Saturday, June 16, 2007

A brief history of nýhilism: Felix culpa


If a Lorentzian spacetime contains a compact region Ω, and if the topology of Ω is of the form Ω ~ R x Σ, where Σ is a three-manifold of nontrivial topology, whose boundary has topology of the form dΣ ~ S², and if furthermore the hypersurfaces Σ are all spacelike, then the region Ω contains a quasipermanent intra-universe wormhole.[1]

When one tries to speak of poetry one usually starts by making a really big circle, a really really big circle the engulfs the entire universe. When one actually starts mouthing the words that will – if god and effort allow - become one’s eternal speech about poetry (and therefore everything else) one finds that the circle has shrunk. The circle is now no more than a dot. The dot, darkbrown like a mole or something of the sort, one realizes, is on the tip of one’s own nose. This, unlike the words that opened this my eternal speech about poetry (and therefore everything else) is not merely a theory. This is the god’s honest truth.

Sitting on the edge of my bed a few weeks, days, minutes or seconds ago (depending on who you find it proper to believe in these matters) I noticed something on the tip of my nose and on the unfocused plateau in front of it I started marvelling at the accomplishments brought to life by my friends, my close acquaintances, my relatives and, oh yes indeed, by myself.

By some astonishing coincidence this was the same time as I started writing this piece. My eternal speech about poetry (and therefore everything else) – cleverly subtitled: The unspoken facts.

(It shall be noted, and probably has already been noted by the more clever of readers, that this essay, rant, or what you want to call it, is not at all entitled eternal anything or the other, and it certainly is not subtitled).

I don’t remember what it was that I promised to write about, but it must’ve had something to do with literature. Very probably poetry, and I am almost positive Icelandic poetry is what I promised to write about. Oh, the late Sigfús Daðason! The marvels of the late Dagur Sigurðarson! The late Einar Ben, late Davíð Stefánsson, late Egill Skallagrímsson, late Tómas Guðmundsson! Ahhh... one’s heart throbs with joy at the infinite beauty and bleh bleh.

Please, I don’t mean no disrespect. As of late though, I’ve found an increasing desire to dismiss the late, as being a little less than timely. The circle is closing in. We’re not crossing the creek to get water, not this time. We don’t have time, I am in a hurry. Please.


So Nýhil.

A few years back I was standing on a streetcorner in Reykjavik. It was a great winter of much poverty in the circles I was circulating in, and me and a friend of mine, a poet with prematurely greying hair and a knack for walking holes into his shoes in a matter of days, were sharing our last cigarette in a quiet winter still. It might have been tuesday, and I think it was around 4 in the morning.
In the night.

We had just shared a beautiful late dinner of rice and soy sauce, a treat that we had grown bizzarely acustomed to.

And there it was. Suddenly, as if it had crashed on top of our heads: an idea as beautifully upheaving and destructive as if Orville and Wilbur had taken off in a Concorde supersonic transport (crashing or soaring, one or the other, take your pick).

After jumping up and down to display our joy and amazement for a few seconds, minutes, days or weeks (depending on who tells the story) we realized that the idea, like we’ve realized since goes for all ideas worth anything, was naught but a name.

The name was, it goes without saying: Nýhil.


As in nihil: nothing. As in vox et praetera nihil: voice and nothing more. As in aut Caeser aut nihil: Either a Caeser or nothing. As in nihil obstat: Nothing obstructs.

And as in nihilism: A doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths.[2] A wise man once said that nihilism was the black hole of philosophy. A wiser statement yet would be that nihilism is the black hole of poetry.

The nihilists of old went down the blackhole to stay there, with rotting teeth and pathetic revolutions that somehow never got farther than a shot in the foot. When the nihilist says: nothing matters so I might as well rape and pillage. The nýhilist asks: if nothing matters than why should I bother with raping and pillaging? They say buddhism is nihilism with a smile. Nýhilism is nihilism with a ‘ý’.

Ný. It’s the age-old prefix for new, as I guess most nordic readers have already guessed.


This is where we start getting closer to the point. The circle keeps closing in and the spot on my nose is itching with glee. The black hole has a theoretical brother known as the worm hole. The name is derived from an analogy that a worm crawling over any surface will not circumvent an apple to get to the other side. The worm will dig through it, and therefore get to the other side much quicker than otherwise thought possible. Going down the black hole you might reappear somewhere else:

Different types of black holes have differently shaped singularities: in a stationary black hole it is a point, in a rotating black hole it is a ring. If you passed through the center of the ring without touching the ring singularity itself, the mathematics predicts you will come out somewhere else and you cannot return. This is the basis of the wormhole idea. However the mathematics gives no indication of where (or when) that somewhere else is, and no way to control or select it yourself.[3]

Apples and worms: Does anyone recall the symbolism?

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God”.[4]

Yet, much like in the apple, there’s a hole in the story – there grew no apples in the Middle East. Which is hardly a great matter for anyone godlike, for anyone that has the wisdom to not circumvent the apple (malum in latin; evil is malus) but to go straight through. From one side to the other, laughing, in an action of non-action known as wu-wei within the Tao – in the old texts they compare it to moving through water. But enough of that.

What was the first thing the Lord asked, what was the first question to form on the lips (or not-lips) of God Almighty after his children betrayed him?

The Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”[5]

Man had dug through the apple and was long gone.


Nýhil is deliberately hard to define. For one thing noone really knows who belongs to it. It’s been claimed that anyone that has done anything in the name of Nýhil in the two weeks preceding anyone’s claim that anyone else is a nýhilist is in fact a nýhilist. If more than two weeks have passed, supposedly that individual (poet, artist, athlete, patron-of-the-arts, etc.) is something completely different.

Anyone that does belong to Nýhil (if anyone really does) can claim whatever they like about Nýhil. Manifestos have been written and forgotten, remembered and rewritten only to be deemed utter nonsense. The plan is perhaps not so much to make a symbolic gesture towards the ambiguity of truth, as much as it is to achieve contradiction, along with all the friction and movement that such an accomplishment brings. That’s how it happens that a society of not really anyone, with noone in charge, a worthless army of fools any way you look at it, has published around 20 poetry books, 4 essay collections, 2 DVD’s, a novel and a CD, produced four short films, a sportsbag, three instruments, while travelling the country for readings, holding a two-day international poetry festival in Reykjavik, and will soon open a bookstore in Reykjavik with an emphasis on underground art and poetry. During this entire time (about four years) people belonging (or not belonging) to Nýhil have continued publishing poetry books, novels, and translations with other more pristine publishing houses.


Poetry is thought for those that deem it worthless. Good poetry comes from those that loathe poetry with a greater fervour than your average reader can possibly muster. There’s probably a point in explaining it, but I’ve lost sight of it. But my faith remains as firm as ever.

[1] Lorentzian Wormholes; Matt Visser.
[2] One of a few definitions in the Merriem-Websters dictionary.
[4] Genesis 3:4.
[5] Genesis 3:8.

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