PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Books

Irony Triumphs in Theodor Kallifatides's 'Another Life'

In writing about the inability to write, Theodor Kallifatides has produced a book, Another Life, which aches with its own quiet beauties and inspires with its resilient creativity.

Another Life: On Memory, Language, Love, and the Passage of Time
Theodor Kallifatides

Other Press

Sep 2018

iTunes

Theodor Kallifatides' Another Life is not another memoir on the craft of writing. Nor is it a glamorization of a successful writer's life. There's no shortage of writers nursing their accomplishments, but thankfully, Another Life tells a story of growth and discovery, how we continue to live in the absence of that gifts that have formed our identity.

If writers aren't bemoaning the labors of their craft, they're not slow to bemoan their estrangement from it. For the non-writers among us, there's nothing sweeter than new romance; there's also nothing more pungent than its loss. In Kallifatides' case, after his work with his previous novel comes to an end, seemingly concluding a 50-year career as an essayist, novelist, and poet, he feels abandoned. The romance has dried up. Worse yet, the heartbreak seems terminal.

Another Life skirts the pathos rife with self-reflections—when one's self is the main subject of discussion every moan or tick of praise is amplified—and holds its head high enough to avoid navel-gazing. An irony triumphs: In writing about the inability to write, Kallifatides has produced a book which aches with its own quiet beauties, inspiring with its resilient creativity.

Contemplating how best to move on in the absence of his former inspiration, Kallifatides begins by consulting his writing elders, adopting Anton Chekhov's advice for coping with failure; in Kallifatides' case, a cold shower in his studio—with his clothes on. Except instead of returning to a state of inspiration, he's merely left…dripping wet.

Like any rebuffed lover, Kallifatides can't avoid reliving the good times. In an analogy which seems so natural it should be universal, he compares the feeling of inspired writing to sailing, "It's like sailing with the aid of a following wind in one's sail." Because writers share a sea with fellow writers, however, Kallifatides can't help comparing himself with his sailing peers: His jealousy of Georges Simenon's two-week writing binges is curbed only by the relief of not despairing so deeply that—like author Vilhelm Moberg—he feels compelled to take his own life.

But the bulk of the 131-page memoir transcends the scope of the singular self, the author re-examining his identity only to rediscover the surrounding world. The inspiration is there, already. It always has been.

Inspiration comes in different forms. There are the constants, those that we seek to avoid—rabbits which devastate Kallifatides' garden after spring, leaving only his Ispahan roses—and those that we celebrate—the joy of eating pears every summer, the dew-glistened fruit dripping juices down his chin.

But life, most consistently, inspires with its changes. When he used to write daily, Kallifatides cherished the commute to his Stockholm studio, walking up Mamasell Josabeth's steps "where the first white, yellow, and blue flowers of the spring appeared, on the slope behind the Norwegian Church." Such reflections ring with the lucidity of poetry. One shares the author's longing for the sanctioned studio, entering a building which used to be a spice emporium, "surrounded by the aroma of another century." It's a tangible experience we too can apply our imaginations to smell, taste, touch.

More than poetic observation, however, Another Life indulges its faith in humanity with stories of tenderness. Kallifatides describes the delight of watching women pick flowers with thoughtfulness, whereas men look as if "they're about to purchase hand grenades."

Even more moving are his stories of humility. One day, while straying far from his familiar neighborhood, he stumbled upon a 100-year old village. Outside of the village, he found a path winding "like a frightened snake" to a nearby school. With some veneration, he realizes that the path was created by children's footsteps, a path traveled six days a week, regardless of weather. These are the same children that would help transform Sweden into a modern welfare state, a nation now undergoing its own cultural crisis.

Kallifatides left Greece when he was 25 years old. Half a century later, he returns to his homeland to savor a paradox: "In Greece they dreamed of the Swedish model, while in Sweden they dreamed of the Greek lack of any kind of mode." To complicate matters, back in his village of Molai, where stray cats outnumber the customers, he reckons with his reputation, musing over a street and a high school named after him.

But the country's economic crisis spoils his rumination. Returning to Greece, he revisits not only a former homeland but a former worldview. As the world has changed with time, he too, has changed. Kallifatides diagnoses Greece's rampant poverty differently than as a youth: "I condemned those who were drowning because they hadn't learned to swim, instead of those who stood by and watched without lifting a finger." Poverty, he now judges, is less an individual disorder than a social disease. This is the view of a man broadening the ethos of responsibility.

If social media has become Kallifatides' "homeopathic model", immediate and uncensored, Greece has become a bauble, the world's tourist resort. Even back home the waitresses speak to him in a language other than their own. Yet Greece's sweetness, he observes, is its way of coping with hardships. Countries, like writers, can fall into a shell of their former selves; and emigration, Kallifatides suggests, is a kind of suicide: "You don't die, but a great deal dies within you. Not least, the language."

Feeling "empty inside, like an old walnut", struggling with his identity in a country struggling with its own, Kallifatides decided to write his next book in Greek, his first time doing so since emigrating to Sweden 50 years prior. Deeper than a nostalgic fling, the writing of Another Life turns out to be just the homecoming that an old walnut needs.

The ancient Greeks have a story about a legendary king of Corinth, Sisyphus, who was condemned, by the god Zeus, to roll a boulder up a hill in Hades, every day, again and again, eternally. Growing old is inevitable; growing old while serving one's passion is preferable. Wizened with the years—dripping wet like the elders—Theodor Kallifatides appreciates his condition less as a punishment than as a gift.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.