Bench Press - by Sven Lindqvist

‘Whatever sort of appearance we take as the ideal,' I said, ‘only a very few will be able to live up to it. All the others just have to live with a sense of shame. That's why I think we should encourage people to say YES to the way their bodies happen to look.' ‘Are you being consistent, though?' asked the skinhead. ‘Think about when you're writing, for example. Are you prepared to say: We should encourage writers to say YES to the way their first drafts happen to look?'

The skinhead was my Virgil. His way of thinking had inspired my confidence. I liked his way of homing in on the crucial point of my argument, ring-fencing it and then proceeding to substitute my central word with others as you might change the weights on a bar-bell. I wondered where he'd learned that almost experimental way of thinking.

The architecture of the muscle builder is baroque.

That's how society is constructed. It gives us ‘a feeling of influence' without any real power. It allows us to ‘experience' being part of the decision-making process, when in fact all we get is extra inconvenience and no prospect of producing anything other than the pre-programmed result.

‘In fact, isn't making the effort to take a stand on something always an "ego trip" in the sense that we are trying to create a new image of the self, of the "ego"? It's nothing to be ashamed of.'

I found it all again in infinitely more sophisticated form in Thoreau and Ekelund and other masters of the art of challenge. But it was Vitality and Strength that first provided me with the norm for how a book should function. A proper book should aim to have an impact on its reader's life. It should say: ‘Your lifestyle is wrong! There is a choice and a way!' A book's worth should be measured by, and only by, the change it wrought.

I looked on literature as an instruction manual for the future, a cookery book of recipes for the dishes of adult life. Soon I would be able to experience what I, still being a child, could only read about. For many years, the Sahara was the future dish at the top of my list.

In Béla Kun's short-lived workers' state of 1919 and again in 1949, workers' power was expressed primarily in terms of workers' muscles. It's one of the most cherished conventions of socialist heroism. Body-building appears to be Western individualism in its most extreme form: so why does the victory of the proletariat always find artistic expression in the proletarian as bodybuilder?