‘Under the Glacier’ by Halldór Kiljan Laxness
Welcome to another day of the Easter Quote Week… Enjoy!
On the 23rd of April 1902, Halldór Kiljan Laxness was born in Reykjavík, Iceland. The only Icelandic Nobel laureate in literature (1955), Laxness was a prolific writer of poetry, novels, short stories, plays, articles and travelogues. Major influences on his writings include August Strindberg, Sigmund Freud, Sinclair Lewis, Bertolt Brecht and Ernest Hemingway. Today’s quote comes from his 1968 novel Under the Glacier, a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, a wryly provocative novel at once earthy and otherworldly. At its outset, the Bishop of Iceland dispatches a young emissary to investigate certain charges against the pastor at Snæfells Glacier, who, among other things, appears to have given up burying the dead. But once he arrives, the emissary finds that this dereliction counts only as a mild eccentricity in a community that regards itself as the center of the world and where Creation itself is a work in progress.
What is the emissary to make, for example, of the boarded-up church? What about the mysterious building that has sprung up alongside it? Or the fact that Pastor Primus spends most of his time shoeing horses? Or that his wife, Ua (pronounced “ooh-a,” which is what men invariably sputter upon seeing her), is rumored never to have bathed, eaten, or slept? Piling improbability on top of improbability, Under the Glacier overflows with comedy both wild and deadpan as it conjures a phantasmagoria as beguiling as it is profound.
“Dr. Syngmann: But someone must have made it all. Don’t you think so, John?
Pastor Jón: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and so on, said the late pastor Lens.
Dr. Syngmann: Listen, John, how is it possible to love God? And what reason is there for doing so? To love, is that not the prelude to sleeping together, something connected with the genitals, at its best a marital tragedy among apes? It would be ridiculous. People are fond of their children, all right, but if someone said he was fond of God, wouldn’t that be blasphemy?
Pastor Jón once again utters that strange word ‘it’ and says: I accept it.
Dr. Syngmann: What do you mean when you say you accept God? Did you consent to his creating the world? Do you think the world as good as all that, or something? This world! Or are you all that pleased with yourself?
Pastor Jón: Have you noticed that the ewe that was bleating outside the window is now quiet? She has found her lamb. And I believe that the calf here in the homefield will pull through.
Dr. Syngmann: I know as well as you do, Jon, that animals are perfect within their limits and that man is the lowest rung in the reverse-evolution of earthly life: one need only compare the pictures of an emperor and a dog to see that, or a farmer and the horse he rides. But I for my part refuse to accept it.
Pastor Jón Prímus: To refuse to accept it – what is meant by that? Suicide or something?
Dr. Syngmann: At this moment, when the alignment with a higher humanity is at hand, a chapter is at last beginning that can be taken seriously in the history of the earth. Epagogics provide the arguments to prove to the Creator that life is an entirely meaningless gimmick unless it is eternal.
Pastor Jón: Who is to bell the cat?
Dr. Syngmann: As regards epagogics, it is pleading a completely logical case. In six volumes I have proved my thesis with incontrovertible arguments; even juridically. But obviously it isn’t enough to use cold reasoning. I take the liberty of appealing to this gifted Maker’s honour. I ask Him – how could it ever occur to you to hand over the earth to demons? The only ideal over which demons can unite is to have a war. Why did you permit the demons of the earth to profess their love to you in services and prayers as if you were their God? Will you let honest men call you demiurge, you, the Creator of the world? Whose defeat is it, now that the demons of the earth have acquired a machine to wipe out all life? Whose defeat is it if you let life on earth die on your hands? Can the Maker of the heavens stoop so low as to let German philosophers give Him orders what to do? And finally – I am a creature you have created. And that’s why I am here, just like you. Who has given you the right to wipe me out? Is justice ridiculous in your eyes? Cards on the table! (He mumbles to himself.) You are at least under an obligation to resurrect me!”