Study Guide

Nothing Defeat

By Janne Teller

Defeat

We'd won!

Victory is sweet. Victory is. Victory. (4.25-26)

Yeah, not so fast, there, Agnes. You've just thrown a few rocks. It's not over until somebody loses a digit and a couple of house pets.

As songs go, it was hardly noteworthy, but we repeated it over and over to our great amusement. What amused us most, though, was probably the horrified expression on Frederik's face. (7.9)

The kids are singing to Frederik to go get his Dannebrog, and, as we all know, there's nothing like being taunted in song. Here again, Teller gives us a bit of foreshadowing that shows us just how ugly things can get when you've got a group behind you to egg you on.

Something in Hussain seemed to have been destroyed. He went round dragging his feet with his head bowed, and whereas before he'd always dished out his fair share of knocks and shoves, now he wouldn't even defend himself if someone went for him. (12.7-8)

Hussain comes to school defeated after being beaten by his dad for being a bad Muslim, showing his classmates that there's far worse punishment than what they can dish out. This is one of several examples in Nothing (think Sofie's rape and Cinderella's beheading) of a scene that's even more chilling because you don't see it.

Most of us were grounded, some were given a sound beating, and Hussain was again sent to the hospital where Jon-Johan had also been admitted. They were the lucky ones; they got to share a room and talk. (18.8)

If by "lucky" you mean "missing body parts and suffering domestic violence," then sure, those are some lucky dudes. Sometimes we're not quite sure what Agnes is thinking.

All the rage and the fury and the words for and against meant that the heap of meaning at once grew irresistibly more meaningful. But more important was that with all the press coverage and all these art critics showing up, and a whole load of other grand people, as well as a few ordinary ones, the police were forced to open up the sawmill and allow access on a daily basis between noon and four o'clock. (19.5)

Again the masses assert their influence: the police are forced to compromise a crime scene because of the feeding frenzy generated by the media. That, ladies and gents, is a defeat of justice.

It didn't even help when first the Swedish, then the Norwegian, then the rest of the Scandinavian and most of the European, and then the American and then at last what looked like the entire world press descended on Taering and turned us all into something. (19.13)

Even though the international media thinks the heap of meaning is meaningful, the kids still feel defeated by Pierre Anthon's assertions that it's meaningless and by his refusal to come and see it. In this case, what one person thinks is more important to them than what the group thinks. They built the heap of meaning for Pierre Anthon, and he doesn't care.

…it planted inside me an unpleasant, nagging suspicion that Pierre Anthon maybe had ahold of something: that the meaning was relative and therefore without meaning. (20.28)

Twist your brain into an existential pretzel for a minute and ponder this: if the meaning is relative, doesn't that mean that it does have meaning? Does Agnes perhaps have it backwards?

We won the struggle for the meaning, both at home and in the world's press. The strange thing was that our victory ended up feeling like a defeat. (20.34-35)

Again we see Agnes struggling with the need for Pierre Anthon's validation of the heap of meaning's meaning. If victory can be defeat based on individual perception, doesn't that give individual perception—Agnes'sbeing equal to Pierre Anthon's—the power to bestow meaning? (Yes, we know, we're throwing some real philosophical doozies at you here. Thanks for playing along.)

Pierre Anthon had won. But then he made a mistake. He turned his back on us. (23.61-63)

Ah, but it's only a mistake if you don't think that the best thing you can do for the world is die. It could be argued that Pierre Anthon's just keeping it real, and is totally cool with what goes down next.

Looking back on it now, it must have been very gruesome indeed. But that's not how I remember it. More that it was messy. And good. It made sense to beat up Pierre Anthon. It made sense to kick him. It was meaningful, even if he was down and unable to defend himself and eventually wasn't even trying. (24.3)

So violence begets meaning? Aiyeee! These themes are folding in upon themselves. It's like an existentialist black hole. Where's Doctor Who when you need him?

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