The Sugar Book: Göran Greider on the Pornographic Corpse of Lars Norén

by on Sep.23, 2013

I thought I would talk a little more about Lars Norén, following up on my discussions of his work and Saul Friedlander’s observations about kitsch, or “debased romanticism.”


I am intrigued by the way the reviewers who dislike Norén’s diary (and there seems to be many) tend to resort to very gothic imagery: Norén is a vampire (“The Vampire Diaries” one headline announced), or a baby sucking milk from society, a parasite, even – several times – a corpse. I am particularly interested in this case because I love Norén’s early – maximalist, grotesque, beautiful, kitschy – poetry (“visionary kitsch”), and I am fascinated by the way the diary’s reception seems to re-stage those early works, as well as the way it touches on a lot of issues I’m interested in pertaining to kitsch, nazism and, what Saul Friedlander calls, “the new discourse” about nazism and kitsch.

In other words, I’m interested in the way a lot of the condemnation both tries to condemn Norén’s by invoking such common tropes against such art – kitsch, gothic, grotesque, politically fascist – and at the same time plays into this aesthetic, as if contaminated by Norén’s sensibility.

The leftist poet Göran Greider wrote one of the most interesting reviews – a “poem-review” – of Norén’s diary the other day that touches on a whole bunch of my interests in this case.

Greider starts out by comparing Noren to an Internet troll, “but one published by Bonniers,” as if there’s something tasteless about the whole venture, something that should not be made public or endorsed by the taste-marker of a big press. Norén is too emotional in the work, it seems, for it to be proper art.

More importantly, Greider reads Norén himself as a politics. He calls Norén bourgeois, but implies that he’s in fact fascistic, or even a Nazi. Greider asks: “What would the world look like if Norén had absolute power? Summary executions, persecutions, impulsive destruction of cities…” Who is Greider describing at this point? He is basically calling Norén a Nazi, or more specifically Hitler.

Why is it important to imagine him as an absolute dictator? Doesn’t that seem like an unusual way of reviewing the book? (What if when we reviewed Jorie Graham we asked what kind of dictator she would be?). But this move interests me for several reasons. To begin with, Greider seems to have confused Norén himself with the Neo-Nazi prisoners (emphasize: prisoners, not dictators) who participated in Norén’s play. As if through art, he had become contaminated, overtaken by these prisoners. As if their murder of the police officer was a murder of Norén’s own views, turning him into their Hitler. The review takes on a highly contaminatory logic.

In what way is Norén’s aesthetics Hitler-esque? In keeping with Saul Friedlander’s confusion of fascism and maximalist art (in Reflections of Nazism, I talked about it in the last post), Greider – a very outspoken proponent of poetry written in “simple” or “accessible” diction – wants to indict Norén aesthetics as immoral. Taste easily becomes a matter of morality (just ask all those American poetry competing in moral “complexity”, which is a style). His overwhelming aesthetics becomes a form of dictatorship, much as the Coldfront review of my own book A New Quarantine WIll Take My Place accused me of being “coercive” a couple of years ago. I think here Greider – like the Coldfront reviewer and Friedlander – is dealing with an uncomfortable facet of art: that another person cant take control over the reader; that another person can have an almost absolute, “coercive” effect on the reader.

As if it wasn’t enough that Norén is a dictator, Greider then describes Norén’s book as pornography:

Naturally he writes a kind of pornography
for the cultural middle class;
he is naked in a reprehensible world.
He is, and I think he understands it,
one of the nation’s most genuinely
bourgeois people; it is truly
the class’s self-hatred that he expresses.
He looks like an animal that lies there
awaiting dissection:
That which flows out of his opened veins
is society society society.
It is society as theater.

What makes it pornography? Is it the inherent “nakedness” of this highly artificial, highly stylized diary (Greider must understand that it’s poetry)? Or is it because it is the diary of a writer whose writing over 50 years has been a very profound exploration of the baroque, densely imagistic aesthetic Friedlander refers to as the “kitsch” of “the new discourse” of Nazism? Ultimately, the crime of Norén seems to be his turning “society” into “theater,” of not not respecting the boundaries of art, of blurring the line between art and poetry.

And here I am also reminded on Blachot’s discussion that “the strangeness of the image is the strangeness of the corpse”:

“The cadaver is its own image. It no longer entertains any relation with this world, where it still appears, except that of an image, an obscure possibility, a shadow ever present behind the living form which now, far from separating itself from this form, transforms it entirely into shadow. The corpse is a reflection becoming master of the life it reflects—absorbing it, identifying substantively with it by moving it from its use value and from its truth value to something incredible—something neutral which there is no getting used to. And if the cadaver is so similar, it is because it is, at a certain moment, similarity par excellence: altogether similarity, and also nothing more. It is the likeness, like to an absolute degree, overwhelming and marvellous. But what is it like? Nothing.”

I think about things like the expression “ruin porn” and how it is so similar in sense to “ruin kitsch.” There is something of the image in work with all this pornography, all these corpses as images. The image is excessive and yet it lacks interiority. Art makes us pornographic.

Interestingly, Greider’s own writing seems contaminated with Norén’s aesthetics: the “poem” that is this review sounds like Noren’s often grotesque poetry of corpses and mirrors. Normally Greider sounds much more “simple” – refraining from such grotesqueries, such elaborate metaphors and baroque imagery. So to be pornographic does not mean so much to be revealing as to be grotesque, contaminatory. It is the intensity of that art that makes it pornographic: we look too much, too deeply, we lose our sense of self.

Naturally, by the end Greider brings back the murdered police officer, strangely imagining Norén as a corpse:

Lars Noren is, for me, dead
he is constantly buried
but I love this dead man and always
attend the funeral.

Strangely here we are back to the gothic vampire story that other reviews have brought up. Here Noren seems to play the part of Sylvia Plath’s vampire-daddy: who has to be killed over and over, who makes copies of himself (copies that then vampire Plath’s speaker). If Jacqueline Rose is right, arguing in The Haunting of Sylvia Plath, that arguments against Plath’s use of Nazi and Holocaust imagery almost always hinges on a distrust, an argument against metaphor, then we can see a similar rhetoric here: Greider both denounces Norén’s metaphors and fully embraces them.

Obviously Greider will never be able to bury Noren completely. Norén is made private here – “for me” he is “dead” – but he cannot be contained, cannot be buried in Greider’s funeral, his private life as reader, his review. Noren in this allegory is Art in all of its seductively baroque tendencies, its pornographic corpse.

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