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Authors: Lena Andersson

Wilful Disregard

BOOK: Wilful Disregard
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If a person . . . unlawfully takes and uses or otherwise appropriates something, a sentence . . . shall be imposed for unlawful dispossession. The same shall apply to a person who, without any appropriation, by fitting or breaking a lock or by other means unlawfully disturbs another’s possession or by violence or threat of violence prevents another from exercising his right to retain or take something.

Swedish Penal Code: Chapter 8, Section 8

Contents

Wilful Disregard

There was a person called Ester Nilsson. She was a poet and essayist with eight slim but densely written publications to her name by the age of thirty-one. Self-willed in tone according to some, playful according to others, but most people had never heard of her.

From the horizons of her own consciousness she perceived reality with devastating precision and lived by the understanding that the world was as she experienced it. Or to be more precise, that people were so constituted as to experience the world as it was, as long as they did not let their attention wander, or lie to themselves. The subjective was the objective, and the objective the subjective. That, at any rate, was what she was trying to prove.

She knew that her quest for an equivalent precision in language was a sort of fixation but she pursued it anyway, since every other ideal made it too easy for those who tried to cheat or evade the intellect; those who were not as scrupulous about how phenomena interacted and how they were represented by language.

And yet she was obliged to acknowledge over and over again that words remained an approximation. As did thought, which although constructed of systematized perceptions and language was not as reliable as it claimed to be.

The dreadful gulf between thought and words, will and expression, reality and unreality, and the things that flourish in that gulf, are what this story is about.

Since realizing at the age of eighteen that life ultimately consisted of dispelling melancholy, and discovering language and ideas all by herself, Ester Nilsson had not felt any sense of unhappiness with life, nor even any normal, everyday depression. She worked steadily at decoding the nature of the world and of human beings. She had pursued her studies in philosophy at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and since completing her thesis, in which she attempted to bring together the Anglo-Saxon and the French traditions, that is, to apply the minimalism and logic of the analytical school to the Continental school’s grander assumptions about life, she had been working as a freelance writer.

From the day she found language and ideas and realized where her mission lay, she renounced expensive living, ate cheaply, was always careful about contraception, only travelled rationally, had never been in debt to the bank or to any private person, and did not get herself into situations that forced her away from what she wanted to spend her time doing: reading, thinking, writing and debating.

She had been living like that for thirteen years, and for more than half that time in a quiet, harmonious relationship with a man who left her in peace while satisfying her physical and mental needs.

Then she got a phone call.

The call came at the beginning of June. The man at the other end asked if she wanted to give a lecture in the last weekend of October about the artist Hugo Rask. He had made his name combining moving images and text in a way that was considered both magnificent and singular. He was also rated highly for his moral fervour in a superficial age. Where others spoke of themselves, he spoke of responsibility and solidarity, as his followers liked to put it.

A thirty-minute lecture, the usual fee.

Ester was at Sankt Eriksplan when she took the call. It was late afternoon and she had the intense glare of the low sun in her eyes. When she got home she proudly announced the assignment to the man she lived with, whose name was Per. Hugo Rask was an artist they had both been watching with great interest.

Summer passed, and part of the autumn. Ester Nilsson’s life went on as normal. A few weeks before the appointed date she began a close study of Hugo Rask’s work and read everything written by and about him. ‘Any artist who fails to engage with society and the vulnerability of the individual in a cruel existence should not style him- or herself an artist,’ was one of his frequently quoted assertions.

Ester’s lecture was to take place on a Saturday. The Sunday before, she sat down and started writing. She had to start in good time, she knew, in order to get behind the collective language, the accepted thinking that had petrified into commonplace phrases.

Ester Nilsson was intending to write a fabulous address. Hugo Rask would be amazed when he heard her. Every artist, and particularly men of enlightenment like him, was receptive to the power of formulations and their erotic potential.

With every day she devoted to preparing the lecture, her sense of affinity with its subject grew. From feeling respect on
Sunday
she progressed to reverence on
Tuesday
and by about
Thursday
she felt an insistent yearning, which on
Friday
turned into a deep sense of lack.

It turned out that a person could miss someone she had never met, except in her imagination.

What she loved was not so much him as her own creation, and though she had not created him (he existed without her), the words, which were hers, now enveloped and caressed his work, which was himself.

The seminar on Hugo Rask’s life and work hitherto began at 1 p.m. on the Saturday. Besides her own lecture there would be an art critic speaking and then a panel on ‘The social responsibility of the artist’.

They arranged to assemble fifteen minutes before the event started. The air still had some warmth to it and Ester was wearing a thin grey coat that hung elegantly round her legs as if it were expensive, which it was, but she had bought it in a sale. She draped it over the back of the chair next to hers. When Hugo Rask came into the room, it was that particular chair he chose to pull out and sit on, although there were others vacant. But first he picked up her coat in his hand and moved it to the window seat. His fingers closed round the fabric and the gesture with which he moved the garment was the most sensual she had ever witnessed, at least as far as moving an inanimate object was concerned. There was an absolute kindliness in the delicacy of the touch, the physical incarnation of perfect care.

If you touched objects and fabrics like that, you must carry with you an extraordinary tenderness and sensitivity, Ester Nilsson thought.

During the lecture he sat in the front row, paying close attention. There was intense concentration among the hundred and fifty members of the audience, who had all paid to be there. Afterwards, he came up to Ester beaming and thanked her by taking both her hands in his and kissing her on both cheeks.

‘No outsider has ever understood me so profoundly and precisely.’

She felt a rushing and roaring inside her and found it hard to follow the rest of the programme. All she could think about was the gratitude she had seen in his face.

When the event ended at five o’clock she stayed close to him and tried not to look too much as she felt. The artist’s son was there, a bearded young man in a woolly hat, direct and spontaneous in his manner. He praised her lecture and said they ought to go for a drink or three. It was the only thing in this world and beyond that Ester Nilsson wanted to do. If she had been able to go for a beer with Hugo Rask that evening, her life would have been perfect.

But she had to get home.

Her brother was visiting from abroad and Ester and her partner were having dinner with him and her father. Her brother only came once a year so she could not cancel.

‘Another time perhaps,’ said Hugo.

‘Any time at all,’ Ester said in a muffled voice, trying to hide her emotion.

‘Why not drop round to the studio some time and pick up those DVDs you couldn’t get hold of ?’

‘I’ll be in touch,’ Ester said, sounding even more muffled.

‘It really was perceptive, your presentation today. I’m touched.’

‘Thank you. It was no more than the truth.’

‘The truth,’ he said. ‘That’s what we’re both looking for, you and I. Am I right?’

‘Indeed you are,’ she said.

During dinner with her partner, brother and father, Ester was heavy with longing to be elsewhere. The timbre of her voice revealed what she was feeling, as did the glitter in her eyes. She was aware of it but could change neither the timbre nor the glitter. She only wanted to talk about Hugo Rask and his art, and what had been said during the day. At one point she dismissed the artist and ridiculed him in unnaturally harsh yet somehow intimate terms. That, too, told the attentive all they needed to know. But none of the others round the table was particularly attentive.

She felt very alone and completely exhausted. In the course of a few hours, or since the previous Sunday when she had started to write Hugo Rask into existence within her, or as the result of a long disintegration, Ester had become a stranger to her partner. Her whole self was one huge sense of absence.

She felt she could develop a friendship with Hugo, an elective affinity. The artist would get to know her and Per, and come to dinner with them. They would discuss the big questions and broaden one another’s minds through conversation. Nothing would change, it would merely be enriched.

Reality is built one step at a time. She was on the second step.

Two weeks had passed by the time she went to him, one carefully chosen evening. In the course of those weeks she had thought of nothing else. The fact that he had asked her to drop round to the studio for copies of his early works meant she had the right to seek him out. So as not to seem too eager, she waited for as long as she could bear to.

The door was opened by one of Hugo Rask’s colleagues, wearing paint-spattered work clothes. Ester gave him a long-winded explanation of her visit. She accounted for something nobody was wondering about to hide something nobody could see. When Hugo’s associate finally interpreted her simple request, he told her to wait at the door while he went to get the DVDs. He set off rapidly across the room. Ester had been buoyed up by her yearning for another encounter and the disappointment of missing out on it for such trivial reasons would have been too much for her.

‘I was to have a word with him, too,’ she announced in an over-loud voice, her skin tingling.

There are moments when presence of mind determines the future, freighted instants that are then gone and it is all too late. She had to dare and she had to do it right now. Everything depended on these few seconds. The associate hesitated. As part of the team of assistants, his role was to protect his employer and idol. He probably hoped to become an artist himself one day and had sought out the great man to watch and learn.

He asked her to wait and disappeared into the building and up a flight of stairs.

When he came back he looked smaller. Ester was allowed to step inside.

Upstairs, Hugo Rask was sitting with a friend named Dragan Dragović, known as someone with whom Hugo Rask was prepared to debate the state of the world, someone who influenced his thinking and served as his superego – though of course things that Hugo possibly should not have said and thought came out in uncensored form. Everything they debated, Dragan and Hugo, was global and eternal in its compass. Small, everyday topics were not their concern.

Nor were they Ester Nilsson’s.

Hugo got to his feet and his whole face lit up when he saw her. He embraced her with evident relish and invited her to sit down. Dragan stayed in his seat, one slim leg crossed over the other, and extended a hand in greeting, though not far enough to spare her from having to move towards him. He wore shoes of black leather with a pattern of perforations and was peering through the smoke rising from his cigarette, which made his expression look both superior and indifferent.

‘You’re a poet?’ he said.

‘Yes.’

‘Translated?’

‘Yes. Not very much. It’s no measure of—’

‘What are you trying to achieve in your poetry?’

BOOK: Wilful Disregard
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