Wednesday, May 8, 2019

He had never felt so depressingly empty - Lykke-Per's psychology

He had never felt so depressingly empty, never more abandoned by all the forces for good in the world, than right at that very moment.  (Ch. 23, last line)

Poor Per.  Getting near the end of the book.  What has he done?  He has essentially surrendered to his older brother, for money, and to a cute blonde pastor’s daughter, for love, and to Christianity, for solace.  Look at the result.

Per is the misfit son of a Lutheran pastor.  Lykke-Per can be read as Per’s lifelong struggle with his background, his religion, and especially his father.  Much of the philosophical content of the novel can be taken psychologically, thank goodness.  Tomorrow I will try to take the philosophy seriously on its own terms – I mean, not seriously seriously – but it can all be shifted into psychology pretty easily.  It’s all part of the fight against the father.

The death of Per’s father in Chapter 12 – precisely paralleled by the death of his mother in Chapter 18, exactly opposite on the parabola – sets off a crisis of meaning.  No, it changes the direction of Per’s ongoing crisis.  He travels to the mountains, so out of Denmark, obviously, he reads a lot of philosophy – “[b]ut the more he read the more confused he became” (Ch. 13) – he shoots Jesus Christ with his revolver.  A statue.  “[S]hards and splinters of wood were thrown up in the air from one side of the cross.  There  may be some kind of symbolic meaning there.

Going back a step, the previous chapter, with the death, may be my favorite in the novel.  It is more concrete and in-the-moment, the kind of thing I always praise.  The passages in Per’s head are more about memories than moods:

There he was releasing his giant dragon-kite ‘Hero’ into the sky, and then attaching the cord to a toy wagon loaded with stones – his shriek of delight when Hero began to pull it down the meadow with the ease of a god at play.  (Ch. 12)

Per spends a good part of the novel joining alternative “families.”  There are his Copenhagen landlords in Chapter 2, and then the wealthy Salomons, Jewish but in part attractive because they appear to have no religion whatsoever and are truly modern Danes free from all of the burdens of Danishness (see Ch. 16 for an explicit statement of this), and so on, until Per renounces them all.

I wonder about Jakobe, the novel’s heroine, the Salomon daughter who becomes engaged to Per.  She has a struggle, too, which I find a little harder to define.  The great event of her life before Per was an encounter with a group of refugees, something like an encounter with real Judaism.  She is a bit of a Goth, always described as “dark,” and saying or writing wild things like:

Perhaps there was no escaping the need for a terrible rending asunder of the criminal and hypocritical society in which they lived, a vengeful apocalypse that would purge the world in fire and blood.  (Ch. 8)

Her search for purpose, her struggle and escape from her family, is something like a move from ideas to works, while Per moves towards abstraction.  It is like a Catholic novel.  Saint Per goes into a hermitage, while Sister Jakobe helps the poor.  But strip out anything Catholic, or for that matter Lutheran or Jewish.  The ideas behind the characters are philosophical.  There is no escape from it.  Oh well.

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