Can I Involve You?
By Finn Janning
I took the elevator up to the third floor. Normally, I would have taken the stairs in order to get a bit of exercise. But normal doesn’t exist anymore. Did it ever?
I just turned thirty-seven and I am feeling slightly lazy after having written books for the last decade or so. Not that writing books is a cushy job. Quite the contrary. It’s freaking hard work. It’s just that I do it sitting down, five to six hours a day. And I do it every damn day! That takes its toll on the thigh muscles. At times my limbs creak more than the chair I sit on. I know, it’s an overused metaphor, but I can only blame IKEA for this unpleasant sound. Well, nevertheless, or maybe because of all this, I took the elevator. I also didn’t want to arrive sweaty or out of breath. I hate sweaty people. I hate people who are out of breath.
Up on the third floor, a youngish artist had an exhibition called Moving Borders. I had been sent to cover the exhibition for a major Spanish journal. The artist was “up and coming,” they said (the journal in Spain that is) when they called to offer me the assignment. Up and coming. Who isn’t? I thought, but of course I didn’t say that. Like so many other writers before me, I said basically nothing unless in writing. Instead, I watched everything with all of my senses open. I watched and watched until my eyes stung. I looked like the English comedian Marty Feldman. Google him, if you don’t get an instant image.
The artist having the exhibition was from Denmark, a small country, refined and northerly. Here, I’m not just speaking in geographical terms. It’s said that Danish people are very serious and have a slight tendency to be a bit chilly. Matching the climate, I presume. It’s said that the country has become wealthy after several years of tight control of its finances. While on the plane from Barcelona, I read that the Danish government had carried out a nationwide cost-benefit analysis to help optimize it according to the desired ideals. A uniform nation marching like Boy Scouts. A former cleaning lady was the strategist behind the efforts. Interesting.
Within the realm of the economy, that sort of thing probably makes perfect sense, but how can culture be assessed like that? I didn’t know. Nor was it my job to know. My job was to entertain my readers while somehow trying to give them something. Since realizing as a young man that I ought to become a writer, I always believed that my imagination could give me access to the thoughts of others, like a lizard changing its colors depending on the weather. I always wanted to be Jim Morrison’s lizard king. Through the imagination everyone can share the world. That’s what I believed.
When I stepped out into the room, I saw a handful of people talking with colorful drinks in their hands. The noise level was low compared to Spain. They whisper in Denmark. I nodded to them in the way you nod when hoping that someone will nod at you in the direction of the bar. (It’s a bit like the way you nod when you can’t be bothered to chat with some networking chatterbox.) A blonde girl did just that. Nodded. Whether because of my Southern European appearance, or because I looked thirsty, I couldn’t say.
“It’s very much about how people communicate,” said a younger woman next to me. She didn’t say it to me, but to someone else.
“Encounters of a kind?” asked the guy next to her, he was wearing a black turtleneck sweater and brown suede blazer. Such as cliché.
“Yes, obviously. Communication is an encounter, an open encounter. A wound. I see my works as encounters without an agenda. In that way, everyone’s ideas and thoughts can be heard,” said the younger woman who was the artist.
“Okay,” said the guy, whom I instinctively thought of as a little slow. Here he was in the presence of a human being who obviously had a vision. That in itself was something special with the world being as it is.
“I very much believe that artistic communication can do something special because it has no end product,” said the artist.
“What do you mean?” asked the—clearly diminished man..
“I mean that today, everything is done with a definite end in sight. What I want to do is to touch people. To give them a little nudge that might show how fragile we are. Or show that right next to you something entirely crazy and awesome is happening, which you just don’t see because you see only that which you are looking for at the moment.”
“Does it make any sense?”
“Well, more or less,” said the man obviously slow on the uptake.
“The communication I invite is already happening. I am just opening up the doors a little wider to let everyone in.”
“Have you thought about how communication itself is neutral? Like a breeze,” I asked when I couldn’t take the thought of another “hmm.”
“Who are you?” asked the artist while the other guy tried to look like someone noting down a good thought in his fancy lined Moleskine notebook. (I use another brand since even business consultants use Moleskine nowadays—it kills my creativity to think of it. And, of course, I use unlined. Who needs lines? Business people.)
“I am the empty vessel sent here by the Spanish journal THINK BIG to be filled and shaped by what is happening here,” I replied. (And yes, my answer was quite deliberately cryptic. Pretentious even. Idiotic, perhaps. That’s my style. And no, I don’t have many friends but quite a lot of readers.)
“I have thought about it, but I think it’s difficult to understand for many. Most people read what is said in a particular way. Often, many think that’s because something is art, it has to have some kind of moral, but I do not make art to support some moral lesson. Hans Christian Andersen has already done that. I am just trying to open up. I want to see what happens. My assumption is that so much more can happen. So much more.”
“It’s cool how you repeated so much more. I think you are right. So much more. That is exactly what we can do.”
“You’re welcome,” I replied.
I got a beer I didn’t remember ordering. We toasted.
“Now, I will take a closer look at your work. You’ll hear from me when my article is finished. Thank you for your time.”
The young artist smiled and said, “You’re welcome.” ¹
I had found the blonde girl who was obviously interested in my look. She was chatting with two other people. A girl and a boy. The boy was perhaps one of those who likes girls who like girls who like boys, just like that Blur song. It looked as if they were exchanging CVs, or the names of people they knew, as if these contacts were lifebelts that could “open doors,” as one of them said. I decided to give her a little time, spending it watching the three large white walls that somehow divided the room in an uncanny way.
It was difficult to find your place. Usually, a room is something you enter, something you can occupy and then leave—it has firmly established boundaries. But this room, with those three walls moving (at different speeds, I believe) made the room un-room like in a titillating fashion. There were either too many walls or there was too little room. Just like the number of towels at Barceloneta, the local beach in Barcelona, in July. I don’t know. Every time I felt like Ah, that’s how it is! the room changed its shape. It became a different room, roomy in a new way. It felt a bit like dancing without a partner. I stepped forward a little, then to the side, and then to the back (from the new position). Then I moved a little further back and to the right. There was no plan. Only some patterns that I traced as I was moving, which, of course, I tried to take note of. It was hard, dancing while you construct the song you’re dancing to. It felt as if my movements created the rhythm.
“Who are you?” the blonde girl asked.
“Can I involve you?”
“What?” she asked.
“What?” I asked.
“What did you say? Can I involve you? Or?”
“Yes. I think I said that. I was thinking of a title when I bumped into you,” I said. I looked around and saw how the walls had moved me into her. The question was whether she, too, had moved or whether the walls had deliberately brought us together. Two dancers, each lacking a partner, somehow finding each other in the middle of the dance they were individually creating. (This can also happen at Barceloneta.)
“Can I involve you?” she repeated. “I like the title, but I don’t quite understand it.”
“Don’t think so much. I certainly don’t. It’s just a question: Can I involve you? Can I take you in? Can I take your presence on my shoulders? Can I take your existence seriously, carry you, and so on.”
“Yes. You may,” she responded with no hesitation. “It reminds me of Nietzsche’s amor fati.”
“You know that allowing another person to involve you in his or her life is a declaration of trust. You can only involve me if I truly allow you to involve me. Embrace the joys and sorrows of life. What are you? A potential sorrow or joy? Not your shadow, not your imaginings, not your ideas, and good intention, I mean nothing but you as you are standing right here before me. Now.”
“I … I am … I think, I am …”
“Don’t think so much, remember,” she said, “amor fati—just be open to the what happens, even the ordinariness of being in this world.”
“As when a boy meets a girl?”
“Yes, as when a girl meets a boy.”
“Now, I know what you mean. And yes, you may involve me,” I said.
Then she took my hand. Her hand was soft, a little sweaty, but I did not care at all. She took me serious, she was literally… so much more than me, she was the great affirmation of what I could only dream of becoming.
To be honest, I never returned to Barcelona. I followed her to the town hall in Copenhagen where we two years later got married, now we have four children that I rub in sunscreen every time we visit my family in Spain. I have noticed that Danish people aren’t cold, just that Spanish people speak too much to notice.
¹Let me point out one thing: I don’t know if the artist truly was, or is, young, but she looked young. I think it has to do with the fact that we (or guys like me) who come from the South burn out a little sooner. I remember how a Swedish guy once lectured an English guy—who was drooling over a brown-haired Spanish babe with dark doe eyes and an ass perkily protruding like the edge of a bar (the edge you cling to as the evening progresses)—in these terms: “She may be good-looking now, but in five years’ time, she will be all burnt out and look like her mother.” While making this statement he nodded in the direction of an elderly lady who was not her mother (trust me on this one); rather, she was someone who had lived through the Civil War. Even so. I got the message about the link between the sun and aging. That is probably why you can recognize Northern European tourists by their glistening faces. They are coated in a heavy, blocking, whitish sunscreen that may keep them young, but also makes them highly repulsive at the same time. Nothing touches those Scandinavians through all their protection. Whether the young artist used heavy sunscreen I couldn’t say, but she looked young, and, I may add, shiny.
Art and photo credits by artist Geordanna Cordero-Fields on Unsplash. Buy her artwork, it’s fantastic! :) And by graphics, code and artist Markus Spiske for the header picture, send some work his way too! Thank you!
Photos and art by Geordanna Cordero-Fields on Unsplash.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.
Finn Janning is a writer and a philosopher. He has published fiction and nonfiction in both Danish and English, some has been featured in Epiphany and Under the Gum Tree among other publications. His most recent books are A Philosophy of Mindfulness – A Journey with Deleuze (NFB Publishing, 2017), and The Happiness of Burnout (König Books, 2015). He holds a PhD in philosophy from CBS in Denmark. He presents philosophical perspectives at: finnjanning.com and tweets at @finn_janning.
“Why teach philosophy and mindfulness?” Finn Janning