Danmark, Gurre, stranden: place in Danish literature

Update, Nov 2015: what’s this? a review på dansk!

The literary turn…cue much excitement when I spotted Danmark, Gurre, stranden: steder i dansk litteratur (Saxo; published by U Press) by Jan Rosiek on my literary podcast (see below). 171 pages rather than numerous bind, published in February (reviews: Politiken 25 March | Weekendavisen 13 March, neither online):

Den nye interesse for steder i litteratur har ændret vores måde at læse på. Vi har bevæget os hen imod en større opmærksomhed over for de virkelige rum, som litteraturen foregår i.Topografi (‘steds-skrift’) inddrages ofte i dette nybrud, og for litterater burde der være noget umiddelbart tiltrækkende ved analyser af geografiske lokaliteter, der understreger det skriftlige aspekt i fremstillingen af et sted.For at afklare rummets og stedets status i litteraturvidenskaben sætter Jan Rosiek egne bidrag sammen til en anden forståelse af nøgleord og kategorier som rum, sted, stof og motiv. De har ofte spillet en stor rolle i analysen af fortællinger. Nu kan vi også begynde at forstå betydningen af rum og sted i forbindelse med lyriske værker. Gennem geokritiske læsninger fremstilles betydningen af steder som nationen Danmark, det kulturelle erindringssted Gurre og den topografiske lokalitet stranden. I bogens litterære udgravninger finder myter og erindringer sted på ny.

[quick gloss] The current interest in place in literature has changed our way of reading. We have moved towards a greater attention to the real space literature takes place in. Topography (‘place writing’) is often involved in this wave, and for those studying literature there should be something immediately attractive in the geographic locations which underlie the writing aspect of the presentation of a place. In order to illuminate the status of space and place in literary studies Jan Rosiek gives us his own contribution to a different understanding of keywords and categories such as space, place, material and motive. They have often played a considerable role in the analysis of stories. Now we can also begin to understand the significance of space and place in connection with lyric works. Through geocritical readings the significance of place is presented in places such as the nation of Denmark, the cultural memorial site of Gurre and the topographical locality of the beach/coast. The book’s unearthings finds myths and memory in a new place.

I’m liking the concept here, three glances rather than exhaustive. Split new copy duly arrived via the library, languishing on my pile after my return from a city break to Sofia. Forced myself to engage with it before it was due to go back:

  • chapter 1: reprint of At finde sted: hvorfor er der et danskfag og ikke snarere intet?, a professorial lecture given on 15 June 2009 and published in Kritik 193 (2009): 2-11 with a shorter version in Politiken (Bøger 20 June 2009:8-9)m which I got hold of via the library FWIW
  • chapter 2: Danske digtere om dansk identitet. Fra Kok til Jensen – ie not about place or the spatial turn, rather on concerns about a ‘national’ literature
  • chapter 3: Vejviser til Gurre – more promising, but mainly litcrit of mentions of Gurre
  • chapter 4: Symboler og allegorier ved havet. Sted og figur i moderne dansk lyrik – more litcrit, in three sections: stranden, troper, digte
  • Efterskrift: Rum, sted, stof. motiv, topos – some familiar names here! explores psychogeog and related theory; no need for me to engage with this på dansk

Gurre is, it appears, a castle plus village near Helsingør, beloved of King Valdemar Atterdag (IV of Denmark, 1340-75), who reclaimed a hoard of lost Danish lands plus Skåne and was the first Danish king to rule Copenhagen, although he gave up Danish Estonia (yikes) and had less luck against the Hanseatic League. He employed heavy handed methods and was in favour of endless taxation…we’re in saga country now, a myth put into poetical form by JP Jacobsen, with a German translation forming the text of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder. Is it known today? Much written about in the mid 19th century , as a symbol for a happy relationship, but too masculine and kongelig for today.

Jan Rosiek is a professor of Nordic literature at Copenhagen University. Previous publications include Romantiske veksler (2009) on Romanticism, Andre spor (2003) on modern Danish poetry and Figures of failure (1992) on Paul de Man. Much Hegel and Heidegger, so we’re back with the German problem.

Danish radio makes me very grumpy. Jan was (briefly) on P1’s Skønlitteratur on 8 April (an hour, around twice three times as long as it needs to be, get snappy, P1!), coming over as a tad elitist, along with a a discussion of a poem by Johannes V Jensen, who won the Nobel Prize in 1944 (På Memphis Station, 1906). Two poets have reinterpreted the poem in arty rag Hvedekorn for fun, right…with lots of oplæsning to fill up the hour.

According to Jan place is not special in Danish literature, perhaps because/in spite of the fact that the concept of Denmark has changed over time. He also stated that the significance of place has changed because of the Internet – people can be in a different place mentally than physically – for example if Jensen had had an iphone he might not have written his poem reflecting on being stranded alone at a station. But language can do more than simply reproduce a place, which is where his book comes in.

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