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the Complete Review
the complete review - literature

An Angel Walks Through
the Stage

Jon Fosse

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To purchase An Angel Walks Through the Stage

Title: An Angel Walks Through the Stage
Author: Jon Fosse
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (1989-2008) (Eng. 2015)
Length: 127 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: An Angel Walks Through the Stage - US
An Angel Walks Through the Stage - UK
An Angel Walks Through the Stage - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Dalkey Archive Press
  • and Other Essays
  • Pieces written between 1989 and 2008
  • Translated and with a Postscript by May-Brit Akerholt
  • With a Foreword by Cecilie N. Seiness

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nice variety; a good introduction to Fosse's work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Times Literary Supp. . 20/11/2015 Paul Griffiths

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The complete review's Review:

       Cecilie N. Seiness explains in her Foreword to this collection that Jon Fosse published two collections of essays, in 1989 and 1999, totaling almost six hundred pages, but after that he: "said goodbye to theory" and has: "hardly written a single article". (The pieces in this collection, arranged chronologically, are only a small selection of his non-fiction pieces -- taken mostly from these two collections, with only the two final ones written after that 1999 collection, an essay from 2000 and a speech from 2008.) Prolific -- and successful -- as playwright, novelist and poet in the meantime, these pieces are however a welcome complement to that body of work, proving helpful in providing insight into it and Fosse's approach to writing.
       For one, Fosse addresses his use of Nynorsk (called 'New Norwegian' here), rather than the much more widely used form of Norwegian, Bokmål -- specifically in the piece, 'My Beloved New Norwegian'. He notes that he learned to write in Nynorsk at school, and that several of his teachers at university then were "New Norwegian intellectuals", and that when he worked as a journalist, it was at Gula Tidend, where Nynorsk "reigned day and night". (The brief English Wikipedia entry on Gula Tidend puts it nicely that the newspaper was: "disestablished in 1996".)
       The final piece, from 2008, comes from a speech Fosse gave when a tree was planted in the yard of Ivar Aasen, "the founder of the New Norwegian language", where Fosse makes the case for the continued existence of a wide variety of languages -- and quotes Swedish Academician Horace Engdahl in suggesting that in the future it is translation that: "will be the greatest language".
       There's a fair amount of biographical detail strewn in, especially about becoming a writer, as Fosse chronicles those decisive years when he was studying but also writing --- as, for example, he recalls:

I read philosophy, literary theory. And I am with the writing I write, and I read and think within conceptual discourses. And then it doesn't fit at all.
       He notes:
You read Derrida. You read Bakhtin, Kristeva, Barthes, Blanchot. But first and foremost you write.
       Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the name that seems to come up most often is that of Harold Bloom -- including when Fosse notes Bloom's claim that: "such a thing as engaged theatre doesn't exist, because theatre and engagement are mutually exclusive contradictions", and Fosse makes clear that readers shouldn't expect Brechtian-type plays from him:
I still believe that for me, as a dramatist, it is impossible to write with engagement and with a message, as they say, and at the same time write good drama.
       He tries to express what he is trying to capture in his writing -- "the silence I want to write in my literature", for example. A good sense of his approach is found in 'Anagoge', including his suggestion that (for him):
Literature becomes the secularized world's mysticism. The author becomes the secularized world's ascetic mystic.
       (Elsewhere he had latched onto where György Lukács: "says that form in the novel is a 'negative mysticism for godless times.' And it is in that sentence that I have found my concept of negative mysticism".)
       In considering 'The Novel in Its Great Irony', he detours also to the crime-novel genre -- though certainly not to embrace it, concluding his piece:
Death is not a mystery to be solved but an inherent condition of the novel.

And to me, the novel, to be obstinate, is constantly in search of the lost God.
       Which certainly seems like a good gloss on his fiction .....
       Fosse differentiates between books -- which he has accumulated thousands of over the years in what sounds like a nice personal library -- and literature, going so far as to say: "I dislike books but I love literature" -- making the case here and elsewhere for his particular conception of 'literature', noting that what he does like about books is: "something almost indefinable about them, something indefinable which I can call literature". So also:
Literature is a language which exists in and for itself, it is about its own self, thus all literature must be meta-literature
       'He Who Didn't Want to Become a Teacher' is a longer biographical piece, explaining how when he started studying he was emphatic about not wanting to become a (school)teacher or academic -- despite those being the obvious and most likely careers for anyone studying the humanities, as he wanted to -- and how he nevertheless wound up spending a few years -- "From 1986 to 1992 or something like that" -- teaching part time at The Writing Academy in Hordaland (the Skrivekunstakademiet, where one of his students famously was Karl Ove Knausgaard, who would chronicle the experience in his My Struggle; see the book excerpt at The New Yorker). Here he also writes about how he: "decided I didn't want to write drama", which, of course, also didn't hold .....
       In 'Thomas Bernhard and His Grandfather' Fosse describes first learning of Bernhard -- when he read his obituary (i.e. only in 1989) -- and then finally reading some of his work and finding it: "a great comfort, and joy" to come across an author who used repetition much as (or rather, even more than) he did, and so effectively; it's hardly surprising that he admits: "I have been preoccupied with Thomas Bernhard's writings since then". (Bernhard, like Fosse, was prolific -- and highly-regarded -- both as dramatist and novelist; Fosse has translated several of Bernhard's plays.)
       Ranging from the theoretical to the personal, the selection in An Angel Walks Through the Stage gives a good impression of Fosse's conception of literature and what he hopes to do with and in his writing.
       An Angel Walks Through the Stage is a manageably slim selection of mostly very short pieces, and the variety helps hold the reader's interest, making it an excellent and insightful companion piece and introduction to Fosse's real work -- the fiction and the plays.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 October 2023

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An Angel Walks Through the Stage: Reviews: Jon Fosse: Other books by Jon Fosse under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Jon Fosse was born in 1959. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2023.

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© 2023 the complete review

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