Jack-of-all-trades: the many occupations of Icelander Andri Snær Magnason
Von Johnny Bliss
The first time I met Andri Magnason was during the Iceland Writer’s Retreat in 2015. He read some of his „supermarket poetry“ (see below) at the house of Iceland’s most famous author Halldor Laxness. At the time, I just knew Andri as a funny guy with some funny ideas. But over the years, he’s kept popping up in my radar screen, and each time, he’s donned a different hat.
Reality Check, 19th-23rd February
In a series running on FM4’s Reality Check, join our roaming reporter Johnny Bliss and Andri Magnason in Iceland, talking about such big topics as environmentalism, populism, climate change, mythology, and the value of comedy in social discourse. From 1pm, and afterwards seven days on demand.
Check this spot at the end of the week for the Reality Check podcast!
My next encounter with Andri Magnason was in the context of watching his environmental documentary, Dreamland (see below). He appeared as one of the experts speaking about Iceland: its society, its economics, and the importance of preserving its nature. (I hadn’t realized beforehand that the documentary was largely his project, so recognizing his face in it was a pleasant surprise.)
Then, in 2016, he announced his candidacy in the close-fought Icelandic presidential race. Although he did not win, through his candidacy he still managed to draw attention to environmental and democratic issues.
So finally, my curiosity got to be enough that I picked up one of his books, his award-winning science fiction opus LoveStar (see below). Engaging, darkly humorous and oddly prophetic, it got me thinking it was just about time I contact him to talk about all of the Big Topics, that run like a thread through all of his work.
As it happened, he was holding a talk about environmentalism and climate change, in Reykjavik’s big concert hall Harpa. This was as part of a festival being put on by Sigur Ros, norður og niður, which I was also attending.
We arranged to meet shortly before his presentation.
Andri Magnason on mythology & folklore
„I’ve often been fond of the fable, the fairytale, and folklore, and mythology, where the sun or the moon or something can play a role in the story. I like compact forms, like poetry, and I love in mythology how just a small paragraph or something can contain, like, the beginning of the world to the end of the world, just like a whole universe!“
„Mythology was all made before we knew we were living on a planet, so I wanted to make a fundamental mythology about living on a planet, where you do something on this side and it has a direct effect on the other side.“
„Now I’m working on a book that is full of mythology. We’re living in a very special time when earth forces are not moving on geological speed, they’re moving on human speed. That is, the glaciers are melting before our eyes, while they should have been there just standing for thousands of years. So I’m using some mythology to understand that.“
„I love in mythology how just a small paragraph or something can contain, like, the beginning of the world to the end of the world, just like a whole universe!“
Andri also writes science fiction. In 2002, he published LoveStar, a book that successfully foresaw the rise of social media and individualized marketing, as we see it today. The parallels are more than a little unnerving:
Andri Magnason on writing poetry for the masses
„I was thinking about the discussion of poetry, and how nobody wanted to buy poetry anymore, always this depressive talk about poetry. ‚Poetry is for the few, it’s for the elite. I’m going to make 100 copies in italic letters on fine paper.‘ And they would say poetry is not mass production. Poetry is not like this bad modern world that we live in. Poetry is, you know, the last stand of the human soul. So I thought, what if I would break all the rules of poetry and mass-produce it, and sell it in a supermarket, with the brand logo on the cover? Mass-produced poetry for the everyday consumer.“
„Bónus makes Bónus bread, Bónus cola, Bónus juice, Bónus everything. So then I was like, ‚Why don’t they make Bónus poetry?‘ Consumer poetry. And then I looked around Bónus and I saw it was divided exactly like The Divine Comedy by Dante. So you start in Paradiso, the fruit division. You go to Inferno, the meat products. And then you end in Purgatorio, the cleaning products. So I finished the whole volume, and it was published by Bónus and they sold probably five hundred kilos of poetry.“
Andri Magnason on „Dreamland“ and the environment
In the early 2000s, Andri wrote a nonfiction book and co-produced a documentary, both of which were called „Dreamland“, and addressed the proposed industrialization of the Icelandic countryside, for energy production and aluminum smelters, which Andri opposed.
These environmental initiatives, which Andri spearheaded, were ultimately a success. The politicians backed away from their plans, and now the Icelandic highlands are on the verge of being declared a national park.
„Dreamland is in some way referring to utopia. It has a personal reference because Draumalandið was my grandfather’s favourite song and poem, and he died just shortly before my book was published. So it’s also kind of a tribute to my grandfather, and his kind of farm and lifestyle in the dreamland, in northern Iceland.“
„But then again, it refers also to Dreamlands, because Iceland is an island of utopias. We have struggling ideologies here. People with very strong socialist dreams, people with very strong libertarian dreams. People abroad, they would say Iceland is the perfect place to try some new ideas in politics and see how they work out. Engineers, they had the dream of making Iceland a haven for aluminum smelters, dam all the rivers. I would have the dream of making one of the biggest national parks in Europe, in Iceland.“
"So there are all of these conflicting ideologies, and in „Dreamland", I was also kind of trying to understand how we perceive reality, because we always perceive that as the only possible outcome of history, that any other alternative would never have happened.“
For more about Dreamland, listen here:
Here’s the documentary:
Andri Magnason on running for President
„People tend to think that maybe an artist is not the most reliable person to be heading a city or something. But what does a theatre director do? He has to have a vision, he has to have a script, he has to deal with stage managers, marketing people, actresses and actors, carpenters and lighting people, he has to have a very wide range of people that have to work together on a single vision, and they have to deliver that on the spot.“
"Why would you think a person like that is not qualified to have the varied system of a city, for example, that has schools, that has a transport system, that has the utilities, all these things? Why would you think that kind of person is less qualified than a lawyer that has maybe only been making money for himself, or taking people to court, or you know, never actually solving anything, but more like conquering somebody?
„You know, it’s a very strange situation, asking a whole nation to like you. It’s a very absurd thing. So I haven’t quite recovered from that. I would have to think that through very thoroughly, before I would run again.“
The 19th-23rd of February: In a series running on FM4’s Reality Check, join our roaming reporter Johnny Bliss and Andri Magnason in Iceland, talking about such big topics as populism, environmentalism, climate change, mythology, and the value of comedy in social discourse. From 1pm.
Check this spot at the end of the week for the Reality Check podcast!
Publiziert am 18.02.2018