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Sokrates död Niklas Åkesson, Sokrates död (Socrates' Death)

CL(P) Works,  2014.

Reviewed by Nichola Smalley in SBR 2015:2

Review Section: In a Class of its Own

What is this book? Is it poetry? Performance? Fiction? Some kind of abstract philosophy? It’s not an easy question to answer. At times it feels as if the reader isn’t supposed to know – perhaps the text itself doesn’t even know what it is. At base, it is writing, thinking, sampling. On the surface, it is confusion. For the patient reader, it holds revelations.

Niklas Åkesson’s Sokrates död (Socrates’ Death) weaves an atmosphere, a series of images and ideas from textual threads that loop, fray and tie themselves in knots. One of these threads is the description in Plato’s Phaidon of the death of Socrates. Another is that of a bin-rifling, rough-sleeping Plato on/ below/within a train platform. Another is the attempt by a rather pedantic first- person narrator to teach a child how to tell the time on an analogue clock. Another is made up of the thoughts and abstractions that occur in the breakdown of a relationship. None of these is privileged over the others.

At no point in the text does it become clear what relation the threads bear to one another. However, there is a strange logic and rhythm to this diffuse, yet carefully constructed whole. This rhythm is aided by the fragmented theories or chorus parts scattered through the text; they highlight and punctuate the ‘narrative’, even when it is unclear what is being emphasised.

There are moments of beauty and resonance scattered through the text: a ridiculous yet poignant thought captures the singularity of love and the bond of language that develops in a relationship (referring here to the absent one’s gathering of odd facts):‘Jag saknar dig. Dina dresserade babianer. Dina utrotade bisonoxar.’ (I miss you. Your trained baboons. Your extinct bison.)

But there are also moments that feel almost painfully pretentious, when it seems as though Åkesson is so deep in the concept and the experiment with form that he has lost his grasp on the things that reward the reader’s effort in pushing through the confusion. This need not be a bad thing – indeed, it may be Åkesson’s goal. However, at the risk of sounding glib, what’s the point? This is unlikely to be a book with wide appeal, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that. But if even those readers who are keen to dig deeper to find insight and absurdity actually find themselves getting bored (as I did on occasion), it’s hard to believe there is one. Perhaps in searching for a point I was already on the wrong track.

Overall, though, there is much to enjoy in this text. It is playful at the same time as it stretches the boundaries of literature, intertextual reference and formal experimentation to breaking point. The reader need not look for coherence or seek a clear narrative, this will only lead back to confusion.

Almost as an aside I would like to point out the fantastic job that CL(P) Works and their designers PWR Studio have done with the design of this book – at once elegant and odd in bright orange, black and cream. But one should expect nothing less from a press born of the short-lived magazine Const Literary (P)review, which was published from 2012 to 2014 and featured experimental writing in parallel Swedish and English texts along with art prints beautifully set and laid out. CL(P) Works seeks to continue this tradition of marrying visual and textual particularity, and I sincerely hope they succeed – even if it does leave many readers a little bemused.

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