30 March 2009
I'm pondering various possibilities of spending a year or so abroad. My problem is, however, that I don't know where to go. I could learn stuff even though I'd visit a department that doesn't actually share my interests in philosophy. OK, I wouldn't learn much from habermasians or utilitarians, I suspect, but still. I could go to the university of Dundee. Dundee is famous for cookies, I think (I've only heard the Swedish word "kakstad" in connection with Dundee and that is a very promising fact, indeed). I like cookies. This reveals something of my limited enthusiasm about philosophy right now. I would choose a generous jar of cookies any time over a philosophical argument. (Another thing that makes the University of Dundee interesting, if we forget the cookies for a while, is that their philosphy department seems to take an interest in contintental philosophy - I've heard that few universities in GB do, I don't know about Scotland specifically.)
25 March 2009
Jag vet inte ens var jag ska börja, så jag slutar här. Men för helvete, ta bort joxpsykologer från publicservicetv.
24 March 2009
Last Sunday I watched A man escaped (1956) by Robert Bresson and the film hasn't quite left my mind yet. If one were to read the synopsis of the story of this film, one would perhaps be led to think it is a run-of-the-mill thriller. It is not, even though Bresson's images in this film are replete with suspense. We see a handcuffed man in a taxi, two police officers (I think) - the handcuffed man escapes. The camera, however, continuously focuses on what happens in the car, rather than following the small chase that takes place outside. France/the German takeover/a prison. Fontaine, fighting for the resistance movement, is imprisoned, beaten and put into a cell with a small window that lets him look at the courtyard. The story of the film, in a nutshell, which is all there is, follows this man's attempts to escape from the prison. We know little about him, his story, what happened before he was imprisoned - we simply know that he takes every measure to escape. (Some have written about the spiritual aspects of Fontaine's determination and I'm sure there is a point to that) There are the daily routines of the prison. And A man escapes wonderfully gives us a sense of the prison routines, both those enforced on the prisoners and Fontaine's own meticulous planning. Food is eaten, slop buckets are emptied, faces are washed. However distant the subject matter of the film may seem, what makes it so engaging is its attention to details, small sounds, light and bodily movements. A few taps on a wall signals Fontaine's eager intentions to fulfill his plans. Sudden gunfire. A soldier absentmindedly lets his bayonette clatter against the railings as he accompanies one of the prisoners to his cell. This is a film without any trace of desire to flatter or titillate the viewer. It is very low-key, and very revealing at that. It really focuses on the moment as very few other movies do, in my opinion. That is why I found it so exciting, too. Another striking thing about A man escaped is its use of voice-over. Narrated by Fontaine, the voice-over does not provide us, as is ususally the case with voice-overs, "psychological depth". Mostly, Fontaine simply tells us about what he aims to do and how he intends to do it. When some descriptions of his own feelings are brought in, they are all the more striking.
20 March 2009
In chapter 34, Ulrich ventures out on a walk. He is pained by reflection. Thinking is dangerous, but drifting with the flow is dangerous, too. Either way: Ulrich sees the pitfalls of degeneration and feebleness wherever he turns. "People are not much concerned, inwardly, with the life they lead." While young, we tend to bemoan being thrown into a world of prefabrications and customs. Most people, Ulrich muses, take the world for granted. All this permanence, order and endurance, beside which we feel like "mere mist", that surround us, even though we have no clue whatsoever as to how we ended up leading this life - thinks Ulrich. We don't even realize it: "they adopt the man who has come to them, whose life has merged with their own, whose experiences now seem to be the expression of their own qualities, and whose fate is their own reward or misfortune." We remember: the men of reality versus the men of possibility. Ulrich here describes persons for whom every aspect of possibility is closed down. There is only necessity - and chance. He stops walking when he recognizes a few houses the construction of which had to do with a rebellious past. Now these houses seem to him like "aunts in outmoded hats, quite proper and irrelevant and anything but exciting." The themes raised in this chapter, the rebellion of youth & the settling down to an orderly life, are important ones for Musil. In A man without qualities, he connects these things to societal movements, class differences and ideology - in that sense, there are no "psychological truths" delivered here. At least so it seems to me up to this point.
Bank director Leo Fischel is a new character introduced to us in chapter 35. He, too, has received a letter from his Grace, count Leinsdorf. Were it not for his "sound business sense" he might have sent him a reply. But Fischel is not very interested in patriotism. He lives for stocks and bonds. As the following chapter states the matter: we are not prone to pass judgement on things that lie outside of our field of expertise. But on the other hand, one might not know after all (except, of course, with stocks and bonds) and one does not want to miss out on something important. Fischel meets Ulrich on the street. The letter from Leinsdorf worried him because of one thing that reappeared in the text: "The Truth". Ulrich is sceptical about the truth and starts talking to Fischel the bank manager about the weird ways in which historical events evolve and how the real cause of an event rarely is what we take it to be. But Fischel is in no mood for philosophy: he is in a hurry, late for a meeting.
Chapter 37 reveals the extent to which Leinsdorf has attempted to engage different societal groups in his campaigne. Not only has Fischel, a simple manager with a wife from high society, received a letter of invitation, but so has the general manager at the bank and even the executives of the National Bank. The campaign excites executives alienated from the day-to-day business of banking as well as former government officials "with no taste for the limelight" who like the idea of a campaign aimed against Germany. Why were they eager to believe in Leinsdorf's ability to promote "vitality"? Musil makes an ironical, but important remark about how those who take part in high circles have to be loyal and, unlike the sneaky bourgeoisie, have to act like they think. But: this only mean that they should not think at all - they merely act. This is, once again, a theme explored in many chapters. Ulrich envies high society for its lack of reflection and its appearance of determination. As we've seen, he has tried to reach a stage of resolution, but he failed. Leinsdorf, on the other hand, epitomizes the non-thinking aristocracy that somehow sets things in movement even though he does not do anything himself. He is an enzyme, a catalyst.
Chapter 37: It was a journalist writing a bunch of articles on the campaign to prove that he had Contacts that set the whole process in motion. The journalist coined the notion of "the year of Austria". Leinsdorf was apalled at first but then he thought about the lesson of Bismarck: Realpolitik, utilizing this & that party, disavowing one's statements or confirming them "as circumstances might dictate". The idea of a "Year of Austria" matches the Man of the times; a person who cannot stay in one place for too long, who drifts from one thing to the other, "understand it however you like". For this "common man", men without money ("unpleasant cranks!") truth is private. That makes them dangerous, I think, in the eyes of Leinsdorf, the man who prefers not to think. This private "man-within-the-man", Musil seems to say, has a very conventional idea of truth, applauding concepts of the world that latch on to the most banal forms of society; a spittoon that can be shut with a single latch; Oehl's system of shorthand; simplification of the administrative apparatus. It might seem that this is the age of self-expression, but what do we do? Scrambling an obscure pamphlet or article together, being praised as the new Newton by a handful of eager readers. "This custom of picking the points out of each other's fur is widespread and a great comfort..." Given this state of things, Leinsdorf's campaign was received as a gift from above. But one thing surprises Leinsdorf. It is not only patriotism that people praise. They actually want to change the world! That, to him, is absurd.
19 March 2009
18 March 2009
Lately, I've been fascinated by corporeal aspects of music. As I know nothing about music theory (/matemathics/physics) I have no technical language for describing what I hear. I listen to Frank Bretschneider & Taylor Deupree: Balance. Dubby, minimal beats flutter around with a multitude of sometimes very subtle sounds.
The first track, "Interlock" is the weakest on the album. Too much is going on. Still, I like the slightly perverse sound that recalls a molested, thumping saxophone (perverse in the Matmos sense, if you want). But there are quite a few whirling levels on the track diverting my attention in too many directions at the same time. I've just come back from a reading group on Deleuze. I can really hear those desiring machines interlock, that throbbing, perverse thump. When I listened to this track the first time it appeared very clean, too clean, and slightly boring. But as I listen a few more times, it starts to fall apart - in a good way. The sounds that first appeared quite melodic, suddenly turn out to be more "dissonant" than I first realized. Etc. Track 2, "Moving light" builds on the friction between a pulsating beat and a crunching bass sound drifting in & out "disturbing" the harmony of the track in having no clear pace. A few beeps along with a "humorous" (?) wave-like glich muster up "a melody". In the background, there is a thundering sound that conjures up the image of a person hammering on metal junk. The elegance of "electricity" along with gritty "industrial". I feel queasy. It's a restless track, and the title, "Moving light", is very fitting. Reflections of the sun dancing on a wall. "Dug in" is a dubby affair. There are at least two separate beats (what is a beat and what is not???) and a few additional layers of clicks and signals. I hear a jarring seesaw buried somewhere deep down in the mix. An intruding beep gradually come to dominate the song. After a while, I feel like I've been listening to telephone signals. The restlessness of the earlier tracks is gone. The atmosphere is calmer. There are lots of noises here, but the overall feel is not mind-splintering. "Vertical invader". I am enthralled by a train whistle. Expectation. I don't know for how long that beat has been there. Maybe forever. The rustic feel of the "train whistle" is contrasted with a few very "clubby" sound that, if added in another context, could stir up a real Groove among the hip kids. I am torn between a hazy club and a foggy train station. A static noise kicks in, I didn't realize it at first, then it worms its way into my ears and I feel surprised about how it got there. This is "Freeze frame". One single note in varied shapes accompanies the ever-pulsating, ever-transforming beat, that now has taken a less dominating position. Percussion sounds roll around in my speakers, along with glitchy, surprisingly 80's sounding synth sounds. A broken computer game. I see that green&black screen freeze. The pace gets more and more irregular. There are stops and starts, pulls and jerks. But the pace is overall slow. "Autodrive" has a sound that conjures up a breathing machine. The "telephone beep" is back, too. A dubby beat. I feel like having woken up from surgery; nausea. Displacement. The high-frequency noises in the background fumble about, discreet, gentle, while the overall sound is surprisingly melodic, whatever that means in this context. I am glued into those sounds; they have become part of my system. I'm playing the record on repeat. We're moving into "Concrete". Are we talking about the not-abstract or a building material? Well, if this is a building site they are building computer chips, rather than houses. Crispy choes. A quiet song, with few jarring sounds. Relaxation. Then, suddenly, a really bass-loaded beat kicks in somewhere in the background. My speakers are dancing around in the room. This is microdub, indeed, and it sounds damn good. "Half-mute" is exactly what the title indicates. The bass in the background quietly propulses the track. There's a disturbing sound of - what is it? - a clock? And light metal sticks clanked together. A surging sound, the breathing machine transformed into a quiet monster tugging at you. These layers are suddenly turning into something that sounds almost energetic. No, you couldn't dance to it but I feel less drowsy than I did while listening to some of the earlier tracks. Only a bunch of those narcotics still perpetuating that stupor. Or have I simply got used to the pace? "Bluetime" is dominated by another one of those electricity-sounds. Old-timey computer modems. And then the sound is stripped down, once again. A beat. A slightly unruly click. The sound of machinery, communicating.
On Balance, all tunes coalesce into each other. One could listen to them in one sitting, without even realizing at which point one track ends and the next one begins. It's not noise music in the Merzbow sense. But the physical aspect of the listening experience is important here, though. It's almost as if you feel the sounds and transformations in you (but maybe that's because I, as I said, have been reading Deleuze lately). It's not an ambience album, either - there's still some driving "rhythms" throughout the album, however abstract they might appear. And maybe this is too dynamic, too stuffed with variations to be called a "minimalist" album. I don't care.
(Sorry, this is a terribly amateurishly written review - as always - but it is pretty interesting to explore music in words, without the aid of technical language.)
15 March 2009
Ever since I've listened to a few bad tracks by bands such as Die Toten Hosen, German punk music has not been my thing. Then I came upon Abwärts, a band formed in the late seventies in Hamburg. They made a few albums, some of which gained some popularity. So far, I've heard one, Die Westen ist Einsam. It comes as no surprise that the music bears similarities with Einstürzende Neubauten / Birthday Party territories as two of the members joined EN. Der Westen ist Einsam is catchy, gritty and cavernous at the same time. But don't pay too much attention to the lyrics, please. It was released in 1982 and the title of the album by itself earns my blessings. With songs called "deprimiert", and follwed by that, "sei froh", you can't go wrong either. And you can't go wrong with cow bells. Those who have a firmer acqaintance with Abwärts than I do complain that this is a record that is much more "mainstream" than the earlier efforts. I hope I will find out whether there is any truth in that. (last.fm)
If you are interested in this, you should check out Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft: Alles ist Gut (1981), too. That's a fucking amazing album, which everyone should hear. Words fall short off how great this is. It has the genius of Suicide. Direct, raw, nasty, short and sweet. "Sei still. schliesse deine Augen. bitte denk an nichts. glaube mir. alles ist gut." A synth has never sounded crunchier and few records - Suicide, but few others - can compare with this in terms of focus. If you know anything that even remotely resembles this album - tell me.
10 March 2009
ps. jag undrar varför svenska s.k. popsångare inte har det där uttalet längre. Det är ju fint.
- Det finns ingen ”Guds-punkt” i våra hjärnor, säger en av forskarna bakom studien professor Jordan Grafman. Istället är den upplevelsen inbäddad i flera områden som vi använder varje dag, säger han till The Independent.
Enligt professor Grafman, som forskar vid vid US National institute of neurological disorder and stroke i Bethesda, är våra hjärnor uppbyggda för att tro på nästan allting så länge det finns en grund för att göra det. Så snart något är mer mystiskt och man inte omedelbart kan se en logisk förklaring börjar Guds-områdena i hjärnan att bearbeta materialet.- Stycke 2 är det roligaste jag läst på länge. Såklart! Det är hjärnan som avgör "vad det finns grunder att tro på". Men det följande stycket överträffar nog det förra i rolighet:
Forskarna lät ett stort antal försökspersoner tänka på religiösa och moraliska frågor samtidigt som de mätte vilka regioner i hjärnan som aktiverades. Det visade sig då att personerna använde samma områden när de tänkte på moralfrågor eller frågor som hade med gud att göra. Resultaten var de samma oavsett vilken religiös övertygelse försökspersonerna hade.
Vetenskapligt så det förslår. Bästa vänner, här har vi hard science: de rigorösa vetenskapliga metoderna, den järnhårda vetenskapliga hypotesprövningen. Jag undrar vad folk tänkte på då de ombads tänka på "religiösa och moraliska frågor". I Independent läser jag att testpersonerna skulle "lösa moraliska gåtor". Jösses. Utan att vara en av dem som spenderar hela dagarna med neurovetenskap vågar jag påstå att det finns en tråkigt lockelse i test som går ut på korrespondens mellan 'att tänka på x' och hjärnområde(n) y'. Samma gäller 'att titta på bild x' och 'aktivering av hjärnområde y'. Vissa tendenser i (populär?)vetenskap är helt enkelt uttryck för intellektuell lättja. "Hur kommer det sig att religionen är ett universellt fenomen?" "Låt oss titta i hjärnan!!!" Om det är så, föredrar jag nog klassisk religionsfenomenologi alla gånger.
Från Independent, om samma rön:
"Religious belief and behaviour are a hallmark of human life, with no accepted animal equivalent, and found in all cultures," said Professor Jordan Grafman, from the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, near Washington. "Our results are unique in demonstrating that specific components of religious belief are mediated by well-known brain networks, and they support contemporary psychological theories that ground religious belief within evolutionary-adaptive cognitive functions."
- Det som är helt tydligt i detta citat, om man bortser från innehållet, är det BOMBASTISKA vetenskapliga språket. "A hallmark of human life". "Our results are unique in demonstrating..." "Well-known brain networks".
Men intressantare än de här nutsiga vetenskapsrönen är väl vetenskapsjournalistikens ansvar och uppgift i det här sammanhanget. Förutom humorvärdet som finns i föreliggande artiklar, plus eventuella sociologiska iaktagelser om vetenskapssamfund och -språk, skulle jag säga att de här beskrivningarna av "forskning" bidrar till fördumning och, framför allt, vidskepelse. Istället för att tänka på religionens olika roller/former/retoriska aspekter osv. i människors liv uppmanar ju de här artiklarna - i alla sin okritiskhet - folk att tänka på religion och moral som något självklart, gåtor eller övernaturliga förklaringar, och that's that, det intressant är bara hur det här tankarna kan placeras i hjärnan.
9 March 2009
Driving through arctic landscapes. The end of the world. Thick mist hovers over the ground. A sun that never sets.
Gösta sits on the ferry. The drone of engine & crushed ice. A childhood neighbor sits next to him. They don't talk to each other. The neighbor's kid slurps an ice cream cone while his mother smothers him with sweet-talk. Gösta tries not to listen. The neighbor's wife talks with a drawl. She's nice, even the villagers attest to that fact. And those folks are not easily charmed. But Gösta doesn't know her. Gösta doesn't know his neighbor anymore, either. There's no hostility. There's genteel silence.
Turku is a beautiful place. Gösta admires the warm glow of the Holiday Inn building. It's snowing like hell that day. Gösta's feet get wet. You should not be wearing sneakers all year, fucker. Gösta is on his way to apply for a passport. The police station is another cozy place to be. Gösta sits in an orderly row, contemplating his existence, contemplating the existence of those sitting beside him. Gösta places himself in Omsk / Oregon / Orivesi. Antsy, but for what?
Gösta's gaze is glued to the ground. There's a heap of sky in those icy crystals.
Gösta is fire & brimstone. Gösta & the Carter family. "It takes a worried man to sing a worried song....I'm worried now but I won't be worried long".... Gösta & looney Christian music. "I'm going to the mountain with the fire spirit..." These are weird times. Gösta will learn to play the banjo. Gösta will stand in a street corner. Gösta will sing stern songs about the apocalypse. On sunny days, he will sing about fluffy corn fields. Some drunk will smash the banjo. Gösta will be snowed on & rained on. // Gösta takes a nap. Gösta's thoughs are drifting. Gösta should think more. Gösta should think less. Gösta sells his soul for a slice of pizza. Kebab & pickled gherkin & garlic. Gösta sells his soul for a dime. The next application is due on the 31th this month.
The sun begins to warm again. Gösta takes walks in the company of retired people in love who wear matching outdoor clothing. Blue for the gentleman, pink for the lady. Middle aged people with spans of dogs. Three of four of them dogs, a dog owner ogling the surrounding as if on a killing spree. But most days Gösta walks the streets alone; not a soul anywhere to be seen.
Gösta & you sit in a café pretty close to the police station. It's like in the movies. Police officers sneak in like pearls on a necklace to grab a donut. Pink, dripping with fat. Berliner donuts. Gösta could sit here all day, peering through those blinds, while tuning into a story by officer Tuomo or Jukka or Outi. Gösta's tooth aches for those Berliners, too. He should have enrolled at the police academy. He's got what it takes. Agility, persistence, an eye for the situation. The division between right & wrong, he has an intuition for stuff like that.
The liberty van. Where is it headed? It stood outside the Silja terminal. Maybe the liberty van is about to spread the gospel of liberty on board of some cruise ship or other. Are they hippies? But then they are minimalist hippies, based on that sparse little pattern. Or is the pattern scattered-about crosses? Maybe the van belongs to a fire-and-brimestone preacher from whom Gösta could learn a trick or two. They could tour the cruisers together. Sing songs, announce the end of the world. Gösta delivers, you know that.
6 March 2009
Tre kvinnor dräps varje månad
I snitt har tre kvinnor per månad dräpts i Finland de senaste åren. Trots att dödligheten i brott mot liv minskat i Finland är den ändå 1,5 gång större än medeltalet i EU.
Totalt dödades drygt 180 kvinnor i Finland under perioden 2003–2007. Det här framgår av Rättspolitiska forskningsinstitutets webböversikt.
I största delen av fallen är det någon kvinnan känner som dräper henne. Gärningsmannen är ganska ofta maken, partnern eller någon annan anhörig. (FNB)
- Att det här är en notis bland allt annat - Carl Philip & Victoria & Volvo & Saab & Miss Finland & IFK-TPS berättar fan i mig något om det här landet.
5 March 2009
Matti Vanhanen är en politiker som jag fullständigt saknar förtroende för. Allt som det här stenansiktet säger andas maktpolitik, defensiva attacker och oförmåga att diskutera, lyssna - och tänka. Regeringens senaste tilltag - den famösa Lex Nokia som just klubbats igenom i riksdagen, den lika famösa universitetslagen och så det senaste - regeringens förslag om höjd pensionsålder - har kännetecknats av lyckta-dörrar politik där besluten tagits inom en liten krets och där diskussion bland andra politiker och, gud förbjude, vanliga människor, avspisas som obehövlig och amatörmässigt oinsatt. Att pensionsålderhöjningen bland folket inte är speciellt populärt säger sig Vanhanen vara medveten om, men läget är ju sånt att Finland måste....
Regeringen vet. Regeringen kan. Regeringen handlar. Regeringen tar beslut. Finsk politik är känd för sin konsensustörstande konflikträdsla. Det här är något som varit synnerligen påtagligt i den senaste regeringen där det i tidningsrapporteringen ofta krävs stor uppmärksamhet för att hänga med i skillnaden mellan regeringspropositioner och riksdagsbeslut. Detta är inte att säga att tidigare figurer, Paavo Lipponen t.ex., kan ses som positiva förebilder vad gäller ett diskuterande politiskt klimat. Knappast. Men det är något med personen Matti Vanhanen som i all sin ugnspotatismedelmåttighet inte kan beskrivas som annat än extremt. Jag tänker på hans totala avsaknad av personligt ansvarstagande och personliga ställningstaganden. Se på vilken bild som helst av Vanhanen i politisk aktion och ni förstår. Skimret av: "detta är regeringsbusiness. Ni är pöbeln." När Matti Vanhanen pratar vill han alltid få det att framstå som det är någon annan eller något annat som kommer till tals, aldrig Matti Vanhanen själv. Det kan röra sig om det tvingande ekonomiska läget, en samstämmighet i regeringen eller "att man har beslutat".
I dagens Hufvudstadsblad uttalar sig Vanhanen om den prekära relationen med fackförbund som inte är speciellt förtjusta i att inte ha fått vara en del av beslutsprocessen kring höjd pensionsålder. Vanhanens uttalanden gränsar till det tragikomiska.
Men hurudana är dina relationer till arbetsmarknadsparterna?
– Vi har sakliga kontakter. Vi har telefonnumren till varandra.
Matti, har du tänkt på showbiz? (FFC-basen Ihalainen talade i gårdagens blad om "förbrukat förtroende".) Följande passage från Helsingin Sanomat har också tragikomikens lyster över sig - och maktfullkomlighetens:
Pääministeri oli haluton kommentoimaan suuttumusta, jonka hallitukselta yllättäen tullut päätös on palkansaajajärjestöissä nostattanut.
"Mieluummin keskustelisin siitä, tarvitaanko työurien pidentämistä. Toivon, ettei sitä haasteta, etteikö hallituksella olisi oikeus ottaa kantaa tällaiseen jokaista suomalaista koskevaan asiaan", Vanhanen sanoi.
(Ungefärlig översättning: Statsministern var ovillig att kommentera missnöjet som beslutet har väckt bland löntagarorganisationer: - Jag skulle hellre diskutera om tiden i arbetslivet bör förlängas. Jag hoppas att man inte ifrågasätter att regeringen skulle ha rätt att ta ställning till en sådan här sak som rör varje finländare.)
Vad sägs här? Jo: regeringen besitter den beslutande makten. Ifrågasätt icke detta, tack. Istället för att bemöta missnöjet hänvisar Vanhanen till regeringens befogenheter att ta beslut. Vad han tydligen glömt - eller troligen har han aldrig förstått sig på sådant - är att det borde finnas något slags dialog mellan politiska organ och "det övriga samhället".
Vanhanen säger i en intervju i Vasabladet att höjd pensionsålder inte är den enda lösningen på den ekonomiska krisen. Folk ska komma ut tidigare i arbetslivet och så krävs det ett program:
Det här citatet gör mig förbannad. Vanhanen verkar faktiskt tänka att man genom ett program kan få folk att "orka mera" - ett program som riktar sig till de arbetande individerna, snarare än den press, exploatering och osäkerhet som finns i arbetslivet, i företag, i "affärslogiken".
2 March 2009
The dialogue is very stylized, every word is uttered with severe monotony. Nobody ever talks the way the characters do in this film, and the historical gap hardly changes anything; the interesting thing is that the story itself stands out all the clearer in light of this very stilted of dialogue. I'll explain.
Gertrud is married to a lawyer who is about to make a career in politics. Gertrud tells him she indends to leave him. He has, she says, never loved her; he has been too occupied with his work. (They allude to some old saying, that a woman loves her man while for the man work is always nr. 1) It turns out that Gertrud has a new lover, a young musician, Erland. But he doesn't care for her, either. He brags about his "conquest" at a "scandalous" party and she is ashamed. Gertrud & her husband visit a serene celebration party in honor of a poet, Gabriel. Gabriel has been Gertrud's lover, and he tries to convince her that they should get together again. She refuses him because she thinks Gabriel never really loved her. A fourth man, a psychologist/philosopher, convinces her to go to Paris, where he engages in weird psychological research. They are "friends", a friendship that, according to a dry & at the same time emotinally loaded remark by Axel himself, "never evolved into love".
This could have been a really cheesy story. And had my mood been different upon seeing the film, I might have sided with this critic, who mercilessly calls Dreyer's film trite and emotionless: "This film, in many ways, has far more in common, albeit unintendedly, with the zombie films of George Romero and his imitators than with Dreyer’s earlier great films- call it zombie formalism, of the sort that makes Dreyer have Gertrud dream of running naked, then being attacked by dogs, only to see a painting like that in the chamber where Gabriel is being honored by Gustav and others." (Contemporary critics are said to have been merciless, too.) Gertrud is a tedious film, and, by God, it's melodramatic - but interesting in that. The lines spoken by the actors are utterly demented. From another point of view, Dreyer attempts to achieve something by means of stylization. He creates an atmosphere, a perspective on the story.
After having watched the film, I had some difficulties in figuring out what the film was about. Gradually, it dawned on me that it explores idealized relationships. For one thing, while talking to each other, the characters rarely look at each other. They look straight into the camera. This adds to the feeling of how distant these people are in relation to each other. Gertrud is disappointed about the men in her life. Still, she celebrates Love. Paradoxically, she claims to have loved. Is it the idea of love she has cherished in her life? The other characters, too, are immersed in lives that seem to revolve more about an idea about themselves than relationships with other people. Gertrud's husband is keen to be seen as a decent citizen & successful husband. Gabriel, the poet, mourns the ways his life has changed. Erland, Gertrud's young lover, is interested in trying out women because he can - he knows that a safe future awaits him. Gertrud is an elusive character. She clearly expresses what she wants, but still it remains unclear what she actually wants.
Towards the end of the film, Gertrud sets for independence, but it is rather unsettled to what extent this is a happy independence. She has freed herself from something she didn't want, but what kind of freedom did she look for in the first place? What is Gertrud's conception of love? In one scene, Gertrud declares that love is "unhappiness". But maybe her idealized sense of love - the reason I call it "idealized" is not that I think that the alternative would be "to cope with the situation" - is a necessarily unhappy quest for purity? The austere ending of the movie in which Gertrud looks back on her life, in addition to her high-spirited speech on "free will" earlier on, makes me have double thoughts about her complacent, stoic feelings revealed towards the end of the movie (she states she is forgotten and alone...). Gertrud congratulates herself for having lived in accordance with the idea of love. It is difficult not to understand this as an utterly self-obsessed remark, cloaked in blown-up religious language.
For some reason, it is hard for me to understand Gertrud as a feminist movie about liberation and independence. I am not sure exactly how consciously Dreyer (or should we say Hjalmar Söderberg?) uses tired, old gender formulas: man seeks physical love & woman seeks Purity - man seeks artistic and/or social fulfillment & woman seeks Love. The characters transcend these stereotypes, I would say, to some extent.
But, really, this is a very open-ended film. I would not be surprised if somebody else were to interpret the film in a completely different way. And I am sure that I would watch it differently, were I to watch it a second time.