by Lo Dagerman – preface to Chilean Mar y Tierra’s anniversary publication.
Everything significant that I experience, all that fills my life with a sense of wonder—meeting with a lover, a caress on my skin, help in distress, eyes reflecting moonlight, sailing on the open sea, the joy a child inspires, a shiver in the face of beauty—all of this occurs beyond the bounds of time. – SD, “Our Need for Consolation Is Insatiable”, 1952.
“His text is an anthem to freedom“, says Christian Olivier about Stig Dagerman’s essay Our Need for Consolation Is Insatiable. Olivier is the singer of the French group Têtes raides that in 2008 toured France with a recital of Stig’s text set to reggae. It became quite a sensation. Stig Dagerman wrote this essay when he was twenty-nine, two years before his suicide in 1954.
The theme of freedom runs through all of Stig’s writing. His search for it. In its various shapes and forms.
In the beginning of his career, it was primarily about political freedom. Stig became an Anarcho-Syndicalist at seventeen and cultural editor of The Worker, the movement’s daily, at twenty-two. Even today, his political commentary in the form of satirical verse is well-known in Sweden and often put to music. Stig advocated a decentralized form of socialism where the individual would experience both influence and accountability.
I believe that man’s natural enemy is the mega-organization because it robs him of the vital necessity to feel responsible for his fellow-man, /it/ restricts his possibilities to show solidarity and love and instead turns him into an agent of power, that for the moment may be directed against others, but ultimately is directed against himself. – SD, “Do we believe in man?”, 1950.
The once powerful Anarcho-Syndicalist movement lay crushed in the ruins of World War II. Communism with its centralized power structure and infringement on human rights was the winner on the left. Stig held on to what he called “the politics of the impossible”, the importance of a higher ideal however utopian. He refused the binary option between Capitalism and Communism forced by the Cold War. Existential philosophy attracted him. He sought solace in Camus’ Sisyphus who, forever rolling his rock up the hill, extracts meaning out of meaninglessness.
Disillusioned by postwar politics, Stig went deeper into the inner aspects of freedom. He himself had psychological wounds that beset him. His mother had deserted him at birth, a fact that created in him feelings of rejection and loneliness. Not being worthy of love. When Stig could write, the wound hurt less. He even made it his business to lay bare, investigate and analyze his emotions. As a way through and forward, toward transcendence and freedom.
For five intense years Stig wrote novels, journalism, plays, short stories, poems and essays at a fast pace. Trying to meet ever-rising expectations, most of all probably the high bar he himself had set. He travelled around the globe. He fell in love. He remarried. Chasing consolation. But at 27, Stig had run himself into the ground. Beset by a writer’s block and depression that fuelled each other in a downward cycle.
To write was Stig’s door to freedom. Now he felt that door closing. Not knowing why. Our Need for Consolation is insatiable is Stig’s analysis of what is happening to him. Why are his thoughts hooked on suicide? Where can he find himself at peace “resting like a stone in the sand”? His desire for life recharged?
The text is an anthem to freedom. Stig never ended his search for that. And, also this time he was successful. He wrote himself free. Through his meditation on our universal need for consolation, he himself could make out a glimmer of hope.
But Stig could not hold on by himself. His depression was deep-seated and no effective help available. He took his life on November 4, 1954.
Our Need for Consolation Is Insatiable is a unique document even today when self-disclosure about depression and suicidal ideation is more common. Translated into many languages, it has become a text that offers inspiration and consolation to others in search of healing.
Stig – you wished that your words would “touch the world’s heart”. They do!