6. Harry seeks advice from his sister in a question concerning art and plain, ordinary man and woman

'Jenny, while I have you: I've got this problem, and you know your thing. A bit of expert knowledge would be appreciated.'
'Can anyone ever really do that: know about the thing?'
Harry's sister turned her head and subjected him to close scrutiny. Harry himself kept the street in view and returned her gaze in the rear-view mirror.
'Of course. If I enter into a thing, then I acquire some inside knowledge. If I put my back to the task.'
And if he, to be on the safe side, looked at the surrounding world in his rear-view mirror, his standpoint would be vindicated: it was filled to the brim with unquestionable knowledge about the thing, true expertise, which he valued highly.
'Let's assume it then, that I know my thing.'
Harry meditated on his thing for another moment, then he went on: 'It's a really tricky question, I can say that much.'
'Get to the thing.'
'One could say that there are two camps: one camp in favour and one camp against.'
'Are you trying to keep me on tenterhooks?'
'It's about art, or rather: the question is whether it is about art or not.'
'It sounds more and more like a political question to me.'
'Listen here: last spring we took on a trainee, a seventeen-year-old boy, who had a sabbatical year from school. He is handy with computers, has been fixing our machines and maintaining programmes. It saves us a lot, you know how consultants are, real sweaters, and we thought of him as a real find. He is appreciated, the same goes for all people who can fix things, troubleshooters.'
The municipal councillor sighed, for some reason.
'Now, you are not just getting skill when you employ young people today, it's not that simple. You get what's inside their heads at the same time, I don't know what to call it. A commercially fueled desire. Bargaining for pleasure, delight. The job becomes less of a public purpose and more of a means to satisfy individual commitments in other areas. It's much like when a seventeen-year-old gets behind the wheel: he is not content with driving for safety in the universal traffic, he tries to embellish a little on the side. At the same time he becomes a safety risk.'
'In the present case I don't know how many irons the concerned had and has in the fire. We cannot start recording what people do in their spare time, it's not that serious! It could be anything between heaven and earth: one dives to the bottom of the sea and one climbs the highest mountain, one is as good as the other. We didn't care as long as he stuck to his last, that is to say: stuck to his computer in the daytime. But in this case the computer transformed itself into a sort of catapult, that ejected him onto the electronic highways of the world. We put a stop to that when a warning signal came from accounts. I think his excursions cost us twenty-thousand. Not that I know what could have cost so much, I thought everything on the web was for free? Anyhow: he'll have to make amends for that with overtime.'
Harry sighed again, these sighs conveyed as much as his words.
'At least you seem to be in some sort of sympathy with this young rogue.'
'You have to be in sympathy with anyone who kicks about.'
'You didn't say: who struggles.'
'No, I didn't.' Harry waved the remark aside. 'Now it turned out - not immediately, but after a while - that he brought with him odds and ends from his trips. He had downloaded pictures from databases and also programmes that made him able to edit and manipulate. And he started doing that, or maybe he had been doing it all the time. Next he printed one of those pictures and showed it to a pal, after that it was common property. You'll find a copy in the glove locker, I want you to have a look at it.'
Jenny opened the glove locker and unfolded the picture. 'My, my: Uccello has been made available.'
'Yes. I've been told so. Is it art?'
'The original: yes.'
'And the new version?'
'Why is that important?'
'The lady holding the dragon: in the original version she is fully dressed and most ladylike.'
'And here she stands as God created her, looking extremely modern. Haven't I seen her before?'
'It's Anita, one of the girls in reception.'
'Is and isn't. She has supplied the face, but I assume that the body at least comes from somewhere else. I bet the rider in the wet-suit is modeled on the originator.'
'Yes, it is. When Anita saw the picture she went to the union, and that very day I had a visit from a delegation demanding that I put a stop to sexual harassment in the office. There was nothing to be done; I brought in the lad and gave him a dressing-down. But the thing didn't end there, next day I read in the paper that the union was surprised I hadn't dismissed him.'
Now Harry's sighs had been fully explained.
'So, there obviously was no consultation with the model.'
'He took the face from an ordinary photo, we have a register with pictures of all employees. Next he combined it with a body from some other source. I've heard it can be easily done.'
'We live in an evil world.'
'Yes,' answered Harry, with conviction.
'What lies behind the question? If it is art or not.'
'Our real estates director, Melander, defended the guy. He wrote a letter to the editor stating that the whole thing was meta-art and that the union had got it all wrong. That was the most stupid thing he could do, after that the whole matter has been infected with prestige. Now the woman side no longer contents itself with dismissal; it intends to bring the whole thing to court and sue for damage.'
'You don't give a damn about this 'art' label.'
'There is no art. 'Art' is an empty label, like religion, it no longer has any meaning, no bearing on anything.'
Jenny folded the rejected objet d'art and put it back in its glove department. 'What a mess. And now you want an opinion from someone who is supposed to know her thing.'
'Melander knows his thing in his way, he runs our arts lottery and has a wine-cellar of his own. You could say that he is a bit cultured in the way generally expected. But he hasn't studied art the way you have.'
'You expect me to be the ace beating your king?'
'Something like that, yes.'
'And the general idea: do you expect me to fight a duel or just to have a go at him in a letter to the editor?'
Harry drew a deep breath for a new sigh, but held back.
'Tell me about the princess and the valiant knight. If the arts column fails, maybe the hearts column could contribute something?'
'Anita is a goose. A school-girl who stopped growing, crazy about horses, spends twenty-four hours a day, including working hours, on looks and clothes. Very smart person. At the same time she is not of age in some way, that's why the union took over the way it did. To begin with my thought was: it must be impossible to subject such a person to sexual harassment, but on second thoughts I realised how wrong I was.'
'So, we have two young, imperfect people, who got involved in a conflict in a somewhat random way and cannot find the way out on their own.'
'Two ordinary, simple human beings, who are standing in the middle of the crap and don't know how to ignore it.'
'And you want both to escape as unhurt as possible from the whole thing.'
'Yes, I do. I do.'
'How are they taking it?'
'Anita howled the first day, now she has calmed down. I guess she feels she is in the spotlight and finds it rather interesting in some way. Hasse didn't bat an eyelid when I told him that dismissal could be an option. But his air said: the loss is on your part, not mine.'
'Why did he do a picture like that? Does he have some difficulty in making contacts?'
'No more than other young people of his age. They have some sort of paved ways for seeing each other and talking and doing all sorts of odd things. I could imagine them in one of those TV shows where teenagers are matched in front of an audience and it's important to put a good face on the matter. In that way they are not confused, both have outward faces all ready, if you know what I mean.'
'The parents, have they intervened?'
'Not as far as I know, thank god. What does it mean: that such a picture is brought to new life and altered a little? For such a picture to come up? It's completely out of place in today's reality.'
'You're positive?'
'Give me an angle, something to work on.'
'I could give you a clue: the dragon is always a female, have you considered that?'
Harry put up a puzzled face: 'The dragon a female? Yes, maybe she is. What kind of a female? Of course: a dragon female.'
'Maybe an aspect of the girl standing next to her. A womanliness that is not only pleasing, but powerful and wise.'
'The little stuck-up lady? She is leading it much like a poodle, her own womanliness? I find it hard to believe. And the gesture she is making tells George: please, help yourself to it. Then it's a picture of treason.' He shook his head disapprovingly, as if the true contents of the picture suddenly opened up to him. 'Couldn't you do it: talk to them both?'
Now, too late, Jenny discovered that she had swallowed the hook dangled by Harry before her nose for the last ten minutes. 'But what do you expect from me?'
'He didn't even know Uccello's name. He didn't know in what century the original was painted. Nor did she.'
'Do you think a lecture in history of art will make anything better? I don't. The crucial point is that he didn't leave the lady the way she was, fully dressed, he undressed her by means of the computer, that might be called the extra, typical of our time. It's the operation that offended in this case, not the original picture.'
'What if the picture was recast then? If you tried to make things done un-done. And things undone un-undone...'
A suggestion of this kind might be termed typical of the time as well: you reformatted some thing already given, restarted from scratch, without the drag of past tense around your foot.
'It might help, I don't know them. You see: I told you from the start. This is a case for politics, not for an art historian knowing her thing.'
'If we both had a talk with them?'
'I see how anxious you are to get rid of this thing.'
'I loathe having to busy myself with it, have it hanging over my head. Half of my time is spent on trifles of this kind. Three quarters.'
'Why not hand it over to somebody else, then?'
'I'm afraid it won't be handled the right way.'
'When do you intend to deal with it?'
'On the spot, right now.'
Before there was time to answer he brought his mobile to his ear and was arranging a meeting.
'You think it's a very serious thing.'
'I can't decide. I say to myself, again and again: it's nothing, it's a trifle, but when it doesn't evaporate with time my assessment might be wrong. It may be a very serious thing. Maybe all trifles are serious things. Or they become serious because you think they are trifles.'
'A trifle, and you wanted to lift it to a more serious level by turning it into art? Or reduce it even more that way? I'm asking you.'
'Forget about this art thing. Call it a dead alley of thought. You changed my mind: this is a thing for politics.'

He didn't exaggerate: half of his time was spent on kneading trifles, again and again. He, who was expected to devote all his energy to the budget and the future planning of the municipality! Worst of all was that he felt constrained and forced to set aside so much time for apparent trifles, at the same time finding it hard to justify this feeling of coercion and avoiding all attempts at even trying to give reasons.
In any event you had to screen the dross, so that only the pure metal remained for the quicksilver of politics. If you neglected this fundamental task - how would it be possible to separate and extract genuine needs and desires? In the world there was a dormant energy, that could be collected and transformed into progress, development, but all kinds of energy weren't equally conformable to that task. It was not like the neutral energy of a water dam, where altitude was transformed into motion, but more like a wind that could propel a sailing ship only from a certain direction. His own little vessel would sail into harbour only with a fair wind.
Therefore wishes were bound to have style, existence couldn't be based on nonsense, even if the political scale in the name of freedom of choice offered that possibility as well. He simply had to fight for perspective, against the dragons of nonsense.
'Art,' Jenny snorted. 'You reached for that as a kind of lifebelt.'
'I saw a chance to settle the problem.'
'You don't think it's art.'
'Its nonsense, it's idling. An apprentice playing with his tools.'
'So what is art? Art in our time.'
'Art? Well. A television soap opera is art. In our time.'
Knowing that you weighed a hundred-and-eighty pounds and your opponent little more than a hundred-and-twenty, you could afford to lower your guard in this way. He wouldn't get floored anyway, even if she hit him, and Jenny yielded to this bodily insight. 'You look at them.'
'I have seen them all.'
'Is there any profit in it for you?'
Harry released suppressed emotion or just accumulated air in a sigh.
'You look at them anyway.'
'They have a certain - mobilizing power. They form habits and set the tone. They twist the masses round their little fingers. In a hundred years, when scholars consider what had a real impact on our generation, only soaps - and their like - will count. Nothing else.'
Grown-up men shadow-boxed with boys in this way: right hand on their backs, the guard lowered, blows taken on the side. Jenny turned sideways in reflection, he would continue on his own without further incitement.
'They are completely predominant, they leak into all consciousness, like rain through a leaking roof. There is an enormous power inherent in this position, an unrivalled mobilizing power.'
'So you define art from quantitative criteria, based on its degree of mobilization.'
'Yes, of course, what other definition could there be?'
By way of conclusion, when he was boxing with children, Harry always lowered his guard completely and offered his chin. Jenny nodded to herself in recognition of his pattern: anyone who went for a quick knockout in this position quickly discovered that he had prepared himself for the continuation with showers of counter-blows. She switched on the car radio and stated matter-of-factly: 'You hold your art in high esteem.'
'It affects me.' Suddenly he had enough of the game. 'Soap operas are my visions of hell. Only chaos in the relations, free emanation, no order and method. If some higher entity was going to punish me for sins in this life, the best way would be to cast me as political tycoon in a soap.'
'So art, if there is any, affects you by its negativity. It prepares visions of hell, surrounding you every day and every hour.'
'Absolutely, yes. It paints the total mobilization of the population, in an anticipatory way. By the horizon you can glimpse a state where all production resources make soap, all distribution resources distribute soap, all consumers lap up soap. With total consumption as goal: we consume our lives with funny faces and merry guffaws. Isn't that hell? And it already exists on a preliminary basis, here and now. I am deeply ashamed of it, every day, but there is nothing I can do. Feel ashamed as a politician, feel guilty as an individual.'
'Then, where is positivity?'
'Positivity is on the inside. Do you remember what Kant said: Hell around me and the good will inside of me.'
He had switched back to play in no time, the whole thing was too much for him.
'I am afraid Harry Jönsson said that.'
Harry nodded in affirmation, as if suddenly realizing this.
Jenny drew a line under the lots, summing up: 'This guy who is 'kicking about' - at least you think that he is doing more than just consuming.'
'Maybe, yes,' Harry answered. 'Maybe. There is some sort of expression.'
'And the girl, her part in the whole thing?'
'She's an object, just an object. For virtual consumption.'
'Shouldn't we be doing something about that?'
'Maybe, maybe,' Harry muttered, adding when he noted her expression: 'Yes, most definitely. You have a point there. Something about that.'

Jenny rubbed her hands as she walked by his side: 'Back to politics, mother of all wars! Now I expect to see an example of genuinely reformist conflict solution.'
'It may seem a model situation for an ex-ombudsman. In that case it should be enough to run the thing according to the book. But it won't be, and the reason is, that there is no prospect of reconciling different convictions among young people today. There are no more or less fixed standpoints to consider, but rather a floating adaptation over a vast area. Decisive is the audience, the stage and the particular play, not ideologies, attitudes or standpoints. That makes politics aiming at the broad juvenile mass a thing of its own, you have to enact some particular kind of theatre. Next, if the peripheral pieces are in place, the people involved find their lines without prompting. I have experienced it countless times: it is the situation that governs and persuades, not the arguments. When the parties involved reach a certain stage of the manuscript they yield like ripe fruits. And they conform strictly to this pattern, rest assured that they will adhere to the rules of the game.'
Here was a man who knew his thing and knew how to inspire confidence.
'And our part in the play?'
'We are going to nudge them to the threshold and then kick them across it, that is the name of our game.'
The faces of the two young people showed no signs of agitation, no hesitation, just measured preparedness. This at least testified to the fact that they didn't feel cowed, worthless. The flat lack of expression contained a sort of dignity, the way it could be expressed in this place. Jenny thought: like the lady and the knight of the picture, equally unmoved, although separated by a dragon. No uncanniness, no anguish, they leave such things to Harry and me with warm hands.
Harry had chosen a restaurant in the main street as meeting-place. The evening was young and the doorkeeper hadn't raised his guard yet. Guests came and went on the premises, groups became dense for a while, dissolving again, the murmur soared and fell, coils of smoke sketched a turbulent dynamics in the air.
'This is my sister, Jenny. We are even twins, although she doesn't look like me, it's a documented thing.'
Following this Harry sat down with a thud.
'Hello,' said Jenny and tried her hand at something that might ease the atmosphere: 'I am his better self, he insisted on bringing me.'
The lad nodded tensely and earnestly, as if this was a factual piece of information and important to him. He had a ring in his ear and sparse stubble, it didn't make him look older.
'My thoughts go like this,' Harry went on. 'When something is arranged in society the whole thing must be prepared and anchored among the parties concerned. You carry out some sort of informal consultations before there is action. That's what is called democracy. I invited you here simply to prepare the thing and find out what can be anchored.'
As always Harry aimed at a quick knock-out, but Jenny could feel and see that none of the two others took offence. Maybe they were already accustomed to preparation and anchorage, maybe the whole approach was deeply anchored in them.
'The picture is there, it has been made. There is no way around that.'
'No, there isn't,' Anita interposed emphatically.
The thought crossed Jenny's mind: She is created here. She comes into being as a subject. She was too young to be undressed as an object, but tomorrow she'll be above it. If you contribute to that, Harry, this is no trifle. In half a year they will come to you and ask you to marry them: she clad as Kraka, he in frogman suit, and you will perform the act, you who kicked them into grown-upness, because you know that convictions yield to situations.
'Now, this picture isn't on its own, there is another picture behind. And that picture in turn must have predecessors as well, my guess is: there is a whole line of pictures.'
Jenny nodded, while thinking: I just have to sit here, nodding, putting a good face on the matter. He will tack himself through this thing, art or politics, in his own way, and afterwards people will be able to extract some sort of logics from the chaos of preparation, anchorage and persuasion. Not me, but then I don't give a damn about logics either.
'The same way as in the old Tomteskur bottle, but only illusory, because the picture in the picture is changing all the time.'
But there he went wide of the mark; the old Tomteskur bottle was an antiquity, familiar only to educated persons of the old school.
'An old record cover comes to my mind,' Jenny inserted. 'Four guys standing in a room holding a picture showing themselves standing in the same room, but in the internal picture they have changed positions. That is almost an antiquity as well, but at any rate not as ancient as the Tomteskur bottle.'
Hasse's arm twitched, he was on the verge of putting up his hand: 'Pink Floyd.'
'How many of them were naked?' the girl asked, glaring at him in the corner of her eye. Jenny raised her finger and nodded in approval: you made a correct point there.
Harry got hold of the severed thread. 'Yes, there is the vital point. My idea goes like this: if a picture can be changed once, it can also be changed twice. Here something went wrong, it should be possible to put it right.'
Jenny edged her chair closer to the table, looking from one to the other, attentively, insistently, as if some great cause depended on their handling of this challenge. All at once Harry felt that he was sailing by the wind, and he acknowledged the support with a furtive nod.

While Harry and Jenny re-established their twinship, a makanthropos came to Harry's door. He was two metres tall, but carried himself in a most submissive and humble way; the puzzling contradiction immediately caught Ruth's imagination.
'I apologise for my intrusion,' he began. 'My name is Anton Hellberg, thirty years ago I was Harry Jönsson's form master at the senior level, a circumstance which I count among my foremost qualifications. I stand here with a modest request, that I think the person in question will not turn down.'
He had taken off his hat and pressed it against his heart, when he started talking he made a deep bow. Ruth was completely captivated by such ceremony and could bring herself to do no more than answer: 'I am sorry to say: the person in question isn't home tonight.'
The man took one step backwards and bowed anew: 'Then maybe I could return at some more appropriate time?'
'You are not a resident?' Ruth asked, still fighting to find adequate words.
'No,' the man answered, 'I have lived and worked in Harry's home district all my active life. Thirty-eight years at the same school, and still in harness.'
'Why, that indicates devotion to a mission in life. Not many of today's young teachers are planning to endure that long behind the teacher's desk.'
'Anyone who once had a pupil like Harry Jönsson would feel amply recompensed. I am convinced that he will advance to the post of Prime Minister of this country in some near future; then I will tell myself: you were first to detect his unusual capacity to do what is good.'
'I would ask you in to wait for his return if I didn't expect him to be away for quite some time. Maybe I could convey some sort of message? In that case he could call back and give some answer, and you wouldn't have looked him up all in vain.'
'I would prefer to ask him in person, then I'm fairly certain that he won't refuse me.'
'Well, Harry always used to be a reasonable person.'
'Definitely, and his wife inspires me with confidence as well.'
'Shall we have a try with her, then?'
'It is like this: the educational association is starting a new evening class next month, and I thought of asking Harry to give the opening lecture. With him as first speaker we would draw a full house, it would give us a flying start.'
'I see no reason why he wouldn't do it! What would the topic be?'
The man lowered his head and looked into the ground. 'To tell the truth the topic is a bit particular.' He looked up again, for the first time she noted his cornflower-blue eyes. No one could turn down a request spoken underneath such a gaze. 'My intention was to ask him to set out a few thoughts under the heading: 'From darkness we rise towards light'.'
She laughed out cheerfully: 'Like the subject for a school-essay! Harry is just cut out for the task, I can tell you that at once.'
'He could make such a thing so concrete, better than anybody else...'
'No doubt about that.' Ruth backed two steps in order to finish the conversation. 'I will tell him when he returns tonight, and he will call back.'
'Thank you very much! I am convinced that my errand has been left in the best hands.'
'I cannot guarantee anything, but I'll do my best.'

Phenomena of Anton Hellberg's type occurred with low but constant frequency in the nation, much like white elks or cherry trees flowering on Christmas Eve. They were treated according to the old-fashioned forester recipe: shot and wounded or uprooted, lest the whole population degenerated to their aberration. In exceptional cases it happened that they were saved as things worth seeing. The fortune of Anton Hellberg had been to acquaint himself with both ways; he had been shot and wounded, then saved as a thing worth seeing.
Ten paces away he merged with the crowd, a plain, everyday appearance. In a country where everydayness was officially decreed and sanctioned such a person should not attract attention, but have a good chance of passing unnoticed. If this still didn't happen, it was due to a Project that he held and pursued on behalf of plain, ordinary man and woman: he was a burning, devoted Adult Educator. In this capacity he reared like a tower above the crowd, or better: like a crane offering its hook as a vehicle for the ascent to light. Anyone who approached this crane was gently caught and had to answer a delicate question in front of inquiring cornflower-blue eyes: What have you done today in order to improve your education? In the camp of nine-to-fivers this was not valued and there was an established opinion: the man was a madcap, he should be locked up.
This man had served as Harry Jönsson's form master for five formable and happy years. During this time some quality or capacity deeply rooted in Harry's character had no doubt been brought forth and cultivated, although there was some discomfort for Harry in reminding himself of his position as a favourite. Later on, much later, he had committed patricide in the local New Year's vaudeville, portraying an easily recognizable Hellberg philosophizing over 'The progress of humanity as a sequence of evening classes'.
And if you drew up an overall balance sheet from the level of present time, in the reconciling light of hindsight? What was human progress other than a journey of the spirit through a sequence of evening classes, brought about one way or another? And how would it be possible to preach necessary improvements in this nation without the clown disguise? With that much of the real thing in the population, impersonating the buffoon was the perfect disguise, Harry himself wasn't immune to its enticement.

'Then here is our plan', Harry said. 'You, Hasse, bring me a list of ten pictures that you are going to manipulate. But mind your step, no action until you get the go-ahead from me, you don't know where the pitfalls are. I had better look at the basic material first; if you are the computer specialist of the office, I am the pitfall specialist.' He stopped short, as if suddenly struck by an idea. 'Maybe the lady should leash the rider instead of the dragon, just for safety's sake, and as a concession to the union?'
The girl nodded instant approval, the lad bowed his head, as if considering this dreadful option or just: admitting Harry's expert pitfall knowledge.
'You, Anita, go to the library and study up the pictures, then you write presentations to each one of them, you know: century, style, where the picture hangs today, etcetera. In the meantime I'll consult Melander, and we'll arrange an art exhibition in the entrance. That is the perfect educational trick, everyone will be a little curious after this little - affair. You have to revive people a little with underpants and bare breasts, after that they are willing to stomach anything. It's perfect. I might consider inviting my old school-teacher to the opening, he wouldn't be blind to the striking power of this new approach to the problem of education.'
He squinted at Anita. 'But of course the first picture is erased, irrevocably dead.'
The face of the girl was resting, calm, she shrugged her shoulders, chewed a turn on her gum. 'It could be used as a placard. If necessary, I don't oppose it any longer.'

'Will you be able to anchor this in the union?' Jenny asked in the car.
'I will,' Harry answered with confidence.
'No grim expressions?'
'Of brief duration, and after that: great relief.'
'The whole thing was more of manipulation than anchorage.'
'No doubt, but the degree of maturity on the opposite side comes into play. It's the same way in all upbringing: first you manipulate, then you manipulate a little less and give more rope, in the end you anchor. When I have sung all verses with these delinquents a couple of times, they'll know them by heart.'
'This is both an individual and a historical process,' he continued his train of thought. 'My belief is that anchorage in the future will be a very subtle affair, with computers and gimmicks, you will be able to anchor with many more people simultaneously. But we'll never come off without these personal contacts.'
Jenny produced the picture from the glove locker, unfolded it anew and looked at it for long, as if not getting the key to its correct interpretation until now. 'A picture of treason... May I borrow it for a day? I want to show it to somebody. With all conceivable discretion, needless to say.'
'To whom if I may ask?'
'Let me keep my secrets.'
'Help yourself. At any rate it is all played out by now.'

35 kB, first published 21.5.04, latest corrected 27.11.08.

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