Friday, October 31, 2008

By the Open Sea

"By the Open Sea" is an English translation of August Strindberg's novel "I havsbandet", originally published in 1890. The fact that for some people, this novel shows Strindberg at his best, while for some other people, it's another frightening symptom of a complete fucked-up writer playing checkers with madness, is not relevant here. What is relevant here is that the guy is a fucking genius.

Strindberg wrote this novel in a period of his life when he was reading Darwin alternately with Nietzsche. He then made a cocktail of the two and served himself a drink. No need to say it didn't taste like a Margarita.

In this book, young Fishing Inspector Borg, a self-made intellectual with a no-compromise approach, is sent to a remote archipelago of the Baltic Sea to overlook the fishing practices of a fishermen community, whose only cause of concern is to maintain their primitive way of life.
All along this all-fish business, Borg and the villagers only manage to get on about one thing: they hate eachother's guts.
The stubborn Borg takes up the challenge, but all his attempts to improve the community standards sink into the Baltic, and he soon finds himself surrounded by ennemies. At one part he asks his only ally, a young woman he seduced: "Why do the people hate me?" She answers "Because you're superior to them". And the he goes: "That can't be. They're not intelligent enough to see how inferior they are."

There's a couple of vital questions which won't find an answer in this book, like "where will I find a shampoo that suits the nature of my hair?" or "what did John say when Lucy told him she fell in love with Michael?" But for some other minor interrogations, such as the place of the individual in society, the philosophic side of womankind and the double-edged nature of progress, the reading of Strindberg can be fruitful.

Borg-Strindberg is not a Saint here. He's arrogant, playful, uneasy and occasionally comes close to the Ubermensch doctrine, like when he says to his lover :" I don't want you to worship me, I want you to challenge me and to rise above me." In the course of a discussion with a priest, he even calls Jesus "the God of the molluscs" in opposition to the "God of the vertebrates". With this kind of statements, the guy should really consider joining the race for US presidency.

Despite all his flaws and mass-preaching postures, Borg never loses contact with humanity and sensitiveness. He holds his hand out to people, tries to get the better out of them. But he does this at the expense of hiw own self-fulfilment and eventually pays the price of his blind positivist approach.

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