Not All Idiot

How many times has Heidi Kohlenberg stabbed me in the back? How many atoms can you fit inside a jar? Few friends of mine have quite such a propensity for criticising me and my work. This is not to say that I am regretful: one needs to be reminded of one’s weaknesses, after all. But I wonder nevertheless why it is that Kohlenberg has taken it upon herself to lead the charge. Is it professional jealousy? Is it repressed sexual desire? It is mere fun?

Whichever it is, the evidence is not hard to find. Consider the following, from her review of Koira Jupczek’s Death Charts:

The real truth here is that Riecke, like so many male critics, compensates for the lack of drama in his life by supporting writers compensating for the lack of their drama in their lives by inventing it, in fantastical form, there upon the page…

And again, from the same review:

Which brings me to the question – is Georgy Riecke aware that Koira Jupczek is having a giggle or two at his expense? Is he brave enough to realise that his voracious appetite for death-inspired fiction is ultimately an act of cowardice; a hop, skip and a jump away from the harsh realities of, well, reality? Much as I would like to pull even more straw from the stomach of this rag-doll editor of mine, I must admit that he probably is well aware of Jupczek’s otherwise hidden intentions. He isn’t all idiot…

Aha! So a bead of affectionate sap seeps at last from the great oak of malice. I’m not ‘all idiot’, it transpires – which probably explains why Kohlenberg has been happy to work under my editorship for several years (what this suggests regarding the mental capacities of other editors is more than I dare to ask…)

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Between Two Full-Stops (2)

One could say that Marc St.Martin was born too early. Many have done just that; few more forcefully than Heidi Kohlenberg, whose brusque obituary (appearing in last week’s Majfisk) claims that St.Martin ‘was so revolutionary, he had been and gone before the revolution even started’. I’m not sure I know what Miss Kohlenberg means by this, other than that St.Martin’s ideas were ahead of his time – which might be true, were if not for the fact that St.Martin wasn’t really a man of ideas. He was just a writer, yearning for the perfect sentence.

Writers of single sentences (‘one-liners’, if you will) have always been valued: this cannot be denied. One only has to look at the history of quotation collections to realise this. We have always been suckers for a witty line, delicately constructed and packing a silent punch. It suits our lazy sensibilities. Since the dawn of something called ‘twitter’, however, people have begun to get a little over-excited by brevity. The potentialities of the one well-worded sentence are much discussed; far rarely put into practice. ‘Twitter’ has a long way to go before it starts consistently spewing out brilliant one-liners – this much is certain.

Meanwhile, allow me to burst your hopeful bubbles and reveal to you now that Marc St.Martin, contrary to all the over-eager journalists who have treated his death as an excuse for poorly researched puff-pieces, was not and would never have been a ‘twitterer’ (or is it ‘tweeter’? I forget, and care not). Though he was, to the very end of his long life, a dedicated single sentence writer, the vast majority (if not all) of his sentences found happy homes within larger texts. Brevity was his thing, yes, but his brief creations always formed part of something larger. The perfect sentence, for him, was not a standalone piece. It was a cog in the machine. A smart and shiny cog, perhaps, but part of the machine all the same.

St.Martin was a writer for hire, it has been said; though it is important to realise that he fulfilled this unpopular role with glee. He wouldn’t have wished it any other way. He never sought for anything more than to contribute a wonderful sentence here or there; to work his magic, take his pay and slip away, safely, into the night.

Whatever happened to Lucia Noisenbach?

When Underneath the Bunker was founded, several years ago now, I allotted various roles to various writers. I was ‘general editor’, Heidi Kohlenberg was ‘literary editor’, Matthew Taylor-Rosnik was ‘Music editor’ and Lucia Noisenbach was ‘Arts editor’. There may have been others: I forget. No matter. It is something of a miracle that I have remembered these four, since the majority of the above contributors wore their roles rather lightly.

Kohlenberg, despite her recent absence, is the notable exception: she contributed more than her fair share of reviews, including such classics as Eusen Eof’s ‘:?;) and Vladminir Dorwindovitch’s The Empty Tree.

Matthew Taylor-Rosnik, for his part, contributed a handful of articles, including a couple of serviceable interviews, including his memorable encounter with the Scottish composer Thornton Farland.

Which leaves us with Noisenbach: by far the saddest case. She started well, offering two articles as part of a series titled ‘Photography in Focus’. This was followed by a review of the ever-controversial ‘Copper Frog Cup’. All of these were published online in 2006. Since then, though, nothing. There have been promises – plenty of promises – but no words. The last I heard she was working on a review of the Danish photographer Lars Elmveik. Other rumours suggest that she has been busy creating babies (an unlikely set of events, I think, since Noisenbach is well into her forties). In either case, Noisenbach is making precious little noise – which is a pity, for her early contributions were greatly valued.

It Could Also Be Called Carousing

It is Monday – for many, the start of the week. Let us begin said week, therefore, with a few moments of reflection. You may wish to reflect on nothing in particular; to let life’s waves wash over you gently; to be brushed by the gentle breeze of carelessness. Or you may want to reflect on something quite specific; to roll a tangible ball of thoughts around the open palm of your mind; to poke one’s head through the leafy hedge of knowledge.  Here, then, is a bit of writing:

A foggy Sunday morning on the Strand, two or more years ago. I had found myself there, so to speak; caught myself unawares, after a night of what could only be called revelry. I lie: it could also be called carousing, or maybe even wilful wassailing, but for better or worse, revelry will suit me fine. I was a little worse for wear, needless to say, and more than a little worried over things that might or might not have occurred the preceding evening. Had I really kissed that young Spanish poet?

The author? Miss Heidi Kohlenberg, of course: friend and critic. The source of the quotation? Here it is.

[Kohlenberg was, you will know, one of the more regular contributors to Underneath the Bunker. Various bits and pieces on her (and possibly by her) are collected here.]

Edmund Ek (Pet’s Corner No.2)

‘Pity poor Heidi Kohlenberg,’ I said, my mouth full of nuts.

Four or five wise heads nodded in agreement.

‘I refer,’ I added hastily, ‘not to the woman, but to the cat.’

The same heads continued their steady up-and-down, as I reminded them of how the Norwegian novelist Edmund Ek (aka ‘Blumin Ek’/ ‘Edmund the Honest’) had retired to the wilderness and lived in near solitude, saved from complete loneliness only by small white cat, which he had named after his ex-wife, the literary critic Heidi Kohlenberg (follow the early stages of the controversy here).

‘I pity that poor pussy for many reasons,’ I explained. ‘First, as its very name attests, it is destined to live in the shadow of the woman it was intended to replace. As if this wasn’t bad enough, this shadow-living must take place in the middle of nowhere. Cats may be quiet creatures, but a desire for peace does not always indicate a desire for complete silence. Even the most sour-faced mog needs requires a smidgen of social interaction. The cat Heidi, however, has nothing of the sort. It is a slave, quite simply, to the whims of its muddle-headed master. Like all pets, it must go wherever the owner goes. It has no say in the situation. It must merely follow.’

More nods and – dare I say it? – one or two glistening eyes. I was touching something – and who knows? – it might well have been a nerve.

‘This cat is not a cat, but a living symbol; a simple piece of writing apparatus; a physical manifestation of the writer’s warped mind. Any purpose it serves it is not the purpose for which it was intended. This is, in essence, a true pet.’

At this I stamped my fist upon the table, sending a lone peanut flying into space, to be caught, nimbly, by the man sitting on the left of me.

‘What did you say the cat’s name was again?’ asked someone.

Back to the Cat

After yesterday’s distinctly grudging update on the increasingly tiresome Edmund Ek controversy (if controversy it is) it seems to me supremely sad that I should be returning to the subject today, barely twenty-four hours after vowing that I was done with the Norwegian novelist and his humdrum existence.

I have, however, a piece of information that I can hardly, for the sake of politeness, hold back from my patient readers. And it concerns the aforementioned cat; the white-coated creature that keeps Ek’s company in this deserted idyll of his.

You may recall me noting that the cat’s name was unknown. Well, no longer. For I have it on good authority that the cat has a name, and that this name is none other than Heidi.

That’s right. Heidi. A name shared, you’ll no doubt know, by Miss Kohlenberg, literary critic par excellence – and Ek’s ex-wife. All of which, I’m sure you’ll agree, raises a range of intriguing issues, the majority of which I am quite happy to ignore at present. In fact, make that all of which I am quite happy to ignore at present.

Still, I thought you’d like to know..

Ha!

Why address a topic directly when you can dance a merry and fruitful waltz around its boundaries instead? Having spent many years as an editor of a literary journal, I have been witness to a fair procession of reviewers getting down to the wonderful business of never quite getting down to business. Critical fumbling, it could be called -except that this fumbling isn’t as bad as it sounds; not always, anyway. Sometimes a strange diversion can enrich a review; very often a seemingly irrelevant comment or anecdote can make the whole thing worthwhile. As the Finnish actor Tippi Udje once said: ‘Mr Ambiguity wears some funny shirts, but he makes a good cup of tea’.

There are other times, yet, when one is driven near to violence by a reviewer’s refusal to look his/her subject in the eye; to make good on their promise to ‘explore’ the relevant issues in any sense at all. This is not quite the case with Heidi Kohlenberg’s two page reaction to Edmund Ek’s name change (published this morning in Majfisk, a Swedish fishing magazine, available in all good Scandinavian newsagents) – but it may as well be.

To be honest, it’s not as if she doesn’t warn us. ‘I am struggling to conceive an arrangement of words that would properly sum up my feelings on this subject,’ she writes in the opening sentence. Only struggling? ‘In fact,’ she writes two sentences later, ‘I have totally failed to conceive such an arrangement’. Aha. But this is not quite the end of the matter. In the final paragraph she reassesses her failure and tries, at the last moment, to salvage all with the assistance of a single word. ‘I wonder,’ she wonders, ‘whether or not all this can be summed up after all, within the following statement: Ha!’

That, then, is her response. ‘Ha!’ The rest of the review deals simply (and rather wonderfully, as it happens) with the idea of responding to unexpected news, with other people’s responses to unexpected news, with possible responses to these responses to unexpected news, with responses to ideas of responding to responses of unexpected news and with various other things of little or no relevance to the matter in hand. I have to say it – it’s a good article. But (‘Ha!’ aside) it isn’t really the response most of us were looking for.

All of which leads to the question – is ‘Ha!’ enough? I wonder…