The importance of being Iceland


Today I read “Iceland,” an essay by Eileen Myles. It functions as a sort of introduction to The Importance of Being Iceland, her collection of essays organized into seven sections—Art Essays, People, Talks, Travel, Body, Moving Pictures and Blogs.

I’m not so familiar with Myles, who is a poet. I owe my discovery to Kenneth Goldsmith, who tweeted this.

That was enough for me to find out more about Eileen Myles.

Her writing feels familiar. It’s smart, which she describes this way—

[…] For all these reasons (i.e., sentimental attachments to the past) working class intellectuals like big words and their sentence formation is excessively ornate. It’s what they think of as “smart.” Pomposity. It’s an embarrassing condition of being unsophisticated and not knowing what is truly smart which is simplicity and modernism; certainly it was twenty years ago when I learned to write.

Her “Iceland” voice is like this: conversational, simple, modern, but packed. I was immediately inspired. Reading Eileen Myles’ “Iceland” today was the start of something for me. A trigger. She writes about two trips to Iceland and hooks ideas and places and people together through small anecdotes, from Roni Horn to lesbian community to melancholy to waterfalls to epic poetry singing. I listened in on her thoughts in real time, one fragment leading to another.

[…] I’m not sure if I’m telling a story or unveiling my mania.

All in the space of 36 pages, plus one photograph. All the while, the stories framing Iceland. Or rather, Iceland as her frame. Iceland as an idea, to get at other things. Poetry, language, voice.

I don’t know what the importance of being Iceland is yet. I’ll finish the book. All of this in preparation for my own travel to Iceland. I’m going there this summer for 2.5 months.

I’ll be with several other artists at Nes, a small artist’s residency in the tiny seaside village of Skagaströnd, in northern Iceland, from July 1 through mid-September. Continuous daylight! For the residency, which is part of a special “Summer We Go Public” initiative of performance/public art in the town, I’ve proposed a book project.

I’m calling this performative book project Skagabók. The boundaries are loose. I’ve defined only two parameters. Wikipedia says that the fishing village of Skagaströnd has 530 inhabitants, so my book will have 530 pages. For two months I’ll make the book, which will be about the place. A flat-topped mountain, Spákonufell, is the backdrop for the town. It’s featured in a 10th-century Icelandic saga as a place where Þórdís, a soothsayer, walked every day, combing her hair. She left a treasure on the mountain, it seems.

In the last two weeks of the residency (early September) I’ll somehow install the 530 pages of Skagabók in the town, and give them all away. The work will be absorbed back into the place.

More about Skagabók later.

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One Comment

  1. thanks for this Paul. I’m excited for the project
    (also thanks for the eileen myles website and the ‘animals’ section)

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