Masturbating in the Cinema: Lecture at Konstfack

Join me in Stockholm, will you?

What do our personal taboos and erotic fantasies tell us about ourselves? Can paying attention to your erotic desires help you nd your voice? Drawing from her experience working with literature, pornography, and the Viva Erotica Film Festival in Helsinki, Saskia Vogel will be talking about how you can access new springs of creativity by leaning in to topics that make us uncomfortable and by uncovering invisible stumbling blocks – ideas you never thought to question and that impact how you engage with your art, yourself and the world around.

Unearthing Erotic Genius: On Rut Hillarp and Swedish Modernism

“Rut Hillarp was born 100 years ago this past Friday. She is one of the most unfairly marginalized authors in Swedish literary history. It’s as if we refuse to allow ourselves to discover just how damned excellent a poet she is.” — Bernur, February 23, 2014.

“Her lyrical prose is fantastic: so beautiful, erotic, dark, perceptive and intense.” — Swedish novelist Therese Bohman on her female role models, Kulturkollo, 2014.

 

A photo posted by Saskia Vogel (@saskia.vogel) on

Some discoveries are almost too delicious to share. We see an author’s name (on the web, on a shelf) and we decide we must read them. There was something to that name (the way the letters looked together or the paper’s grain). From the first line, the words tumble into an order, tantalizing and new, but somehow familiar. An echo we’ve heard before. The words tangle with our thoughts, become inseparable, and we, the curious reader, become devotees. For a time, perhaps forever, we keep the name to ourselves, guarding it as a jealous lover would. But some names ask to be spoken aloud, written in emails and on scraps of note paper with the addendum “must read.” One of those names is Rut Hillarp.

23s04hillarp2__mngl_20110923ab5x004,kul_1.indd_6388Rut Hillarp—who was she? The year of her birth, 1914, seems so distant, but the year of her death, 2003, still feels like it was yesterday. Five years ago, The Gothenburg Post called her a grand dame of the women’s movement. Rut Hillarp—one of Sweden’s great, yet overlooked Modernists—turns those whom she touches into devotees: her readers, lovers, students and mentees. She is a cult figure, an antiquarian bookseller in Gothenburg told me after I had learned her name and embarked on a mission to possess each and every one of her books. As soon as his shop gets one of her books in (rarely), it sells. None were in stock.

My romance with Rut Hillarp began this past summer when the Berlin-based publisher Readux Books was looking for one more piece to complete their Sex series which was to be published at the end of 2015. Since Readux launched in 2013, the publisher, Amanda DeMarco, has let me scout Swedish stories for their short, small format books, which include contemporary fiction, rediscovered classics, and essays about cities. My translation of Malte Persson’s short story “Fantasy” was my second translation ever—part of a gamble to see if I could turn my ability to speak Swedish, my mother’s second mother tongue, into a career. When I want to feel official, I say I am their Swedish editor. Mostly, I like to call it nothing at all and think only of the special pleasure of reading for love and with purpose, for Amanda.

Erotic culture is a special interest of mine (academically, professionally), and as her deadline drew near I berated myself for still having found nothing. In a fit of frustration (inspiration?), I typed something like “forgotten Swedish eroticist” into Google, thinking that my chances of coming across Sweden’s Anaïs Nin—or anyone vaguely comparable—were slim to none. But there she was: poet, diarist, experimental filmmaker, photographer, teacher, and novelist. And her novels, four in total, are how I would like to introduce her to you here—Blodförmörkelse (Blood Eclipse, 1951), in particular, from which the English translation The Black Curve (Readux Books 2015) is taken. I am not the first to love her, apparently, but I suspect I am the first to have brought her into my mother tongue. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only published English-language translation of her work.

1455734309252When her debut novel Blood Eclipse arrived in the mail, I barely dared touch it. A slim, brittle volume from an antiquarian bookseller in Stockholm. One of two available for sale online. Self-published in 1951. Number 27 in an edition of 500, with one of 50 covers hand-painted by the author and signed to Nils Ferlin (the poet, I assume). It was love at first line. I let the sun burn my shoulders as I devoured her words on the balcony wearing white gloves, so as not to mar the stiff, yellowed pages.

The novel begins with a man’s reply to his female lover’s letter:

 

It’s true, I didn’t come. I never intended to.
And I can’t accept the discreet excuse you offered me in your letter.
I don’t believe you waited long enough for me . . . I asked for you to wait as a period of gestation during which your desires would consolidate, your emotions coagulate. Until now any man has been able to satisfy these desires in you, but after this waiting period, they will be devoted only to Man.
Because waiting shapes his story and gives him his reality . . .
Like hunger, waiting is creative. It rouses new senses and needs, and so it offers Man an infinitesimal keyboard and a palette with metaphysical resonance.
Waiting entices the desired man, and he comes more quickly when he is late than when he is on time.

It is tempting to make a case for Rut Hillarp as Sweden’s Anaïs Nin. In response to Anaïs Nin’s notoriety, she wondered in a 1951 letter if she too couldn’t do just as well. Indeed, they have a similar erotic project. Like Anaïs Nin, Rut Hillarp’s works trace a map of the psyche’s movements through love, lust, and desire. One could align elements of Hillarp’s life (including a connection to Paris and creative intercourse with renowned cultural figures of her time) with Nin’s own. Whereas Nin’s fame was helped along by who published her in English and the censorship trials that added that tantalizing element of the forbidden to her work and life, Birgitta Holm offers no comparable story of scandal in her 2011 biography Rut Hillarp: Poet och Erotiskt Geni. Hillarp was a celebrated writer who traveled the world, took the matter of having lovers and being a lover seriously, and for whom desire was a way of becoming more receptive to her environment. One could try to spin sensation from the threads of her life—her joy in photos from costume parties, the cancer that left her with only one breast, the men and women who she invited to stay at her home, her masochism, her suicide—but that would do a disservice to a heart that beats with a singular rhythm. Holm, her former student and close friend, calls her an “erotic genius.”

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All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea

poster-of-the-KimsIn late 2014, I spent a few months immersed in North Korea, translating Magnus Bärtås and Fredrik
Ekman’s All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea into English.
da4cc5d9dd238a12d5b9b9e2b0bed598-w204@1xI loved everything about the book: the interwoven cultural and political histories (specifically: film history), the surreal reality the authors were navigating as part of a group trip through North Korea, the cultural and social history of North and South Korea and Japan. Yes, it’s about a high-profile kidnapping of two South Korean film legends, but it’s also a look at special effects on Godzilla…and the cultural lineage of Godzilla from Japan to NK to the US…and about how the dictator is created as a god/eternal icon, drawing from art history, world literature, and more.
Read an excerpt about a strange night in a (fake?) village and “culture shock” as a medical diagnosis at Literary Hub, and if you’re into reviews, here’s a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and a great review from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. And here’s a taste of Pulgasari…Godzilla’s brother from another mother?

 

On falling into ice lakes in Lapland: Be Particular Out There Podcast

Dustin M. Thomas asked me if I had a story for his new podcast Be Particular Out There (@Be_Particular), something his grandad used to say in parting…usually after telling him a story he’d never forget. This essay about hiking the King’s Trail was written for the forthcoming issue of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, a new Berlin-based magazine that you definitely should check out. (They’ve got a sweet Christmas offer on, too.) I can’t stop thinking about Amy Liptrot’s (@amy_may) story about maps and Orkney.

So here’s my story on Nature, capital N, and treachery in the Arctic Circle. We’ll be having a chat about Lapland…and Playboy in next week’s episode. Those beautiful photos are by Adela Hurtado Saura (Insta: @adehursa).

Happy listening and Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

From “The Mango King”

My essay on mangos, my dad and cultivating a life was published on Catapult last week. Take a peek.

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Jin Choi

And all along Biscayne Bay, an eerie truth of Andrew having its way: All the sea grasses are in straight lines, all leaning to the west.

What’s next?

—The Miami Herald, August 25, 1992

I like to tell people that my dad is the Mango King, but he’s quick to set me straight. “We’re not one of the big guys,” he says, “but we are considered one of the players in the deal.”

Once upon a time, mango was but a niche fruit in the United States. On the continental U.S., only south Florida had a significant commercial crop. Mango stands would proliferate during the short summer harvest, and the fruit was a staple on the plates of south Floridians. There, the taste for mango had been cultivated since 1833, when the fruit was introduced to the region.

The Mango King does not think niche; he thinks nationally. From an office in Los Angeles, he orchestrates the import and distribution of the fruit and vegetables eaten every day in America for grocers across the country, and mango is one of his specialties. He remembers these Florida summer mangos from his early days in the deal in the seventies. He remembers the Oro in winter. The Oro could weather its February journey from southern Mexico to the U.S. well, had a good shelf life, and had a small but reliable customer base around the country.“They looked good, but tasted like turpentine,” he says. “It was not a good-eating fruit.”

You can eat mango when the flesh is green, hard, and sour, and you can use them like potatoes when they are unripe, but the good-eating fruit that enchanted the Mango King had sunshine in its flesh. When a mango is this kind of good-eating, you can mash it on the roof of your mouth with your tongue and it will slip down your throat, cool, sweet, smooth. Nations vie for the crown of the best-eating mango, but the Mango King does not take sides. His loyalty lies with taste.

*

Just have a taste, I tell my husband before he becomes my husband.

I am preparing breakfast at my dad’s house and we’re alone. I have spooned yogurt into my stepmother’s thick ceramic bowls and am cutting up an Ataulfo mango.

My husband is reluctant to eat. “I’m still sick of mango from having eaten too much of it dried,” he says.

A few years before we met, he worked on a documentary about fair trade and spent a few days filming in a remote jungle in the Philippines. The locals were starving because multinational corporations who had made shady deals with the government over land rights had chased them off their ancestral land. The five-man film crew ate what the locals ate: one parcel of sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf per day. Before the crew left for the jungle, an entrepreneur they’d interviewed who ran a mango factory and paid his workers fairly gifted to each of them a kilos-heavy goodie bag of processed mango. Pickled mango. Dried mango in various formats. Mango chutney. Boxes of mango juice. They shared everything they had. Whenever my husband tasted processed mango, he was reminded of what he saw in the jungle, of the everyday injustices that makes so many everyday pleasures possible.

But he hasn’t told me this story yet. So I assume he’s simply never had a good-eating mango.

I pester: “Come on. It’s fresh mango. It’s my dad’s mango. There’s nothing like it. He’s . . . the Mango King!”

A nickname is born.

“And so that makes you the Mango Princess?”

This makes me squirmy. I like feeling like I’m my father’s daughter; it’s a new feeling. We’ve lived on different continents since I was fourteen. And we didn’t always know how to talk to each other.

My husband sees me blushing, and teases me until we’re both giggling.

*

Read the rest at Catapult.

Weird Sex with Readux (You’re invited. 21 October.)

Invite Series 6

When Readux Books publisher Amanda DeMarco told me about their upcoming onex series, I had to submit something. Ideally a forgotten or little known Swedish eroticist or a writer deeply engaging with sex and power. Someone like Else Jersualem, whose 1908 novel The Red House examines prostitution and moral hypocrisy in Vienna through the eyes of a woman who grew up in brothels. It was a smash hit then, but she has since slipped into relative obscurity. I revisited The Red House, worried that my brittle copies of the novel and its 1932 English translation would turn to dust in my hands. The novel is sumptuous and political, but not sexy. And I wanted to find something that had never been translated before. Amanda’s deadline was looming. Little known eroticists don’t just fall from the sky…usually.

Where to start my search? I typed “forgotten Swedish eroticist” into Google.  And there she was. Rut Hillarp. Sweden’s Anaïs Nin. Pictured below.

 

***

23s04hillarp2__mngl_20110923ab5x004,kul_1.indd_6388I tracked down a copy of her first novel online (Blood Eclipse, 1951), one of only two for sale at the time, and when the brittle book arrived in the post, it was love at first sight. The cover was hand-painted by Hillarp herself: a visual representation of the book’s central images: the black and the red curve. It was one of 50 hand-painted covers of a print-run of 500. Her lyrical exploration of masochism blew me away with its whirling imagery and meditations on the origins of romance. We follow a writer as she engages in a complicated power play with a composer, in and out of the bedroom. It has some of those 50 shades and delves deep into the psyche of a female masochist.

***

66I’m not sure how to describe how special it feels to bring Rut Hillarp into English for (as best I know) the first time ever. I’m immensely grateful to Amanda for taking a chance on the sample I sent her and to Andreas Hillarp for giving us permission to publish his aunt’s work in English.

Now, come celebrate the publication of The Black Curve, a standalone extract of Hillarp’s debut novel. I’m thrilled to be taking the stage with Joanna Walsh. I haven’t been able to stop talking about Grow a Pair: 9 1/2 Fairytales about Sex. It begins: “A girl passed a penis-bush growing in someone else’s garden, and picked a ripe dick because she couldn’t resist it.” Novelist Ryan Ruby will also be presenting his translation of a deliciously dirty literary tale with a twist by Grégoire Bouillier.

Shop the series here.

 

 

 

 

 

London Literature Festival News!

11745608_1048375738508949_1090609126980349689_nI’m excited to share that I’ll be donning two guises at the London Literature Festival this October: co-conspirator (pixels and sharp angles) and moderator/fangirl (spectacles and exclamation points).

For the next edition of Local Transport, Michael Salu and I have lined up a trio of exciting artists who will explore Data and Desire. What can all the data in the world tell us about the unknowable, the intangible, the essential mystery of life? Dystopian graphic novels, love at first sight, the S.O.U.L…. Give your weekend some byte.

Friday, October 9. 20.00-21.00. Festival Village below the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre. Get more info and buy tickets.

 

 

 

bretRGB-300x460I’m delighted to be sharing the stage once again with Lina Wolff for the First Look Book Club, where you’ll get a preview of her excellent novel Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs (translated by Frank Perry for And Other Stories). She’s one of my favorite Swedish authors. And her book. Oh. Divas. Death. Despair. Desire. Stories nestled into stories. From Mexico to Madrid. Check out an interview we did for Granta here.

Tuesday, October 6, 19.45, Foyer Spaces, Southbank Center. Get more info and buy tickets.

From “The Memory of a Secret”

215051bWhat do we know about our parents? They’re never anything but parents. They do what parents do, listen but never speak. Help you up but they themselves stay down. One day you’ll start to wonder who they are. Those people who’ve always just been there. You realize that you don’t know what they’re thinking about in their beds at night. You don’t know what they dream about. Your memories don’t provide any answers, they can’t reveal their true selves. You’ve never wondered. There was never any reason to wonder, until now.

 

Fragment, 1992

I remember a nightmare, perhaps one of my first. I’m in the pale pink nave of a church, close to the front near the altar. Four strange men with shaved heads are leaning over me. One of them is holding a mirror. There’s something about the atmosphere. Something that isn’t right. You have to look at yourself in the mirror, one of the men says. When I turn my face away, they hold my arms and legs down while one of them grips my chin. At the very moment that I’m supposed to meet my own gaze, the large church doors swing open. The men flee and my dad approaches me. You’re not allowed to look into this one, he says, raising the mirror high. Then he hurls it to the stone floor and shards of Dad’s image fly across the room.

 

Blind Alley, 2011

We take the E4 south, me and my husband. We drive along Lake Vättern with the light of the sunset on our faces, and veer off onto the country roads of Småland. Arriving at the red house by the meadows and the lake brings a kind of calm. This place has always welcomed me with a peace that I’ve not found elsewhere. But this time it feels different. The tractors plough through the fields. Black earth covers the cut wheat, which only a month ago was tall and swaying elegantly. It’s autumn now.

The house has its own blind alley that can be used for parking, but three years ago Dad got it into his head that he wanted to transplant his raspberry bushes and lay a gravel driveway. It took several weeks; Dad was so invested in that driveway that it became comical. I did think it was charming, that Dad’s stereotypically male characteristics were charming. There must have been something about them that I liked, because the thought of him losing them scares me to death.

I see Dad in the kitchen window. He doesn’t see us. Dad is cooking, moving in that jumpy way that suggests that he’s stressed. We walk into the red hallway. It smells like it usually does. It has just been cleaned. Jackets hang neatly in the hall. On the ground floor, you don’t notice. The threat is upstairs. We eat dinner and I stay at the table for a long time, stretching it out as long as I can. My husband carries the bags up and eventually I, too, will have to make my way through the house. My childhood home, once the safest place in the world, has become a minefield. I’m not safe anywhere. Anywhere and at any time they might make themselves visible  . . .  traces of the new Dad.

My translation of this extract of Ester Roxberg’s Min pappa Ann-Christine was first published in English on 1 June 2015 as part of Words Without Borders’ Queer issue. Read the rest here.

Lead image Copyright/fotograf: Lina Alriksson 

 

On the Viva Erotica Festival in Helsinki

 

 

 

Do I like that? Would I want to do that? Do I want to dream of that? Is that body like mine? What other kinds of bodies and experiences are out there? Which bodies do I want to touch? Which experiences do I want to make mine?

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“Will people be masturbating in the cinema?” This was one of the most frequently asked questions in the run-up to the first annual Viva Erotica Festival at the WHS Teatteri Union in Helsinki, a four-day long ‘splendid movie orgy’ of thirteen vintage and contemporary films where sex takes centre stage. The organizers were tickled by the question. No, they weren’t expecting any wankers. But if we weren’t meant to be coming together, then what were we doing watching dirty movies in the dark?

#vivaerotica at #radiohelsinki wrapping up our time on the air

A photo posted by Saskia Vogel (@saskia.vogel) on

The origins of the ‘Splendid Movie Orgy’

Viva Erotica co-founder Milja Mikkola, who also works as the program manager at the legendary Midnight Sun Film Festival, got to know film critic and programmer Olaf Möller in the wilds of Finnish Lapland, where Midnight Sun is held. Their shared passion for film, her desire to stretch herself curatorially and Möller’s expertise in sex films and overlooked corners of cinema history sparked the idea for this collaboration. There was nothing else like Viva Erotica in Finland. On the landscape of international erotic film festivals, Viva Erotica also stands out because it isn’t run by people who primarily work with pornography or activism related to sex and sexuality. 

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Viva Erotica has a cardinal rule: the films must be shown on their original format, and a strong preference is given to movies that were shot on film. The program featured documentaries, hardcore classic porn, erotically charged comedies and avant-garde films. Each day had a theme: ‘Expressive Esoterica’ (avant-garde erotica from Tinto Brass and others), ‘Prisoners Of Passion’ (prison-themed porn, a documentary about a BDSM “prison” in Germany and The Shogunate’s Harem (1986) by Noribumi Suzuki, chosen by Möller to show a representation of life “in a country where all zones of life can become a prison”), ‘Mindfuck’ (Golden Age classics and Lene Berg’s Kopfkino, an exquisite 2013 documentary about German dominatrixes) and ‘Munich Babylon’ (sex films from and about Bavaria). The curators channelled the heritage of the cinema, which has been in operation in various forms for nearly a century. The ‘WHS’ in the Teatteri Union’s name refers to the visual theatre/contemporary circus company founded by visual artist and magician Kalle Nio, juggler Ville Walo and set and costume designer Anne Jämsä, who have run the venue as a cinema and theatre since 2014. The bathrooms of WHS Teatteri Union are plastered in posters of films that had been shown there, many of them dating back to the time when the cinema showed late night sex films. One older festival attendee said that he had been waiting for decades for something like this to return to Helsinki.

 

Day 3 #vivaerotica

 

A photo posted by Saskia Vogel (@saskia.vogel) on

 

This is an extract from my article “Tug Of Yore: Things Learned At Helsinki’s Viva Erotica Festival”, first published on 29 May 2015 in TheQuietus.com, where you can read the rest of the article.

 

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Master at work #vivaerotica

A photo posted by Saskia Vogel (@saskia.vogel) on

The Quietus!

A big thanks to Jen Calleja, Amanda DeMarco, Karl Smith for making this happen! Here’s the start of The Quietus interview. Read on, lovelies.

This month’s column swings the focus to the unsung hero – the literary translator – but just as much on contemporary Swedish literature and inventive ways of publishing literature in translation. (Portrait of Saskia Vogel by Richard Phœnix)

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This month I read a book in translation every day for a fortnight. It might sound impressive/obsessive, but – as Berlin-based publisher Readux brings out single or groups of very short stories and essays, mostly in translation from German, French and Swedish in pocket-sized books that can be read in one sitting – it was close to effortless.

 

When founder and publisher Amanda DeMarco started planning Readux she was twenty-six and funding the project herself, so publishing four short books (of around 5-10,000 words) three times a year rather than full-length books was a ‘no-brainer’, though she actually regards Readux as ‘a magazine – incognito, exploded’.

Instead of telling you about all of the books – from Felicitas Hoppe’s absurdist nightmares, to Roger Caillois’ surrealist piece of psychogeography, to the revelatory story of a British poet becoming pen pals with an incarcerated Czech poet – I wanted to focus on Readux’s Swedish Series: not just because their short-form mini-book format is based on the Swedish publisher Novellix, who published the stories in Swedish, but because the three stories in this set were translated by the same person. They just so happened to also be the translator of another text that had recently made a real impression on me.

The trio of short stories that make up the Swedish Series was selected and translated by Saskia Vogel. Amanda Svensson’s Where the Hollyhocks Come From (excerpted above) was the first Readux book I read, drawing me in with the strangely menacing pink ice-cream on its cover.

It charts a young man’s melancholy liaisons with a Lolita-like girl in the countryside of southern Sweden and comes to a quietly traumatic conclusion. The story’s pull and that the girl’s looping speech snaps together so satisfyingly with the man’s preoccupied narration left behind the sense that this was translation at its best.

The narrator of Malte Persson’s Fantasy is a self-absorbed artist who infiltrates the team behind a failed fantasy film in an attempt to make a piece about their egotistical existences detached from real life; at times recognising her own hypocritical denial of how close she is to her subjects, her own self-importance and who’s using who. In The Lesson by Cilla Naumann, the most tense and ambiguous of the stories, a teacher’s inexplicable hate for a new pupil causes his control to slowly slip and has the threat of violence permanently hovering on the horizon.

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I had come across Saskia a few weeks before when I read her translation of this excerpt from Pojkarna or The Boys by Jessica Schiefauer on the great platform Words Without Borders, and was left with a mournful wish that I had had the chance to read it when I was younger. The extract left a mark and the text itself was popping and as lively as the young girls in the story. Then I read the Swedish series and recognised Saskia’s name; this recognition felt like something to celebrate.

Literary translation is all too rarely considered an art, rather something more like an administrative task. It is part science, part mystery. It is engaged and impressive creative writing in its own right, and hopefully one day that will go without saying. Until then, I want to refract this idea through the prism of Saskia Vogel.

Saskia learned Swedish in her early teens when she moved from Los Angeles to Gothenburg to attend high school and went on to study English and film, followed by Masters degrees in creative writing and comparative literature in both the UK and the US. Her first editorial job was at AVN, a publisher’s weekly for the adult entertainment industry, but wanting to return to literature she found a job at Granta magazine in London, running their global events, PR and promotions. Now based in Berlin, she translates Swedish literature, is a writer in her own right, and is the co-founder and director of strategic communications at Dialogue Berlin.

 

Read the rest of this in The Quietus.