On the art of friendship
I have just finished a superhot-from-the-presses compilation of Olof Lagercrantz´s diary, "Vid sidan av" (= on the side), a gossip-fest for anyone interested in Swedish literature. All the greats from the 20th Century are here: Karin Boye, Lars Forsell, Eyvind Johnson, Pär Lagerkvist, Artur Lundkvist, and more. Lagercrantz was perhaps the most influential literary critic and a powerful editor at Dagens Nyheter, the biggest morning paper in Sweden, during the mid-decades. I have read him before, a fine little book called "Om konsten att läsa och skriva" (= on the art of reading and writing), that I often re-read.
Reading Lagercrantz diary, with personal portraits of his friends, who were also the people who´s work it was his job to criticize, you get the image of a very small community of people, feeding on each other. It was, of course. Sweden is a small country and was even smaller in the 50´s and 60´s. They seem as normal as any circle of friends, sometimes they agree on everything, sometimes they irritate the hell out of each other, there is even a knife drawn at one point. Sometimes he seems closest to the ones that are the most difficult to be with and for sure, Lagercrantz didn´t have it easy (and no doubt he could be difficult, too). The longest chapter is about Erik Lindegren and it must have been a very passionate and complicated friendship. The way Lagercrantz is always noting Lindegren´s beauty, the shape of his body, his eyes, the way he is with him every day for long periods, particularly at the end (Lindegren died only 58 years old, from hard living I imagine), kissing his hand - it is very moving and it seems like there´s an attraction that goes a bit beyond the regular "bromance". I had to google Lindegren, to see what he looked like, and indeed, he seems to have been a very attractive guy.
The book makes me curious about other things by Lagercrantz, he wrote a few books about authors like Nelly Sachs, Proust and Ekelöf, and he was a poet, too. But what I really take with me is the afterword by his son Richard Lagercrantz, who describes himself as the family´s archivist. He also used to be, like his father, a keen diarist. Three years ago his house burned to the ground, and the archive with it. Luckily, Olof Lagercrantz´s diary had already been digitalized, but his own was completely lost. As a diarist myself, I find the thought of loosing all my notes a bit worrying, but he writes (in my own translation):
Olof´s journaling was a way of living. It´s funny that it became that for me, too. I have written all my life. Not that I have been bad at living, but the diary has been there as an anchor. Now that I have no notes left I have not only lost my urge to write. I also feel strangely freed, almost cleansed. It´s like the wind no longer blows at me - but right through me.
I don´t know how many times I have tried to stop writing, for different reasons. A few days later I´m always at it again. I´m not sure why. Anchor? I don´t know, I think it has more to do with setting boundries between myself and the world, by making my thoughts solid, by turning them into words. It´s a sort of book keeping: this is mine, this is yours, this is his and hers and this is what I can do and what I can´t. I am, I think, writing myself out of being responsible for everything. I imagine most diarists have similar reasons.