The Atom Station

The Atom Station by Halldór Laxness Read Free Book Online

Book: The Atom Station by Halldór Laxness Read Free Book Online
Authors: Halldór Laxness
though she deserves to have it?”
    â€œA picture is still a picture,” I said.
    â€œAnd nothing else,” he said. “The other day I saw a photograph of a typist, and she has thirty-five fingers.”
    â€œShall I go into the kitchen and count Cleopatra’s fingers?” I said.
    He said, “A picture is not a girl, even though it is the picture of a girl. One can even say that the more closely a picture resembles a girl, so much the further it is from being a girl. Everyone wants to sleep with a girl, but no one wants to sleep with the image of a girl. Even an exact wax model of Cleopatra has no blood-stream, and no vagina. You do not like the eleventh finger, but now I shall tell you something: the eleventh finger takes the place of these two things.”
    When he had said this he looked at me and laughed. Then he leaned over to me and whispered, “Now I am going to let you into the most remarkable secret of all: the image of Cleopatra that resembles her more closely than all other images, namely the person who has just walked through this room and into the kitchen to make some coffee—she of course has a blood-stream and many other nice things, but even so, she is furthest of all from being Cleopatra. Nothing tells one less about Cleopatra than this apparently haphazard but yet logical biochemical synthesis. Even the man who celebrates a silver wedding anniversary with her after twenty-five years of marriage will not know more about her than the one who lay with her for half an hour, or than you who see her for a few seconds crossing a room; the fact is, she is not even a likeness of herself. And this is what the artist knows; and that is why he paints her with eleven fingers.”
    Next day I stood in the middle of the room beside two domestic animals—an electric floor polisher and a vacuum cleaner—and began to study the pictures in the house. I had often looked at these ten- or even twenty-centimeter mountains which seemed to have been made sometimes of porridge, sometimes of bluish sago pudding, sometimes a mash of curds—sometimes even like an upturned bowl with Eiriks Glacier underneath; and I had never been able to understand where I was meant to be placed, because anyone who comes from the north and has lived opposite a mountain cannot understand a mountain in a picture in the south.
    In this house there hung, so to speak, mountains and mountains and yet more mountains, mountains with glacial caps, mountains by the sea, ravines in mountains, lava below mountains, birds in front of mountains; and still more mountains; until finally these wastelands had the effect of a total flight from habitation, almost a denial of human life. I would not dream of trying to argue that this was not art, especially since I do not have the faintest idea what art is; but if this was art, it was first and foremost the art of those who had sinned against humanity and fled into the wilderness, the art of outlaws. Quite apart from how debased Nature becomes in a picture, nothing seems to me to express so much contempt for Nature as a painting of Nature. I touched the waterfall and did not get wet, and there was no sound of cascade; over there was a little white cloud, standing still instead of breaking up; and if I sniffed that mountain slope I bumped my nose against a congealed mass and found only a smell of chemicals, at best a whiff of linseed oil; and where were the birds? And the flies? And the sun, so that one’s eyes were dazzled? Or the mist, so that one only saw a faint glimmer of the nearest willow shrub? Yes, certainly this was meant to be a farmhouse, but where, pray, was the smell of the cow dung? What is the point of making a picture which is meant to be like Nature, when everyone knows that this is the one thing that a picture cannot be and should not be and must not be? Who thought up the theory that Nature is a matter of sight alone? Those who

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