By Erik Skyum-Nielsen
Photo: © Robin Skjoldborg
”Less is more” – the minimalists’ familiar slogan – could be Peter Adolphsen’s (b. 1972) motto as storyteller. To this point, his total production in book form comprises only 187 pages of text. Nevertheless, as a reader, you feel you have covered a huge distance with him. This is because he writes with immense concentration and a sense of multi-voice variation. He makes no attempt to be original; he begs, borrows and steals with abandon to make his texts into gathering places in and for literature.
Adolphsen’s first two books, Små historier (Small Stories) (1996) and Små historier 2 (Small Stories 2) (2000), are rich – indeed, sumptuous – catalogues of narrative possibilities. There are fables, parables and myths; Kafka-esque situations; literary ready-mades, ultrashort biographies, stylistically superb genre parodies and, finally, polyphonous tales that, in a tradition deriving from Jorge Luís Borges, blend fiction and faction, laced as they are with encyclopedic knowledge, conveyed in a classic, convincing (a little too convincing!) prose.
Behind all these explorations of possible narrative forms seem to be a sage acceptance of knowledge – historical, linguistic, biological – and a fascination with non-knowledge, an instinct to reach out to where thought stops and approaches the unsayable. In other words, Adolphsen’s factual minimalism has an express metaphysical character.
These two tendencies are pushed to the limit in his long tale Brummstein (2003) about a remarkable vibrating or humming stone that, in 1907, is chiseled out of the great chalk caves of Hölloch, Switzerland and, by a circuitous path, ends up as a museum piece in Düsseldorf. With a dizzying overview of modern European history, Adolphsen tells his tale from the point of view of the stone – i.e., “things” – which provides a grotesque perspective, not only of geology but also of everyday life and art. Where seriousness stops and parody begins (or vice versa) is difficult to decide. But this concentrated form works.
Translated by Russell Dees
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