Against Larsson

Blanca Riestra. Professor. IE School of Arts & Humanities

4 December 2009

A best-seller is not necessarily a great book, and even less necessarily a great piece of literature, no matter how much some people confuse commercial success with art.

Something has been happening to me for some months now: on the Metro, wherever I look, I always find, lying in wait, someone reading Stieg Larsson, absorbed and devoted.

Larsson sells like hot cakes and he also seems to be devoured by his readers with irreproachable dedication and absolute satisfaction. I myself must confess to having read him in one go, when my morale was low, immersed in a state similar to that which led me to read Enid Blyton when I was 10 years old. I had almost forgotten that strange combination of reading and frenzy.

Larsson works and is easy to read. Politicians and the famous, who also write, have publicly declared that they are either enemies of Millennium for strange moral reasons (Donna Leon), which I fail to understand, or that they admire the grandeur of his work thanks to his storytelling skills or also for strange moral reasons. The last one to speak was Vargas Llosa in El País. He said:
Like all the great stories about righteous men and women in literature, this trilogy secretly assures us, making us think that perhaps not everything is lost in this imperfect, lying world in which we have to live because, possibly, among the "dense crowds of city-dwellers", there are still some modern-day Quixotes who, inconspicuous or disguised as marionettes, observe their surroundings with inquisitive eyes and their soul ready to pounce, looking for victims that need to be avenged, insults that need to be redressed and evil beings that need to be punished. Welcome to the immortality of fiction, Lisbeth Salander!

I have been trying to find out what I think about it. There is something here that clashes with my understanding of literature. Forgive my saying so but literature is not everything that is written, even though that´s what someone somewhere wants us to think. Literature is not fun; it’s not even something that is powerfully fun. It is not something that defends civic values, condemns corruption or defends women from male chauvinism. Or at least it´s not only that: those are not literary values.

Literature is something else, but everyone seems to have forgotten. In literature, language works literally and, at the same time, on all the senses, as Rimbaud said. Literature is the kingdom of ambiguity, a free land where there are no good or bad people, not even good-bad people. Like art, literature is completely and absolutely amoral. In real literature, or at least in the literature I´m interested in, what matters is omitted and the reader feels an unmentioned something-else. Literature is the terrain of everything horrible and sacred. Literary language is capable of speaking about something in everyday words and suddenly turning the words into missiles: it is capable of speaking about something and, at the same time, revealing another thousand things without mentioning them.

Literature (good novels too, for goodness sake) is akin to the litanies to the Madonna, the ritual chants of primitive tribes, the Hindu mantras and good rock songs. The language of literature is like boiling liquid. The words of literature are like flint crashing together to produce sparks, says Breton. Red-hot subject matter. That is literature.

There is nothing of that in the Millennium trilogy. But that’s not a problem. I don´t think Larsson would be even slightly concerned.


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