Art Attack and Cultural Loathing


August Strindberg

After the wave of scandic noir (and the terrible third series of Borgen) E.S. Sandberg explores attitudes to politics and culture in Scotland and Scandinavia.

It’s most infuriating to read when cherished writers are attacked by the establishment in their home-nations. Being half-Swedish, I’ve taken a great deal of interest in the Scandinavian arts over my short years – Søren Kierkegaard, Henrik Ibsen,Hjalmar Söderberg, Edvard Munch – to name, but a few. However no-one piqued my creative loins more than Sverige’s most famous dead-man: August Strindberg, ‘notre cher maître Suedois’. Lamented in life, celebrated in a centenary (I happened to be in Stockholm last year during the 100th anniversary of his death). The author of Miss Julie is the archetypal, absinthe-swilling, Swedish poet with the Mary Chain coiffure – never doubt it. He even drank in a boozer called ‘The Black Pig’.

He had an all-enveloping sea of talents and genius: playwright, artist, musician, satirist, novelist, poet and, er… alchemist. It was this indulgence in alchemy that almost drove the man insane from the fumes the elements he was working with emitted. Edvard Munch was so taken by him that they even worked and collaborated intellectually for a short time before, and this is legendary – Munch executed a famous lithograph of him before spelling the Swede’s name wrong at the bottom of the piece. He was not pleased. Upon the next sitting for the work Strindberg ‘never said a word on arrival but merely laid a revolver down in front of him and stayed silent throughout the session’. But, by then, the young Norwegian artist had tired of Strindberg’s paranoia and persecution complexes – brought on by a series of misfortunes including a messy divorce and a self-imposed exile from Sweden due to a long-running libel case against him for blasphemy (he was eventually acquitted).

The embattled Scando strode on, though, and the rest has been left to folklore. In a way, he was too ahead of his time to really ‘fit in’ with the society that inhabited his world and now, as OUR time demands, we try to wear just as many different hats – as Strindberg did, with his multiple interests – to survive given the snail-pace our economy seems to be moving at. I’d bet there are few in The Fatherland that don’t channel his fortitude when in need.

Swedes adore Scotland. They really do. I’m sure this is of no surprise to you… But do some ‘Scots’ really care for Scotland? Some of the invective poured upon Alasdair Gray in the comments section of The Scotsman (after the  KILTR Referendum debate at the CCA) was nothing short of staggering and, given that said comments were posted by individuals under their nom de plume, were completely below the belt. Alasdair IS and everything more, what Strindberg was and still is for Sweden. Mr Gray represents an apogee of endeavour and benevolence that is unparalleled amidst a dogged-dirge of an establishment too far gone on tittle-tattle and greed. Indeed, to paraphrase: people with empty minds are indiscreet because they’ve got nothing worth keeping to themselves. So, if indiscretion is the currency of The Scotsman’s readers; where were they, then, when a controlled, cathartic debate was being held at the CCA?

To be honest with you, I’m not particularly interested in politicians or the faceless civil servants who kowtow to their whims. But when artists from the community that I live in are attacked – and this hasn’t been the first time – maybe volubility, via independently structured platforms, can be our only response? Moreover there is a serious lack of accountability in this country – the anonymity provided via these institutional mayhems only stifles the considered responses that simply can’t rush with a mass of pseudonymous keyboard warriors.

2014 will trigger a tumultuous year for Alasdair Gray, I hope that he fulfills all his ambitions on a professional, and a personal capacity. Anything else would be a shame.


Comments (3)

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  1. Hey! Where did that gratuitous attack on “faceless civil servants” come from? I was one for 23 years. Are we not human? Do we not bleed?

    1. Piobaire says:

      We can see your face Graeme!

  2. “Swedes adore Scotland. They really do. I’m sure this is of no surprise to you …”

    It is to me, although not an unwelcome one.

    You’re spoffing though? Right?

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