What we need and who provides it to us
Writing and dancing are related. While the latter can do without words entirely, both need the body, a medium that breathes and lives, that feels and communicates, and that, in order to create vibrations in another person, stimulate their spirit, touch them emotionally (a trite yet reasonable expectation from art), should possess a precise quality.
The precise is banal (while the complicated is only complicated), banal not in the sense of empty of meaning or unimaginative but as a sequence of the ordinary, that is, of what constitutes life. Nobody moves the world, it does so all by itself. We move in the space that is specific to us, in the language that is unique to us, in the body that is unique to us.
In her novel “Unquiet”, writer Linn Ullmann recounts the slow fading-away of her father, world-famous director Ingmar Bergman, who, as the reader learns, cherished structure above all else. His everyday life was strictly arranged into hours of writing, hours of walking, hours of eating, hours of films, which he showed for himself, his children and any guests in the private cinema at his home on the Swedish island of Fårö. Even though Bergman was married five times and had nine children, he still lived his life without making any compromises (according to the novel, at any rate). On the contrary, he always did as he saw fit – now that I come to think about it, this could be a reason why he was married five times and had nine children. But that’s just an aside.
Towards the end of his life he became demented, lost his language but not his structure. His daughter Linn, the writer, wants to make a record of what is still left and tries to find ways, within the scope of the Bergman structure on Fårö, to ask the father questions and put the conversations on tape. All of this goes hopelessly wrong in her eyes and extremely unsettles her, so that she won’t even listen to the recordings for many years. She dismisses the tapes until she begins to tap into the conversations of which she expects great things but which turn out to provide that which constitutes basal life, namely small, inconspicuous tasks and essentials. At one point, the father, the great Ingmar Bergman, speaks of the “thing with walls”, meaning a room. This is what inspired Jefta van Dinther to create The Quiet. Which won’t notice if you don’t know, and don’t need to know. Jefta van Dinther picks up where Ingmar Bergman – via Linn Ullmann – left off. Van Dinther has set the “thing with walls” into vibration, he lets it pass through himself and makes a new suggestion. If viewed as a medium that breathes, art is always a suggestion (not a position).
There are five dull figures (things with a skin) on stage, hardly any light, a metal frame structuring the space and variable squares structuring the floor. The beige-clad women wear smocks, short trousers and down vests – a piece of clothing that, like few others, protects, strengthens and structures the body. It would be possible for them to be knights, but they will never find each other as a group and, as individuals, remain seekers. Silent, solitary and isolated, they look around furtively, watch how the others are doing it. Even in the few moments of moving forward, they always have to look behind and to the side. Even when they do something together, there is always an outsider (a figure that may serve to define a group). What they’re looking for? Probably the light, the supernatural, the cure. What they find? A glittering surface underneath the floor puzzle which gives them hope that life, after all, isn’t just a banal variation of unchanging sameness before it’s over.
Movements, words, sounds and light communicate with each other, react to each other, you can say hello to darkness (my old friend), you can see loneliness in silence but also the spirits of disembodied souls that continue to vibrate. They have something to impart to us, the living ones: clues, from generation to generation. We can make decisions, can go beyond the limits of normality, into madness, into frenzy, but there’s one thing we cannot do: live without structure.
Without structure we lose ourselves, the structure is the heartbeat of everyday life. Every signal has an effect. When there’s a whisper, the wind blows, when there’s a roar, it’s a hurricane, when we hear gulls, we think of the sea, and when cutlery falls to the floor, we know that something’s happened. Everything is that simple, but if we hadn’t learned it, if nobody had taught us, we would be lost.
We have to keep going, sit down in between times, (for some ridiculous reason) we have to defend our space using our fists and, when it gets crowded in the protective tent, we have to form alliances.
But where is the love that pervades life? And why does rain trickling down windowpanes have a soothing effect on us?
Anna Katharina Laggner is a radio broadcaster, author, presenter, artist. She writes regularly about film for Austrian public radio station FM4, is an editor for the “Diagonal” broadcast on Austrian public radio station Ö1, has presented audio plays and installations at steirischer herbst, at the Festival of Regions, at nGbK Berlin and at Parcours d’art contemporain in the Lot Valley. She lives in Vienna with three children and filmmaker Siegfried A. Fruhauf.
 Cp. the essay “Tanzstunden für Schreibende” (original English title: “Dance lessons for writers”) by Zadie Smith, published in Freiheiten, Cologne 2019.
 Linn Ullmann, Die Unruhigen, Munich 2018.
 Thinking about The Quiet, Liebes-Lied by Rainer Maria Rilke sprang to mind, which opens with the beautiful sentence: “Wie soll ich meine Seele halten, dass sie nicht an deine rührt?” (“How can I keep my soul in me, so that it doesn’t touch your soul?”) and continues and ends just as beautifully.
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