Danish literature as world literature

Update: KU hosted a literary festival on 1 September, with a paper by Anna Sandberg on German-Danish transnational literature and a panel on TOPOS, issue 123 of Kultur og Klasse on literary topology (nice to see but nowt of particular interest). A further nod to poetry festival Reverse, with Sunday sessions on the anthropocene, writing through networks and the Nordic literary journal. Sadly was away for both so no networking for me.

As part of my struggle with Danish writing and investigation into place writing in Denmark I availed myself of Danish literature as world literature (2017; Amazon w long excerpt) from the library. But just what is world literature?

  • David Damrosch (2003) defined it as literature circulated beyond its culture of origin, ie a phenomenon of reception; what is gained in translation – works take on a new life as they move into the world
  • Pascale Casanova (2005) explored economic factors, eg Marx as world literature characterised by markets and production dynamics

See LJMU’s World literature critical toolbox for more. VG! There are however two threads at work here: the reception of Danish literature in the wider world and, conversely, the reception of ‘world’ literature in Denmark.

“The much-willed international orientation of HC Andersen and Karen Blixen stand out”, sighs the introduction, while Georg Brandes‘ 1871 lectures on Hovedstrømninger i det 19de Aarhundredes Litteratur offer up a cosmopolitan view of literary history founded in Hegelian dialectics of action and reaction and the metaphor of the wave. (See also Om verdenslitteratur, 1899.)

The wave of action from the French Revolution never quite made it to the European periphery of Denmark, but the Romantic reaction did reach its shores, “never left and wound up as a poor replica of itself”. This is typical of the literatures of small nations – some currents never reach them while others linger too long: “people have felt and thought, only on second hand, weaker and more feebly than elsewhere”. However Brandes’ Det moderne Gjennembruds Mænd (1883; kicking off Det Moderne Gennembrud) led to the flourishing of a common Scandi literary culture (challenging his understanding of centre and periphery), an intermediate context as defined by Kundera in Die Weltliteratur, (2007), helping literature to think beyond itself.

Lots of hat-tipping to Moretti, whose tree metaphor is seen in the Danish Golden Age; influenced by German idealism, founded around Oehlenschlager, Steffens and Ørsted, embraced by Andersen, Kierkegaard and Grundtvig, passé by 1871. Using distant reading techniques Julie Kjær Markussen has measured the reception of Danish literature from data on translations (UNESCO’s Index Translationum) and literary holdings (WorldCat; see Ireland example), plus Google search, Google Books Ngram Viewer, Google Trends, Amazon Sales Rank, Goodreads…

Being brought up with the border ballads (Get up and bar the door!) of passing interest was the chapter by Lis Møller (Aarhus). Robert Jamieson’s Popular ballads and songs (1806) included a few Danish ballads, which he translated himself into a Scottish idiom of sorts, followed by 18 more in 1814. Jamieson was an associate of Walter Scott, whose Alice Brand (1810) was inspired by a Danish ballad. Shifting gaze to Germany, Goethe’s Erlkönig is based on a Danish ballad collected by Herder. Grimm also translated several, and Heine cited or paraphrased several more.

The chapter on HC Andersen by Karin Sanders (Uni of California, Berkeley) finds him impatient to plant his words in a wider world; he saw himself as an “orange tree in the swamp” and Denmark as a “duck yard”, stating in 1836: “I am doomed to write for a small country”.

As one of the 10 most widely translated authors in the world HCA “practised two sets of double articulations”: he wrote simultaneously for both a local and a global audience – several of his novels were targeted at a foreign (German or English) audience – and, in his fairy tales, for the child and the adult.

Andersen’s life was a perpetual self-promotional book tour, counter to the accepted social norms of the Danes. His travels allowed him to escape the cultural conformity of a small nation, seeing more clearly what would be muddled up close.

Moving on to Kierkegaard, Isak Winkel Holm (CPH) notes that his reception in Denmark starts out with the peculiarities of his biography and ends with the power of his terminology, in particular im Einzelnen, giving meaning to a lawless and shapeless modern world. His influence on world literature came in three waves:

  • Scandinavian – Georg Brandes’ 1877 monograph, influence on Ibsen, Strindberg, JP Jacobsen and Pontoppidan; later on Karen Blixen
  • Germanophone – on the fin de siècle generation, inc Rudolph Kassner (1906), Lukacs (1909); Rilke learnt Danish to be able to read the original; also Hofmannsthal, Schnitzler and Karl Kraus
  • French – Sartre, Beauvoir and Camus, via Kafka

His Anglophone reception was smaller, via WH Auden.

Back to Brandes once more with Annegret Heitmann (Aarhus), who notes that the international significance of the ‘Brandes generation’ was long neglected in Denmark. Once again the Germanic world played a pivotal bridge-building function, with key roles also for Ibsen and Strindberg (the Scandi – transnational – context), leading to a wide overseas reception for all three, with citations by influential readers inscribing them in the global canon.

The prolific Brandes (cf Nietzsche) travelled widely and was possibly the best connected intellectual of the 19th century, writing books on Berlin, Poland and Russia, although his heart belonged to France. Despite his early use of the term ‘modern’, his writing may be seen as akin to naturalism, ie pre-modern.

Of Brandes’ contemporaries, JP Jacobsen (cf Rilke) also travelled, but his life was short and overshadowed by disease, while Herman Bang (cf Thomas Mann) had a curious and cosmopolitan outlook, which together with his homosexuality, led to long periods of exile. He died in an American railway carriage while on a lecture tour intended to span the globe.

Jon Helt Haarder (SDU) looks at two Nobel winners whose novels were at odds with genre conventions and had the general success of Scandi naturalism as a prerequisite:

  • Johannes V JensenKongens fald (1900-01), set in the 15th and 16th centuries, voted best Danish book of the 20th century (Nobel 1944; known also for Paa Memphis Station, poem written in 1903, and his prose poetry)
  • Henrik Pontoppidan – Lykke-Per (1898-1904) voted 2nd best; see also Danske Billeder (1889); one of the greatest chroniclers of his own country, working with irony, hidden narrators and unreliable narration (it says; Nobel 1917, co-winner with the lesser known Karl Gjellerup)

Which brings us to Karen Blixen (Lasse Horne Kjældgaard, RUC). Known under several names, it is easier to assign her to the category of world literature than any single national literary tradition. Her Danish reception has focused on biographical and literary approaches (and canonical status), while overseas she has been subject to relentless post-colonial criticism.

Blixen’s works do not fit into any of the conventional narratives of Danish literary history. Her Danish authorship even consists of derived texts – she wrote all her major works in English first (with phrases and syntactic structures which betray her Danish background) and then translated them (with ample Anglicisms) into Danish (a citizen of nowhere, perhaps). As an emigrant she could perceive Denmark and Europe from both the inside and the outside. She did not see herself as a ‘Danish’ author, with Seven Gothic Tales written for a global audience.

She also used intertextuality – Seven Gothic Tales contains more than a thousand literary quotations and allusions. Working like a bricoleur, she used all available ingredients including pieces from classical Danish literature, recycling characters and places imbued with literary significance. Interesting.

Anne-Marie Mai (SDU) looks at Danish poets “in the intersection between modernism and postmodernism”, reflecting a global orientation after WW2. Klaus Rifbjerg travelled to the US shortly after the war, while Villy Sørensen was more into Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kafka and Thomas Mann.

However Rifbjerg quickly became the father figure to revolt against, with new influences from post/structuralism, Japanese poetry and European avant-garde art – see Per Højholt and Inger Christensen, followed by inter alia Hans-Jørgen Nielsen, Dan Turèll, Klaus Høeck (trans John Irons), Peter Laugesen (see Konstrueret situation, 1996), Johannes L Madsen, Kirsten Thorup and Charlotte Strandgaard.

Turèll’s 12 volumes of crime stories were widely translated, although he was so humbled by the Beats he did not even attempt to have his poetry translated: “There are lots like me in America”. It was not until 2016, when Thomas Kennedy translated 24 pages of Vangede Billeder for New Letters (RU sure; also see article in Politiken), that his other writing appeared in translation, perhaps a broader reflection of a revived interest in place.

As the 1970s turned into the 1980s enter (personal favourite) SUT and Michael Strunge in a more open literary landscape, erasing the division between high and popular culture.

All the above are barely published overseas, although occasional Nordic Literary Festivals are staged, and Louisiana Literature, where “world literature becomes a Danish cultural context” attempts to fly the flag. (This does surprise me, as Danish is eminently well suited to #mopo. Maybe it’s tricky too translate without sounding just too barsk.)

As a final hurrah, UCL’s Thomson and Stougaard-Nielsen) look at cultural mobility, crime fiction and television drama. Just what is fuelling Scandimania, beyond the endless media content? Answer: form, in the narrative sense, but also “the material, technological and institutional forms in which they are instantiated, the forms that are the condition of possibility for their mobility”.

Denmark is currently enjoying culturally and historically significant zones of contact, mobilisers who facilitate cultural exchanges and exploit the tension between individual agency and structural constraint, the balance and tension between local and global, new and familiar, setting and story:

Literature does not travel solo and nor does it travel light; it is carried and accompanied by films, television series, translators, publishers, state subsidies, and all manner of lifestyle goods stamped Brand Denmark…and by interlingual and intermedial translation.

Both HCA and Nordic Noir are framed by internationally recognisable genre conventions plus an elementary simplicity of form and content. Danish film and TV drama policy since the 1980s has also played an important role, but key is the concept of the other local, “a kind of tamed local, an aspirational Nordic otherness which returns as a utopia in the guise of a dystopia”, articulated in the shared experience of live blogs and #some, with lots of handy memes:

a process of imagining Denmark, projecting their fantasies onto the dreary backdrop of crime-ridden CPH and its exotic artefacts…in doing so they are also (re-)imagining their own society, often by identifying what is different and lacking…a peculiarly distilled and nebulous version of wider British utopian imaginings about Scandinavia”

Media convergence fostered by social networking, increased mobility and disposable income, a cycle of conversation, ‘buzz’ and consumption understood as a participatory culture or collective intelligence, has led to a world where the at best workmanlike Dicte: Crime Reporter can be featured in the Gdn’s Watch this column.

See also Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen at the Rethinking Scandinavia conference in June 2017, exploring Nordicness noir: the British construction of a Scandinavian utopia for the 21st century and coining his own neologism, a utopian Nordientalism: “Nordic social realities are here treated as alluring, homogeneous, utopian and exotic tourist destinations” (my bolding). Interesting. He also made points re the British creation of its own Nordic culture, eg (the rather less homogeneous) Fortitude. Note also that in a further stab at renaming Scandimania we have Beyond Borealism.

And finally…the latest issue of Scandinavica has the theme of Peripheral figures: British and Irish receptions of Nordic literature and culture, with an historical survey (full text) and articles on inter alia Nordic literary traditions in Orkney and Shetland, poems by RS Thomas on Kierkegaard and Seamus Heaney on the Danish bog bodies.

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My struggle with Danish writing

Updates:

I really struggle with contemporary Danish literary fiction. Following on from my rant about literary non-fiction in Denmark, or rather lack of same, here’s more. (But see the foot of the post for a positive turn.)

The cosy literary scene in Denmark feels like yet another closed shop for Team DK only. (OTOH Ken Follett is bizarrely popular.) Whatever happened to life experience and suffering for your art? Issues around creativity, originality and innovation do come up in dispatches now and then. This year we’ve had the Mette Høeg debate (good take from Labeet), plus Peder Frederik Jensen getting it in the neck from the great and the good.

Anyway, here’s some bile on three books which in theory should be right up my street, but which in the end were just another disappointment. The cultural gap here is more Atlantic than North Sea.

The coffee table book

Many books are brick sized (is there a quota?), produced in the best possible taste.

Københavnerne (Copenhageners; excerpt) by Pernille Stensgaard with photos by Anne Prytz Schaldmose, is a portrait of the people and places of Copenhagen. Published in 2013 by Gyldendal with a cover price of DK 350, running to 400 pages and weighing in at 2.2kg, the book is an updated version of København: folk og kvarterer (2002 and 2005), which also appeared in an English edition. Large piles of said edition were on sale at the airport last time I passed through.

Reviews and articles: Politiken | Weekendavisen | Magasinet KBH

The price of Danish books may mean that pple expect something for their buck, but this is ridiculous. You couldn’t even really call it a coffee table book – open, it is the coffee table. Its sheer size is a disincentive to picking it up, let alone to reading it. You can’t exactly curl up with it on the sofa, read it in bed or the bath, or take it with you on the train to dip in and out of. Actually, how can you read it other than at a desk?

I tried that and failed. I wish they’d consider publishing it in separate bits. The prelims will have to tell the story of the 11 areas portrayed – Sydhavn, Vesterbro, Frederiksberg, Nørrebro, Nordvest, Østerbro, Christianshavn, Amager, Ørestad, Islands Brygge and Indre By. Valby must be in there somewhere.

The front cover is of happy Danes bathing in the harbour at Islands Brygge, with the back cover an arty shot of people on bikes. The back endpaper is of Frederiksholm at Sydhavn, but the photo on the front endpaper (?that doesn’t sound right) is something I recognise as closer to reality – a grey portrait of slush on an empty Kalvebod Brygge in front of the Tivoli Hotel doubling as a Soviet apartment block, punctuated by red traffic lights. Leafing through this is pretty much reflected throughout – a minority of RL among the usual city branding shtick. Next, lug the thing back to the library.

The hyped debutante

Koordinater: Københavnertekster (Copenhagen pieces) was published in 2013 by Rosinante with support from the Danish Arts Council. It marks Amalie Laulund Trudsø‘s debut. (Debuts are big in Denmark. Why?) Amalie, born in 1988, recently completed her studies in Danish and Rhetoric at Copenhagen University. In the literary fiction genre, the book retails at DK 149,95 for 92 pages, and is made up of 60 short pieces named after a street in central CPH. Litteratursiden went bananas about it, with analysisdebate, more debate, a  book club and a review.

From the publisher’s blurb:

A book about moving to the city – and about the city moving into you…in 60 short pieces, each named after a street in Copenhagen, we follow a young woman getting to know the streets which one after another become part of her daily life. As the seasons change, so do her home and relationships. There’s a bonfire in the park, graffiti in the streets and a hamster on the draining board. And, of course, dancing, kissing and ample red wine.

This sat on my bookshelf for months, until I conceded that I was unlikely to read it. About leaving home and making a home in the big city, it verges on YA fiction not least given the author’s youth (you may identify with her). Then there’s the paragraph free texts presented in the best possible taste, which just evoke worthy dullness. It’s instructive to note that the place motif was not enough to provoke me to read it. Mind you, in the spirit of transmediality it would be possible to map the 60 streets…

2016 update: Amalie’s svære toer (difficult second), Sommerhus, has just been published, lots more small pieces on a significant place in the Danish soul, the old chestnut which is summer house (book list). From the review it looks just as much NFM (not for me) – one book blogger commented that it’s more about the language than anything else. On Litteraturlyd Amalie mentioned that she wrote her speciale on place in literature, and now there’s a guide for school students on Koordinater, drawing out some of these connections. See also Humanisten.

The read deal, but…

Harald Voetmann feels rather more interesting, not least because he has a degree in Latin. (Ironically, in my 20s I practically refused to read books by men. Now I’m going the other way.) Alt under månen (Everything under the moon), a bijou 168 pages for DK 180 (knocking on £20), is an historical romp about three Danish mystics from the 15th century, set on Hven. It takes the form of a diary kept by Tycho Brahe’s assistant and combines an exploration of man’s desire to understand and control nature with a Danish nobleman’s flight from his debts, the hunt for wild sex and the Philosopher’s Stone. All in 168 pages, remember.

If you read Danish there’s a 20 page extract on a journey to Hamburg. Unfortunately in a font to accentuate its historicity, which serves to accentuate Danish’s resemblance to an undeveloped Germanic tongue. Another of my problems with the Danish.

Update: Dorthe Nors!

Dorthe Nors (@DortheNors | Litteratursiden) seems to be on some sort of UK media retainer. Her latest, Mirror, shoulder, signal, came out in no short order in early 2017 (extract | interview), but tends a bit to the self consciously minimalist for me. In a nice twist, Janteloven means that she has been largely downplayed in the motherland (again) up to now – big feature in Politiken (14 May 2017; more).

More broadly, she gives good critique, coming with familiar concerns – perhaps she gets frustrated that no one seems to be listening. Here’s a selection:

Place writing in Denmark: stedssans

Update, Nov 2015: in I anno 2015 skal også fagbøger skrives som personlige fortællinger Politiken explores the storytelling turn in non-fiction. Out with the encyclopedias, in with something rather more accessible. On a related note, a lengthy article from Videnskab.dk explores the role of academics in the Danish media. So many rules, written or not.

The Danish book market is very different from that in the English speaking world. For starters, it’s a very small market, receiving large cash injections from the state via 25% VAT on books, hefty grants and subsidies for the fortunate (some sort of payback for your taxes, perhaps) and an eye wateringly high Public Lending Right Scheme (max UK payment: £6.6K).

The dominance of a single Authors’ School, Forfatterskolen, rather than different flavours of creative writing throughout the higher education system, can be criticised for stifling creativity and producing identikit authors with interchangeable names all writing the same thing in the same style. It would be fun to do some analysis of Litteratursiden’s Årets bedste bøger and ditto fagbøger – eg how many received state support, how many are translations and from what language, how many by women in shifts with n legater…?

And for this UK reader, books are painfully expensive – no £7.99 paperbacks here, or three for two offers, tempting you to impulse buy. Danish books tend to the encyclopedic and the huge, perhaps to justify the cover price. Thank goodness for the excellent Danish library service.

Then there’s the lack of literary non-fiction, my genre of choice. This year’s winner of historical book of the year (Årets Historiske Bog), Ellen og Adam (news story), was praised for taking a ‘new turn’ in literature and being, perhaps, readable. More common is a new publication at  the other end of the scale, a four volume set of diaries written by a member of the Danish government during WW2 – a tad niche, surely? According to P1’s Skønlitteratur, itself rather more highbrow than your average R4 prog, this approach is due to Denmark’s educational tradition, based on the German, with history seen as a science – Wissenschaft – see #sagasandspace, rather than the more populist British approach, public engagement (aka formidling) and all. The Danish higher education system does come over like a mighty dinosaur.

So it’s no real surprise that there’s a lack of writing in the Sinclair/Macfarlane mould in Denmark. (Neither of these two have been translated into Danish, and there’s surprisingly little Sebald on offer). And with Facebook (and Instragram) being the Danish #some of choice, there’s no Twitter or blogging to tap into either. (The blogging thing is weird. Maybe it’s because writing a blog doesn’t make you an Author, plus it’s free in a country where everything has a cost.) Which isn’t to say there is no writing about place or walking, rather that it comes from a rather different…place.

Denmark’s two big cultural exports, Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen, were both walkers. Rather less familiar is Ludvig Feilberg, Denmark’s philosopher of walking, and doubtless Grundtvig had a hand in it all too. A vandringsessay by Kim Skotte in Politiken illlustrates the issues perfectly. Coming in at just over 2K words, I loaded this into OmegaT as a translation exercise, the first time I have used a CAT tool rather than parallel columns in GoogleDocs. The essay was inspired by Frederic Gros’ book  The philosophy of walking, recently published in Danish as . Familiar issues from the start. For example, very short sentences. Alliteration which doesn’t carry over. And at the end of para 3:

Og mens vi går, indhenter vi langsomt os selv.

This is a Kierkegaard allusion. Never mind the spatial turn, this is the philosophical turn.

Turning to books on place, several approach the topic from the perspective of literature, reminiscent of the secondary literature I read on my first degree in German. It feels derivative and unoriginal, and TBH I’m unsure why would you want to read litcrit unless you were studying the lit. Odd.

Anyway, I’m now pulling together the main references on place writing in Denmark I have found – see Stedssans (a sense of place), with posts in the stedssans category.

Update, Oct 2015: some explanations for the lack of place writing in Denmark can be found in the issue of Ecozon@ on European new nature writing. From the editorial:

Nature writing…has played a significant role as a minor genre in AngloAmerican culture over the last two and a half centuries. However, there is no term for it in most European languages, and no comparable literary tradition, despite the existence of individual works since Rousseau and Humboldt which might be regarded as classics of nature writing… Are the ‘new’ developments in British nature writing…such as depiction of the experience of wildness in urban and marginal settings, populated landscapes and everyday life, notions of transnational eco-citizenship and transient, dynamic dwelling in a changing world rather than timeless, exclusively national forms of inhabitation, and postmodern formal innovations, then to be found in contemporary European writing?

And from the introduction:

But when we came to frame the call for papers for this special issue of Ecozon@ we found that ‘nature writing’ was not a category that translated easily in the rest of Europe. Indeed, the term ‘pastoral’ was often a cultural mode more associated with music than with literature. The lone writer, such as Robert Macfarlane, making trips into the countryside for personal epiphanies of engagement or enlightenment, often in dialogue with a writer from the past, was not a common mode of literary production.

On a more basic level, it turns out that half of Danes live less than 10km from where they were born (source). I don’t have comparative statistics, but this feels like a rather limited national self geography.

Dan Ringgaard’s sense of place

Dan Ringgaard is a lecturer in Nordic literature at Aarhus University. He is author of Litteratur in the Tænkepauser series (review) and has undertaken some broader formidling aka public engagement, but as is typical in dansk highered doesn’t blog or tweet.

In an interview from 2013 with Limfjordlitteratur (a little gem!), annoyingly divided into numerous teeny tiny segments, he comes up with the rather fab:

sted = lokalitiet + menneske –> mening, fortællinger

place = a locality + man –> meaning, hi/stories

He also talks about the “national places” found in Danish literature during the 19th century, such as Axel Sandemose’s portrayal of Jante (aka Nykøbing Mors) and its småbymentalitet and Johannes V Jensen’s Himmerland, how place is represented (eg by description, by its interaction with character and plot etc), the resonance of places you know well and the sense of wonder at new places , seeing familiar places in a different light, provins as in umodern vs udkant, and other weighty matters. Good stuff!

He was also at the helm of the section on Litteraturens steder from Litteraturens Huse (dunno; adult education resource? most now locked).

As well as all this we have Stedssans (2010; eReolen | review | another; won the Georg Brandes prize), made up of 19 essays on three themes in five sections (too complex, Dan!) concluding with Ti teser om stedet, the whole thing based round a critique of Heidegger’s Bauen Wohnen Denken:

2015-06-30 16.18.01

Ringgaard’s Ten theses about place

There’s a bibliography (aka Litteratur) but no index. It’s all a bit elitær again, with some travel writing but largely based around litcrit rather than an approach friendly to your average Guardian reading flâneuse. Here’s a gallop through the chapters from the outlines at the start of each (plus I’m going to give it another go shortly) an overview from my second shot, where I didn’t give up until page 112, although it increasingly felt like an effort for very little reward. Maybe I’ll dip in again at some point via eReolen.

We start with a section entitled Pausen (a stop, or maybe rest), mainly concerning det gode sted. Four chapters:

  • Paradisisk begyndelse –  concepts of forundring and resonans as seen through a journey to Brasil (palmeøen), Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and VS Naipaul’s An enigma of arrival; see Stephen Greenblatt’s essay on wonder and resonance (and New Historicism)
  • Heideggers Hytte – discussion of Bauen Wohnen Denken (summary | Heidegger’s topology), a lecture Heidegger gave in Darmstadt in 1951 to a symposium of architects, plus Paul Celan’s poem Todtnauberg, which some interpret as Celan’s wish for Heidegger to apologise for his behavior during the Nazi era (the eponymous hut/chalet is in the Black Forest and is where Heidegger wrote much of Sein und Zeit; Celan visited on 25 July 1967 and the two went for walks in the woods, with Celan writing the poem a week later in Frankfurt); the chapter also discusses inter alia Lefebvre and Edward S Casey…my head hurts; just who is all this aimed at?
  • Maigrets Ekstaster – place in crime fiction; skipped
  • Efterretninger fra Greeneland – ie Graham of that ilk, focusing on the exotic and exile; skipped

On to Kloden (the globe), three chapters concerning the historic foranderlighed of place in the face of globalisation, which has moved place from the vertical axis where it is relatively selvhvilende and connected with jorden and history to a horizontal axis where place is a knudepunkt for global kredsløb:

  • Transit, tourist – airports as ikkesteder (Marc Augé’s non-places), namehopping at a pace with not more than a couple of paras per reference, a deeply odd style, touching on inter alia JG Ballard and Alain de Botton; offered up Night mail – not Auden’s but a collection of eight essays by Jens Christian Grøndahl from 1998 on Europe in the 1990s, split between globalisation and nationalism (on eReolen); see also Hjemme i Europa (2015); known as a difficult writer, and I’m pretty sure I started one of his novels back in the day…
  • Globalt talt – Foucault, Calvino…a ‘global perception of place’; more of the same, skipped
  • Fra en stol i Minas Gerais – more Brazil, seen from inside and outside via a reading of Henrik Stangerup and Joao Guimaraes Rosa (eller omvendt); ditto

Kroppen:

  • Byens fortælling, byens puls – the big city: Salvador, Brasil
  • Byvandringer – NB, but still litcrit
  • At holde et landskab gående – Morten Søndergaard and AN Other
  • Palimpsest – pot pourri

Rejsen:

  • Rejsebrevprovinsbyen
  • Rejsens Sted – Thomas Boberg
  • Stedets VidneCarsten Jensen (closest DK gets to travel lit but old style), and others

Kortet (the map):

  • Kort over Boipeba – palm  island, again
  • Litterær kartografi – Michael Chabon + the usual suspects
  • Korttegnere – novel by Per Olov Enquist
  • Landmålere – Lykke-Per and others

Finally, Ti teser om stedet, see image above.

Hvor litteraturen finder sted: an encylopedia of place

Hvor litteraturen finder sted (2010) by Anne-Marie Mai is a three volume colossus covering Danish literature from 1000 to the present day. It’s a literary history from the perspective of the places where literature was written, read, disseminated etc: up to 1800 the cathedral, the herregård, the court and the akademi, from 1800-1900 the præstegård and the salon, and in the 2oth and 21st centuries the bladhus, the metropol and the Internet:

2015-06-30 15.13.49

from Udgang, vol 3 p393

This is an interesting concept, but is written in an encyclopedic style making it a far from inspiring read. Crucially, it lacks an index by place, favouring the German classics of Litteratur and Personenregister listings instead. For reviews see Litteratursiden | Berlingske | Politiken | Videnskab.dk. Accompanying TV series(!): Litteraturens åsteder, possibly worth a watch but just can’t face it.

Anne-Marie is a lecturer in Danish literature at SDU, celebrated in a 346 page festskrift (those Germans again) with the title Litteratur på stedet in 2013. It appears that she was awarded DK 100,000 to compile her three volume masterwork, but the total price on the street is still around £100, and the scale of the thing is daunting. Who is the target audience? Is it meant to be a reference work? Who knows. Like so many Danish cultural outputs in dire need of an editor with a Big Red Pen.

Update, Sep 2016: just published (and reviewed in/by Information | Politiken | Klaus Rothstein | Litteratursiden) is GALLERI 66. En historie om nyere dansk litteratur. (sic; 393pp, DK 299,95). According to Gyldendal the book represents a new way of writing about literary history, presenting the (457) publications of one year within their (global) artistic and political context, of both 1966 and up to the present day. Rothstein finds it too academic, and with her encyclopedic approach this ‘text’ doesn’t sound likely to be Mai’s break-out from the Danish ivory tower, however much the reviewers hail her as a ‘fantastisk formidler’.

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.

Ludvig Feilberg: Denmark’s philosopher of walking

Ludvig Feilberg (1849-1912; Wikipedia | Litteratursiden) was an engineer and philosopher. He was known as the fodtursfilosof (philosopher of walking), because he was so skilled at identifying the feelings and atmosphere encountered on a walk.

How known is Feilberg today? He does get a mention in Nu begynder det maniske, where Mikael Bertelsen tries to recreate the feelings invoked on a 500km walk in Spain.

Notes from a kronik by Per Lindsø Larsen on Feilberg, published in Politiken on 13 May 1989 and reproduced in Fodnoter (see Footnotes: rambling in Denmark).

  • Larsen notes the lack of people going for a proper walk, which he defines as a kunstart with its own krav and indre udvikingsforløb, which it can take years to become ganske fortrolig med
  • it’s a matter of much regret that fitness/running has pushed the art of walking out of our culture, not least because it represents a form of mental wellbeing not found in any other sort of physical activity
  • Feilberg’s scattered notes on how to take a proper walk deserve to see the light of day again, before the art of the walk completely dies out
  • the most essential and mandatory requirement is that you walk alone – and in areas and at times of day where you are least likely to meet anybody
  • being close to people results in etablering – even passing another person on an untrodden path in the woods pulls you out of your thoughts, meaning you have to samle, fatte, etablere sig, if even for a short moment, suffocating the inner thoughts essential on a hike (see quote starting “Det var en stille nat” in Information’s Fodnoter review)
  • there is something refreshing about skille sig ud fra den store masse og finde sig en lille afsides plet for sig selv
  • Feilberg was not a misanthrope and enjoyed going for a stroll in the company of his friends – he just knew there were some things best done alone
  • after 6-7km a barrier occurs which needs to be overcome – a certain nausea or physical bryd, which tempts you to stop, go for a coffee or whatever; if you don’t give in to this temptation you will be able to continue for several hours without further need for interruption
  • this barrier has nothing to do with tiredness or physical weakness – it’s just a question of laziness
  • real tiredness is characterised by a leaden feeling in the legs – in this case you may notice a light nervous shaking or trembling, followed by sweating and thirst – if you don’t give in to temptation these feelings will pass and you will be able to continue for many hours without getting tired; you may well notice a change in densification and are already vædret op til nye etager
  • the second barrier is of a quite different nature, mental rather than physical – it occurs gradually, appearing typically soon after the first
  • consists of your thoughts changing from being circular to a ligeløb – ideas from everyday life, small and large, going through your mind in relay? will become more difficult to catch hold of: tankerne flygtigt hæfte sig ved alverdens ligegyldige småting
  • four further phenomena of high mental value in this phase:
    • strakthed – the feeling that the soul is stretching out into the surrounding nature as far as it can and returning refreshed; not a supernatural out of body experience, more the simple result of the end of the closed circle, giving a feeling of ligeløb/equanimity?, openness and fresh air for the soul, likea snail emerging from its house after light rain and stretching up a blade of grass, extending a fine silken thread to be able to breath in the freshness…
    • frihedsfølelse – an almost euphoric feeling which can drive you to dance down a path with a inderlig trang to leap from stump to stump like a street urchin, if discreetly; too much kredsning closes and clenches a person, while ligeløb loosens and opens up; problems which seemed large and insoluble at the beginning of the walk become a mere bagatelle by the end
    • selvfødelsesværdi – expansion of possibilities, new ideas and thoughts come to mind, solutions like a bolt of lightning from a clear sky, with problems seen in a new light – why didn’t I think of that before?
    • hjertevarme – a peculiar feeling which overshadows everything – in winter even the most deserted villa can look so attractive that one is tempted to embrace them, every turn in the path takes on a loving form, every puddle smiles back at you  – a love of nature in its purest and precious form, revealed in all its glory – wake up, this is how life should be!
  • it’s preposterous that we believe we have to attain higher levels of consciousness through the accumulation of knowledge, or descend to lower levels of childish nonsence in order to find livsglæde – just go for a walk!
  • it will happen even if you don’t believe in it, although some experimentation may be required – no two walkers are the same; some prefer woods, some open landscapes; some walk at dawn, some in the twilight; as the man said:

Man skulle aldrig level anderledes end man gør på en fodtur: Levende, men forbigående. Så man til sidst kunne tage hatten af i forbigående: ‘Jeg skal ikke længere have den ære…’