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"...eolean harps in which the wind sings..."

Hjalmar Söderberg's 1905 novel Doctor Glas revolves around the inner thoughts of a middle-aged Stockholm doctor who has never truly lived life. Though professionally successful, he has all but sat on the margins of life, with no lovers or even friends, never truly connecting with humanity and in fact mostly showing disdain for others. Yet even as he recognizes this distance and seems to revel in it, he still envies artists who are able to absorb the world into themselves, reflect and interpret their thoughts for the public, even if by doing so they sacrifice their free will and become servants of their muse.

I couldn't become a poet. I see nothing that others haven't already seen and given shape and form. I know a number of writers and artists - strange creatures, in my opinion. They have no will of their own, or if they do, their actions contradict it. They're merely eyes and ears and hands. But I envy them. Not that I would give up my will in exchange for their visions, but I might wish I had their eyes and ears in addition. Sometimes when I see one of them sitting quietly, absently, staring out into space, I think to myself: perhaps at this very moment he sees something no one has seen before, something he will soon compels a thousand others to see, among them me. I don't understand what the youngest of them produce - not yet - but I know and predict that once they are acknowledged and famous, I, too, will understand and admire them...And the poets themselves - do they really dictate the laws of time? Lord knows, though I hardly think they seem capable of it. Instead it seems more likely they are instruments that time plays on, eolean harps in which the wind sings. And what am I? Not even that. I have no eyes of my own...I think of Hans Christian Andersen and his tale of the shadow, and it seems to me that I myself am the shadow who wished to become a man.

Söderberg was a true artist, so in this instance it can hardly be said that the writer was using his narrator as a mouthpiece. Instead, Söderberg was clearly the perceptive aesthete that Doctor Glas so envied. But elsewhere in this mesmerizing book I can't help but hear the writer's opinions and beliefs ringing through, loud and clear.

April 26, 2008 in Books | Permalink

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