LARS NORÉN 1944–2021
During the late 1950s, a whirl of writing begins to take shape in the southern Swedish community of Genarp, and it will expand and endure in the coming decades to ultimately become a revolving point of convergence in Swedish literature.
For a young Lars Norén, born in 1944, literature becomes the magical substance in his early teens that can transform the self with which it comes into contact. There, someone can become an Other. Soon enough, literature, writing, becomes a parallel reality at the family's resort hotel, which simultaneously becomes the site of trauma, dissolution, and displacement. 1964 is a devastating year, with the death of his mother and a claustrophobic seven-month stay at a mental hospital in Blekinge, an experience which marked his subsequent writing.
A precocious Lars Norén most of all aspires to become an acclaimed poet, and the typewriter period has begun for that very reason. It will span six decades that intersect fiercely with life and poetry and which step by step establish an expanding territory of work. It begins with the debut collection Lilacs, Snow (Syrener, snö) in 1963 and continues until the end of 2020 with poetry, prose, and dramatic works. The author passes away due to illness in late January of 2021.
Lars Norén's body of work is prodigious. He writes and publishes seventeen volumes of poetry, seven volumes of prose, well over 120 plays, two volumes of Fragments, and a five-volume diary made up of 6,300 pages. His dramatic work is performed on theater stages, the radio, and on television.
Part of the urgent particularity of Norén's writing is that it is in continuous formal renegotiation while at the same time returning to the mental spaces of childhood and adolescence, where a self once took form. Origins, time, love. Images of the family lurk behind nearly everything and the original scene is staged in some now classic plays from the early 1980s – Night Is the Mother of Day, Chaos Is God’s Neighbor, and Stillness, where the father's devastating alcoholism, the mother's wasting away from cancer, and the son's psychosis reveal a path away from a broken home which nevertheless remains as a backdrop of light, sound, and shadow in the repository of memory.
As a kind of photo album for the past, Lars Norén over the course of several years composes a play without words – Still Life, from 2017 – which reveals more than 90 scenes from memory. This work is a counterpoint of silence to the early and verbally unrestrained plays. His later work, Son Father Mother, premieres in October 2021 at Malmö City Theater.
Lars Norén's 1960s are characterized by poetry, but with a continuously evolving idiom filtered through Expressionism, Surrealism, Concretism and expressed through his own schizo-poetics – The Verbal Remains of Vanishing Imagery (1964), Introduction no. 2 to Schizz (1965), Encyclopedia (1966). His literary breakthrough comes with Stupor in 1968. He is at that point twenty-four years old and the book is an enormous montage on broadsides of schizo-poetic text where an exhaustive number of expressions and references are tested with striking intensity. Everything is in accelerated motion.
Norén's 1960s revolve around trauma that culminates in 1964, but that language is soon exhausted and the author diverges to become another Lars Norén, which becomes evident in two realist novels – The Beekeepers (1970) and In the Underground Sky (1972) – which portray Simon, adrift in Stockholm. An alter ego. This transformation becomes as explicit in his poetry, the nomadic and bright lyricism of King Me and Other Poems (1973) and, thereafter, Poems of Day and Night (1974).
Lars Norén gradually develops a note-taking poetics of the diary, which is followed by Diary (1976) and Night Work (1976). If the earlier poetry could bathe in dazzling daylight, dusk and night now approach. The poetry becomes increasingly compressed and ascetic, as in the great book Order (1978). As the concentrated language reaches its conclusion, the poet again turns to another self. This shift takes place in the magnificent Heart in Heart (1980), where a new mode of address, towards a you, is attempted. The poems begin to speak theatrically.
There, one senses that Lars Norén's drama is in a state of deliverance, especially with the aforementioned hotel plays from 1982-84, but also in tandem with A Terrible Joy (1981), which examines a ravaged present, and The Last Supper (1983), where marriage grinds to a halt. These are hyper-verbal plays with four actors that evolve into hectic family drama in Norén's subsequent bourgeois quartets, including Autumn and Winter (1988), Bobby Fischer Lives in Pasadena (1988), and Truth and Consequence (1989). It is dramatic work that, cycle after cycle, strips away all desire and dishonesty to a ground zero of dispossession. Norén would call it »decreation«.
Lars Norén's dramatic work expands into a form of human research wherein the
society of the family transforms through generations and circles of existence,
which in turn shift from the large metropolitan flats and summer homes of the
bourgeoisie to the locked-down rooms of the mental hospital. Fourteen dramatic
works were collected in The Dead Plays (1995).
Gradually, the entire question is illuminated in a barbarous comedy that is dark and melancholy, but also stonily and wildly ebullient as the lines are fired like tracers in the night. All of society is transported down into the underworld of the big city in the five-hour play Personkrets 3:1 from 1997. The title not only invokes the regulatory framework of Swedish social services, but also the dark space of Dante's Inferno 3:1 and the »city of woe«. Nihilism’s society of violence and human ruin once again becomes Norén’s deeply affecting motif, particularly pronounced in the fervently debated 7:3 and later in Boys of Shadows, both from 1999.
We see how Norén's writing follows the annual rings of life from childhood and
family to the gradual stagnation of middle age and subsequent aging. Human
finitude consumes Norén from childhood on. In the late plays Winter Music (2017)
and Andante (2019), dementia encircles human beings in a dance of dissolution.
Finally, Norén explores the space between life and death and lets the dead speak as
though they are alive – in November (2000) and later in the dramatic collection
Terminal, published in 2015 along with the double volume Society. Together, forty
plays that span 2,975 pages.
Norén's writing dwells on the beginning and the end, but also observes how the course of life between the two is intersected by beginning and end, by birth and death, creation and »decreation«. His body of work revolves around the possibilities inherent to identification and creation, re-creation of a self via the forms proffered by literature. It is an exhaustive metamorphosis where the criteria for what is possible to write, for literature itself, continuously shift in a steady heartbeat between expansion and contraction, flow and asceticism. Time turns out to be a curved space.
In this enormous oeuvre of circles of existence, the autodidact Lars Norén soon
becomes a global writer whose dramatic work is performed widely throughout
Europe and reaches as far as China and South America. But notice – at the center
of all of Lars Norén’s writing stands the defenseless child. As early as in the whirl
of his debut.
PRIZES AND AWARDS
Svensk bokkonst (AVGRUNDEN AV LJUS), form: Nina Ulmaja
Svensk bokkonst (EN DRAMATIKERS DAGBOK 2015-2019), form: Nina Ulmaja
Litteraturpriset till Pär Lagerkvists minne
Selma Lagerlöfs litteraturpris
Per Ganneviks stipendium
Svensk bokkonst (FRAGMENT), årets vackraste bok, form: Nina Ulmaja
Stockholms stads hederspris
Bellmanpriset, Svenska Akademien
Sverige Radios Lyrikpris
Litteris et Artibus, Kungahuset
Svenska Akademiens nordiska pris
De Nios Stora pris
Gerard Bonniers lyrikpris
Carl Emil Englund-priset för Stupor
Albert Bonniers stipendiefond för yngre och nyare författare