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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

The Joy of Books, the Joy of Work

On Klaus Rifbjerg’s “Arbejde”- Work

In Catalonia, men send books to each other on St. George's day - La diada de Sant Jordi – 23rd April. Well, the actual tradition seems to be that women get flowers and they in turn give their menfolk books, a kind of alternative Valentines day with a bit of dragon slaying thrown in. So let us say that sensitive, artistically inclined men also give books to their fellow men on the same day. What a beautiful thing to do! What a precious gift!

Andre Breton, Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky in Mexico

I began thinking about this tradition not so long ago and decided that I would start my own tradition here in Ireland of just buying a book out of the blue and presenting it to a man friend – in the first instance my two brothers in law (so to speak). I cannot say that the handing over of the books was met with any great rejoicing. There was more a kind of bemused but genuine gratitude hiding behind a big question mark of a face as the respective in law tried to remember whether it was his birthday or some other special occasion that warranted the gift. The books, in question however – Trotsky’s “Literature and Art” and Neal Stephenson’s “Anathem” will be read I am certain of that, and in being so read, the recipients will find out more great things about life, about the author, about themselves and also about the giver of the book and his motives.

I mention this because a friend from Denmark - a very dear and beautiful friend (not a man but neither was it St. George’s day) sent me a book recently and it was indeed a precious gift. The writer of the book is Klaus Rifbjerg, an iconic, iconoclastic and literally massive author in the Danish literary canon. The book is called Mojácar and encompasses a series of page length essays, or what Rifbjerg calls “miniatures”, and some colour pictures taken by Swedish photographer George Oddner. Mojácar is a quaint village made up of whitewashed bee cube type houses stacked up on top of each other on a very steep hillside in southern Spain. The book as a concept is an interesting experiment and was probably seen as a radical venture but that is not where its beauty lies – most critics state that the pictures do not sit well with the text. No, the beauty and power of the book lies in the writing contained within it and I hope my rather loose translation of one of the miniature texts below does Rifbjerg justice.

The miniature I chose to translate "Arbejde" – Work, is a good example of Rifbjerg’s style and offers some of the typical themes he has written about throughout his long life as an author. For here, he is self reflective (or possibly reflexive), lyrical, sensual and almost brutally autobiographical. Rifbjerg also displays a male arrogance which drives a certain breed of alleged feminist and their piously nodding male supporters into apoplexies. He has a basic assumption that what he has to say is important and demands that people listen to him. In fact he is most of the things I aspire to be as a writer, except perhaps for the fact that I would tend to favour Gabriel Garcia Marquez's explosive joy of life rather than Rifbjergs more cautious elations. But even here, it must be said that Rifbjerg has manfully fought against the stubborn puritanical streak, which (to the surprise of my good readers no doubt) runs through many Danes like gammon runs through Danish bacon.

Klaus Rifbjerg (as a young mang - Rifbjerg is now back living in Denmark)

Because of this and many other controversies he has raised, Rifbjerg stirs great emotions amongst the Danes. He is loved by many and loathed by not a few. Loved because of the rich beauty of his language and iconoclasm and loathed, very possibly, because in the age of the male writer as male eunuch he is a very male writer. To be fair, Rifbjerg’s output has been so huge, varied and betimes experimental that he was bound to annoy some people and perhaps even confuse his own what is now called “fan base” once in a while.

Another reason why Rifbjerg annoyed some Danes was his decision not to live in Denmark but to move to Spain. Thus, in the early 1990s he moved , yes you've guessed it, to Mojácar. Mojácar became popular with writers and artists in the sixties and it is easy to see why. It has all the delights of an old Moorish town perched high up on a mountain pass with its back to the rest of Andalusia and looking out across the Mediterranean towards North Africa and even Greece whose ancient traders first gave the village its name – Murgis-Akra see –

Now, my book giving friend had heard that our family had been to Mojácar on holiday this year and knew about Rifbjerg's book, so she was kind enough to send it to me. You may call this serendipity, karma, kismet or what you will but I was very moved on receiving the book because being in Mojácar in June 2008 completed a journey; no not a journey – a personal odyssey which began for me as a young boy of 17 when the Danish merchant ship, on which I served as a galley boy, berthed at Garrucha. Garrucha harbour is just a ten minute drive up the coast from Mojácar.

Garrucha Harbour

Going back to Garrucha and looking at that same harbour wall and the arriving and departing ships as a happy and artistically creative mature man had an incredibly empowering effect upon me; not least because I am now writing a novel which charts that young man's journey of self discovery. Thus, Rifbjerg's book Mojácar and this beautiful and inspiring passage about the joy of creative work is for me a clarion call to keep going on that boat and to keep writing.

For those of you fortunate enough to be able to read Danish, I have inserted the original Danish text below my translation –

bainigí sult as - enjoy


Arbedje – Work - an extract from Klaus Rifbjeg’s “Mojácar”

It is all in the routine. There are no are no lofty notions about divine intervention, nor, on the other hand any particular fear of failing to deliver. A quiet certainty reassures me that the rock face will eventually yield water if I hammer at it long enough. Yes, of course, the task ahead is a life and death issue, but you can't let anybody notice that – not even yourself.

The air is brisk; morning has not really got going yet. All my possibilities are there waiting for me - sheaves of white paper, and the cover over the manual typewriter almost demanding to be removed. The outer shutters stand open, the view is so defined and familiar to me that it is etched into my retina, even before consciousness has properly kicked in. There, are the rows of apple trees; there, is the old clay oven; there, is the stile leading into the field where you can sit with your back to the world and yield to the sunlight dappling between the trees and the hum of bees.

Yesterday’s last sentence is dangling like a hanging vine, ready to be swung from, and when the pillows in my chair are set right and the blanket is wrapped good and tight about my back and legs to ward off that nip in the air, which lingers until summer has really arrived; well, there is nothing else for it but to get going.

A certain inertia reigns at the start. I fumble at the typing keys and words slither around like eggs on a plate. But gradually as the sounds of keys being struck and finger dexterity meld together, I begin to get the rhythm. Words come to me, seemingly unbidden. It is like moving through a tunnel, which all the time expands further and further into the light ahead, whilst simultaneously closing behind me, only to open again and again and again. There is no explanation. And yes we are talking about a revelation here but with roots firmly planted into the earth, far removed from cheap hocus-pocus devices. Things fall into place in the right way, and every time a necessary break intervenes, reality is right there in front of me. I hear the man walking along the lane carrying his hoe, see his silhouette pass by. A moped out on the road sends its raucous whine across the field to me, and the phrase “Dopple effect" canons around my consciousness for a moment. A hoopoe bird swoops down onto the gravel path and, believing itself to be unobserved, frills its neck feathers up and down like a frisky señorita wafting coquettishly with her fan, her abanica, in the bullfight arena. Then it flies away and leaves a gap where thoughts rush in: What now? And: Why?

Tender in all my limbs and stiff necked, I emerge from my cocoon and arise from the chair. The sound of knives, forks and plates being set on the table clatters into the room through several doors and a passageway. It is lunchtime and hunger suddenly sings across my stomach after being pushed away to the far side of my concentration.

A pile of paper now lies by the side of the typewriter with an ancient green telephone bell, made of glass, acting as a paperweight. Maybe its a pile of crap this mound of words, maybe its great, brilliant maybe, genius even. But the thing is that it is there. I am not going to drag my mother into this, it’s me who is doing it, I am well able, she is not here, she is dead, there’s no trace, not even her shadow, on the far side of the bed. I want nothing to do with her, all that is done, over with, a closed chapter.

The door handle creaks a little when I press it down to leave the room. The door swings and closes behind me on its spring. Now the room is empty. Not even the devil himself would know what’s going on in there now. Nothing I’m sure, nothing at all, zilch. When I return, all is as before, everything in its appointed place. Except that the pile of paper has grown, and it goes on growing and growing and growing.

Klaus Rifbjerg - Arbejde - på dansk - Danish version.


Det vigtigste er regelmæssighed. Der er ingen luftige forestillinger om guddommelig indgriben eller en særlig rædsel for ikke at slå til. En rolig vished antyder, at klippen giver vand, hvis man hamrer længe nok. Vist er projektet livet om at gøre, men det skal man ikke lade nogen mærke - ikke engang sig selv.

Rummet er frisk, det er endnu tidligt på formiddagen. Remedierne ligger klar, der er hvidt papir, og dækket til maskinen er lige til at tage af. Skodderne ud til står åbne, synet er beskåret og så velkendt, at det tegner sig på nethinden, allerede før bevidstheden er koblet til. Dér er rækken af appelsintræer, dér er den gamle lerovn, dér løber stenten ned til marken, hvor man kan sidde med ryggen til landskabet og lade sig opsluge af solflimmeret mellem træerne og lyden af bierne.

Gårsdagens sidste sætning hænger og dingler som en lian, man kan gribe for at komme videre, og når puderne i stolen ligger rigtigt, og tæppet er lagt om ryggen og svøbt om benene mod kulden, der ikke forsvinder fra rummet før langt hen på sommeren, er det bare med at komme i gang.

Der er en vis usikker træghed i starten, tasterne rammes forkert, ord skrider ud. Men efterhånden som lyd og fingerfølelse smelter sammen, går det bedre. Ordene føder sig selv, det er som at bevæge sig igennem en tunnel, der hele tiden vider sig ud og bliver lysere og lysere, mens den samtidig lukker sig bag én for at åbnes igen og igen og igen. Der er ingen forklaring. Der er tale om en åbenbaring, men med rødderne plantet solidt i jorden og intet billigt hokus-pokus. Tingene hænger sammen, og hver gang den nødvendige pause indtræder, ligger virkeligheden tilgængelig lige foran snudeskaftet, man hører manden komme med sin hakke, ser hans silhuet. En knallert på vejen sender sin smældende hvæsen over marken, og ordet „doppler-effekt" står et øjeblik og vipper i bevidstheden. Hærfuglen lander i gruset og tror sig uset og lader nakkefjerene rejse sig og falde igen som en señorita, der leger koket med sin vifte i arenaen. Så flyver den væk, og man tænker: Hvad nu? Og: Hvorfor?

Øm i alle lemmer og stiv i nakken folder man sig ud af puppen og rejser sig fra stolen. Lyden af gafler og knive og tallerkener, der lægges og sættes på bordet, trænger ind fra rummet på den anden side gangen og dørene. Der er frokost, og pludselig melder sulten, der har været stuvet af vejen hinsides koncentrationen, sig med et sug i maven.
Dyngen ligger ved siden af maskinen med en gammel telefonklokke af grønt glas som brevvægt. Måske er det noget lort, måske meget godt, måske brillant, måske genialt. Men det ligger der, det er det vigtigste. Jeg blander ikke min mor ind i det her, jeg vil selv, jeg kan selv, hun er der ikke, hun er død, ikke engang hendes skygge ses på den anden side sengen. Jeg vil ikke have noget med hende at gøre, alt det er færdigt, alt det er forbi, kapitlet slut.

Håndtaget knirker lidt, da jeg trykker det ned for at komme ud af værelset. Døren svinger og lukker bag mig på sin fjeder. Nu er rummet tomt. Ingen fanden ved, hvad der foregår derinde. Sikkert ingenting, ikke det mindste, ikke en skid. Når jeg vender tilbage, er alt som før, alt på sin rette plads. Kun dyngen er vokset, og den vokser og vokser og vokser og vokser og vokser.

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Title: The Joy of Books, the Joy of Work
Date posted: 05 Nov '08 - 07:27
Filed under: General
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