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Lotta Lotass, Sparta

Self-Published,  2010. ISBN: 9789163370689

Reviewed by Eric Dickens in SBR 2011:2

300 numbered copies.

An extended prose poem? A meditation? Written in short, discrete passages, this book starts during a leaden dawn when only a strip of light on the horizon lights up the sky. The mood is post-catastrophe. The only individuals peopling this meditation are the narrator and the mysterious W. The reader can never be quite sure whether the movement or action takes place indoors or outdoors. We read as observers, following what seems to be an expedition conducted by the narrator and W, through what seem to be cliff-strewn landscapes, with ruined halls, a cathedral, museums of mock- ups and models of cities that have all miraculously survived. The colours tend towards silver rather than gold. When there is red, it is ominous. Broken glass and shards crunch under the feet of the walkers. It strikes you how mineral the whole work is. Mineral, almost without animal and vegetable. Except in one tiny passage, there is none of the weaving or plaiting of organic matter. Things are strewn about, mostly wrecked. Right angles, straight furrows, squared spaces. Towering rock formations, granular sand, ice – a lot of that; and the nuances of light are described in detail. But where are the other people? Even W and the narrator appear with sparse irregularity. And the Spartan soldiers, their counterpoints, seem hardly to be alive as individuals. Lined up, they form a mass, seemingly destructive. Among them, only the Stone Soldier speaks to and for the crowd, in gnomic utterances. Is this a nightmare or real life? There are no touchstones. The pace is andante and hardly changes, but the vistas do. The whole is written in the present tense. A study of the rise and fall of Ozymandias? Is there ultimately hope of renewal, of reassembling all the sundered pieces? The text often reminds one of the writings of Ernst Jünger, the German soldier-writer who experienced and wrote about the world wars at first hand. He focused on objects more than on people. Marble cliffs and the clash of steel were much in evidence. This little white book is the latest in a series of several works by Lotass that straddle the boundaries of genre. She started out writing about misfits and holy simpletons in villages resembling the one where she was brought up, in what used to be the industrial and logging node of Sweden, Dalecarlia. Then, the bruk, the industrial village, dominated the country. But the stories and tales making up these early books seem to exist outside of time, as indeed does this text. Lotass is keen on technology and has written a book about the consciousness and evolution of the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, and another about the early history of flying. Even in Sparta there are Zeppelins, or so it would seem. She has also written a book about aspects of the lives of selected serial killers – despite the subject matter, a strangely emotionless account. But among her work, the book that much resembles Sparta is made up of numbered sections (not pages) describing rooms, spaces. The reader, as in Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch, is encouraged to move around, rather than conventionally turning the page. A boxed set of loose-leaf pamphlets, to be read in any order the reader wishes, expresses the same idea. She has also written several radio plays, dialogues or with a chorus, which revolve around the themes mentioned above. Experimental, too, is the fact that Lotta Lotass (a member of the Swedish Academy) published Sparta herself in 300 numbered copies, sold to individuals, apart from a handful of review copies. Since then, she has republished the text on the internet.

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