Melancolia by Mircea Cărtărescu

Laure Hinckel’s French rendering of Mircea Cărtărescu’s most recent book was the first translation that came out, and, naturally, I happily grasped this opportunity to find out what the Romanian author had to offer two years after the publication of his brilliant mega-novel Solenoid. Let us start with the title. The translator left it as it was in the original. Why? That is the first mystery to be solved about this book, which, upon careful reading proves to be brim-full of them. The Romanian for “melancholy” is melancolie, so the original title is not in Romanian. Nor is it in Latin, for the Latin word is melancholia. Two languages have melancolia for “melancholy”—Italian and Portuguese; but why would the author title his book in either of these languages? The Italian word melancolia is not as loaded as, say, inferno or paradiso. Nor does the Portuguese melancolia refer us to any immediately recognisable source. It is not in a language that we should look for the answer, but in art. This new consideration immediately brings us to Albrecht Dürer’s famous engraving Melencolia I whose title is also spelt, albeit more rarely, as Melancolia I. So, the first mystery solved, we are ready to dive in for others.


Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia I (1514)

Returning to the form that launched his career as a prose writer, Cărtărescu has published again a collection of novellas, this time bookended by two short stories: the Prologue and the Epilogue. The former is a fable employing cryptic and flamboyant symbolism to tell us about the limitless possibilities granted to us by imagination if we are ready to overcome all the self-created obstacles on our journey to creative fulfilment. The latter has nothing of the Prologue’s optimism. As a counterpoint to the Prologue, the Epilogue is a desperate lament about the oppressing and inescapable captivity suffered by anyone thrown into biological existence and into the physical world in general: we are trapped in the claustrum, which is trapped in the brain, which is trapped in the skull, which is trapped in the body, which is trapped on the planet Earth—the circles of this inferno keep propagating forever, beyond the reaches of the known universe and the limits of the presumed dimensions. “Hold on a second!” one is tempted to say. But isn’t the brain, which is one of hell’s circles in the Epilogue, also the source of unfettered creativity celebrated in the Prologue, in which the cupola of the magnificent palace visited by an unnamed traveller is shaped like a human skull, and painted in the inside to resemble the folded structure of the cerebral cortex? Yes, exactly. The more we think about this duality, the more we are likely to fall into the state of bitter melancholy, and the two stories allegorising this situation rightly serve as the frame of the main body of the book in which each novella represents a more particular instance of that heavy and overwhelming feeling so ingeniously personified in the German artist’s engraving.

The protagonists of the novellas, in contrast to those of the “bookend stories”, are young. They are, respectively, a five-year-old boy, an eight-year-old boy, and an adolescent of fifteen. There are indications that the protagonists of the first and the last novella are the same person. As is the case with most of Cărtărescu’s writing, he heavily draws on his own experience in crafting these fable-like narratives, but the personal is inevitably transmuted into the universal as the events and situations depicted by the Romanian author in his hallmark style, which intertwines reality and surreality, are all too familiar to us. Many adults reading this collection are likely to be galvanised into a series of unexpected recollections by the acid-soaked madeleine Cărtărescu has prepared for them.

The first novella, titled The Bridges, relates a well-known situation: the mother is absent for too long, and a small child left home alone starts believing she is never going to return. The little boy’s anxiety is externalised in a variety of bizarre ways with the general outcome of the motherless space becoming a surreal environment that defies natural laws. The unnamed boy is not aware of the course of time: it’s either weeks or months or years that he spends alone in the apartment. What is more, the seasons change every day; the radio transmits phrases in an unknown language; the front door won’t open because the staircase has been clogged with tons of earth and the only way to leave the apartment is by walking over translucent elastic bridges that spring up at night between the windows and various destinations in the city. The boy’s solitary existence in this fabulous space eerily devoid of other people gives him for the first time an opportunity to delve deep into introspection and to solve some important issues weighing on his mind as well as to discover new things about life.

His major entertainment is playing with three dolls: a little white horse, a blue cat and a clown called Hubert. Not surprisingly, the clown is the villain of the scenarios he acts out, each time capturing the little horse and subjecting it to tortures. The horse would perish if each time the blue cat didn’t come to its rescue and defeat the nasty clown. The clown always comes back, and it seems this cycle will never be broken until the boy takes Hubert with him on his first journey over the bridge leading to the rubber factory opposite his apartment block. The boy returns without the toy, which he leaves at the factory. It seems he can now resume his games with the white horse and the blue cat without being worried about any violent disruption, but he doesn’t want to play anymore. Without the clown, his game has become meaningless. Thus the boy, feeling like “a helpless god”, comes to the startling conclusion that evil is an inherent part of this world and is a necessary condition for the greater good.


Giorgio de Chirico, Mystery and Melancholy of a Street (1914)

Another important artwork whose influence on Cărtărescu is unmistakable here is Giorgio de Chirico’s Mystery and Melancholy of a Street. He himself acknowledges his indebtedness to Chirico in the interview with Magda Gradinaru (available in Romanian). The bareness of the urban landscape in which the hoop-rolling girl is running towards the shadow of a statue is echoed by the depopulated spaces of the city visited by the boy with the help of the bridges. However, the presence of Chirico is not limited only to this painting. As we know, many of his works feature human replicas instead of humans: dummies, mannequins, statues. And it is in that uncanny metaphysical form that the child finds his parents on two nightly journeys over two different bridges. His mother and father expect him in the guise of mute monumental effigies in the spirit of Chirico.

We learn that the boy has a father and that his father is absent too only later into the novella. At first, we might think that he is being brought up by a single mother. The difficult relationship with the father is expressed by the shape in which the boy finds him at the end of his first trip across the bridge. The man appears as a colossal naked statue made entirely of greyish rubber lying supine on the ground floor of the rubber factory. This must give us pause. How can the protagonist come to this symbolic representation of his difficult relationship with the father at such an early age? Surely, it is his grown-up self who does that, and the boy is no more autonomous than the dolls he has been playing with. And, indeed, in the same interview Cărtărescu explains that this episode illustrates the result of his own attempt to come to grips with his father: “I always had a very complex relationship with him and very mixed feelings. I often tried to understand the monolith that my father was, to break it into its component parts, and finally I realized that there were no component parts. He was moulded in one piece, and that’s why I imagined him as a rubber statue. I never understood him; that’s the truth.” But, of course, such a personal revelation can hardly be unique, and many of us could perhaps find in this symbolism some echoes of what we feel about our own parents. The fact that the boy leaves the evil clown at the feet of the rubber statue as an offering of sorts, further accentuates his problematic attitude towards the father, yet this can also be seen as an attempt at reconciliation.

The mother’s sculpture is different. It also lies supine, but on the ground floor of a department store; it is made of chocolote and is completely wrapped in shiny foil. The statue is a precise large-scale replica of his mother both on the outside and inside. This gives the boy the opportunity to fill the major gap in his knowledge he has been obsessed with for a while: what does the place in which he spent nine months before being born look like? Whereas the father’s statue was described as a corpse, that of the mother is compared to “a goddess of solitude”, and in almost religious awe the child unwraps a sheet of foil around her thigh and eats enough of this transubstantiated body to make a large hole which allows him to burrow inside and explore the inner organs of his mum. His offering to the statue is the blue cat, which he places below the large beating heart of chocolate.

Visiting the effigies of his parents gives the boy a temporary peace of mind. It seems he has resolved some of the urgent issues with his parents, but the main challenge is still ahead. As in most tales, things come in threes here, and the boy has to confront the third bridge, which is unlike the other two. It harbours the revelation about the inevitability of growing up, integrating into society, giving oneself up to the routine and the humdrum existence, getting old and dying. It is the boy’s call now if he wants to have a symbolic tour of the experience that will surpass by far the intensity of the two previous journeys, and which will also entail sacrificing the last toy he has left, or if he chooses instead to meet his mum finally coming home after all these days, months, and years.

The second novella is called The Foxes, and it is the scariest in the collection. This fairy-tale-like narrative (but think the grimmest by the Brothers Grimm) even begins like one: “Once upon a time there lived a little brother and a little sister, Marcel and Isabel […]”. The eight-year-old boy and his three-year-old sister for the most part live in an autonomous world of their own with the occasional intrusions of two ethereal entities that feed them and say good night before sleep. In general, the world of adults is just a haze surrounding the exclusive domain of the siblings. They play different games, but one of them, which takes place at night, is special. They pretend to be little rabbits threatened by foxes. The denouement of the game is always the same: Marcel leaves the space under the blanket that stands for the rabbit burrow and protects his sister by courageously fighting the fox that has discovered their shelter. The game has a happy end as long as the fox is imaginary, but one night a real fox shows up, snatches Isabel away, and carries her into its lair to gnaw and maul. Marcel’s mission now is to save his little sister at the cost of a personal sacrifice.

Knowing Cărtărescu well, it does not come as a surprise that the “fox” which steals Isabel is not a fox. This creature neither is a fox in the hazy world of adults, nor is it one in the fabulous habitat of the siblings. From the parents’ perspective, the girl comes down with a grave illness, probably pneumonia, and is rushed into hospital where the medics begin fighting for her life. The boy sees things differently. For him, the “fox” is a creepy child with a cadaverous complexion, hollow inhuman eyes and a melancholic “smile” cutting across his face like a scalpel incision. The lair of this fox is a Lynchian limbo situated in one of the buildings of an abandoned and dilapidated block of houses that can be seen from the window of the siblings’ room. To save his sister, the boy has to visit that place.

In this novella the personal and the universal merge again. The game of rabbits hiding from foxes comes from Cărtărescu’s own childhood: he used to play it with his sister. As the author notes in the interview I keep referring to: “It’s the first time I’ve written about my sister, and I did it with great emotion. This story is a kind of gift to my sister.[ … ] it’s a deeply autobiographical and deeply disturbing story for me.” In The Foxes, the tragic individual experience of losing someone close to you is nourished by the rich mythological tradition in which the protagonist ventures into the realm of the dead either to bring back the loved one or to gain special knowledge. Some of the most notable examples are the journey of the Sumerian hero Gilgamesh across the waters of death, the katabasis of Orpheus in Greek mythology, and the descent of the twins Hunahpu and Ixbalanque into Xibalba in the Mayan sacred text Popol Vuh.

For Cărtărescu such categories as the terrifying and the uplifting or the pleasant and the revolting are not entirely separate. There is a certain aesthetic grandeur about the ghastliest places he describes, and even the most hair-raising of his stories can be imbued with unexpected optimism.  It is not enough for the Romanian author to tell us the uncanny fairy-tale of his; he wants to go even deeper by giving us a glimpse of what kind of fairy-tale is read by the characters of the kind of fairy-tale he is telling. Marcel reads from a large children’s book a story about a fabulous castle with a king and a princess inside. However, the scenes that get retold in the main text of the novella alert us to the fact that this book is not very appropriate for small children, at least in our world. Here is one passage:

The terrible monster broke through the floor of the castle and planted two enormous brown claws in the middle of the ballroom. The injured princess was lying on her stomach, her mane of hair falling onto the Persian carpet with interlaced patterns, her dress torn to shreds and the skin on her back split, baring all her vertebrae and ribs as if she was a fish cut open on a plate. She was still alive, and her fingers were creasing the smooth fabric of the satin sheet. The king on his throne felt in his chest the throbbing of the spider, which was spreading its thick venom throughout his veins. Making use of an extremely long straw, the king began to drink the moon, which was showing its belly in the window. The black rainbow arching over the kingdom now could be seen better: this giant bridge was made up by a procession of black ants with lustrous skulls and entangled legs clinging one to another in thousands, in hundreds of thousands; they were twitching their antennae and crawling, which produced a sharp sound that stayed in your eardrums for a long time. In the marble abdomen of every statue in this remote land there was a living baby girl ready to come into the world. It was possible to see through the translucent stone the closed eyelids and the ears like little seashells. It seemed that this whole world, which was inlaid under the varnish of paper like in the transparency of a frosted lake, was waiting for a fearful and hopeless event.

This tableau does not bode any good, yet the princess is going to be healed when the monster and the spider clash in a lethal fight on her blood-oozing back. She is going to stand up and shake herself free from both “chimaeras”. Not everything, which starts out ugly, is going to end up this way. Maybe little Isabel can be saved, like the princess. And if a book like that can give its reader a bit of consolation, so can the novella that contains it, despite its many terrors.

In The Foxes, the living and the dead have different concerns. They are curious about different things. What might make sense to the ones will seem nonsensical to the others. We get to know some of the things that the otherworldly boy ruminates about, and they do seem strange and meaningless. He fills his notebook with questions that no living person could possibly ask: “how does a smile burn?”, “how much does sadness cost?”, “why does milk not lie?”, “what is the echo of the tongue?”, “how does destiny snow?” No living ordinary person, that is. Such questions can be asked by entities from the netherworld as well as by poets from the world of the living. In fact, the last question appears as part of the poem quoted in the third novella of Melancolia.

This text, called The Skins, is the longest in the collection, running at ninety pages. It is also a kind of summary of some of the prominent motifs of The Blinding Trilogy and Solenoid, which can be equally reassuring or irritating depending on your attitude towards some symbolic staples of Cărtărescu’s works, such as butterflies, levitating statues, and mysterious factories. In this text, the author is particularly apt at defamiliarising familiar situations, and by doing that, paradoxically, making them even more familiar to us provided that we had a similar experience in the past. If you lived as a child in a city with well-developed ground public transportation and used either a bus, or a trolleybus or a tram to get to school, as I did, then you should remember the feeling of ambiguity about your daily route. On the one hand, the moving urban landscape is hardly registered after a year of regular journeys; it becomes just a background for your idle thoughts. On the other hand, this all too familiar city section becomes an undiscovered territory as soon as you decide one day, on a whim, to explore it on foot. Cărtărescu takes this experience, known to many, and enriches it with the aesthetics of a capriccio painting. Capriccio artworks feature a combination of real and imaginary architectural elements, or create fantastic landscapes by clustering in one place real pieces of architecture from different locations, or reconfigure buildings as melancholy ruins from a distant future. This genre was practised by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Francesco Guardi, Hubert Robert, and Joseph Gandy, to name a few. The most remarkable contemporary artist working within this convention is Carl Laubin. In The Skins, the familiar route to school gets defamiliarised in the tradition of capriccio and in keeping with the young protagonist’s secret desire:

One day at a psychology lesson, the teacher asked them a question: “How do you picture paradise?” and, to his great surprise, a single image came to his mind: the reverie of an infinite region filled with ruined buildings. He would have loved to be immortal and to be able to explore forever this universe of ruins, to enter each time-ravaged edifice overrun by vegetation, with yellow lichens on the walls and old photographs strewn on the floor, and skeletons wrapped in rags still sitting around the table in the dining rooms with mouldered draperies […]


Joseph Michael Gandy, A Bird’s Eye View of the Bank of England (1830)

When the main character finally decides to explore the street running through the seven tram stops between his home and school, his wish is partly fulfilled. He does enter a region of mostly ruined buildings, which he saw in passing from the tram but had never approached before. Of course, the city section he at last visits on foot is not infinite, but it is paradisiacal enough for him to meet his first love and to learn more about himself and the role of poetry in his life.

Not everything has been subject to decay and neglect on the road along the tramline. Some objects are intact; for example: a bizarre sweetshop selling chocolates in the shape of insects and tapeworms, a maternity hospital with a woman and a newborn baby looking out each window, the monument to the fictional poet Vasile Solitude hovering above the pedestal, and, most significantly, the house with an art nouveau doorway awning, where the teenage girl Dora lives. Ivan, for this is the name of the protagonist, gets acquainted with this newly-discovered territory and with the girl, who is always to be found in the front yard of her house. Their odd friendship begins, and thanks to it, Ivan is destined to discover the great mystery that has occupied his thoughts for a while : where do women hide their skins? Ivan knows well that males moult first at the age of one, then at four, at seven, and after that, every five years. He keeps his sloughed skins in the wardrobe in his room, neatly hung on coat hangers. The old skins of his father are stored in a suitcase. But he has never seen the skins of his mother; nor have any of his classmates discovered those of their mums. The strange girl Dora, who looks the way Ivan would if he were a girl, is the key to this secret knowledge with an unexpected entomological side to it.

The last name of the fictional poet suggests one of the major motifs not only in this novella, but in the whole collection, for solitude and melancholy go hand in hand. Ivan, obviously modelled on the adolescent Cărtărescu, is a solitary and pensive individual who prefers to spend lesson breaks at the back of the school reading a book of poems. He is on the cusp of two important initiations: into love and poetry. So far, he has been just an observer of the opposite sex and a reader of dead poets’ works. But now, it seems, he is ready to become a lover and a poet himself, and the melancholy attending this transition, full of doubts, fears, and soul-searching, is masterfully captured in this text, like an insect in amber. Actually, the entomological slant of the novella is further reinforced when Ivan finds out that a giant stag beetle is going to be his guide on a journey in the fantastic land with several moons, evergreen valleys and four rivers of pink, viscous fluid. The majestic landscape opening before the boy’s eyes after he enters the secret door in the pedestal of the monument to Vasile Solitude is situated in his own brain, and the four rivers carry neurotransmitter substances: dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline and acetylcholine. His claustrum appears as a vast cemetery of dead poets from the previous centuries, each of them lying in a crystal sarcophagus filled with lacteous liquid. When the liturgy administered by the stone effigy of Vasile Solitude begins in the factory-cathedral nearby, they leave their graves and take places in the pews, dripping the turbid liquid on the floor. The altarpiece in this cathedral is represented by two other statues: one is made of rubber and the other of chocolate wrapped in shiny foil. They are Ivan’s parents. Guided by the beetle, Ivan attends the liturgy and participates in a strange ritual, as a result of which the statue of the poet gets mutilated. Wielding a hammer and a chisel, the stag beetle removes the brain, the heart, and the genitals of the effigy and then passes them one after another to Ivan, who smashes them against the cathedral floor. There can be different interpretations of this vision, yet it is obvious that Ivan’s irreverent deed with respect to his idol (literally a stone idol here) marks an important stage in his development when he is no longer satisfied with being a passive admirer of the poetic tradition but is ready to take part in it himself. This epiphany appears to be confirmed when he travels inside his brain for the second time, and witnesses how the thousands of dead poets, now all enclosed in organic cocoons, simultaneously burst free from their graves and fly away as multi-coloured lepidopterous creatures. The message of Ivan’s intracranial wonderland seems to be clear enough: now that this site is no longer a cemetery, it is up to you to build on it something of your own; make a capriccio that will make the former denizens of this place proud and the future visitors aghast with amazement. Almost half a century later, Cărtărescu continues to amaze.

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Guest Post: Matthias Friedrich on ProponeisiS: Zoembient växelverkanvers by Johan Jönson

I cannot imagine how someone nowadays could write a poem which is longer than, say, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, yet Johan Jönson has dared to do exactly this: he has just published a long poem of 2,272 pages, which mainly, but not completely, consists of two stanzas of five lines per page. The form he has invented has a name of its own: ProponeisiS, or, as the subheading says, Zoembient växelverkanvers. But who is Johan Jönson? Born in 1966, he has been publishing poetry since 1992 and is regarded as one of Sweden’s foremost poets. Probably you have not read him, and that is because most of his works are not available in English (apart from this little book, translated by Johannes Göransson). His breakthrough came with the 800-page volume Efter arbetsschema (According to Work Schedule, 2008), a book which earned him both Aftonbladet’s Literature Prize and a nomination for Northern Europe’s most prestigious literary award Nordiska Rådets Litteraturpris – and, again, in 2020, for Marginalia/Xterminalier. Here is what Ulf Olsson had to say about it in Expressen. The critic describes Jönson’s text as a “machine”:

(It) works for 800 pages, disgorging different types of text. A short slogan like “work and fun belong together” alternates with diary notes, job descriptions from nursing homes with accounts from the writer’s machine. And the text grinds and buzzes so loudly that one really isn’t capable of grasping its different parts: the machine is working.

Jönson is a conceptual artist. He builds poetry apparatuses, gets lost in typographical shenanigans, prose fragments, long run-on sentences, lists, verses scattered all over the page, streams of consciousness. But his works are far from being inanimate or apathetic. When Efter arbetsschema was published in Elisabeth Fryking’s Norwegian translation in 2012, his editor Leif Høghaug said that the reader was “swept away” by the book, and I consider this to be an accurate description of what Jönson does to those who dare to read what he has contrived. His writing is hypnotic, dream-like, radical, and one has to make sure not to get lost in the labyrinths of his mind. Even if there is very little one can hold onto – the title of his new book is a good starting point.

In Sara Abdollahi’s and Andrea Lundgren’s podcast Godmorgon, midnatt, Jönson mentions that ProponeisiS is a made-up word – or, if that’s what one wants to call it, a creation in the spirit of Finnegans Wake. (If you understand Swedish, you can listen to him explaining his title at around 1:22.) First of all, the title contains poiesis, the Greek word for “poetry”, which also means “making”. For Jönson, poetry connotes mechanical art – that’s not surprising given his numerous references to factory work. Pro, of course, means for. Other than that, the creation includes the Swedish word for “no” (nej),  although it is written as nei. Taking these aspects into account, it is tempting to read Jönson’s obscure neologism as an apocryphal title: For a Negative Making – that is, a form of critique in a certain dialectical tradition, both private and political, socially critical and arty. It is a critique that in itself is a “P.S.”, a post scriptum to all of Jönson’s earlier works – or, rather, a summa of everything he has written before.

Zoembient växelverkanvers is another invented term, even a literary genre of its own. The adjective zoembient is based on a post-dramatic script written by Jönson himself and includes three words – zoe, zombie, ambient: zoe is Giorgio Agamben’s term for bare life. Furthermore, it implies that one aspires to reach a certain form of self-fulfillment through work – which Jönson’s “I” is never going to reach, precisely because his jobs are utterly absurd, both to himself and to society. Therefore, he has quite a different conception of zoe than any neoliberal would have. In a sort of introduction to his play script, he writes that the word “describes a form of flickering life, caught between vegetation and an insect-like existence, landscape and subject, environment and vector, discourse and evolution, redistribution and geology, movement and language, silence and obscurity”.  A zombie is, of course, an undead bedeviling innocent people, an abhorred revenant that is difficult to kill, and a constant source of sorrow or even grief personified. Ambient refers to proximate surroundings (society and nature) – but also to electronic soundscapes: a background noise, elevator music, a machine humming in the background. Hence, Jönson uses poetry – aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language – to highlight the interplay (växelverkan) between living and inanimate spheres. What is alive? What is dead? Does his narrator still walk among the animate, or has he moved back to the inferno? Jönson’s narrating “I” is a kind of Orpheus whose Eurydice has never existed. He himself tries to sing but is drowned out by the buzzing city behind his back. The only thing he can do is to try again, to fail again, to fail better – although he can never give up singing.

The book is centered around “a proponeitic and zoembient subjectivity”. It refers to itself as “I” and is called “Johan”, but it cannot be defined as an alter ego of the author. Rather than that, it is, in the words of the Danish-Norwegian critic Susanne Christensen, “a serial I”, chattering about the violent society it lives in. This “collective” narrative instance is caught up between waking and sleeping, and, therefore, bears witness to an “inertia regime” – an account of a continued dehumanization through work, an existence between life and death, which is why it is exclusively capable of delivering sequence upon sequence of hypnagogic images. “Johan” describes how capitalism has inflicted damage to his body and mind. He has always had low-paid menial jobs, for example in a graphite powder plant, in nursing homes, as a cleaner, etc. He is suffering from constant financial strain and feels that he can’t provide for his family. Furthermore, he doesn’t have much time to write and moves back and forth between the gloomy existence of a worker and that of an author. This is what is meant by “zoembient”: “Johan” has to find a compromise between the animate sphere of literature and the inanimate sphere of work because he cannot live in both domains at the same time. But his only accomplishment both as a worker and as a writer is a certain stasis, a perpetual iteration of internalized procedures in a capitalist society which only takes and never gives, and reduces him to nothing but a shadow, a prospective version of himself he can’t recognize. In her review of Efter arbetsschema, Susanne Christensen likens Jönson’s poetry to the paintings of Norwegian artist Hariton Pushwagner, in which people merge with the dehumanizing urban environment, and the Swedish poet’s most recent book further confirms this comparison.

Hjemovar (Going Home) by Hariton Pushwagner. Image Source

Truth be told, these limbo chronicles can be as tiring as my description sounds. However, they are remarkable in terms of syntax: full of nested sentences, parentheses, and disruptions. The poem begins at a graphite powder plant and moves on to defining life stations: a childhood in a doomed family, jobs, an encounter with the love of life, and is constantly interrupted by small chapbooks – most of them only several pages long –, often right in the middle of a sentence. In the podcast I have mentioned, Jönson reveals that these chapbooks were planned as addenda to ProponeisiS, leaflets to be taken out by the reader and distributed anyplace in the book. Unfortunately, this was unfeasible for the publisher. Apart from these incognito poetry collections, the poem itself – that is, the sequences of two five-line stanzas – is not paginated.  Given its length, this seems to be a sadistic trick of the author. However, it is not that the author gratuitously mocks the readers by denying them the comfort of knowing on which page they are at the given moment – his purpose is rather to allow them to go astray in the zoembient subjectivity’s mind. The enormous extent of Jönson’s text should not be viewed as the product of loose editing but as a sign of its obsessive qualities and transgressive potential.

Jönson recounts the history of a personal cataclysm caused by heavy work and elitist class distinctions. His language is full of anger, invectives and injuries. He does not have qualms about resorting to explicit depictions of graphic sexualized violence. There is nothing erotic about intercourse here (very frequently, sperm clumps are described as little white “maggots”). Ubiquitous images of violence even haunt the “I”’s sleep  in such a way that I (don’t) hope he’s going to publish a dream protocol:

In a dream, I’m at home, but I’m forced to eat enormous heaps of fresh ravioli filled with thick sperm. It’s like chomping into a deliciously fat pillow pasta and realizing that yellowish, gooey ricotta or mozzarella cheese trickles from the middle of it. I don’t know why I need to gobble up this food, but somehow, I feel like I have to go for it. And I get pregnant, my belly swells up, becomes taut. When I’m expected to give birth, it turns out that the grotesque belly doesn’t contain a child but thick, semi-fluid, dissolved, feculent fat. It oozes out of me, both out of my anus and my contaminated, blazing red snatch, and somehow even out of the cesarean which has been made under my wobbling belly. The doctors and the midwives are kicking their heels, laughing scornfully.

In the Freudian sense of the term, this dream is a condensation of the violence the “I” is confronted with and subjected to every day. Apart from continuous harassment by employers and, as a poor person, being made invisible by an exploitative and elitist society, the “I” has to deal with the internalized violence it inflicts on both itself and others. As is customary in Scandinavian societies, it spirals into a crisis of conscience and självransakelse (self-examination): Did I commit any mistakes? And, if I did, how can I make up for them? The “I” has to answer this question by questioning the destructive aspects of its masculinity through literature and writing. It has “found itself within a forest dark” – not only like Dante but also like the man in Ulrich Schlotmann’s magnum opus Die Freuden der Jagd (The Pleasures Of Hunt), a stream of consciousness which is, in fact, a deconstruction of fatalist conceptions of masculinity. (Jönson mentions the author a couple of times, which is impressive because this novel has never been translated and is little known even in Germany.) The “I” is much more transgressive than, for instance, Karl Ove Knausgård in his autobiographical novel series – in the sense that it doesn’t indulge in narcissistic accolades of the self, but in collectivized images of brutishness caused by a harmful society. Nor does it engage in kitchen-sink realism or, as the poet would call it, “lifestyle liberalism literature”.

In a sense, Jönson follows the 19th-century Danish critic Georg Brandes who said that literature had to moot social problems – a request which became increasingly popular not only with Henrik Ibsen’s plays but is still going strong in a lot of Scandinavian books making their way into the Anglophone world. But unlike all those writers (among them Knausgård), Jönson does not dwell on trite simulations of middle-class life in the suburbs. In his conceptual art, he aims to represent the poor, the sick, the dispossessed and invents a disrupted, infinite poetical form, a rich tapestry of subaltern life in today’s Sweden. Does it hurt? Yes. Is it necessary? Not only that, it’s past overdue.


Many thanks to Albert Bonniers Förlag for providing an advance review copy.


About the Author

Matthias Friedrich was born in Trier, Germany, in 1992. He has studied at the Writers’ Academy in Hildesheim and holds a Master’s degree in Scandinavian literature and culture from the University of Greifswald. He currently lives in Trier. He has translated into German Svein Jarvoll and Thure Erik Lund, among others. Forthcoming: Kælven by Leif Høghaug; Vestlandet by Erlend O. Nødtvedt; Suget, eller Vasker du vores fuckfingre med dine tårer? by Ida Marie Hede.

You can learn more about Matthias and his work on his personal site Tvesynt (in German).

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Ígur Neblí by Miquel de Palol

During the years of the confrontation, Peirgij Kumaiaski distinguished himself as the most skilful guiding strategist and fire correction expert. As soon as the revolt was quenched, and he was punished in accordance with the laws, he demonstrated, as had already been predicted, that his qualities transcended not only the insignificant circumstances of life, but even the eternal horror that a protracted and cruel death left in the astral. His head, cut off exemplarily in the Homage Square Portico, at the Palace of the Island of the Lake of Beòmia, after the slow torture during which his body was subjected to the whip, red-hot iron, amputations and flaying, was left exposed at the entrance to the town, which was also the North Gate of the Homage Square, hanging from the large shield of stone and bronze that crowned the central portico, and once the passage of time emptied the head of its humours and substances, without any human interference, a swarm of bees settled inside and made it into their hive, and thus, as a natural result and, according to the auspicial orthodoxy, as the spontaneous fruit of necessity, at the town entrance appeared an oracle, inspired by the visions of the pilgrim Coplis, who discovered its virtues, it is believed, thanks to an accidental appraisal, and a whole augural science developed around the bees: the regularity and frequency of flights, the pattern and the direction, the crossings and the exact hour of the day, the circumstances, or even the absence of movement on one significant occasion, whether they entered or exited through the mouth or through the eye sockets, through the neck or the ears, through the right eye or ear or through the left, or whether they departed through one orifice and returned through the other. With the frequency decreed by sworn apiculturists, the honey and combs were ceremoniously removed on the day and at the hour decided by the oracle itself, and the honey was used to anoint the bodies of three maidens who then offered themselves to the pleasures of the first seven foreigners to arrive in the town, be they men or women, for seven days in a row, though the final part of the ritual often degenerated into private orgies of the oracle priests […]

This excerpt from a brief historical digression in Miquel de Palol’s novel Ígur Neblí should be enough for you to decide not only whether to continue reading this review, but also if Palol is your kind of writer. My intention is far from trying to sell you a house by showing one of its bricks. No doubt, this novel has enough scenes of cruelty and disturbing weirdness to suggest that the best candidates for illustrating it would have been Zdzisław Beksiński or H. R. Giger. (In fact, an acrylic by the latter, titled Work Nr. 217 ELP II (Brain Salad Surgery), was used as cover art for the Spanish translation of the book.)  However, Ígur Neblí is not a wanton gorefest, but rather a philosophical science fiction novel containing in equal measure learned discussions you wish you had read several times before finishing the book and depictions of savagery you wish you had never read. The quoted passage perfectly exemplifies Palol’s ability to tell a vivid and unforgettable story within the space of a page. There is no lack of such stories in the novel. What is striking about Ígur Neblí is how much has been packed in: there are dozens of characters, most of whom are called by their first and last names, a variety of settings allowing us to appreciate all the world-building that went into the book, a number of puzzles requiring the knowledge of maths, astronomy, logic, and mythology, explanatory digressions about the politics, society and culture of this futuristic world, lengthy and detailed descriptions of sword matches as well as historical excursuses like the one cited above. Also, the novel, and, consequently, our view of it change as we read it. What starts like a cyberpunk riff on the chivalric romance develops into a large-scale satire of a technocratic society, makes a digression into the territory of the Borgesian fable, and ends up as a poignant enquiry into the nature of memory, consciousness and the perception of the self.

I do not know whether Palol had in mind William Hogarth’s engraving The Bathos when describing the ruins of a palace at the end of the novel, but the broken column and the broken hourglass he specifically mentions led me directly to it. Entropy, disarray and chaos are the inevitable end of any vain enterprise, be it the ambition of a single hero to achieve everlasting glory, the striving of a civilisation to dominate forever, or the hubris of a reader to come up with the definitive interpretation of a book like Ígur Neblí. I have to confess that I am a typical representative of the last vanitas. I failed to crack the main mystery of this novel, namely, to find out what exactly happened in the Final Labyrinth before the protagonist left it. I was even tempted to write to the author and ask him about it, but, after a short consideration, I realised that such an enquiry would disqualify me from being a true Palol reader, and rereading the book at a later point, hopefully with more knowledge and experience at my disposal, was the only way to go about this. For the time being, let me tell you what I did manage to understand about the nightmarish technocratic world created by the Catalan author and the foolhardy protagonist who sets out to achieve greatness in it.

William Hogarth, Tailpiece, or The Bathos, 1764. Image Source

The novel is set in a far future when the territory suitable for human habitation has considerably shrunk after a series of unspecified environmental disasters. National states no longer exist, having been replaced by the single Universal Empire with the strict “power vertical” divided into a proliferation of administrative units. The Emperor is at the top of the hierarchy; the second most important position is that of the Hegemon, the head of the government. The two main types of the governmental institutions are Apotropias and Anagnorias, the former dealing with practical issues, mostly related to law enforcement and military operations, and the latter with the matters of ideology. The establishments known as Equemitias stand apart; in theory, they are answerable only to the Emperor. Their main function is keeping the secrets of the Empire. The nobility of the Empire, represented by Princes, Dukes, Counts, Barons and Knights of seven degrees, enjoy considerable independence from the state, maintaining control over the economy and the commerce, which are not within the remit of the government. The promotion from one chivalric degree to another is determined by a gladiatorial sword duel between the two candidates, which often ends with the death of the defeated knight. At the beginning of the novel, the protagonist makes unusually rapid progress from Chrysalis to the Knight of the Chapel, which is the highest degree, granting its possessor the right to perform the most dangerous and the most honourable feat: to solve the Final Labyrinth.

The said labyrinth is the last of the four enormous structures of the so-called Third Circle of Labyrinths built seven hundred years before the events of the novel. The Labyrinths of the First and Second Circles dating back to even earlier times have sunk into oblivion and cannot even be located, provided they haven’t been entirely ruined. The conquests of the second and the third Labyrinths of the Third Circle, in accordance with the tradition, have been undertaken by the aspirants guided by the previous conquerors, that is, the knight who solved the First Labyrinth acted as the guide and the head of the expedition into the Second Labyrinth whose conqueror, in his turn, performed the same role for the next expedition. Both guides mysteriously perished in the respective labyrinths, and the conqueror of the third one, having declined all the due honours and rewards, retired from public life. When Ígur Neblí is granted access to the Chapel, there is only one labyrinth left unconquered. It is situated inside the huge mountain dominating the landscape of Gorhgró, the capital of the Empire. Needless to say, the prestige of conquering the Final Labyrinth is immense.

In order to realise his ambition, first of all, Ígur has to acquire all the necessary technical knowledge as well as to go through advanced problem-solving training under the mentorship of Geometrist Debrel, the archetypal wise old man helping the hero to embark on his quest. Two other important preconditions for mounting the expedition are the sponsorship of one of the most powerful Princes in the Empire and the consent of the previous champion of the labyrinth, who bears the title Arktofilax, to act as the guide. The preparation supervised by Debrel consists of numerous exercises in which Ígur has to solve problems in such areas as geometry, fluid mechanics, logic, aesthetics, linguistics and even commerce strategies. The problem-solving ability of the aspirant has to be at its best when he enters the Labyrinth, for his very life will depend on it when choosing which direction to take or which door to enter. The main feature of the Labyrinth is that at certain places of bifurcating paths there is a complicated puzzle that has to be solved to get the right direction. If the members of the expedition make a mistake, they run the risk of getting lost or falling into a deadly trap. While honing his problem-solving skills Ígur collaborates with his mentor on cracking the code of the entrance into the Labyrinth, which is the first puzzle waiting for the aspirant. An important role in Ígur’s preparations is played by the cryptic utterances of the Prophetic Head, which, if interpreted correctly, are likely to give him an invaluable insight about his enterprise. The Prophetic Head, kept alive thanks to advanced technologies in a house specially built for it, belongs, by the way, to the brother of Peirgij Kumaiaski whose head’s similarly augural qualities have been described in the quoted passage opening this review.

What Ígur has to learn and often brood about before, during, and after his conquest of the Labyrinth is the extent to which his trajectory has been his own accomplishment and to which it has been part of a game whose scale and duration might have been too forbidding to even contemplate. If you have read my review of Palol’s masterpiece The Troiacord, you must be familiar with the weird conceit of the Game of the Fragmentation. This Neoplatonic game contains elements from a variety of disciplines and cultural practices and is aimed at changing society by staging large-scale ludic campaigns involving people who are unaware of being participants in them. There is a similar game, or rather a number of games unfolding in the Empire, but, in contrast to the aesthetic and philosophical character of the Game of the Fragmentation, the games in Ígur Neblí are just complex gambling procedures with very high stakes. Gambling has penetrated all spheres of life, affecting thousands of the citizens, quite often without their consent or even knowledge. Gambling is so important that there is a whole institution dedicated to its management and supervision: the General Apotropia of the Games of the Empire.

The most relevant type of gambling in relation to Ígur’s quest is a game called Fonotontina, or, to be more precise, its modification—the Covert Fonotontina. In this game, eighty-three percent of the people involved become participants without their consent. The draw of the players can be effected through any recorded individual event, like buying a travel ticket or visiting the doctor. Moreover, only ten percent out of these involuntary participants are informed about their new status. Especially prestigious are Fonotontinas in which the lives of the players are at stake and the winner is announced when there is only one participant left alive. Since in most cases the Covert Fonotontina bleeds into the everyday life of the Empire, the deaths of the unwitting participants are hard to distinguish from “regular” deaths. Actually, ninety percent of deaths in Gorghró can be attributed to the Covert Fonotontina. To the uninitiated, it may seem that somebody has died a “regular” death, like succumbing to a disease or being killed in a factory accident, but, in reality, this person has lost the game. If that wasn’t disturbing and confusing enough, there is a possibility that the given game is just one of the fractals of the most complex gambling modification, which is fittingly titled the Imperial Fonotontina. This game, whose final phase is represented by a rhizomatic structure of Fonotontinas, can last for decades. Leading up to the final phase is a series of Metafonotontinas whose winners are awarded the right to take part in the concluding stage. The participants of the Metafonotontinas are, in their turn, decided in a series of Metametafonotontinas leading up to those, and so on down to the sixteenth degree of separation. So, it is quite possible that everything that happens to Ígur is not even a round of the Covert Fonotontina, but just one of the numerous Metafonotontinas whose winner’s only prize is the right to participate in the game of a higher order.

There are also different kinds of gambling in which the players are not active participants, but spectators betting on the lives of others. Those are either sophisticated variations of gladiatorial fights or allegorical pantomime shows with unsimulated sex and bloody denouement, whose meaning is explained to the public by the Interpreter. The shows take place in the specially designed Palaces of Expansion hosted by rich and influential women. These palaces are hubs of the nobility’s cultural and social life offering its visitors all sorts of entertainment, including the company of gorgeous courtesans, and it is the latter which attracts our hero to the Palace Conti in Gorghró, where he forms a fateful relationship with Fei, a trapeze artist, a martial arts expert, a performer in shows managed by the General Apotropia of the Games, and besides all that, a highly-positioned member of the persecuted clan of the Astreus, who are in danger of being exterminated in the dirty power struggle among the Empire’s elites. It is a matter of time before Ígur’s amorous involvement is perceived as political and leads to his own persecution. The trouble seems to be brewing for the protagonist since his early reckless steps on his arrival in the capital, but it is evident that some influential functionaries of the Empire are ready to forgive the youthful parvenu a lot, so he can solve the Last Labyrinth, for, by doing so, he will be unwittingly changing the power balance in the ongoing internecine strife.

A single important event that took place in the 3rd century of the new time underpins the technical sophistication required in such varied processes as the maintenance of the Prophetic Head, the management of Fonotontinas, the re-programming of the Labyrinth (after each unsuccessful expedition), and the streamlining of all the communications in the Empire by means of the supercomputer Quantifier. On several occasions, the characters invoke with reverence the Technological Renaissance whose cradle was Bracaberbria, the former capital of the Empire, which used to be a flourishing cosmopolitan city and now, after the conquest of its own Labyrinth, has turned into a decaying urban sprawl with a shrinking population and depleted resources. The Technological Renaissance has been instrumental in the establishment of the present society in which the scientific advances are ultimately used to hurt, harm, maim and murder human beings either for the purpose of entertainment or within the domain of the Inquisitorial Art based on bleeding-edge punitive medicine, which has ousted all other kinds of state-sanctioned punishment. We are offered a disturbing tour of the Central Prison of the Empire equipped with the most advanced machinery for physical and psychological torture. The Head Canon of the correctional facility is especially interested in exploring the possibilities of a device that can create the perceptional body of the subject greatly exceeding the real one. This technology is still being tested, and there is no lack of human guinea pigs among the condemned. The Canon excitedly shares with Ígur the prospects of the augmented pain infliction made possible, in the first place, thanks to the Technological Renaissance: “Suppose there is a convict whose pain is not limited to the body; imagine that for this person everything can start hurting: the clothes, the shoes, the chair on which he is sitting, the walls of the room, the whole building! The whole city of Gorghró is hurting him, the entire planet and the Solar System are causing him an insufferable pain […].” Apart from the plethora of agony-causing methods, there are also different ways of affecting the human brain, which can be used to obtain the necessary information, to implant a false memory, or to change completely the identity of the subject. The most precious piece of information in Ígur’s brain is the same mystery which I earlier confessed to having failed to uncover: what happened just before he left the Labyrinth alone, without his guide Arktofilax? Is that what the inquisitors are trying to find out when the Conqueror of the Labyrinth, now fallen from grace, is delivered into their hands? That’s the impression Ígur gets when electrodes are attached to his shaven skull. But maybe, in reality, their main purpose is to install into Ígur’s consciousness the false recollection of the expedition into the Labyrinth, which never happened in the first place. There seems to be no clear answer to this puzzle, and the reader is left to wonder about what was real and what wasn’t together with the main character who is released back into the world after his imprisonment as a man with a reprogrammed consciousness at the back of which there still lurks his chivalric identity, waiting to be regained. He does recover it eventually, but the consequences of the sustained procedure will haunt him forever.

Érik Desmazières, High Circular Gallery, an illustration for The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges. Image Source

In his elaborate depiction of the many gruesome ways in which scientific achievement is used in the Empire, Miquel de Palol creates a chilling allegory about a society devoid of humanism. In this society, the role of the arts and humanities has been relegated to that of a semiotic quarry from which separate elements are drawn to be incorporated into the scenarios of the brutal performances at the Palaces of Expansion. Mythological motifs are used to solve puzzles, not to create new works of art or literature. The sad monument to the humanist failure of this civilisation is the Imperial Library, which has become practically useless despite holding vast riches of accumulated knowledge. This enormous library, which brings to mind both Borges’ Library of Babel and Umberto Eco’s library-labyrinth, consists of three different parts caught in the cumbersome process of alignment. The oldest component is the library of paper books, which is viewed more like an ancient artefact than a readily usable source of information. Then there is the ever-expanding immaterial library of quantified documents directly connected to the Quantifier; all the documents are encrypted and in order to access any of those, one has to know the code of the respective directory and subdirectory. The problem is that the codes for the 100 directories and 50,000 subdirectories were entered in the course of half a century by thousands of employees, many of whom were participants of the notorious gambling procedures conducted by the Apotropia of Games. Not only many of those codes have now been lost; what also happened is that during those games, the system sustained serious disruptions which impeded access to many documents, and now it is virtually impossible to rectify those glitches because the rules of the game prohibited the employees responsible for the sabotage to reveal the information vital for the recovery of the affected sectors. Then there is the Library of Memory. It is the most secret and the least accessible part of the Imperial Library. The high officials who are authorised to use the Library of Memory, still cannot agree on its final composition and the degree to which others can be allowed to peruse its contents. The uncertain status of this library is directly related to the activity of the Anamnesor, the highest ideological authority in the Empire. Originally, the main function of the Anamnesor was the recording and preservation of memory. But as the data to be recorded progressively accumulated, the principal task of this official became the selection of information that has to be forgotten, so the records of the most essential facts and events do not get lost in data overload. We are not told anything about the mechanics of preserving and deleting information employed in the Library of Memory, but it seems reasonable to suppose that its files are in constant flux depending on the current political situation, for different leaders would be in favour of forgetting different things. Of course, the obscure status of this storage of memories is not very helpful for the grand unification of all three libraries that is underway. Ironically, the attempt to restore order in the existing disarray just increases the chaos, which is even recognised by the First Librarian: “the Library is the Cathedral of Entropy […] if only we could change its name! Entropeon, Egregoreon!”

Model of the hyperboloid in the Sagrada Familia Museum. Image Source

The Last Labyrinth into whose mysterious depths Ígur and his guide Arktofilax venture when all the conditions for the expedition have been satisfied is the point of convergence for the major themes of the novel. The Labyrinth of Gorghró is a marvel of the civilisation’s technological progress thanks to which natural and man-made elements have been fused into one vast theatre ready to give stage to any ludic diversion from the rich repertory of the Apotropia of Games. The two men have to navigate a network of caves and tunnels before arriving into the Great Hall, measuring kilometres in height, length and width, in the centre of which there is an enormous hyperboloid structure, dubbed the Cadroiani, connecting the floor and the ceiling of this vast chamber. Their task is to find the entrance into the hyperboloid, to reach its top by going up the spiral staircase seven kilometres long, and then, to find the way out of the Labyrinth via another series of branching passages. Being the most significant architectural element of the Labyrinth, the Cadroiani is apparently Palol’s homage to Antoni Gaudí, who famously incorporated the hyperboloid into his works and equated it with light. The success of the expedition depends on solving a number of puzzles presented by allegorical texts at the key nodes of the route. Arktofilax, who has the experience of conquering the Labyrinth of Bracaberbria, predictably makes the main contribution to the unravelling of all these enigmas. As they move forward, it becomes obvious that without him Ígur would have lost his way. And all the more alarming sounds to the protagonist the revelation that the key to the exit from a Labyrinth is the death of all the participants of the expedition except one, and, in their particular case, it means that in order to conquer the Labyrinth he has to fight Arktofilax. Ígur refuses to raise the sword against his guide, and what happens next is the great enigma of Palol’s novel that is up to the reader to solve. All we know is that Ígur exits the Labyrinth alone.

Ígur finds the Empire changed, with the power struggle intensified, and his amorous involvement with the woman from the outlawed clan of the Astreus precipitates his conflict with the state, which ultimately leads to his capture and reconditioning at the Central Prison of the Empire. As I’ve already mentioned, after a while Ígur manages to recover his lost identity and past memories, but when he finally gets in touch with someone he used to know, he is shocked to learn that people know nothing about his exploit as the Labyrinth never existed: there is nothing extraordinary inside the great mountain in the centre of the capital except for the spectacular caves, the main tourist attraction in the city. The most obvious explanation for this amnesia is that the Princes who benefited from Ígur’s conquest of the Labyrinth, having failed to extract the crucial information about what had happened between him and Arktofilax, decided to erase this event from the Library of Memory and, consequently, from people’s minds. We do not know for sure what secret technologies might have been used for that, but there is one reference, almost in passing, to state-sponsored secret research in neural engineering. Yet there is also the already mentioned possibility that the expedition is a false memory implanted into the mind of the protagonist in the dismal correctional facility, which then calls into question the authenticity of many events in the novel. Could it be that from the very start we have been navigating not the life, but the broken mind of Ígur Neblí, having access only to his version of the events?

After Ígur retreats from the indifferent world to a distant island where he is granted a permanent residence in the palace of the local count, adopting there the humble lifestyle of an anchorite, he continues to be tormented by the many mysteries of the Labyrinth. He contemplates various possibilities, which are perceived by the people who interact with him, which happens less often as years pass, as different expressions of his insanity. Perhaps, his adventure is not over, and there is the Fifth Labyrinth to which, one day, he will lead the new aspirant. Or maybe the Fifth Labyrinth doesn’t exist yet, and it is his mission to build it. What if all the Labyrinths of the Third Circle were mere tokens in a gigantic Fonotontina, and their disappearance was the direct result of the game? During their expedition into the Labyrinth of Gorghró, Arktofilax pointed out that the structure and functions of the complex inside the mountain were similar to those of the human brain, so maybe the true Labyrinth is the consciousness itself, and it is the Ego of the protagonist, in search of the transcendental escape, which is responsible for the alterations in the fabric of the perceived world. We could also say that at the meta-level, the novel itself is a labyrinth in which each significant turn of the reader-explorer corresponds to the selection of the most appealing interpretation from a number of the possible ones, the ultimate goal being to find the exit, that is, to fully understand Miquel de Palol’s novel. Reader, you are going to spend years roaming this meta-labyrinth, and I wouldn’t bet on the success of your expedition.

Earlier in the novel, there is an interesting discussion about the long-standing division that has occurred between different disciplines. One character regrets the fact that science, philosophy, and art, which used to be one holistic enterprise, are now separate fields and believes that one of the major challenges facing the society is to reconcile these disciplines in one again. Not just Ígur Neblí, but the whole immense corpus of Miquel de Palol’s works is there to remind us that such a reconciliation is possible.

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