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Portratt: Ur tidshistorien.

To read a page written by Birgitta Trotzig is unnerving. You can hardly sit still. You must take a walk in the forest to be alone and think about what you have read, feel and absorb its essence. In Portratt Bonniers has published Trotzig's "own literary history," a collection of personal "portraits of our era." Written over the last forty years, the essays deal mostly with Swedish authors--Adelborg, Ahlin, Ingmar Leckius. Artur Lundkvist, Birger Sjoberg, Karl Vennberg--but there are also portraits of such internationally known writers as Dostoevsky, Rilke, Rimbaud, Anna Akhmatova, and others. Trotzig, as of last year the newest member of the Swedish Academy, displays here a long stretch of critical labor with the works of other writers and thereby of her work with herself. The particular essays chosen for this volume reveal her Wahlverwandtschaften.

The subtitle "From Our Era" refers to our cruel contemporary age with its world wars, genocides, famine, and pestilence. Trotzig is attracted to writers who have found a point of view from which to examine life in these exceedingly confusing times. She can make lucid sense of the thought of the Kierkegaard-inspired Gustaf Otto Adelborg and make palpable his passion for the spiritual life. Like his mentor, Adelborg sees suffering as the mark of the true Christian life. Gosta Oswald, Trotzig feels, became the interpreter for a bewildered generation for whom old traditions had little to offer and the future was paralyzing in its perplexity. For Trotzig, Oswald is a guide to keeping the soul open to a reality where "contrasting truths join in the Truth."

It seems unavoidable that Trotzig should be drawn to Simone Weil. She stresses how the key word in Weil's thinking is reality. Weil's life story is about a person's will to identify with the hunger and thirst and the suffering of others. It was out of her own suffering that she forged her thought. She found that in reality each truth has its own contradiction and "at the summit of the pyramid of truth sits the paradox." Weil's oeuvre consists not of her books--they were published only years after her death--but of her life, in which she consciously emulates those Pauline words in the letter to the Colossians: "[I] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church." Master Eckhart's theme of the divinity of poverty has also been on Trotzig's mind. In her essay on him she stresses that religion can never fit smoothly with a striving for human success and happiness. The inspiration to live fully comes from beyond what is created; it comes from God.

Nobody could have written with more empathy about the rare poet Ingemar Leckius, who has found a path away from self. Trotzig calls him "an exorcist." Poetry and religion for him are equally indispensable as nurture for living a human life fully and truly. Elsewhere, we had to expect that there would be an essay on Dostoevsky in this collection. Trotzig praises the Russian novelist for having created "the most inclusive model I know of how life really is." In Dostoevsky's world, she has noted, it is the women who offer up real life. Among them there are no paralyzing intellectuals or nasty underground people. The women can be shamed, battered, violated, and betrayed, but they remain unbent, like the saints.

Let me end my review of this remarkable collection by mentioning one essay about a woman, the Finland-Swedish poet Edith Sodergran. Trotzig lauds her for her bravery: "She opens reality." Her poems are fresh, and she aims high. Sodergran lived in isolation, poverty, and illness, looking for the coming of a new human being. Trotzig calls her "hungry for the future." Seeing the disasters that happened all around, she called them the birth pangs of the future. She felt she was present at the creation of the new world. As a poet and seer she was doomed to suffer. Trotzig quotes a poem her subject wrote at the end of World War I: "God almighty, have mercy on us / Look into our well of worship--it shall deepen / Seven days and seven nights we draw water / from our well for you. / Seven months and three years in the same place we ask for mercy: Give us ingress to the quiet chamber where you are thinking things over."

Birgitta Trotzig has chosen to portray writers from the modern era whom she considers genuine. She calls them prophets, guides, exorcists, intercessors. Within this frame her own literature shimmers in the background, the colors dark as wet clay but with glimmerings of the gold of compassion and the mercury of humor. Never easy, never cold. Thus her real world is revealed. The word reality pervades the volume.

Brita Stendahl Cambridge, Ma.
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Author:Stendahl, Brita
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1994
Words:810
Previous Article:Route Tournante.
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