I have been reading Horace Engdahl. His latest book "Cigaretten efteråt" (= the cigarette afterwards) has been very favourably reviewed and I got curious. While I was at it (on elib.se) I also downloaded an older book of his, "Meteorer" (= meteors).
Horace Engdahl has a bit of a reputation, even internationally. He is a member of the Swedish Academy (who select the Nobel Prize Laureate for literature every year) and for ten years he was the Permanent Secretary. He is a literature historian and has written books about the romantic period and about the author´s voice.
These two small books are collections of reflections, aphorisms and notes. On life, literature, fame, anything that Engdahl has had a reason to give some thought to. I suppose it is a form of autobiography, but not of Engdahl´s life and the trivialities of it, but of his inner life, of his life as an intellectual. Clearly, he is a man who likes to sit in cafés, preferably in Paris, with a notebook and in deep thought. Romantic, you say? A bit of a poser, you might suspect? Beware of casting stones, remember we all have our romantic ideas about what life should be all about. I just last week sat with a group of strangers at table who talked about the necessity to renovate kitchens into a standard that sounds like sci-fi to me. Have a summerhouse by a lake with an outdoor toilet? A walk-in closet? A Harley Davidson? Engdahl has his Parisian cafés and he thinks clever enough thoughts there to publish very enjoyable books. Enjoyable for readers, that is, people who are into literature.
So what kinds of things does he write? Things like this (my own translation):
"Perhaps the most attractive voice in a literary text is the one that sounds like all the others. We are most strongly affected by the voice that nestle up against our own inner voice, yes, that could be our own."
"With "trend" or "intellectual fashion" you usually means a kind of thinking that came to town after you yourself became tired of thinking."
"Success and failure are really equally repugnant. They disturb the wonderful balance and clarity that depends on forgetting one´s own person."
I don´t always understand what he writes about. But this is the kind of book you can read through quite fast. About every five or ten pages there is something you can relate to, and it´s amusing enough to be worth the trouble. And five or ten years from now, you return to it and suddenly other parts of the book light up and have become understandable. It´s the kind of thing you mature into. Or not. It depends on how close Engdahl´s voice nestle up to you own, doesn´t it?