- Writers on WritingThe Year in Iceland
Last year's crop of auto/biographical writing in Iceland was perhaps slightly smaller than the year before,1 but on closer inspection autobiographical works, or perhaps more accurately life writing, popped up in some unexpected places. In a journey through published works in the past year, a pattern was discernable. In short, it seemed that authors have been concerned with writing about writing, whether it was an author's and artist's auto/bio/fictional conversation with his muse in Sigurður Guðmundsson's Musa: Kvöld; a writer's autobiographical look back on the origins of his own writing in Pétur Gunnarsson's Skriftir: Örlagagletta; metafictional reflections on the writing life as in Ég er sofandi hurð by Sjón (Sigurjón B. Sigurðsson); in the biofiction Bjargræði, in which novelist Hermann Stefánsson brings an eighteenth-century poet, known as Björg Einarsdóttir or Látra-Björg, to a café in contemporary Reykjavík for a chat with a local; or contemplation of a literary upbringing in the memoirs of the daughter of the Icelandic Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness, Sigríður Halldórsdóttir's Elsku Drauma mín: Minningabók Sigríðar Halldórsdóttur written in collaboration with Vigdís Grímsdóttir. The overarching theme is a well-known literary trope—writers on writing—but executed in a variety of ways, ranging from a fairly traditional memoir form to highly innovative experimental narratives. But why the concern with writing? Why the search for origin and motivation and the first spark of creativity and literary thought? Why was writing in the air?
There is nothing ordinary or familiar in the work of the internationally acclaimed visual artist Sigurður Guðmundsson, in which the central theme and subject matter is creativity, art, and writing. He explains in his book, Musa, that he is in the middle of a serious artistic crisis. The artist feels he has run out of ideas and believes he has nothing more to contribute. These crises affect him badly, upset his life, and shatter his self-image. Guðmundsson, who has previously published three auto/bio/fictional works, explains that all [End Page 596] artists suffer through crises of some sort or another and that his way out of these troubles in the past has been to go away and write a book:
Það að skrifa bók eða skáldsögu er fyrir mig einhverskonar björgunarbátur eða trikk til að leika á krísuna, sem kolruglast við þetta bragð mitt. En gáfur mínar sýna mér ljóslega að björgunarbáturinn Bók er aðeins nothæfur fyrir mig vegna þess að ég er ekki rithöfundur. Rök: Það væri lélegur sjómaður sem mundi gera út á björgunarbát.(Guðmundsson 11)
[Writing a book or a novel is for me a kind of lifeboat or a way to trick the crisis, as this ruse of mine utterly confuses it. But my intelligence makes it very clear to me that the lifeboat Book is only available to me because I am not a writer. Reasoning: It would be a poor seaman who made a lifeboat his vessel.]
But lo and behold, this time around, once he is all set to start on his new book, nothing happens: he is gripped by writer's block, ritstífla, a word he, who has lived abroad for large stretches of his adult life, didn't even know existed in Icelandic. The "lifeboat Book" that was supposed to save him from his artistic crisis sank before he could even get on board: "Sjálfsmynd mín brotnaði" [My self-image collapsed] (15). In the ensuing chapters, in an effort to heal himself, to bring back his artistic life and identity, he reprints older texts, has long conversations with a character he describes as his very own private musa (muse). She is not, however, one of the Greek goddesses: "hún er miklu raunverulegri en goðsagnirnar og hún er miklu persónulegri...