Intense Allegories: The Black Swan and Ann Jäderlund's Swans

by on Dec.28, 2010

It’s interesting that several people on this blog have now referred to The Black Swan as an allegory. I usually think of allegory as removed in some way, but that’s not true of the movie, which is claustrophobic and absorbing to the max. This connection between allegories and intense absorption reminds me of Ann Jäderlund’s poems. One sequence from Snart går jag i sommaren ut (Soon into the summer I will walk out) in particular strikes me as similar. And these were cut-ups of sorts of allegories from the book Själens Tröst, a religious book which was published in I think the 1400s or 1500s.

Here are a bunch of those poems from the Swedish issue of Typo I edited.

Several of them involve swans. Here’s one:

The big valley is a vast mother-of-pearl mirror. There walks the large dead swan in her dead shroud. And there walks the mother-of-pearl children. Or the fragile foundling clumps. That grow out of the virgin mother’s throat. They led the swan into a forest and placed beautiful white stones of mother-of-pearl on her back. Go now and eat that which you have taken from the swans. Then one ran up and cut a branch from the tree and grabbed a burning branch and stuck it into her throat. And scrubbed her both up top and down below. Until the swan’s flesh fell off in beautiful heavy clumps. For some time the swan lay in the bushes and slept. And black merchants came riding on black mother-of-pearl horses. Then they took the swan and carried her away.

3 comments for this entry:
  1. Joyelle McSweeney

    To turn this in another direction, what if we thought about a category of allegory which was absorptive in a different sense– that is, absorbing of itself– maybe, super-saturated allegory– allegory so swollen with material it springs leaks? Then allegory would have a kind of vertigo-effect– it could not keep its layers of meaning separate. Looked at another way, allegory is supposed to be a fixed and distant form– the distance between signifier and signified is completely fixed and consistent among elements– each element codes for something else. But in a supersaturated allegory– let’s even say an infected or infectious allegory– the allegory is so saturated with affect and directionality that it can’t keep its layers of meaning separate– everything becomes contiguous rather than separated and diagrammable. Everything leaks and bleeds. And if you think this imagery I’m using begins to sound like the ‘other leading brand’ in a commercial for paper towels, toilet papers, or maxipads, that’s intentional. The bodily fluid of Art leaks through allegory’s tissues– that is to say, allegory leaks through its own tissues. Ebola!

    This was actually my experience watching Black Swan. I went in there keeping in mind the gender conversation that Megan has been leading on Montevidayo, and I became so disoriented by all the vertigo I was experiencing (including allusions to the actual movie Vertigo)that I couldn’t hang on to my intellectual frameworks of ‘gender’, ‘sexism’, etc…

  2. Josef Horáček

    Yes. This is what allegory means since Kafka. No one-on-one correspondence, just a proliferation of extremely suggestive dead ends.

  3. Johannes

    Yes, maybe The Metamorphosis could be seen as a very obvious comparison to The Black Swan. Both “psychological” (but not really, mostly psychological for the audience) and allegorical. Another comparison is the fairytale.

    Johannes