Dear Ragnar Helgi, what is your daily routine now?
My daily routine is non-existent. This is the situation today but also pre-covid, I am afraid. Many of my colleagues feel that a regular schedule as pivotal to efficiency. I don’t. Some days I am teaching (over Zoom or in person), some days I am working on book design assignments, some days I work as a trash-collector, some days I work as an editor of my publishing house Tunglið (The moon), some days I make poem-letters, some days I doing ornithology-work (like these last 10 days), some days I work on fiction, some days I write poetry and some days I don’t do much of anything.
These intermittent lockdowns that we have been experiencing over the last year, therefore haven’t been particularly helpful to my writing, some writers like the quiet but I like it only when contrasted with noise. Artists are different in this respect but I have found that being active in the world, engaging with projects, people or birds actually makes my writing more free and flowing. Too much solitude makes the joy I find in writing fade. On a perfect day I think I would be out in the world from morning and then back home by evening writing into the night. Out there somewhere over the horizon there is a perfect balance, struck there between withdrawal from the world and engagement with it, between the vita activa and the vita contemplativa – but I am still trying to find it. I’ll let you know if I stumble upon it.
What is particularly important for all of us now?
These days in Iceland spring is trying to be born from a merger of stinging artic winds and hars sunlight. The pools are open again (I need to swim every day), people are being vaccinated – and one almost hears a communal sigh of relief being breathed, by both nature and people. It is strange to see how fast we go into our old grooves: Embracing each other again, getting preoccupied by work again … I have a feeling most things will settle back into the way they were before. 2020 will be like a dream, forgotten as soon as it is over, much like the presidency of Donald Trump … like something that happened in another lifetime.
I always feel kind of uneasy about answering big questions like this, as if being an artist gives me some special insight. The artist sometimes sees into the future but that doesn’t mean he knows what it means. I know only what new beginnings I try to evoke every morning for myself personally and that is simply to remind myself to notice the space between the branches of the trees and to try not to smoke any cigarettes. Life is messy, I don’t really know how to work it, either on a personal level let alone, social or global one.
We will all now face a new departure, socially and personally. What will be essential and what role will literature, art itself, play?
Art can be useful in many ways. One thing I personally seek in art is the voice of the dead, the people long gone, be they homeric heroes or dirt poor Icelandic farmers from the 19th century. This makes me ever so slightly more humble, and hopefully also makes me less sure of my views and political opinions and my judgements of other people, living and dead. Art can be a great help to individuals and societies but usually this happens in ways that creators of the artwork didn’t plan. And I thank god for that. Otherwise the responsability would criple all creation.
What are you currently reading?
I have been re-reading a lot of the sagas since Christmas. Some I haven’t read since school. They are much better than I thought, stranger than I remembered, and also much richer with humour than I thought. I don’t know why but have a strange tendency to assume that the ancients never joked or fooled-around.
I am also reading a lot of old Icelandica, biographies of people from the 19th and early 20th century full of recollections of dreams, strange kindnessess, drownings, horrors and rhymes. On my tabel at the moment: „Breiðfirskar sagnir I and II“, these are true stories of humans and hidden people, from the islands of Breiðafjörður, which is an area I know well since I go birding there for a month every summer.
I am also reading Anne Carson’s Glass, Irony and God. I am trying to choose which of her books I would like to translate into Icelandic.
Which quote, which text impulse would you like to give us?
Earlier today I stumbled upon a note I made a while back, on the note it says that the quote is from Erwin Schrödinger: „Die gegenwärtige Situation in der Quantenmechanik“ Naturwissenschaften numb. 23, 1935. P. 823–828. I don’t know where I found it and sure as hell don’t know how it connects to dead cats or living ones or Quantum mechanics in general but I think it is very helpful reminder to poets and artist, to never forget that: „There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks.“
Thank you very much for the interview, dear Ragnar, all the best for you and your grandios literature projects!
5 Fragen an Künstler*innen:
Ragnar Helgi Olafsson, writer, Schriftsteller
Fotos_1 bicnick B&W; 2 BET; 3 Saga Sigurdardottir.
25.5.2021_Interview_Walter Pobaschnig. Das Interview wurde online geführt.