Spotlight Series

Spotlight: N-o-nS…e;nSI/c::::a_L

This summer, Daily Serving is shining a light on some of the many arts publications that we respect, and this week we’re devoting our attention to N-o-nS…e;nSI/c::::a_L. Co-founder Vivian Sming notes, “Icelandic activist, writer, and artist Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson builds his text, ‘LAUGHING STONES: Ownlogical Situations,’ around the contested analysis of one of Iceland’s most illustrious poems, ‘The Time and the Water,’ by modernist poet Steinn Steinarr. Úlfhildarson hooks onto a particular passage from the poem about a laughing stone, using it to go beyond the traditional decoding of metaphor to create a critical viewpoint and interrogation of art, social obedience, theology, and logic.” “LAUGHING STONES” was first published in N-o-nS…e;nSI/c::::a_L’s second issue, (meaning), in 2015.


A stone is picked up and thrown, hitting a wall on which it leaves none but a tiny mark, the smallest of dots, before perpetrating the purest act of obedience, submission to gravity: falling—then settling down on the pavement below. Albeit the evidence left on the wall, silence as usual prevails: without a bypassing eye, or an ear of a similar rarity, the demonstrated disruption of norm(tot)ality goes fully unnoticed. To a foreign observer, theretofore unacquainted to the surroundings, the dot on the wall—however obscure—cannot be but a part of the original painting. The local, on the other hand, notices a slight alteration on the canvas—presumably done, or at least authorized, by the artist. The former sees stillness—the latter sees not a movement but the result of a movement. Both face an image—the meaning of which seems somehow alien and uncertain to them—without witnessing the precise, precarious mo(ve)ment prompting their slightly different interpretation of the same image.

In his poem “Tíminn og Vatnið” (“The Time and The Water”), Icelandic poet Steinn Steinarr draws up a peculiar picture: The narrator throws a stone at a white brick wall—and the stone laughs. The twenty-one texts—originally published freestanding in various literary magazines before brought together in two respective versions in 1948 and 1956—constitute one of the most debated and multifariously interpreted poems within modern Icelandic literature. The collection manifests an aggressive artistic metamorphosis, the author taking a radical leap away from his theretofore poetical home ground—moving from the political, the satirical, and the rather traditionally metric, to a mixture of self-made forms and non-forms, creating a collage of simple yet complex images, the meaning of which is much less to be found via conventional ways of decoding metaphors than by opening up for frisson. While a quest for a comprehensive, intellectual understanding might certainly result in a pile of papers, stuffed with findings of presumed significance, it simultaneously reduces the autonomous universe created by the poet—demystifying it and turning it into a crossword puzzle to solve, an enigma to unravel, a spell to disenchant. Consequently, the meaning becomes a treasure island—or a “green sand […] like an ocean within the ocean,” to (mis)use Steinn’s own words—around which the hydrophobic reader swims tirelessly, desperately searching for a suitable creek to take land on.

Continue reading the essay here.