Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Mare Kandre: "The Woman and Dr Dreuf" - two excerpts

Mare Kandre (1962-2005) has been described on another thread on this blog. Here follows an excerpt from her novel Quinnan och Dr Dreuf (The Woman and Dr Dreuf; 1994) which has already appeared in French and Estonian translation.

Dreuf, an anagram of Freud, is a dwarfish psychoanalyst-misogynist whose dusty surgery is the stage for the duel between himself and one of his female patients.

The two excerpts are taken from the beginning of the novel where Dreuf still assumes that he will maintain the upper hand. It is still in my draft version, so nothing is set in stone. But the mere vocabulary, style and typographical shape of the page will already afford sufficient insights as to where this novel is going. The indents are not possible to reproduce here, but it can be seen that the lines are jagged, like poetry. The whole text is humorous, ironic, and there is an element of self irony on the part of the female side of this duel too, so that it is not a black-and-white agit-prop feminist text, but more of a gentle spoof of both protagonists, plus the shabby cleaner who goes by the name of Mrs Nahkurs, an Estonian word implying skin (and bones?) and tanning. The style and line-breaks continue throughout this 150-page novel.

There was an article a few days ago in the main Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter about Mare Kandre, announcing a recently produced television film by Johan von Sydow about her life and works.


The gentle mother-of-pearl light of evening fell in misty rays in through the barred windows of Dr Dreuf’s surgery,
(located on the exclusive Skoptophilia Street,
in the central part of the town of Trils).
It had been a long, tiring day,
filled, as usual, with consultations, analyses and bouts of hysteria,
(Yes, feelings, feelings, pure feelings and subjectivity)
and the good doctor,
the famous women’s analyst,
the renowned expert on women and all the perverted illusions, errant wanderings and slumbering lusts that vied for supremacy in her fragile body and brittle mind,
the man who had devoted his life to attempt to liberating woman from her unending mental inferiority,
a little dwarfish old codger wearing a huge pair of black-rimmed spectacles and a creased black suit,
now sat lost in thought at his enormous writing desk,
eyes closed,
carefully massaging his temples.
For Dr Dreuf,
the great man,
had a suspicion of a headache.
Which was perhaps not so surprising given all the emotional drivel he had had to hear for hours.
Maybe because he in every way loved his calling,
but sometimes,
when one pale woman, more neurotic than the previous one, stepped into the large dust-encrusted door and, lying on the couch would entrust him with her spiritual particulars, and there seemed no end to the caravan of those seeking help,
well, then things could become too much even for Dr Dreuf.
- Women, he now sighed, heavily, despairingly,
while he carefully ran the tips of his fingers over his brow and temples in a cack-handed attempt to soothe the pain,
as if it were mere sweat or dust.
- Women...
- Women...
- Women...
In times such as these he would ask himself whether he had not been foolhardy to embark upon this career of his.
Perhaps he should have stuck to entymology which had been his passion as a youth and to which he had devoted every spare moment,
catching exotic butterflies with a net,
pinning the living cabbage butterfly caterpillars with large, sharp pins,
killing stag beetles with ether,
the long-drawn-out agony which he used to eagerly observe through a magnifying glass...
But what’s done is done,
he had now started out along this road once and for all,
and what a rugged road it was!
A highly dangerous, almost unavoidable little path that wound its way right into the most impenetrable jungles that no enlightenment reached of its own accord;
the female psyche!
Yes, in truth, once inside you had to literally chop your way forward,
expecting the worst,
not lose your cool for one single moment or turn your back to or let yourself be seduced by the lovely voice of the analysand,
because, like a huldra she could inveigle you to into entering marches out of which you would never
by yourself,
find your way out.
No, this was nothing for the weak-willed!
The general public really should know what these fragile little twittering beings were in actual fact capable of by way of desires, urges and dark, suppressed passions.
And Dr Dreuf shuddered a deep and very long shudder at the all the things he had found, during his analysis sessions, inside the most attractive big sisters, mothers, maidens, girlfriends and seemingly quite harmless aunts -
The room in which he sat and shuddered as he massaged his aching temples was in fact,
despite his greatness as a scientist,
rather small and modest.
Through one of the barred windows, a dead, completely blackened fruit tree could be made out, and on the outer tip of one of the branches dangled a pathetic little blackened apple,
(It had hung there since time immemorial,
untouched and wizened).
In the next window,
the middle one,
stood a black, one-eared cat gazing out onto the street.
At first sight, you could think that the creature was alive, but in actual fact it was an old pet that had been stuffed, and which Dreuf had not had the heart to bury in the ground.
Shelves covered the walls,
from floor to ceiling.
These shelves were filed with a huge number of fat books,
all the works of Dreuf’s great mentor,
(may he rest in peace!)
Professor Popokoff.
An exposé of the true nature of woman!
A scientific study without parallel in the world of science -
Everything that had been said, was said, and could be said about the elusive nature of the essence of woman could be read in these volumes.
And on each occasion that he could not cope with a phenomenon,
(And this did not happen often)
he would consult the work of Professor Popokoff,
it had been invaluable to him in the practice of his profession over the years,
indeed, he did not really know how he would have coped without it.
Further to these objects, there was a large collection of glass jars in which wombs and ovaries, drenched in spirits, plus the odd female breast were preserved,
even an aborted fœtus of a girl was floating,
curled up defencelessly,
in such a jar of yellowed glass.
And everything in Dreuf’s stuffy little room was covered in dust;
every little object,
even the doctor himself,
(his abundant white hair and his ill-fitting black jacket)
were covered in a thick layer of greying dust.
Because he had strictly forbidden Mrs Nahkurs
(his cleaner)
to even so much as set foot in there with her chlorine-soaked cloth, her feather duster and all the other appurtenances of cleaning.
And like an optical illusion
(And this was really odd,
not one of his visitors every managed to understand the phenomenon)
the wall, windows and door, plus the writing desk, seemed to be slightly lopsided,
everything was leaning,
and whoever entered the room would grow dizzy and almost lose their balance
(Dreuf himself had, over the years, got used to it all and therefore moved with alacrity in there,
it was not until he emerged into the real world, onto streets and squares, that swaying and rocking would ensue for his part).
Apart from the enormous writing desk, behind which Dreuf now sat securely entrenched there was also,
by way of furniture,
the red plush couch, obligatory for every psychoanalyst,
a worn leather armchair,
a small round mahogany table,
and a little sideboard.


He put the book back on the shelf,
returned to his desk,
climbed up onto his chair,
a little irritated that he had not become any the wiser about this case –
– Yes, do go on.
He gripped his pen resolutely.
– What sort of feelings do you link with that time,
describe what you see,
down to the last detail!
The woman stared blankly in front of her..
It was obvious that she was now entering a state of changed consciousness,
and yet, a moment later she cried out,
in despair –
– No, it’s all gone black, doctor,
I don’t know,
I can’t do it!
And the cloud that was moments before about to form a scene in her mind’s eye evaporated all of a sudden and she covered her face with her hands and sobbed.
Dreuf’s eyes took on a contemptuous, tormented expression.
Not again!
A bout of hysteria must be avoided at all costs.
Calmly and objectively he therefore uttered –
– Calm yourself, calm yourself, my dear young lady,
start all over again, at your own speed,
and remember you are dealing here with an expert,
remember that all my professional life I have been studying the inner essence of woman and have read countless works about what she can and wants,
I know full well that you are all deeply ashamed that you have not been equipped with a male –
At this point he fell abruptly silent, right in mid-sentence and a dark flush spread across his face right up to both ears.
He searched within him for the most polite and considerate expression,
a word that would not awaken sexual urges within her.
Presently, he whispered rapidly, in a barely audible, very quiet voice –
– organs...
And then continued exactly as before –
– and that now, therefore, quite naturally,
feel lost, inferior, deprived, and so on,
but believe you me,
there are no grounds for this fear,
with me you can feel completely safe!
The woman was again lying with her arms at her side.
She was staring blankly ahead of her.
It was hard to tell whether the words had reached her at all.
– There we are, do go on now, where were we,
ah yes, in Paradise,
and are you all alone there,
describe everything you see and feel within you!


Translated from Swedish by Eric Dickens


David McDuff said...

Thanks, Eric, that's interesting. Is there a particular reason for the typographical layout of the text, I wonder? 150 pages is quite a demanding length for a visual device of this kind, but perhaps one gets used to it when reading.

I've inserted the link to the DN article.

Eric Dickens said...

I quite agree that once a gimmick wears thin, it obstructs, rather than enhances. But I feel that it works in this instance. There is not too much dodging all over the place, just the curtailment of lines. The Estonian translation kept the same line breaks, and it works there too. But as said, there are indents too, which I can't find out how to reproduce here. I don't know the HTML tab code.

Principally, this technique means that if things are listed, you can see the list clearly and discretely as you descend the page. And one of Kandre's techniques is little lists.

Kandre did not use this typography for all her novels. She started out with prose poetry, moved on to the shape of the page here for three books, but also wrote her novels "Aliide, Aliide", "Bestiarium" and "Xavier", plus the stories in "Hetta och vitt", in normal prose.

David McDuff said...

It's possible to post pre-formatted text (showing spaces, indents and so on) using the HTML "pre" tag in the HTML editor - I've done it with a poem by Pia Tafdrup, for example, and it worked more or less ok, except that the text is printed in Courier instead of the default font for the blog. It's easy to do - you just insert a "pre" tag at the start of the text, then type the text with tabs and spaces and indents, and then close it off with a "/pre" tag.