A short essay about mcv
The novel m c v is a work that has sprung from a thought. It is a novel in its most wordless form; it doesn't say anything but at the same time, its silence is more meaningful, as it raises questions about literature, or more accurately, it invites the reader to ask questions.
I had the idea for the book when I read the short story The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges. In the story, the narrator talks about a universe in the form of a mysterious and endless library consisting of galleries in a hexagonal shape. In these galleries, there are bookshelves, each containing thirty - two books, all of them of the same size. Each book has four hundred and ten pages, each page has forty lines, and each line has approximately eighty black letters, and virtually every book in this almost unfathomable library has an uncertain and chaotic nature.
In the short story, the narrator mentions one book specifically. It is one his father saw in a hexagon in section 1594, and which only contained the letters m c v. The letters are pathologically repeated throughout the whole novel; from the first until the last line. It is this particular book that I have taken out of the short story, out of the fiction, out of the strange, powerful world of Borges' imagination, and made it into a material reality.
When I read the short story The Library of Babel and came to the lines about the book mcv, it was as if it directly 'spoke' to me, and suddenly I got the idea that this fictional book with its morbidly repeated three lowercase letters was waiting to be released, not just stand there in one of the hexagonal bookshelves but also to assume a physical shape. If you take into consideration that Borges was no stranger to prophecy you could toy with the thought that he expected the book mcv to be liberated in the future.
Regarding prophecy, it is claimed that Borges in a way, predicted the Internet’s emergence. The universal library in the short story 'The Library of Babel' has indeed similarities with the prodigious “library” as the Internet is today, and that is precisely why I have chosen to publish this essay on the Internet.
To interpret the novel
It would be presumptuous of me to advise on how to interpret this book which contains 410 pages, filled with the three orthographical symbols m c v. However, I would find myself irresponsible not to explain my own thoughts regarding this published work.
To me, this book is primarily a humble attempt to strike up a conversation about what literature truly is, and all the issues related to this particular matter. In my opinion, literature is one of the most urgent current issues, if you take into account that literature has taken on an increasingly modest part in our society.
According to the French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu, the cultural capital of a literary education has been reduced. To be educated no longer has the position and status it used to in our culture. Along with the technological changes, new easily accessible channels of media have been granted an increasing mainstream credibility and thus exposed literary education with competition.
You might see the novel mcv as an attempt to oppose what we could call oblivion. When I hold my book, or rather books in general, I feel discouraged that mcv - at its best - is doomed to end up on someone's bookshelf, but in a place where it will soon be invisible, when it has ceased to fascinate and has been reduced to an ornament or perhaps even an incomprehensible status symbol, as it is enclosed in a classic binding.
If you allow imagination free roam, you could say that if we were books, we would be living on the edge, too often be violated and eventually forgotten. The novel mcv could be seen as a reminder that books are destined to be forgotten. And yet, as long as any of us open a book we all contribute to keeping literature alive. Our books are a cultural heritage, and when we allow this heritage to be a part of our lives, we prevent it from slowly fading away. We must never forget that a country with a prospering cultural background and community, is one which provides opportunities for its population to be spiritually fortified.
As is widely acknowledged, the standard of education is falling, and not only when it comes to knowledge of literature but also in other "art forms". Artur Lundkvist's booklet ”Kan du läsa en bok?” ("Can you read a book?") from 1945 comes to mind, in which you find the following words regarding the distrust against reading and books:
"A scepticism which often reveals itself as open contempt. Novels! Poetry! Is that suitable for an adult? It is but imagination and made up stories. If only it were of some use reading something of the sort, but it is merely confusing and time consuming!"
The world has changed apace since then, but the question is whether Lundkvist's thoughts aren't still highly relevant. Because what is the consensus on literature today? What status does it have? And why should one read novels when they are so time consuming?
It is distressing that we live in a time when common knowledge and classic ideals of education have become more or less a removed priority, and instead - in the eagerness to be marketably "gifted", as in effective and resourceful - we promote a daunting unilateralism.
Now the following questions arise: How educated do we want a member of society to be? Which democratic consequences does a lack of literary knowledge result in? And finally, who benefits from education becoming more and more hollowed?
A proper education is not only about being able to make quick searches on the Internet, or for that matter, to go through a training, however so successful, but it is also to be able to participate in a conversation in a meaningful manner, to understand our present, to become familiar with our history, improve our abilities to think freely, to gain perspective on what is given, and to have the capability to create context. In brief, to become a more sensible human being.
The motivation to read
The novel mcv here becomes a symbol of what happens when the standard of education falls. To someone who never opens a book, the constant repeated lines of mcv become as incomprehensible as the lines in works of Dante, Shakespeare and Milton, or to name Swedish literary giants such as August Strindberg, Selma Lagerlöf and Pär Lagerkvist.
Reading a novel does require plenty of time, but it demands not only time and effort, but also encouragement and role models, especially in this time and age. Or else we are risking a dulling of the intellect, or more specifically we risk insulting the younger generation as we deprive them of everything that literature offers: A rich language, intellectual stimulation, perceptiveness to the unknown, knowledge and experiences which broaden the perspective and becomes a counterpoint to a one dimensional view of the world.
The mission becomes to create a need in young people to want to read. The author and philosopher Vilhelm Ekelund writes in an aphorism:
"What is a book! No one can see and perceive of a book more than he or she has a real, true need to see and retrieve thereof. Nothing but the need can make the letter come to life."
What is quality literature? That is a question which frequently arises in literary contexts. The explanation is that the topic is timeless and thus complicated as it leads to a string of other questions such as: To whom is it quality? What should be included in the concept of quality? What is the relationship between "literary quality" and today's increasingly stressful, fragmented and "utilitarian" society?
Moreover, the question is by nature provocative, as it almost demands to be answered. At least, those who purchase books for libraries, those who award literature, those who hand out scholarships and contributions for literary activities must reach a decision as to why their chosen books should be regarded as quality literature. But even those who write anthologies and literary history must answer the question - if not directly then indirectly - of why they have chosen the literary work represented.
The issue about quality literature is strongly connected with the question whether or not to have a literary canon. The debate of a canon could, as mentioned above, be viewed in the context that literature has lost the position it previously had in culture; today there are more "cultural expressions" which demand attention, and require a space in the conversation about what culture is, and its position.
The pros and cons of a canon have been discussed endlessly. Those who have been in favour have emphasised the need and necessity of an elementary introduction to works that are considered essential in the Western history of ideas. Works that are considered to have lasting value in terms of quality and which furthermore provide ethical and aesthetic role models. The canon here becomes something educational, training, civilising: Works which show off our culture's approach to timeless, universal human issues and which remind us about our roots.
Another aspect which has been brought up, is that a canon provides us with the opportunities and the tools needed to consider other literature. For how are we to relate to new literature if we are not aware of its historical background; how are we to evaluate and validate literature at all if we see each work as something historically isolated?
Here one shouldn't forget that the purpose of the humanities is largely a question of distinguishing between what is quality and what is not. The science of literature is to describe, interpret and evaluate what, for instance, relates to the complexity, style and aesthetic originality of the text. Those who have questioned a canon claim that it has sprung from and is shaped by privileged white European men. They claim it to have an ethical perspective which is unacceptable; a patronising and oppressive approach to women, black people, Asians, Indians, workers and homosexuals. Furthermore it is believed that a considerable part of human experience is excluded in the literary works which represent the canon.
The contents of the canon then become a political phenomenon, a power issue and thus something which must always be questioned. A canon is never neutral, objective in matters concerning class, gender and ethnicity. Another criticism is the problem of how a canon emerges, the process of creating a canon. It has been pointed out that there is much reluctance towards the discussion and questioning of this process. Critics have suggested that the creation of a canon doesn't occur in isolation, but is a product of societal factors such as structures of power, network of contacts, current literary taste and other historical circumstances.
But here one must ask if the discussion about a canon's to be or not to be, isn't subject to the issue mentioned above, i.e. the topic of what standard to strive for in a democratic society? A question that lies beyond the strictly academic, and which relates - or at least ought to - to people's everyday lives, since it opens up the question of what it means to be human.
Based on the novel mcv , the question arises as to whether the book's repetitive letters m c v represent something symptomatic of all the literature that is "mass-produced." In one respect, one could think that mcv is the ultimate answer to a market where a text should have as little friction as possible when being read. The question is if mcv might be the answer, or rather the adaptation to, the general falling standard of education in our country. One could claim that the book mcv - without even making an effort - is supreme in terms of offering the reader an almost non-existent intellectual resistance. There is also another aspect of the repetitive, namely that the repetition in itself could be seen as a symbol for a particular kind of entertainment literature which is produced according to a kind of assembly line principle. Literature in which the plot is basically the same, and in which you simply change names and descriptions of the protagonists, the heroes and the bad guys. Books that reinforce, confirm and pass on a simplified image of humankind and society.
Perhaps there isn't more to the purpose of literature, but then you have to ask yourself if such literature is desirable? Or should you expect more of literature?
If we exaggerate somewhat, one could ask whether our literary ideals must abide by humans, or whether humans should abide by the ideals? If the former applies, which ideals do we obtain when we create a so-called modern society in which the busy man no longer has time to "examine and consider" what he or she reads, to use the words of Francis Bacon?
The novel mcv might serve as a reminder of how our literary ideals will shape us as human beings, but also a reminder that we ought to treasure the very foundation of all education; the willingness to give every young generation the right preconditions to develop themselves as people. The book mcv is a wordless, but nevertheless distinct protest against everything that is suppressing that will.