A New Name: Septology VI-VII

Jon Fosse

Translated by Damion Searls

Published 8 September 2021
French paperback with flaps, 232 pages

And I see myself standing there looking at the two lines that cross in the middle, one brown and one purple, and I see that I’ve painted the lines slowly, with a lot of thick oil paint, and the paint has run, and where the brown and purple lines cross the colours have blended beautifully and I think that I can’t look at this picture anymore, it’s been sitting on the easel for a long time now, a couple of weeks maybe, so now I have to either paint over it in white or else put it up in the attic, in the crates where I keep the pictures I don’t want to sell, but I’ve already thought that thought day after day, I think and then I take hold of the stretcher and let go of it again and I realize that I, who have spent my whole life painting, oil paint on canvas, yes, ever since I was a boy, I don’t want to paint anymore, ever, all the pleasure I used to take in painting is gone, I think and for a couple of weeks now I haven’t painted anything, and I haven’t once taken my sketchpad out of the brown leather shoulderbag hanging above the stack of paintings I’ve set aside, over there between the hall door and the bedroom door, and I think that I want to get rid of this painting and get rid of the easel, the tubes of oil paint, yes, everything, yes, I want to get rid of everything on the table in the main room, everything that has to do with painting in this room that’s been both a living room and a painting studio, and that’s how it’s been since Ales and I moved in here so long ago, so long ago, because it’s all just disturbing me now and I need to get rid of it, get it out of here, and I don’t understand what’s happened to me but something has, something’s happened, and what it is doesn’t really matter, I think and I hear Åsleik say St Andreas Cross, emphasizing the words, saying it with that revolting stress on the words, he’s proving he knows something too so he says it like that, with pride, yes, he’s simple, Åsleik is, that’s the right word for it, simple, I think and I think that I told him I’d go to Øygna with him to celebrate Christmas with Sister, as he calls her, this woman whose name is Guro, at her house, and that’s really the best thing for me since if I stay home alone all I’ll do is lie in bed, I won’t even get up, yes well maybe get up to get myself some water if I’m thirsty and food if I’m hungry, other than that I’ll just lie in bed in the bedroom without even turning the light on and I’ll keep it as dark as I can, and then I’ll try to get some sleep, and I’ll try not to think about anything, because I want to let everything be empty, yes, empty and silent, yes silent, yes, silent and dark, because the only thing I long for is silence, yes, I want everything to stay perfectly silent, I want a silence to come down over me like snow and cover me, yes, I want a silence to come falling down over everything that exists, and also me, yes, over me, yes, let a silence snow down and cover me, make me invisible, make everything invisible, make everything go away, I think and all these thoughts will go away, all the pictures I have, all the pictures gathered up in my memory tormenting me will go away and I will be empty, just empty, I will become a silent nothing, a silent darkness, and maybe what I’m thinking about now is God’s peace, or maybe it isn’t? maybe it has nothing to do with what people call God? I think, if it’s even possible to talk about God, if that even means anything, because isn’t God just something that is, not something you can say anything about? I think and I think that still, praying is good for me, yes, praying with a rosary the way I do, and going to mass is too, but it’s a long drive to Bjørgvin, anyway driving there and back the same day is a lot of driving, I don’t like doing that, I think, and I’ve spent the night at The Country Inn so many times too, I think, but every year I’ve gone to mass on Christmas Day, and I would have done that this year too if I wasn’t going to go celebrate Christmas Eve at Sister’s house with Åsleik, so there’s not going to be any Christmas Mass for me this year, I think and I stand there in front of the easel and then I go and sit down by the window and I look out the window and even though it’s dark I see the driveway that I had built running down to the country road and I see snow, just snow and the islets and reefs, the holms and skerries, yes, the Sygne Sea, and I can see all the way out to the mouth of the fjord and the open sea, even when it’s dark I can see it all well and I think that I need to get rid of that picture, I need to put it away, I don’t want to look at it anymore, I don’t want it in the main room anymore, I need to get rid of it, I think and then I go over to the easel and I take the stretcher and I lift the picture off the easel and I put it in the stack of unfinished pictures under the peg where my brown leather shoulderbag is hanging, between the bedroom door and the hall door and above the stack of paintings I’m still not satisfied with, and I look at the wall next to the kitchen door and there aren’t any pictures there since I drove them down to Bjørgvin a couple of weeks ago, down to The Beyer Gallery, I think and I see Bragi standing there by the kitchen door looking at me, and it’s like he’s feeling sorry for me, I think, yes, it’s like Bragi wants to comfort me but he doesn’t know how to do it, and I see his dog eyes, and it’s like they understand everything, yes, like nothing is hidden from them, I think, and Bragi is always near me

[...]

Asle is an ageing painter and widower who lives alone on the southwest coast of Norway. In nearby Bjørgvin another Asle, also a painter, is lying in the hospital, consumed by alcoholism. Asle and Asle are doppelgängers – two versions of the same person, two versions of the same life, both grappling with existential questions.
    In this final instalment of Jon Fosse’s Septology, the major prose work by ‘the Beckett of the twenty-first century’ (Le Monde), we follow the lives of the two Asles as younger adults in flashbacks: the narrator meets his lifelong love, Ales; joins the Catholic Church; and makes a living bytrying to paint away all the pictures stuck in his mind. A New Name: Septology VI-VII is a transcendent explorationof the human condition, and a radically other reading experience – incantatory, hypnotic, and utterly unique.

‘Fosse’s portrait of memory remarkably refuses. It will not be other than: indellible as paint, trivial as nail clippings, wound like damp string. This book reaches out of its frame like a hand.’
Jesse Ball, author of Census

‘Jon Fosse is a major European writer.’
Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of My Struggle

‘A deeply moving experience. At times while reading the first two books of Septology, I walked around in a fugue-like state, wondering what it was that I was reading, exactly. A parable? A gospel? A novel bereft of the usual markings of plot, time, and character? The answer appeared to be all of the above, but although I usually balk at anything mystical, the effect was haunting and cumulative. ... I hesitate to compare the experience of reading these works to the act of meditation. But that is the closest I can come to describing how something in the critical self is shed in the process of reading Fosse, only to be replaced by something more primal. A mood. An atmosphere. The sound of words moving on a page.’
— Ruth Margalit, New York Review of Books

‘Fosse intuitively — and with great artistry — conveys…a sense of wonder at the unfathomable miracle of life, even in its bleakest and loneliest moments. In this fine conclusion to Septology, the religious subtexts of the project’s companion pieces at last draw into focus. The link between Asle’s art and his faith finds subtle expression in the parallels between the haunting oil painting of two crossed lines, which the narrator contemplates at the beginning of each section, and the cross made with anointing oil as he is accepted into the Catholic faith…As the final pages draw to their profound and breath-snatching close, Septology also attains that original ambition: it imbues the very enigma of life, which can seem at times so terrifyingly dark, with a light that is almost beatific.’ 
— Bryan Karetnyk, Financial Times

Praise for I is Another: Septology III-V

‘The reader of I is Another is both on the riverbank and in the water being carried forward, and around, by the great, shaping, and completely engrossing, flow of Fosse’s words. It’s a doubleness of view that is reflected in the characters, named Asle, who are both one and other, and through which we can see and feel the world, and ourselves, more clearly.’
David Hayden, author of Darker with the Lights On

‘[P]alpable in this book is the way that the writing is meant to replicate the pulse and repetitive phrasing of liturgical prayer. Asle is a Catholic convert and, in Damion Searls’s liquid translation, his thoughts are rendered in long run-on sentences whose metronomic cadences conjure the intake and outtake of breath, or the reflexive motions of fingers telling a rosary. These unique books ask you to engage with the senses rather than the mind, and their aim is to bring about the momentary dissolution of the self.’
Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

Jon Fosse was born in 1959 on the west coast of Norway and is the recipient of countless prestigious prizes, both in his native Norway and abroad. Since his 1983 fiction debut, Raudt, svart [Red, Black], Fosse has written prose, poetry, essays, short stories, children’s books, and over forty plays, with more than a thousand productions performed and translations into fifty languages. The Other Name is the first volume in Septology, his latest prose work, will be published in three volumes by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Damion Searls is a translator from German, Norwegian, French, and Dutch and a writer in English. He has translated seven books and a libretto by Jon Fosse – Melancholy (co-translated with Grethe Kvernes), Aliss at the Fire, Morning and Evening (novel and libretto), Scenes from a Childhood, The Other Name: Septology I-II, I is Another: Septology III-V and A New Name: Septology VI-VII – and books by many other classic modern writers.