Of Darkness by Josefine Klougart
Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken
She opens her eyes and sees the sky through the crown of the tree.
He is standing in the boat, watching the ash settle like a film upon the
The sea, calmed; the sea, placid now the wind has died.
The ash upon the surface, a rise and fall with the shifting swell, a
soothing hand, a membrane containing all that is fluid.
Like skin covered in burns.
One can no longer see the sky reflected in the sea;
the sky, mirrored no more; the sea, no longer returned by his eyes,
ash, descended upon orbs, lids above the oceans;
and she, as she lies here beneath the tree,
sees the sky dappled by its branches.
The sky is an eye.
Later, she must have been crying—her eyes are bloodshot.
The dying of the wind makes her open her eyes; the sky and the tree
The ash remains; the family must come ashore again,
a tight huddle in the boat,
joined together by the missing of another,
fingers knotted; coming apart and coming together,
filling out a shell.
All to no avail.
Grief, condensing, a pearl in the hand;
music in the next room.
Blue-black canvas. Nothing in the frame but that.
Threadbare canvas, greyed and lame beneath the sun.
The long fingers of the sun counting out different objects
or dabbing at them,
picking out buildings, areas,
illuminating one thing from outside, something else from within.
A few objects can be sufficient.
Illuminating from within.
A movement we understand with our eyes; things reaching out to you
Or else: our eyes understand differently than the mind; the blundering
mind. If one can distinguish and choose, then it is the eyes one must
Trusting as the sleepwalker, the world throwing itself before the eyes.
There is but one light in the world, belonging to the universe;
beaming from the galaxy, radiant in objects and things, passing through
the eye, this way or that; give me your hand, like this.
At first we see only the fabric, an expanse of smokish blue.
After a while we see the movement.
A body breathing beneath the cover.
A body is a crack through which to breathe.
After some time: a sudden adjustment of position, a glimpse of bare
not pale, but not the opposite,
neither rough nor smooth.
The eyes, borrowing and returning.
The eyes borrow the woman and the hills, the sea, the trees,
all that can be seen. The skin, according all movements direction;
towards or away.
A person is the only thing that can move a person.
An absence of interest in nature as it is found out there,
or perhaps an interest in what is human in nature.
Nature’s humanity, if that’s something we can talk about.
Where everything is a directed approach.
What do we do with that which is without direction?
Emotion undirected, and a feeling of being left out, always.
It’s not combat; there isn’t that much left to conquer, not in that sense.
She remembered they had talked at length and with gravity, that he had
looked at her with resignation and asked what there was to be gained.
There is no movement in the frame.
The woman in the picture. She is lying on her side; we see her knees
from above, the clarity of tendons.
Still the syntax of nature exists, the sentence spoken: one voice among
Or writing emerged from under limewash, now simply there, a gaping
wound affording sight of a time other than the one in which you want to
We see her body in its entirety;
the landscape a blur in the background,
The weave of the fabric, ripples of cotton, alternating dark and light,
the shiny, skin-like quality of its surface.
Metallic, like the sea’s metal gleam in mid-morning.
Stillness, because what we see has no borders, no horizon, nothing that
reaches an end.
Our field of vision draws the only boundaries, and they are all but
imperceptible to us.
Within the frame of our vision, the picture, all that we have:
We come no closer, only the opposite—we are moving away.
losing the pores of the woman’s skin, we lose the pores, the fair down of
her upper lip that you discovered, the lines of her skin reminding you of
some other age—youth, funnily enough, that couldn’t quite be placed.
One step at a time, backwards across the fields, upwards through the
More and more dry red earth is seen, more and more of the earth’s skin,
less of the woman’s.
If you can tell the difference, then that’s the way it is.
The eye weeps because it is always losing something. Cities. Views.
All that the eye no longer sees is lost.
Rapid movements; the business of turning round on a step;
of moving to the other end of the country; grasping a bottle of pills
before it hits the floor, nodding and retreating a few despairing paces
before sleep in the final metres;
leaving furniture under wraps, yet another summer, houses, apartments,
gardens, a street light’s sad persistence, reading through all your
messages before you wake.
And still: the fact that only what we once saw is close enough to us,
so close we can reach out and touch it.
We touch it with our wanting or with our joy.
A returning wish to retain
merely keep it here a moment.
Always the same exchange: what you get, and what you deliver.
What the eyes get, and what they lose. A city to leave.
My body as it was, an apartment, a city.
Before you wake.
The hills, or a jam jar with a single pearl inside.
The details of the skin, the birth spots on your neck and the four pale
scars on your legs after the thorn,
that’s how I think of it.
With distance all the surfaces become more distinct.
We see the skin as a surface, the sweep of a landscape, the fir trees a belt
beneath the sky, the ocean a blue band keeping the sky in place, the
glassy sky during spring.
The city is a smear of grey on the peninsula. Extolled cities, how could
they ever disappoint;
what wanting does to what is wanted.
You feel the relationship between body and land, as if it were sickness,
you feel it,
what it does to the body,
the place from which understanding something begins.
And the way the body is then an area, a surface, the way the fabric is
There are no hierarchies,
there are planes latticing like day and night. Plaiting one’s hair tight.
Distances alter when the eye finds a place to attach.
What eye can see in such a way.
We see a leg, a bare ankle.
A brown sandal of the kind I had when I was a child.
Flaxen hair like a bunch of flowers dropped in the sand.
She sleeps and shifts in sleep. The trusting movements that occur in
Even unnatural sleep,
the sleep of alcohol or medicine, has something touching about it.
Through her thin eyelids we see her eyes.
The unsettled birds.
Ice, twisting itself apart in the bay, the rhythm possessed by nature, seen
from somewhere else everything occurs in patterns,
there is a rhythm underneath all that is small,
all that is horrific, the tiny hairs below the eyebrow, plucked throughout a life,
to the eyes distance is not crucial the way it is to the person disturbed, to me, who
disturbed by details and the seasons.
The composition and the rhythm of all
things is the same in the smallest and the greatest,
distance makes the pattern clearer;
my distance from you, today, as I pass through the city in which we met, visit the
same café and generally;
try to get closer to you.
Josefine Klougart (b. 1985) is considered one of the major voices of contemporary Scandinavian literature. She made her debut in 2010 with the novel Stigninger og fald (Rise and Fall), which was nominated for the prestigious Nordic Council Literature Prize. A year later, Klougart was awarded the Danish Crown Prince Couple’s Stardust Prize, with the committee calling her “one of the most important writers, not just of her generation, but of her time.” Her second novel, Hallerne (The Halls), published in 2011, was adapted for the stage at Aarhus Theatre in February 2012 by Swedish director Annika Silkeberg. In February 2012, Klougart published her third novel, One of Us Is Sleeping, for which she again received a Nordic Council Literature Prize nomination, becoming the first Danish author ever to have two of her first three books nominated for Scandinavia’s most prestigious award. Her fourth novel, Of Darkness, appeared in 2014 to massive critical acclaim throughout Scandinavia. Klougart’s writing has been copared variously to that of Joan Didion, Anne Carson, and Virginia Woolf. In 2016, her novels One of Us Is Sleeping and Of Darkness will appear for the first time in English, published by Open Letter Books and Deep Vellum Publishing respectively.
Martin Aitken is an award-winning translator of Danish literature. His work includes novels by such authors such as Peter Høeg, Helle Helle, Pia Juul, and Kim Leine. He has been awarded the American-Scandinavian Foundation’s Nadia Christensen Translation Prize, and was longlisted for both the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. He is currently translating from the Norwegian the sixth book in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s highly acclaimed My Struggle sextology.
This excerpt from Of Darkness is published by permission of Deep Vellum Publishing. Copyright © 2014 Josefine Klougart. Translation copyright © 2016 Martin Aitken.
Photo: Josefine Klougart, Alchetron
Photo: Martin Aitken, Soft Skull Press
Published on November 1, 2016.