A brooding field is the dominant presence in this beautiful little book; a field that wakes slowly, sitting on the toilet in the morning; a field that “spends far too much time on Facebook” and “spends far too much time watching TV”; a field that has anxieties about photography and memories of sex in public; a field that believes “many who directly or indirectly accuse working people with conservative values of being complacent, superficial consumer fetishists, are, perhaps, without even having realised it themselves, hypocrites”; a field that “doesn’t know when it would find time to exercise . . . doesn’t understand how everybody else finds time to exercise”; a field that “has yet to decide whether it can be bothered to keep itself up to date with the risk of brain tumours caused by radiation from mobile phones.”
The psyche on display here, in the third-person, is presented as something radically other, a sentient non-sentient thing, a place, an absence even, because what is a field, exactly, other than a grounds for something and thus not quite something itself? A field is not landscape, at least not in this text. Indeed, the field, our protagonist, “can be jealous of the landscape from time to time, the landscape doesn’t have any colleagues it has to see again and again, the landscape doesn’t have friendly, superficial conversations in the kitchenette with them; the landscape, the field thinks, doesn’t find itself as a Christmas lunch confessing all to a boss.” The field here obviously isn’t a field at all, either; no field finds itself “On a trip to Paris without the kids,” let alone able, then, to ask, “do you think we’re having a crisis.”
It happens—though this is not noted in or on the book itself—that in Danish, the original language of this poetic meditation on identity, “Marken,” the field, puns on “Martin,” the author’s first name. So “The field wishes its brooding would soon be disturbed, that the telephone would ring, that the smoke alarm would start wailing” sounds quite different in the original, and interjects an explicit autobiographical valence lost in translation. Through this autobiographical valence—reminiscent of Gertrude Stein’s explorations of psychology in the third-person—is generated a depth of field, as it were, an accumulation of opinions, echoed notions and claims, from all of which emerges a portrait of a particular self, a subjectivity, reflecting back on itself, critiquing its own opinions and ideas, relishing the taste of its personal pleasures. In keeping with the distance inherent in framing this slew of intimate (if they are intimate) bits and pieces via the abstract “field,” there is a recurring motif, philosophized here, on exile as an interior condition, on existential location as in some ways like the position of a field, subject to rather than agent in: “The field thinks it makes no difference what it’s interested in, the field will in any case have forced upon it and be exposed to both this and that, no matter what it’s interested in, and that’s what you have to take notice of, in the field’s opinion.”
Though, of course, this field is constructing its own field of meaning, quilting together tiny comments into a book, contrasting simple preferences—“The field is fond of long legs.” “Tits or arse, the field is a tit-field.” “The field notices shoulder blades.”—and idiosyncrasies—“The field finds words such as euphemism challenging.”—with seemingly important, formative claims—“The field remembers when it was younger; when it realized how a kaleidoscope works, mirrors, not magic, the disappointment, that feeling, like being abandoned by oneself, like having one little part of the world exchanged for another, coarser.”—and the sorts of deeply considered pleasures that reflect the guiding interests of the author as author, as poet, as constructor of texts:
The field loves talking on the phone, the intimacy of it, being together without being together, the sound of the other person in that person’s own sitting room, the sudden nearness that can be broken off as you wish like turning off the TV. It can talk for several hours until its ear gets warm and dark red and throbbing.
For all the anxiety about the “incredible amount of meaningless communication” and the contemporary anxiety about “missing out on something,” the need to keep “up-to-date . . . to know what everybody else is doing right now,” Serup is crafting a text that both moves at the speed of Twitter, page by page, quip by quip, but also builds like a novel, like a piece of music, dependent upon a lengthy engagement, focus. It’s hard not to read the obsessions over photography in light of the obvious preference for words, just as a line like “The field thinks that hearing as a sense will make a comeback in the near future” seems to speak, too, to the quality of listening involved in reading a text like this, in which the line speaks, both on a page by itself, quickly turned, and within a wider mesh or matrix or field. That “The weather . . . is the most watched TV programme in the world” is both a humorous line and a kind of commentary on public consumption, but it’s not, as I read it, within the scope of this book, a line lacking in hope, even in poetic appreciation. The book begins, after all, with the line “This is a nature poem which is also concerned with other things,” and, indeed, there seems to be little of the “nature poem” in it, but then again, a certain type of nature poetry is always, at its best, about the field inside the mind? Some such notion has been considered here, of course: “The field has thought about it, it has reached the conclusion that the most interesting things in reality don’t happen in reality but in people’s heads, in the imagination.”