Sue Prideaux is the author of Strindberg: A Life. Playwright, poet, photographer, painter, alchemist and hellraiser, August Strindberg (1849–1912) is principally known, in Arthur Miller’s words, as ‘the mad inventor of modern theatre’ who led playwriting out of the polite drawing room into the snakepit of psychological warfare with plays like Miss Julie (1888). The Fertile Fact asked Sue to select five things that Strindberg would have liked about the present day, three of Sue’s illuminating suggestions can be found below.
1. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope
Strindberg speculated endlessly about the nature of the universe. He liked the old idea that Earth was flat and the stars were holes in the ceiling and while he didn’t want to relinquish such a naïve and beautiful image, he was fond of real scientific enquiry as well. He kept a telescope in his study in the Blue Tower and proposed to Fanny Falkner while she was looking through it.
In 1892 he decided to investigate whether Earth really was round by measuring its curvature. He set up an experiment in a Berlin street with the poet Erich Hartleben and the neuro-surgeon Carl Ludwig Schleich. Their activity aroused the suspicion of a passing policeman who first threatened to arrest them and then got excited by the idea and prepared to join in. However, Hartleben had by then lost interest, declaring it was altogether too tedious a business and went home.
The following year, without the help of his unreliable friends, Strindberg made what he called ‘celestographs’: photographs made without lens or camera. He placed sensitised photographic plates directly facing the night sky and left them to expose over a long time. The results are pictures of great beauty, resembling star-strewn heavens seen through swirling, gaseous clouds. Whether they are actually pictures of the billowing galaxies, dust particles swirling in the air above the paper or merely photochemical stains, we do not know. To an amateur, they resemble the photographs of galaxies and nebulae seen through Hubble’s eye. Strindberg would undoubtedly have enjoyed claiming credit for being the first to see deep into space.
2. Credit cards
“I’ve succeeded in borrowing some money, so now we’re without debts!” he wrote to his first wife, Siri, in May 1882. If ever a man needed a credit card…
3. Video installation
When Strindberg first staged Miss Julie in 1889, the painted flat was the normal style of stage decoration, a style that Strindberg deplored. The play is set in a kitchen, and a row of painted saucepans would conventionally have indicated this, but Strindberg hired real saucepans and put them on real shelves. The critics were so shocked by the play that one recommended the author be deported, but there was high praise for the saucepans. In the early 1900s, when he was writing his experimental plays like A Dream Play (1901) he tried to imitate the shape and content of a dream where;
“Everything can happen. Everything is possible and probable. Time and place do not exist; on an insignificant basis of reality the imagination spins, weaving new patterns; a mixture of memories, experiences, free associations, incongruities and improvisations. Characters split, double and multiply, evaporate condense, disperse, assemble…”
Setting and scenery needed to do the same. Strindberg played around with coloured lighting. What he really needed was video
Words: Sue Prideaux.
Article originally published by The Fertile Fact.