“I wanted to dig deeper into how my body and brain restricts what I can understand”
Interview | Ina Rosvall
In Swedish writer and clinical psychologist Ina Rosvall’s critically acclaimed debut novel Harungen (The Young Hare), she explores the physical aspects of consciousness with the narrator a scientist performing animal experiments to document neurological reactions to various aspects of life. The worked stemmed from her inquisitive desire to understand how animals might perceive the very experience of life.
“I spent a lot of my teens trying to understand the meaning of life, like it was a puzzle for me to solve. When I grew older, I became more aware of the necessities of life: our bodies and how fragile they are. I realized how little I understood of how my body shapes my perception of the world. After all, the world is only perceived this way by me. I’ve seen it with the same eyes, touched it with the same fingers and tasted its oranges with the same mouth all my life. And the same brain has made sense of it. Other people will experience the world differently. And I started thinking that this is the experience that is life. Living means to experience the world from a certain perspective, until we die,” Rosvall said, speaking ahead of her appearance at the 7th EU-China International Literary Festival.
“The world remains over time: it is larger than life and death. But life can only exist in the present and in the form of a body. So my interest in the bodily necessities for life and consciousness started to grow. I wanted to dig deeper into how my body and brain restricts what I can understand. And a part of me has always felt restrained by this. I wanted to leave my own perspective, and climb into someone else’s. What would it be to experience life as a worm? A crow? A young hare?”
Rosvall’s interest in the concept of consciousness and the very fabric of life intensified in the aftermath of a family illness.
“When I was 19, my father’s heart stopped. It was sudden and without warning. My mother and siblings spent days in the hospital next to him. The doctors lowered his body temperature to 36 degrees to keep his brain from starting to decompose. I tried to sing to him as the doctors said he might be able to hear it, but I couldn’t bare it. It felt like I was singing at his funeral. He looked different, bloated and strange with tubes keeping him alive. I think it shaped me a lot as an author. Many authors are interested in exploring emotions and relationships. I am not. Not really. I am drawn to this subject: the harshness of reality, how our wishes and wants are so irrelevant to it. And how those wishes are made up by the same reality: neurons firing, panic rising.”
Rosvall’s second novel Livbärarna (In vivo) is set in a world where technical advances have made pregnancy redundant, an originating concept that also had deeply personal connections for her.
“I started writing Livbärarna the same day I found out that I was pregnant with our daughter. I had given birth to our first child, a son, just eight months before becoming pregnant again and the experience was still very vivid to me. It had made me relate to the fabric of life in another way: not through the absoluteness of death, but through the absoluteness of life. It grew with a force that was so much greater than me. Inside me, my daughter grew without understanding what it means to grow, unaware that the world surrounding her was her mother. I instinctively felt like I wanted to write about pregnancy from a philosophical/existential standpoint, rather than a personal one. I saw that it was much bigger than my personal experience and whether I liked becoming a mother or not. So I created a world where pregnancy is abnormal, to allow the novel to have a sort of curious gaze at childbearing, like: what is this? If we could leave it behind, all the pain and medical risks, what would we lose?”
Wearing another hat, Rosvall also works as a clinical psychologist in Sweden, a career experience that she can profoundly impact upon her literary initiatives.
“Harungen explores the psychical necessities of consciousness: the brain. In my training, I studied a great deal of neurology and found it fascinating. It seemed like there were answers to questions that I had thought were strictly philosophical, like where thoughts come from or what will is. It blew my mind. And it was a great inspiration.”
Comparatively new to the literary scene, but with two acclaimed titles under her belt already, Rosvall feels the best advice she could offer aspiring writers would be to find and engage with a community of kindred literary spirits.
“Find other writers! I studied creative writing for a year when I was 19, and the friends I met there have been instrumental to keep me going. It is important to have friends that see the value in writing, and are willing to read your work, and let you read theirs.”
Rosvall has been a recent success story in her native Sweden and hopes now to find a Chinese publisher for her works, and interact more with Chinese science fiction writers in future.
“This is actually my first introduction to the Chinese literary scene! I would love to be able to introduce my work to a greater audience, and I am very impressed by the Chinese Sci-fi I have encountered so far,” she said.