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Replacement – Tor Ulven

Replacement (Norwegian Literature Series)

 

The mid-afternoon breeze lingers over the traces of burnt up lavender oil. As the heady scent fans out the pleasing Camille Saint-Saëns symphony swirling on a loop nearby; my heart slowly awakens to the thought of an early spring , the currency of which now seems to be a piece of fiction amid this dreary winter. The flaky skin on my forehead smoothens with a dash of coldcream, the lonely curl tucked back in my bundled hair. The looking glass pondering of a time when the opulence of a soft skin , the raven-tint coiffure, render into becoming another pipe dream , the supple visage resigning to its eventual cascading fate. “Take an apple, for example, or any other fruit or vegetable that rots, that withers, shrivels, and wrinkles, as human bodies wither, shrivel, and wrinkle more and more as they age, so that rotting can be considered the lowest common multiple of all fruits (or vegetables), just as people too are only really revealed in decline…….”; the recurrent words of Ulven putting me in a trance. In the descent of a living soul, lay bare the gospel truth of years gone by, magnifying every infinitesimal detail of a quavering time stamp that seem to be hidden beneath the illusive youthful mirage, perpetually trickling down to a forgotten interlude that seem to have dissolved in the passage of life. The fading confines of fact and fiction searching for a glimmer of memory or a dream to legitimize the practicalities of the living shrouded amid surrealistic assimilations of a poignant reflection. The genuine face revealed in the midst of a stimulated sham.

 

…….an artist hanging a row of bananas from a rack along the wall, how all the bananas were painted white, so they all looked identical, and how they were all artificial, except for one, and how once the exhibition opened, one banana, the real one, of course, began to rot, thereby revealing its true face, while the others, the artificial ones, of course, stayed white and pristine.

 

The deceptive façade falling off exposing the tiniest irregular disparities, the forgotten interlude of time now manifests in the peculiar image that is no longer a familiar companion. The implicit fantasy set on the explicit world stage breaks down in a meaningless hiatus, the nagging feeling of misplaced opportunity, the process of self-realization that is not too late to hold onto the transience immediacy of time, the need to express the raw pain of this very thought as the precision of reality remains. Oceans slowly turning into sand, the foetus leisurely growing in the womb, youth being substituted by old age , the sense to see, to think , to imagine, the strategies of equal and opposites, the precision of the surroundings embracing the ambiguity of life. Replacement becomes a linguistic ode to placing the living at equilibrium with the existing milieu, the existence personified by everything real, everything unreal. The attempt to challenge stereotypes being the greatest stereotype of all.

 

….he imagines a blind man with a rattling box for a stomach, who constantly feeds himself coins just to buy himself a few more minutes of sight, though when the river of change dries up, he’s blind until he can fish up some new coin….

 

We are indebted to our cognitive skills. We indebted to our vision, our ability to speak, to hear, we are answerable to every act that our minds and hands commit. Ask a blind man what would he give to see a speck of crimson floating in the morning sky, ask those who are bed-ridden what would they give just to be able to sit at the dinner table. The trembling fingers who battle with every button that needs to be keyed in a shirt, the delirium that gradually erases the sweet nostalgia of your first kiss, the warmth of a lover’s naked body, the crumpled sheets that no longer carry the scent of your beloved, sobriety being taunted by a reclusive beer bottle, the forlorn heart that fraternize with a half-lit cigarette ,sounds of a chimney evaporating in vacuity along the waning years; emptiness builds sanctuaries , you get used to the burgeoning darkness and yet, darkness is never still. Ulven writes, “Whenever you want. Nothing is physically stopping you, nothing, that is, but the prohibition itself.” Reading Ulven’s celebrated words, make me ponder on how we humans take things for granted. How we in our luxuriate narcissism bring an illusion of invincibility to our mortality. The crimes we commit against each other, the ignorance that mushrooms in neglect, how we bloated with pride disregard the lives we throw in oblivion, the very lives who could one day save us from our own nullity.

 

Someone is standing motionless on the footbridge. As you get closer you see that it’s a middle-aged woman in a gray coat, and that she’s thrown something, it’s impossible to say what, over the rail, and that now she’s following it with her eyes. Afterward, she turns around and walks toward you. As you pass one another, you seem to see a secret smile of forbidden pleasure playing across her face. ………..

 

The phenomenon of death points the issue in permanence of physical departures and deliberations over the plausibility of an afterlife. Ulven fields an inquiry in the correlated subject matter of legitimacy of a soul. The rationalities of death and dying make an emphatic paradox debating the religious dogma of a heaven and hell. The contemplating abstractions of mortal v/s immortal soul characterised as the anecdotal sum and substance of biological continuity v/s spiritual reliance. Death is perceived either as a relief or consolation, the boundaries of consciousness disappearing in a deafening cry. Ulven’s outlook on how we don’t possess the exclusivity of joie de vivre, accentuated Ulven’s own personal turmoil. The candid dialogue on suicide… “you remember what the psychiatrist said, how when someone finally convinces themselves to do it, they get excited, cheerful, they seem happy, energetic, and everyone thinks they’re getting better, but in fact they’re not getting better, they’re just grimly, morbidly happy because they’ve finally decided to do it…”, comes to be a prophetic writing on the wall underlining Ulven’s own impending suicide couple years later. (Tor Ulven killed himself in 1995).

 

Replacement swarms with the quotidian of the lowest possible decimal of organic existence. Elementary trivialities are elevated on a visionary pedestal, entwining the reticence of beauty with the complex realism. With beauty comes suffering. Germination is chased by decay. Ulven’s amorphous metaphorical world may seem as clear as the mud, yet the celebrated verses flow into multifaceted passage that at times equate to serene banality of a pond; the silent waters a chimeric humeral veil to the chaotic world thriving beneath brimming with stones, aquatic fauna and flora, each embracing the frictions of splendour and degeneration. Akin to silhouettes meeting in secrecy , Ulven’s voices rise and fall throughout the solemn narrative fluently switching from the meditative musings of a nonagenarian protagonist to the assorted individual dispositions of multiple characters bracing the aesthetics of a life beyond and within the parameters of beauty and suffering. Steadily, as the reader immerses in these soul-stirring reflexions resonating in the queries of resounding silence, the flow of words animating the numerous articulations amalgamate into a single resonating conscious , the assumed mind trip eventually residing within you, the reader, the humble self locked up in the precariousness of time.


…..what you’ve got to understand is that meaning can be found in meaninglessness, and that these meaningless words hold all you need to know.

 

All is connected, all is replaced. Change is inevitable. You find yourself standing alone with your reflection, a tranquillity steadily sets in, you keep gazing into the identical likeliness until the image blurs your rationalities, the chill in the air no longer affecting your bare skin, the last whiff of the lavender fetching in the elusive epiphanies of the Ulvenesque aura that everything matters, every tiny bit of it creating intelligent and unintelligent life. Insignificant beads strung together transforming into pearls of wisdom, the interlacing circulatory sequence edifying with every drop of fluid sagacity. So, readers like myself who whine about facets of life getting in the way of my undertaken readings, need to take a step back pausing all the juvenile tantrums and appreciate the dealings of life in its entirety no matter how tough or easy things might seem, respect it much as you respect your beloved things , value it as much as you value the words you read in a book, maybe even more , for as every single letter is as precious as the word composed ,remarkably in some of the most meaningless things lies the profundity of a lifelong meaning.

 

5/5 ♥♥♥♥♥