no, I am not trying to minimize the sexual harassment that women everywhere are exposed to, I just want to point out that discrimination is generally supported by hierarchies fomented by economic, social, religious and political power structures. Who is strong enough to offend others? It often men who are the culprits, acting within the safety net of ancient traditions, which unfortunately to a high degree continues to benefit patriarchal structures and behaviour.
This dos not mean that individual misconduct can be defended by referring to oppressive power structures. A sadistic concentration camp guard, or a member of a Jew massacring Einsatz commando, cannot avoid personal responsibilities by implying he was forced to become a monster due to his submission to a higher authority, something that was convincingly demonstrated by Cristopher Browning´s almost unbearable cruel account -Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. On a lesser scale, but nevertheless chocking in its disrespect for human feelings is the behaviour of power drunk male elitists´ harassment and abuse of women.
Such men may dress up their despicable behaviour in a feeble defence similar to that of the desperate murderer in Fritz Lang's movie M- A city loooks for a murderer where Peter Lorre´s character shouts: Aber ich kann nicht! But I can´t!
Again and again I have to walk the streets and I always feel there is someone after me, silently persecuting me. But I can hear it anyway. It is my own self! Sometimes it´s like I was running after myself. I want to run – get away from myself, but I can´t – I can´t escape from myself.
The murderer in M is an underdog, a pathetic man devoid of any social protection, being far away from an elevated social position, perhaps a contributory cause to why he is raping and murdering those who are even more powerless than he is - little girls. By doing so, he differs from another fictional female abuser – the Latin teacher Caligula in the Swedish director Alf Sjöberg's movie Torment, which won the Grand Prix in Cannes 1946. For sure, Caligula also defends his wickedness by declaring: "I have been ill, very ill." But, then we have seen him in full action, ruthlessly practising his sadistic on his hapless students, while being protected by his superior knowledge in Latin and the backing of the school board he enjoys breaking the will and confidence of those who depend on him:
- I'm presenting them with a sieve - making sure that idiots, loafers and cheaters are caught.
Caligula tears are those of a malignant crocodile. Even though he acknowledges that he is imprisoned by his own sick desire, he nevertheless regards himself as being an exceptional and superior human being. Through his superior language skills and sheltered social position, Caligula is what recently in Sweden has been labelled as a Cultural Personality, with the power and authority to raise or lower those who obey him. An advantage he makes use of while harassing and abusing a poor, unprotected woman who works at the tobacco shop in front of his high school. Ruthlessly he uses her to quench his sexual desires until he destroys her completely.
Power, sex and culture. For more than twenty years, another cultural personality, in charge of a sophisticated culture club in the centre of Stockholm, has ruthlessly abused young women. Married to an academician and thus moving among the elitist circles of Stockholm´s crème de la crème of Parnassian artists and hallowed writers, while he unconstrained pawed young ladies and allegedly committed worse acts of indecencies. A behaviour that surfaced during the ongoing #MeToo hurricane. Several women have witnessed how this so called Cultural Personality had been offering them the opportunity to enjoy the cosy warmth of becoming a literature celebrity. A position that generally does not offer much of an income, transient attention and a degrading dependency on persons who decide if you will be published and rewarded, or rejected and despised.
Any closed community, may it be Hell's Angels, Rotary, The International Organisation of Good Templars or a board of directors of any cooperation or organisation, constitutes a hierarchy and generally conveys a soothing feeling of well-being to its members. Assuring them that they are certainly not "everyone else", but chosen to belong to privileged group. Having been found worthy of belonging to an exclusive circuit. As the advert for the American Express Gold Card states: Membership has it's privileges. The Bible itself appears to be in agreement with such a statement: "He has tried me, and I have come forth as gold." Hallelujah! You have passed the threshold and reached your goal.
Perhaps the Cultural Personality had contributed to your acceptance by the cultural elite. In spite of all initial humiliation, you might join the reverential choir, hoping for acceptance to High Society: “He the pearly gates will open, so that I may enter in.” Taking part in the activities of the Cultural Personality´s club Forum, perhaps gave you a taste of what could be expected if you were accepted in Stockholm´s exclusive, cultural circles, as one of its members declared:
He is super generous and very charming. He has several agreeable talents, which is why he has succeeded. He talks with at least twenty guests in one evening and always invites someone for dinner, or a glass. He is a mingle master and offers a lot.
Or in the words of a member of the Swedish Academy:
He knows how to live the good life and he is almost alone with that knowledge, he should turn the Forum into a styling school for young men: do not become hipsters, become gentlemen!
I do not know, it may well be that the Cultural Personality is a wonderful person, though an impressive number of young women have on #MeToo testified about despicable sexual behaviour and abuse. This refined charmer is one of the few who has been deemed worthy of receiving a rare and distinguished royal medal of honour - the Order of the North Star. Grand Cross. Another academician and member of the Swedish Parnassus acknowledged:
His has done an outstanding effort for literature, music, art - including the reading of Proust's entire narrative series. Many musicians, artists and poets have more or less begun their career towards the cultural heights in this unique basement locale and often performed there for free. Few would be so highly deserved of the Order of the North Star.
Listening to celebrities reading Proust´s entire Remembrance of Things Past? Would it not be more convenient and rewarding to read it alone at home? Why should you bother to seek out a camaraderie for mutual admiration to listen to his "narrative series"? And - "begun their career towards the cultural heights", what heights? To sit and prattle with lecherous old cultural celebrities? Elitist paradises like the club of the Cultural Personality "a rather shabby, windowless locale" illuminated by being:
an assembly point for geniuses where the country's leading writers, actors and musicians gathered to drink wine, mingle and listen to each other.
Being a provincial guy I do not know any of the cultural icons who gather at these watering holes for the chosen ones, though I do know they exist. Some years ago we could read about count “Noppe” Carl Adam Lewenhaupt's membership club Noppe´s Bar & Restaurang situated with the exclusive High Society enclave of Östermalm in the centre of Stockholm. It had 1,000 elected members and within its inner circle we found the Sweden's King. Noppe´s was an exclusive, very private sphere. According to Noppe himself his clientele was purely elitist:
A clique of noblemen, artists and financiers, though the great sea of people is generally unheard of by common people.
The staff had sworn confidentiality and members unlocked the door with their membership cards. It was around this private club´s notorious Oldboys´ Twelth hat rumours were spun around the goings-on of the Swedish King and his friends with so-called coffee girls.
Each big city contains such mysterious places. When I as a young man travelled through Europe on the Interrail Pass I once ended up in Munich. Tired and dirty after several days without a shower, I spotted a sign with the word Sauna. As a Nordic youngster I thought in my innocence that a real sauna bath was what I really needed and was ready to spend some money on such a reinvigorating experience. I had left my backpack in the locker room at the Central Station and assumed my clothes did not look so shabby that I would be denied entry. I entered a small lobby, which looked far too luxurious to be the entrance to a bathhouse. With a strange look on his face the guy behind the counter scrutinized me. In those days, I was young and innocent looking, curly haired and blonde and apparently did not have the appearance of being a regular at that peculiar place.
- Are you a member? he wondered.
- No, I'm passing through Munich, I replied.
- Are you friends with any of the club members?
- No, I was just thinking about taking a bath and enjoy the sauna. Would that be possible, even if I´m not a member?
- OK! Sure, that's fine.
- What does it cost?
- This is a member-only establishment, but we welcome guests. Take a look inside and if you want to stay, come out to me again and I will put you on the guest list.
Smiling, he opened a gold-gilded door and I ended up in a large room with a tall chandelier, the floor was red carpeted, a bar covered the entire length of one wall, there was a pool and discreet lighting. I discerned how well-dressed men sat with naked ladies on their knees and among them circulated scantily dressed waitresses with trays, cluttered with drinks and snacks. Some of the guests watched me with surprise and curiosity, while two waitresses stopped abruptly and stared at me with undisguised astonishment. I immediately turned around, waved to the friendly guy at the reception desk and mumbled:
- It was not what I assumed it would be.
I suppose Noppe´s place was not quite as vulgar, but it was certainly not the same kind of place as the one I and a friend ended up in when we visited the Sweden's capital together with a group from Drama, Theatre and Film at Lund University. As the two of us came from the countryside, we decided to get some taste of the nightlife and walked down to the Old Town. However, it turned out that most of the places were closed. We sat down on a bench talking about what we ought to do. A bunch of slightly drunk men in their thirties passed by. They were well-dressed and looked harmless. My study mate stood up and walked over to them, while I was waiting on the bench. They laughed together, the group waved to me when they walked on and my friend told me they had informed him that there was "a cool place" nearby. "It's a speak-easy serving alcohol. I have the address. All you have to do is say Domaszevski to the guy by the door." “Domaszevski? Is that the owner of the place? "" No idea. Probably not, it's apparently the night's password. That’s what they told me. "
We found the black-painted door, there was a beefy guy with a walkie-talkie standing close by. We said "Domaszevski" and were allowed into a basement locale with whitewashed walls and a variety of round coffee tables littered with bottles and glasses. It was smoky and crowded. We found seats by a table with three girls, when they saw our confusion they laughed at us and wondered if we could invite them to a bottle wine. Sure. We ordered two bottles of white, but we had barely poured the wine into the glasses and cheered when someone went from table to table, leaned forward and in broad Stockholm dialect half-whispered: "Razzia", "Razzia". In no time at all the locale was emptied. My friend and I were left alone. We did not want to leave the wine bottles for which we had paid far too much and in a strange, distracted mood we were awaiting what was going to happen. It was like in the movies. We sat alone in the empty room and drank the wine. After spending half an hour there we got up and left. At first we had feared that the entrance door would be locked, it was not and there were no one no in the street. An absurd and enigmatic episode. We definitely did not form an integral part of Stockholm's nightlife.
On the Order of the North Star, Grand Cross, it is written in Latin Nescit Occasum, "It does not know of any decline", though those words do no longer apply to the Culture Personality, who now is under attack from all quarters, one by one exceedingly mucky stories are appearing about him. An unusually mild testimony states:
He held me and actually pawed me all over my body. I managed to get rid of him and then he told me "with that attitude, I will make it sure that you do not become old in this business" and "did you not know who I'm married to?" At the time I did not know who he was.
There were those who refused to participate in the strutting around this overly charming cultural personality. In one case, a writer looked at the spectacle with an ironic, distant gaze, writing about "the distasteful whoring" that had developed due to "a pretty fabulous constellation: bourgeoisie, snobbish philosophy and chasing after young women." This was Maja Lundgren, known as a rather erratic writer and cultural journalist, who unreservedly sprinkled her poison over the pettiness of the ridiculously ego-tripped cultural establishment of Stockholm and as a result many of those potentates publicly declared that the outspoken author was mentally ill. A state of affairs I assume is not unique to the Swedish cultural elite, but common within any cultural coterie, which come under fire from a truth-telling, woman journalist.
I read about Maja Lundgren's different statements and her "documentary novel" Myggor och tigrar, Mosquitoes and Tigers, where she states that insignificant mosquitos are more dangerous than tigers, which like the shark in the song Mack the Knife “has such teeth, dear, but he shows them pearly white.
While reading Maja Lundgren I came to remember what a senior colleague of mine many years ago told me while I was working as a waiter at TR, the restaurants of the Swedish State Railways:
What is it with you, Jan, that makes strange, slightly hysterical women attracted to you? Do you like such ladies? My advice to you is that you, for your own wellbeing, should avoid that kind of women. You are far too young and they can actually hurt you quite badly. Believe me, I know, and I worry while I witness how they flock around you. Take care.
Perhaps he was right and it was quite possible that I in those days might have been interested in a lady like Maja Lundgren, who undoubtedly radiates problems, at least judging from her brutally self-revealing novel, which is also unusually well written. Already ten years before she wrote that book she had encountered the grabby Cultural Personality and his entourage:
In 2001, I was invited to attend Forum. Forum is a place in Stockholm with strong undercurrents. The quintessence of the activities is found under a surface of cutting-edge intellectualism. Visitors circle around like leaves on a maelstrom.
Maja Lundgren is obviously fascinated by Stockholm's foppish culture sphere and its women-groping inhabitants, especially members of the pretentious left-leaning bourgeoisie, whom she calls “left- and culture foxes”. Cynically, but nevertheless deeply fascinated, she participates in the often festive atmosphere of the Stockholm Bohemia. Nevertheless, she coldly observes how a great number of the cultural personalities are plagued by constant worries about how to behave without making any blunders by missing out on the jargon, or losing their balance in the complicated tours that seem to be crucial if you want to move about freely among the cultural elite of Stockholm, where a specific coolness seems to be all-important.
After her first reading at the Forum, where she later regularly returned, Maja Lundgren she was by its owner invited to a luxurious restaurant:
This erotic's Groucho Marx, Jean-Claude Utan Nåd [Without Grace], as he is called, has an enchanting touch that makes even some intelligent women seem to have forbearance with his constant pawing. Katarina Frostenson [a member of the Swedish Academy] is the most illustrious of these tolerant women. She and Jean-Claude Utan Nåd were very cute to each other and to others in the company.
For long periods of time, I have been far away from Sweden and thus lost familiarity with Swedish entertainment, newer literature, TV shows, debates, celebrities and other phenomena that have become part of life for my Swedish friends and colleagues. They are surprised when they notice my great ignorance. For example, I totally missed the violent debate that eventually arose around Maja Lundgren's novel Mosquitoes and Tigers.
Yesterday my curiosity was alerted when I turned on the car radio and ended up in a program where a lady praised Maja Lundgren's novel as a masterpiece, which, despite having been scorned for its unscrupulous candidness, nowadays has been proven to be accurate at least when it dealt with the sickening male chauvinism that blossomed around Jean-Claude Arnault and his club. How this apparently sinister woman abuser, who was nicknamed Jean Kladd, “the Groper”, had been sheltered by his elitist pals, not least some of the leading personalities of the Swedish Academy, who among other benefits provided him with generous funds and the management of the Academy´s luxury apartment in Paris. Arnault´s backers are part of the cultural network that Maja Lundgren had been attacking ten years ago. She then claimed that she did not regret having exposed some of them, since:
... a bunch of coarse and bumptious male chauvinist pigs are poisoning the literary atmosphere.
Her attack on these male chauvinists was confined to the first hundred and fifty pages of her novel, while the rest of its five hundred pages dealt with a sojourn in Naples. Accordingly, scandal-seeking readers could concentrate on the first part, which insulted and named quite a number of authors, debaters, attention seekers and predators whom Lundgren labelled "sperm foxes". She was part of a trend among Swedish female authors, which grew even stronger after her revealing novel, pinpointing culture men who full of themselves abused and fooled around with young women.
Maja Lundgren was compared to Lars Norén, Sweden´s leading dramatist, who a year after Lundgren´s novel issued his En dramatikers dagbok, The Diary of a Dramatist. On more than 1,500 pages he did in an uncompromising manner reveal his daily life, complete with his shopping, meals, diseases, gossip, indiscretions concerning people around him, despair and joy. Does the reader benefit from all that? I do not know, though after witnessing my pupils devouring what Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and other shallow personalities pour out on the web I realize I must have missed out on something in modern culture. However, in spite of his upsetting revelations about celebrities and close of kin Lars Norén was mainly apologized for doing so, while Maja Lundgren´s novel was liquidated for similar reasons and its publisher, Sweden´s biggest and oldest publishing house, was discredited:
... it is remarkable that a renowned publisher for lucrative reasons issues a book written by an obviously unstable person. To profit from an irrational person's perception of reality and risk that those who come under attack from her grotesque onslaught are being hurt, is irresponsible.
In 2009, similar allegations had been directed against a certain Anna Odell when she in a movie had reconstructed a breakdown she suffered ten years earlier. In her "artistic film", Odell acted as if she was suffering from grave psychotic and suicidal outbreaks. She fought with the police and ended up, as planned, in a hospital where the doctor in charge decided on coercive measures. She was tucked into a belted bed and repeatedly given intermuscular injections. Odell claimed that what happened to her was an almost exact repetition of what she had previously experienced and that her play acting was an artistic attempt to visualize and make apparent insensitive power structures within the Swedish healthcare system, society's view of mental illnesses and the victimization of people with mental disorders.
I came under influence of the negative criticism of Odell´s actions and to me she appeared to be a narcissistic artist who insensitively had used hard-working hospital staff and public resources as props for a dubious happening. However, after watching her "reconstruction" of the bullying she suffered during and after her time in school, I came to change my mind. Her 2013 movie Återträffen, The Reunion, was in my opinion one of the most interesting Swedish films I had seen in years. Expertly staged it gave food for thought and I could not help assuming that the attacks Odell and Lundgren suffered from a serious tinge of misogyny. Without being any feminist, I avoid being connected with limiting connotations and would rather be called a “humanist”, I tend to agree that there might be some truth to the view that a male artist would probably not come under such scrutiny and suffer such an intense crossfire as these two ladies.
It does not appear as particularly uncommon that Maja Lundgren's book made her become labelled as a neurotic. This a fate that has all throughout history has befallen several judicious women writers. Hysteria (from the Greek word for uterus) was up until the middle of the last century assumed to be a uniquely female disorder, mainly linked to suppressed sexuality.
In her study Den sårade divan, The Wounded Prima Donna, Karin Johannisson, professor of History of Science and Ideas, described the mental disorders of three artists; the writers Agnes von Krusenstjerna and Nelly Sachs, as well as the painter Sigrid Hjertén. Her descriptions were based on medical records from the huge mental hospital of Beckomberga just north of Stockholm.
As a young nurse, my mother worked there in the early 1940s. She has to me described how disturbed she had been while encountering the suffering of the mentally disturbed. The treatment they underwent was often both bizarre and cruel. “Therapeutic tranquilising” involved forced strapping to beds, prolonged baths and sleeping cures, when patients were drugged and slept for up to 20 hours. Chock treatments were more harrowing; from fever treatments and insulin chocks, triggered off by intermuscular injections, to the feared electroconvulsive therapy and the even more sinister lobotomy.
My mother also told me how patients were treated differently in accordance with their fame, gender, social class and wealth. There were for example “first-class private rooms and exclusive treatment”. In her book, Johannisson explains how the creative women she writes about tended to use their diagnoses in their writing and behaviour, turning both their art and lives into a kind of roleplaying. They adapted personas induced upon them through a specific culture and the psychiatry that had been developed as a part of it. For example, by interpreting male and female mental disorders differently and in accordance with preconceived ideas about male and female mind-sets, medical doctors tended to ignore pressure from power structures that limited women´s freedom to express themselves and from behaving as unreservedly as men.
An artist, male as well as female, may nurture a desire to tear down boundaries. However, a woman´s experiences of alienation, exclusion, shame and abuse may, due to prevailing paternalistic and macho behaviour, be worse than those of a man and in some cases result in reckless, suicidal and outrageous excesses, which deem her insane.
Many writers, women, as well as men, tend expose and use their own instability, their sensitivity, to create works of art. An author is an actor and Maja Lundgren is no exception. Repeatedly she states:
I am quite sensitive, something that occasionally may develop into paranoia. I am by many considered to be a harmonious person, though the truth is that I am extremely receptive, extremely - to use a word that I am really not so fond of using - sensible. [...] when it comes to my sensibility I am balancing on a needle´s point. I assume that an important part of all communication is non-verbal. I think it is easier to lie with words than to lie through physical signals.
Transforming thoughts and fiction into action is maybe an apt description of the behaviour of those predatory culture men whom Maja Lundgren labels as sperm foxes. They do not only expose their feelings and desires in their writing, but manifest them in real life as well. A behaviour which may be worsened if they are surrounded by admiring young women, culture groupies according to Lundgren´s terminology
Hysteria is not a unique female phenomenon. At Beckomberga, the aforementioned women could have encountered several renowned male writers, who were treated there for grave alcoholism or crippling anxiety. It appears that an amazing amount of leading members of the Swedish cultural elite ended up there, for longer or shorter treatment. Beckomberga´s hospital functioned for 60 years until it was completely closed down in 1995.
Alienation appears to be an essential part of the lives of several authors and journalists. Their profession often indicates that they have to assume an observational role and establish a certain distance between themselves and the milieu they make use of in their work. It may even happen that they treat people as if they were part of the fictional world they create. It is quite possible that several of them do not realize how badly they may hurt the actual, living persons they write about. It appears as if some artists live in a parallel world of their own creation.
This could have been one ingredient in Lars Norén´s collaboration with convicted criminals. Traumatized by a miserable childhood and a youth spent in small-town Sweden Norén has become Sweden´s greatest playwright, writing with with heat, anger, humour and existential angst. His plays move from love-hate relationships within upper-class dysfunctional families to the generally unnoticed hells of criminals, drug addicts prisoners and institutionalized wretches. A universe where people torment and humiliate each other, which in Sweden have given rise to concepts like “Norén christmases”, or “a typical Norén family”.
In his project 7:3, which Norén staged and wrote in collaboration with three long-time convicted criminals, of whom two were convinced Nazis, allowed them to spread their spiteful gospel from the stage. The inmates were granted furloughs to participate in the play. During the staging of the play one of the “actors” used part his permitted leaves to commit brutal, armed robberies and after the last performance he participated in the cold-blooded murder of two policemen, while another “actor” hid the stolen money and helped the killers to escape. A third man who also had been employed by the project was directly participating in the murder.
In spite of declaring that he had been tormented by his own naïveté Norén nevertheless seems to have been both blind and deaf to the fact that the criminals could have had a parallel life to their theatre endeavour and nurture plans of their own. After the catastrophe, Norén apparently rejected his own responsibility by declaring:
We naturally believed that the authorities had a proper control and that the paroles were carefully planned. We assumed that what we did was part of the rehabilitation program.
It was in the name of veracity that Norén allowed the actors to uncurbed spread an odious message from the stage. He did not really think much about what hearing this would mean to Jews, Muslims and immigrants, many of whom who heard this hate coming from bulky strong men supported by a state sponsored theatre company, became both scared and upset. The victims of earlier brutal crimes committed by the actors also got upset when they were confronted with their defense of their crimes – blamed on miserable childhoods, disturbed parents, alienation and an insensitive society. This was actually what Norén had wanted to achieve; strong reactions and an intense debate:
I wanted to understand the reason for hate. Learn - in a radical manner - to master my own fears – and to reveal them to the audience, show it to the people. That was my real purpose. A theme I had worked with for 40 years.
This is me! I have too much on my plate. When I write I am so concentrated that I create a circle around my work, to defend it. However, I have in later years realised, under other circumstances, that this is no good. I ought to be more observant, more responsive.
This ignorance was maybe one reason to why Norén transferred so many responsibilities to his motherly, kind and sensitive producer Isa Stenberg. She organized everything around repetitions and performances. In her own car she drove the convicted criminals back and forth from their prisons. She cared for and talked to them. She even allowed one of them, the murderer, to stay in her house and her address was put up as his residence during furloughs.
However, the constant pressure became too much for Isa Steneberg. It was hard to resist the violent reactions and criticism directed towards the play and it became even worse when Norén after the play´s premier left the project for other challenges. On top of that she had constantly to calm down the actors and solve their often violent arguments between each other. All of them confided in her and took her help and compassion for granted.
Apparently Isa Stenberg also became a victim of the female role as caregiver and support to unruly males, and when she asked for help many men proved to be uncomprehensive. In the aftermath of the brutal murders the wanton press even, totally unfounded, accused the almost sixty years old Isa of having been the lover of one of the thirty years younger criminals. A blatant example of this harassment is when one prison director answered her query if the correctional system could offer therapy to someone like her with an off-colour joke:
During the weekend I will take the ferry over to Finland. You can come with me and I can offer you some nice therapy in my cabin.
I assume several authors, both women and men, tend to be fascinated by an "extreme" reality, that they are attracted to the shadow zones of human existence. Maja Lundgren appears to be such an author. The “tigers” in the title of her novel are apparently the camorristi, the mafiosi of Naples. In her novel, Lundgren is deliberately searching for them in Naples's Spanish quarter, hoping to get in contact with the ragazzi, the criminal youngsters who thrive there.
She stumbles into two unpleasant adventures, one in Boscoreale, where she is taken for an Eastern European prostitute and apparently becomes witness to a murder scene and something that may be interpreted both as a brutal rape and an erotic game with a Neapolitan camorrista, which went completely wrong.
Actually, I found it somewhat regrettable that Lundgren's Neapolitan depictions ended up in the shadow of the first part of her novel, the one where she unleashes her contempt over the self-indulgent, male “foxes” from Stockholm´s elitist circles. Her life in a Neapolitan apartment, her keen observations of life around her, her contacts with opera singers, publishers, wealthy loafers and an occasional Swede, aroused a host of associations with me. Not the least about how it is to live as a foreigner in Italy, a country you love but is not entirely an integrated part of. A sense of belonging and exclusion, since you lack the anchorage involved in becoming an entirely accepted member of an Italian family, which I assume is the prerequisite for learning all the shades of a language and finally getting into Italian culture, something that actually is an attractive scenario for me.
Maja Lundgren does not avoid proclaiming that she is fascinated by actions and behaviour she also wants to distance herself from. Like the case of some "feminists" I am acquainted with, I have a suspicion that Lundgren is enticed by the interest and desire she may create in men she both fear and despise, but nevertheless finds attractive - like good-looking and ruthless criminals and ego-tripped “foxes” of the cultural elite. A kind of playing with fire. Lundgren frankly acknowledges that she is fascinated by the bloody spectacle of Spanish bullfights and is appealed by the mysterious unknown, including criminality. With keen attention she observes the activities in the street below her Neapolitan balcony, hoping to catch a glimpse of camorrista presence.
Like many authors and celebrities Maja Lundgren apparently plays the role of being her self-created persona. A cynical observer, an enticing femme fatal. A self-revealing excoriation that makes her more authentic than many of the cultural poseurs she exposes. I assume Maja Lundgren actually belongs to the category of neurotic ladies my colleague at TR once warned me against.
All my sources for this blog were in Swedish and presented in its Swedish version.