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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Nikanor Teratologen Assisted Living (1992)

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‘An indescribable joy always rushes out of great books, even when they speak of ugly, hopeless, or terrifying things.’ — Gilles Deleuze, quoted in ‘Assisted Living’

Assisted Living, by Nikanor Teratologen, was originally released in Sweden in 1992 under the title Äldreomsorgen i Övre Kågedalen (roughly translated: Caring for the Elderly in Upper Kage Valley). The book immediately caused an uproar, due in part to the book’s endless “Satanic” parade of rape, murder, sacrilege, bigotry, pedophilia, etc., but also the author’s use of a pseudonym, which led critics to accuse a wide array of major Swedish authors as the creator, including the now goofily popular Stieg Larsson. The result was not only instant-cult-classic and controversial bestselling status for the book, which later would be credited to the novelist Niclas Lundkvist, but also a slew of varying takes on the book’s content, both praising its wild innovations in the way of language and stylizing, and predictably defaming it for its utter lack of reverence, apology, or “humanity.”

‘But that kind of hype can be a load of bullshit in a world where anything that is remotely taboo without redemption can stir the whining not only of religious moralists, but also of those who think the novel, as a form, must wear its redemptive qualities on its face. Upon receiving a copy of the frequently compelling Dalkey Archive edition of an English translation of the novel, I was both excited at the possibilities and dismissive of anything referred to as “not for the faint of heart.” But indeed, if anyone is capable of using these taxonomies not only for their immediate prowess but for changing language and image at once in how they get invoked, it is the Swedes, as I’ve learned from many of their authors who have recently been translated to English, including Aase Berg, Johan Jönsson, and Johannes Göransson.

‘Teratologen’s particular manner in manipulating revulsive fields feels different, though, than even those. The book begins with two installed frameworks to give the book a clandestine, contraband-like feel, with both a preface from the author revealing his usage of the pseudonym as a mechanism rather than a shield (“A dear friend with exquisitely cruel tastes entrusted me with the text you now hold in your hands.”), followed by another foreword from said “dear friend,” who proceeds to explain how the body of the book to come had been derived from a child: a child the dear friend kidnapped, tortured, and killed before finding a stack of wallpaper samples in the boy’s belongings that detail a series of acts between the boy himself and a character known only as “Grandpa.” The opening structure evokes the feeling of the cloaked narrative tunnels of Dennis Cooper, arranging other screens around the reader always floating even as we proceed into the book’s primary body, where the true trauma begins.

‘Basically what happens hereafter is a nonstop stream of human cruelty. In scenes that span a single page to more than 30, we are held in the skull of the child as subject to Grandpa, who is one of the more memorably repugnant characters put on paper. He actually kind of makes the Judge from Blood Meridian look like a sweetheart in comparison. Grandpa fucks the kid incessantly, rants in endless streams of hate jargon meant to demean anything and everything at all, rapes and kills animals and children for fun, and so on. What makes this onslaught even sicker is the way it is related, in a playful, blown-up way, almost like a serial cartoon. The language rams together its subjects with the same impious banging as the described acts themselves.

‘A short list of the ilk of what can be found on pretty much every single page in Assisted Living:

1. On Grandpa having abducted two boys who’ve come by selling gingerbread: “When he was finished with their mouths, he told me to get him a fistful of steel wool. Then he started playing Open the Locked Door with the first kid. The other one curtsied and bowed to Hilding, but a knee to the face took his breath away. After that, Royal showed him how to smoke Sumatra cigarillos and Hilding forced the kid to kiss him down there.”

2. Grandpa fondly reminiscing about his Nazi lifestyle for a kid at the bus stop: “It was a raw February morning in the Whoregod’s year of 1945, and me and Dirlewanger were partying in the orphanage’s ruins. ‘You know that Himmer’s balls taste like Apricots, right?’ he asked.”

3. Grandpa asks the boy to say a prayer for his own “old Grandpa in hell”: “He who knows what a child is, fuck me because I’m small, wherever I go in this world, fill my hands with shit, Satan comes, Satan goes, he loves sheepdick, that’s all, I recited.”

4. Not all of the book is pure onslaught or sick jokes, however. The moments sometimes fold briefly to reveal an underside, though only crammed between the mass, such as here, where we find the central child left alone without Grandpa for a while: “Sometimes I play the quiet game… sometimes I play dead… sometimes I draw old geezers I’ve met and then I pretend I’m them… sometimes I lay on my back in a September field and listen to the earth hurtling though space… to victims shrieking at all the evil deed wrought upon them… then I try to sink into the light, soft, fluid grass and become a part of its mystery…”

‘It goes on and on like this, taking a historical and cultural shit and wallowing in it and spasming around in the most costume-party no-blinking parade of ways. The imagined last words of Jesus, fake literary histories appended with real ones, Axl Rose jokes, destroyed anatomies, gross contortions, confabulated smut literatures: it accrues such a mass so fast it doesn’t even feel like reading. One after another the blows come and before you have a chance to even think about the context the next idea is in your throat. It’s somehow almost… refreshing, in how it comes on. The pages of images and juxtaposing sounds are addictive in their composition and how they fold together, and the burning of the sentences is fun, which in some way masks the true filth of the scenes. It’s not an atrocity meant to be wallowed in, but somehow vacuumed of its own judgment in the presence of itself, which, stepped away from, makes it even more dangerous and deforming. And in its current, you are not released but almost mocked for how smoothly it unscrolls.

‘“He’s the world’s best Grandpa,” the boy tells us right at the beginning. No matter what Grandpa does or says to him, the boy remains faithful, ready, in love. The flapless stream of shit matched by the unjudged eye of both the boy and the decided tone soon take on a feeling much like some kind of hyper newsroom running through the reams of blinkless horror. There is no apology for what humans do, have done, will do. That power, and how it flows past, held in the pages of a book, makes Assisted Living much more than a shock totem or even a vicious catalog. It is, instead, an object both aware of its world and its own work, less like a mirror or a mural than the shitty part of the skin that itches when you want to sleep.’ — Blake Butler, Vice

 

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Further

Nikanor Teratologen @ Wikipedia
‘Assisted Living’ reviewed @ Publishers Weekly
Nikanor Teratologen @ Vertigo Press (Sweden)
‘Nikanor Teratologen – Att hata allt mänskligt liv’ @ NY Moral
Nikanor Teratologen page @ Facebook
Loyal Magazine #6, featuring work by NT
Buy ‘Assisted Living’ @ Dalkey Archive

 

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Extras 1


A short documentary about Nikanor Teratologen (in Swedish)


Kulturnyheterna om Nikanor Teratologen


Tretton scener ur Nikanor Teratologens roman Äldreomsorgen i Övre Kågedalen.

 

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Extras 2

‘“Morfar suger Gud”. If you haven’t read Nikanor Teratologen’s Äldreomsorgen i övre Kågedalen, this will probably seem like an odd shirt to you. Then again, even if you have read it, it may still seem weird. Teratologen is very much the odd one out of Swedish authors, too weird for me even, I’ve only read Äldreomsorgen and left it at that. Others, like Indy (pictured here) hold him in very high regard. Maybe it’s just me not being intellectual enough, that wouldn’t surprise me much. Great shirt though, the way you need prior knowledge to understand it and even if you don’t, it’s still provocative. The design… well, we’ll let that slip for now.’ — Shirts of Satan

 

‘Long as ye can have others suffer, dere ain’t no reason killin’ yerself, Grandpa slobbered jovially. He was asittin’ dere in his rockin’ chair, crochetin’ a Confderence flag. ‘Ein Heldenleben’ was afadin’ out, an’ Larri Isokyrpä an’ Torsten Murkström were busy fadin’ out them as well, sayin’ their thanks for a good cheer. Grandpa had put som strychnine in that coffee, an’ I thought they might as well have it. Ye have to come up with some fresh fun’ an’ games when things go get tedious. Larri stayed with us a little longer, lookin’ me in the eye, jerkin’ his heid like a spastic and slobberin’ an’ shit, but so fuckin’ what, din’t help none. He was one bad ruffian of a dowser, any kids he could put his hands on he turned two noseholes into one. Now they were alyin’ dere lips all blueberry blue, an’ Grandpa put his bobbin’ an’ breezy slobberin’ aside an’ stepped up to them …’ — trans. Einar Heckscher, Strikte Observanz

 

Nikanor TERATOLOGEN is famous in Sweden for the much hated and much loved Äldreomsorgen i Övre Kågedalen book and other classics.
SIEBENSÜNDEN equals very obscure Swedish Sludge Core with members of WARCOLLAPSE, FARCIAL, DOM DÄR, COUNTERBLAST and TOLSHOCK. The band has been more or less (more less than more though, ehr…) active for over ten years and have released two full length albums up till the present day.

GLÄD DIG DU KRISTI LUDER / HERRENS DJURISKA NJUTNING with TERATOLOGEN’s acid-dripping and poignant lyrics accompanying the miserable audible sloth of SIEBENSÜNDEN’s can be seen as an answer to the “righteous” fanatic Christians new morality movement. Put simple it is guaranteed to give you a new angle on the subject of Christian sects and religious indoctrination. That is, if you know Swedish…if not you will still be able to lap up the slowly flowing audible bile which should be a feast for Sludge maniacs, Doomsters, miserable punks, Black Metal misfits and industrial psycho’s alike. The later listener category is also likely to be the ones most fascinated by the sound of SIEBENSUNDEN’s own home made instruments, while the BM aficionados will appreciate the extremely blasphemous message.

 

Doubler/Mashup by VJ fixit: Justin Bieber – Baby ft. Ludacris vs. Sten Ljunggren läser Nikanor Teratologen

 

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Book

Nikanor Teratologen Assisted Living
Dalkey Archive

‘The Marquis de Sade is alive and well and living in Sweden — or perhaps author Nikanor Teratologen is the devil himself, sending the English-speaking world a Scandinavian squib to remind readers that such reassuring figures as vampires and serial killers are no more frightening than pixies or unicorns in light of the depravity contained in one quiet suburb. Reading like a deranged hybrid of Deliverance, Naked Lunch, and Tuesdays with Morrie, and rivaling The 120 Days of Sodom in its challenge to our assumptions as to what is acceptable (or not) in literature, Assisted Living presents us with a series of queasy anecdotes concerning an eleven-year-old boy and his grandfather, a monster for whom murder, violence, incest, drunkenness, and philosophy all pass as equally valid ways to spend one’s time. Whether it’s a study in excess, a parody of provincial proto-fascism, a clear-eyed look at evil, or simply a prodigious literary dare, Assisted Living is unlikely to leave you indifferent.’ — Dalkey Archive

 

Excerpt

Last summer I murdered an eleven year-old boy. He said his name was Helge Holmlund from Hebberhshålet in Upper Kågedalen, north Västerbotten. We met at an urinal in Tivoli just as Men’s Night was closing in on Children’s Day. He struck me as the quiet, frail type – and it was love at first sight. I took him home, and after he’d performed certain choice services, I tied him up and locked him in the soundproof cellar I use for these occasions.
—-For six whole days he gave me exquisite pleasure. After that, I hacked his body into small pieces, wrapped the meat in plastic, priced it and distributed the packages to a number of different display cases in and around Skellefteå.
—-I kept his head for my little collection.

While I was burning the boy’s clothes and other things, I found a hefty stack of old wallpaper samples tucked in his ratty leather backpack. Each sample was covered with a child’s erratic, immature hand, and the words were written with different colored pencils. As I made my way through a few of these fragments, words utterly failed me. A brave new world opened before my eyes – one of vile pleasures and terrifying abominations – with the power to touch me in ways I no longer thought possible. Chuckling at his impudence, weeping at his tender sentiment, trembling with sorrow, paralyzed by hate – I sorted these rough fragments and organized them into offensively seductive stories, each one presumably written by the dead boy.
—-My philological training proved extremely useful in tackling the difficulties posed by these unusually precocious recollections, which the boy had misleadingly entitled, In the Winter of Life. I also made discrete inquiries into the poor boy’s past, a quest that took me far off the beaten path and into the dark and looming Norrland woods, home to more terrifying legends than any one person can take in. I wandered on muddy paths through a rough landscape. On both sides of the Kågeälven, the dark river, the earth is fertile and the view open. I could see dirty gold barley fields, resilient swaths of hay pasture, run-down farms and hopeful new patches of almond potatoes, all stretching away before me; there were graying Västerbotten farmhouses in various states of decay, though clumps of willow trees and stands of birches tried to hide the worst of it. Each of these farmhouses is set well back from the road and has a long approach leading up to it. It’s obvious the folk in these parts want to know who’s coming; they keep to their own. Nonetheless, you can still find a few beautiful old Västerbotten farms scattered here and there: dark red timber buildings with white doors, small porches and shingled roofs. For the most part, though, faded brukshusen – practical farmhouses, each one identical to its neighbor – have taken over. The empty cow barns (which the locals call fusen) have long since been abandoned. Now they use silos. Around these parts, there’s a church for every ten homes. In short, everything’s so modest and respectable you just want to shout “Celebrate cruelty and cunning!” to the heavens. It’s only the old folks who are left out in the country, though in the loosely populated regions of Ersmark and Kusmark a few communities still try to scrape by: making condoms for Skega and crying buckets of tears outside the barred churches. Mystery has been driven from the forests surrounding the riverbeds. Winter in these parts is hard. Blizzards numb all human feelings; thought turns inward. During the long winter, people do their best to forget. Distance leeches all color from the valleys; it’s here the atmosphere changes. Spruces and pines cover both slopes and sorrows. A spiderweb of paths (leading nowhere) spreads throughout the forest. Everything’s condemned to be cut down and carted away. The trees are taller and darker here; their melancholy is stronger than life. The fact that the valley has no visible borders makes escape impossible.
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p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Yes, and how strange. ** Bill, Thanks, B. She’s pretty much always wonderful to watch even when the vehicles are often not so great or worse. I didn’t know that about Mark Patton. That’s fascinating. I’d really like to see that documentary. Maybe it’s online somewhere? I’ll check. No, I don’t know Merl Fluin at all, I don’t think. I’ll go investigate her blog to begin with. Thanks so much for that. ** Wow, quiet. Okay. Today this place spotlights an amazing, quite intense novel by the rather wildly controversial Swedish author Nikanor Teratologen that Dalkey Archive heroically brought into the English language several years ago. See if it’s your boat floater. And see you tomorrow.

9 Comments

  1. i think it was this stig larsson ppl thought was teratologen
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stig_Larsson_(author)

  2. He got me at “Himmler’s balls taste like Apricots.”

    And now for a radical change of pace, Here’s the lovely Jonathan Groff

  3. Xmas is days away so please contact me at cllrdr@ehrensteinland.com regarding last minute shopping as I have choice books, cds and DVDs for sale

  4. That excerpt is intense! And Teratologen keeps getting spell-corrected to Teratology, haha.

    The Mark Patton doc (Scream Queen) is fun. But it’s pretty focused on Elm Street, and the “gayness” of the script and/or the performance.

    Bill

  5. RIP Simon Morris. 🙁

  6. Hmm maybe if I’m a good boy, Santa will put Assisted Living on my Xmas list haha.

  7. YouTube blocked Biebz’ video in the US! Damn, no mash-up!

    Philippe Grandrieux should adapt this novel into a film.

    I went to Rough Trade today and got the expanded reissue of the Pop Group’s Y and Carl Stone’s new album. Listening to the live Pop Group set from 1979, it seems remarkable that they could pull this off outside the studio.

  8. Hi Dennis, Quinn here again. Happy holidays! Are you spending the holiday season in Paris? Do you enjoy the holiday season? I can imagine growing up in LA probably makes someone not so sentimental about the holiday season.
    I’m spending the holidays in Florida with my parents & grandparents. I’m not really sure what my plan for next year is; I decided not to apply for my MFA this year, and I definitely feel a sense of failure & worthlessness about my struggles to produce new fiction material. Mostly though I’m really gonna have to confront my negative attitude–in actuality I had a pretty successful year, relative to the success literary writers experience in their early/mid 20s. I have a few new nonfiction things planned soon too: I’m reviewing Lonely Christopher’s forthcoming poetry collection, then I placed a pitch about Madonna with LARB, and I might place another pitch about pornography with an arts magazine in Canada. I might be feeling insecure lately but at least I’m still pitching & getting a little bit of writing in. Maybe I should get back into therapy or start some affirmation journals or something? Or maybe when I wake up I should spend thirty minutes doing Sudoku puzzles instead of scrolling through my phone? I’m certainly not blameless here, I play a hand in my own unraveling…When you were in your 20s did you also struggle with failure to launch anxieties/cynicism about platitudes about “thinking positive” etc? What do you think?
    I hope this finds you well & that you’re ending your year on a positive note. Any updates about the new film you’re trying to get produced? What about your new manuscript? Wishing you lots of happiness and health for 2020.
    Talk soon,
    Quinn R

  9. This post reminded me of advice you once gave in an interview somewhere about writing porn as a cure for writer’s block. My fit of angst started dissipating when I realised I need to spend a lot more time sleeping and free writing than I previously thought.

    My screenwriting/fiction directing is slower and more frustrating than I thought it would be, but it’s coming along nonetheless. I find documentary much easier, in both ideas and execution. My next assignment is to film people in a fly on the wall style. I plan to do it in a biology or chemistry lab on campus. I’ve seen plenty of videos where scientists try to explain their research and make it look flashy, but I’m interested in what the dynamic is actually like between the researchers and equipment, what actually happens in the lab over the course of a day.

    I’ve been writing about the creator of a user engagement model as the new auteur, relegating the creator of the content to the role of a technician. In this armchair crackpot theory you in your capacity as blogger are an auteur par excelence.

    I’m looking for pen pals and have a hunch that Quinn and I might enjoy a correspondence. Not sure how to get in touch. Can you help? Thanks and enjoy your Solstice weekend. What’s new with you? I presume this a quiet time?

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