by Martin Glaz Serup
94 pp/ Les Figues Press
I consider myself an experimental writer, but admit: I am cautious of experimental writing.Â By definition it draws attention to writing rather than the story, form above content, style over substance, the onus on daring instead of endurance.Â My prejudice, fair or unfortunate.Â The bigger risk a writer takes with experimental and hybrid works, the harder to buy into the concept, the more skeptical my eye. I have a voice, always, challenging, go ahead, make me want to turn the page. Can you? The answer is often no.Â But when a writer succeeds with a daring form the reward dazzles; a circus trapeze act so thrilling the trapeze disappears and you simply see the swingers flipping and soaring overhead. The Field made me forget the trapeze.
Described by the author as â€śeverybodyâ€™s autobiographyâ€ť Martin Glaz Serupâ€™s text originally existed as installations in Finish and American art galleries.Â I sorely wish Iâ€™d seen them. This lonely little book was a perfect January read. I respect the themes Serup explores, or more so, avoids.
This is squarely a text of avoidance.Â The first stylistic constraint is the absence of pronouns, at least those gender specific. Initially this was noticeable, and then less, as the reader is absorbed into the voice. TheÂ Field communicates, sentence by sentence, chopped and assembled, the anxiety of times and irrational concerns. Spare paragraphs, many a single sentence on a page, establish a lurching cadence that reinforces the anxiety. The field, for example â€śsuffers from a fear of lifts,â€ť â€śfeels ashamed for taking pictures,â€ť â€śtries to pretend nothing is happening.â€ť Or this particularly interesting passage:
The field sometimes thinks itâ€™s unhappy in a mild and ordinary way that makes it happy because it thinks things could be much worse, which makes it afraid because it thinks things could still get much worse, so it tries to think of something else.
Me too!Â I do the same exact same thing.Â And that is the heart of this brief tract, that Serup has created a blank field (not a pun) the reader inserts him or herself into seamlessly.Â As open as the content is to self-imposition, Serup’s work is pointed, too, and that is through poetic diligence and a command of craft.
Serup lures readers along with details, on first read mundane, but with consideration, salient.Â ThatÂ â€śthe field enjoys looking at snow-covered fieldsâ€ť or that â€śthe field likes caves and mussel shells; the field likes secretive things in general.â€ť There are so many small details peppered through the spare text that each one takes on importance, and makes the reader pause to consider it. And reconsider.
I liked the book so much I read it a second time. I wondered if The Field was a breakup book.Â It reads perfectly like an impersonal memoir of despair and breakdown.Â At the beginning of the book, â€śOn a trip to Paris without the kids the field asks, do you think weâ€™re having a crisis. Yes, comes the immediate reply.â€ť A few pages later, â€śAccording to the fieldâ€™s nearest and dearest the field spends far too much time on the toilet in the mornings. The field just sits there, waking up. The field is a slow waker.â€ťÂ It sounds like the ringing criticism of domestic partners, god, just wake up.Â Later in the book, â€śStepfamiles, what to think of them, the field doesnâ€™t have any particular opinion… it doesnâ€™t feel like… developing the thought further.â€ť There is another romantic trip without this kids where, in nocturnal loneliness, the field listens to combines in a nearby field. It nails loneliness, as does a passage where the field speaks of enjoying talking on the phone until â€śits ear gets warm and dark red and throbbing.â€ť That is very much the enjoyment of a person without another person nearby to physically relate to, and it is moving. The fieldâ€™s desolation builds, and then later still it â€śspeculates about whether it perhaps should seek professional help.â€ť The sense of confusion, anxiety, and loss imbued in the text reminds me of my own past breakups.Â It’s possible that is a slight of hand, and me inserting my own experience into the text. Which Serup has so deftly allowed. He has positioned himself as a writer at the forefront of his field, (again, not a pun!) relational aesthetics.Â The art done across disciplines in this movement fascinates.
It takes less than an hour to read, and is worth the time. Buy the book and enjoy it, enjoy your personal response to the blankness, and the balls of a storyteller who meanders and is indirect and amorphous and knows the voice is strong enough that even with the lack of clear direction, the reader is going to follow.Â Kudos to Les Figues Press for having the vision to publish a translation of a writer at the beginning of an important career.
I like books that read as meditations, and The Field does.Â Close your eyes and repeat, what in the hell is all this living, anyway?Â And to combat winterâ€™s loneliness, I recommend Sea-Monkeys, Mr. Serup.Â I donâ€™t know if they have them in Copenhagen.Â But if they do…