This essay deals with the history of comparative literature in Norway, focusing on the importance of Atle Kittang for the theoretical development of this discipline. With personal examples, and both humorously and polemically, the author also raises the question of the limits of comparative literature and argues for research within the field of «law and literature».
This article reminds us how difficult it is to establish irrefutable criteria for distinguishing between fiction and other types of discourse, since fictional elements are largely present in non-fictional texts, and in different non-verbal expressions. The article argues that fiction is not only a question of formal characteristics or of a specific relation between text and reference, but also of a special kind of communication, and even of the institutional definition of the text. Two other important topics are discussed: the use of fiction in todays society and fiction as something inherent to human nature.
Taking Atle Kittangs article of 1982 «On literary criticism in hard times» (Synspunkter på litteraturkritikkens trengselstider) as its point of departure, this essay discusses the question of how much progress literary studies has made since the dawn of its modern era, the 1920s. It argues that very little progress has occurred and that very little is actually needed. A basic premise of the essay is that academic literary studies are, and indeed ought to be, deeply wedded to literary criticism in a broader sense, as it is practiced in newspapers and magazines in the culture at large.
This article argues that Atle Kittang, in his doctoral dissertation of 1973, has initiated a new approach to Arthur Rimbaud’s poetic texts that has inspired many other scholars. In this approach, it is essential that there is a constant tension in Rimbaud’s poetry between what can be read, or understood, «le lisible», and what cannot be read, or understood, «l’illisible». According to Atle Kittang, Rimbaud’s poetic texts are also clearly a critique of the romantic discourse. Without refuting this point of view, this article argues not only that romantic discourse is not homogeneous, but also that Rimbaud’s own texts contain a romantic discourse, sometimes unreadable.
This article is an analysis of Balzacs novel Eugénie Grandet in light of the concept of emotion, in particular that of compassion. The interpretation offered here places a special emphasis on the relationship between the protagonist Eugénie and her family, first and foremost represented by her father and her cousin. The main argument concerns how the novel embodies and generates a discussion of the struggle between individual emotions and a social reality based on greed and financial transactions. The protagonist personifies the good human being whose compassion and love is met by indifference and cruelty. Balzacs literary method discloses how emotions like love, pity and compassion have lost their ethical relevance and meaning in a post-revolutionary world where success equates with self sufficiency, and money is the new god.
Meret Oppenheims sculpture Breakfast in Fur, created and unveiled in 1936, was immediately considered as a surrealist object par excellence and very soon reached iconic status. Its fusion of strangeness and intimacy produces a vigorous sensual effect, as if it incarnated sensuality itself, with an indirect but evident erotic connotation. A passage in Stendhals novel The Red and the Black (1830), read in the spirit of Jean-Pierre Richard, is found to be very close to the fundamentally aesthetic value of Oppenheims famous work, not in being surrealistic of course, but because of its extreme sensuality and power of seduction, wrapped in a perfectly realistic framework.
A reading of Bjørnson today should take into account that he gave women a voice and a main position in many of his works. Second to Camilla Collett, he was a pioneer in calling attention to women's place in society. Some of his works with a female protagonist are discussed in relation to Martha Nussbaum's theory of poetic justice, underlining the significance of fiction for democratic thought. This is further developed by drawing on Peter Brook's work on the melodramatic imagination.
Departing from a mapping of the aesthetic «regime» of late nineteenth century literary culture, this article interprets Lev Tolstoys The Kreutzer Sonata (1889) in relation to the Scandinavian «war» on sexual morality, pointing to similarities between Tolstoys work and August Strindbergs Le Plaidoyer dun Fou (1888). Both works are about the confession and self-defence of a man who tells the story of his marriage and the «war» between the sexes taking place within it. Both also blame the woman for the fatal conclusion: in Strindbergs case, the divorce, in Tolstoys, the husbands murder of his wife. Tolstoys work was meant to be a «counter narrative» to the liberal, sexual discourse dominating the literary field at the time, but inscribes itself into the same sexual discourse, although as a negative version where sexuality is an obsession connected to shame and guilt.
This article discusses Herman Bang as a writer preoccupied with the antagonism between decadence and vitalism. In Bangs novel Haabløse Slægter, the protagonist, William Høg, may be characterized as a decadent, and many aspects of the text itself are typical of «decadent literature». Visibly, Bang is fascinated by the sophisticated sensibility and aesthetic refinement associated with decadence. Still, his critique of the decadent mentality is evident. This ambivalence is the central theme of Bangs last novel De uden Fædreland, where there is, however, no solution. The author of this article therefore characterizes De uden Fædreland as a desperate book, an «end game», a novel without any hope for the future.
In this essay I discuss the writings of and on Knut Hamsun, especially those relating to the «problematic Hamsun» – the writer and Nazi politician – focusing on his negative attitudes to modernity. These attitudes show some affinity with ideological reflexes concerning modernity, nature and identity in contemporary Norway, creating some difficulties for repudiating Hamsun the Nazi whilst embracing his views of the «natural» life in the North. Hamsun is something of an «orientalist» in his travelogue In Adventure-Land (1903) but his enthusiasm for the oriental virtues he discovers in the Caucasus and Turkey triggers his criticism of European modernity – and prepares the «Borealism» of his epic novels from 1915 and onwards, which postulate northern rural life as more natural than southern city life. Hamsun, as seen through my Swedish eyes – i.e. from the east – demonstrates classical antinomies between life and literature, literature and ideology, but also a Norwegian issue concerning nature and modernity.
This reading of two poems by Gunvor Hofmo, «Fra en annen virkelighet» and «Gjest på jorden», makes use of Friedrich Nietzsche's thinking on the Dionysian in The Birth of Tragedy to elucidate on the tension in Hofmo's poetry between the intense presence of earthly phenomena («phusis») and their inevitable destruction («ananke»). This tension is often articulated, thematically as well as meta-poetically, as a struggle between being and nothingness. Instead of exclusively interpreting Hofmo's poetry as melancholic and pessimistic, this reading tries to emphasize the aspects of her poetry that underscore the existential connectedness to the earth. Hence, motifs of living beings and an intense experience of life form integral parts of her poetic world, even if these are doomed to destruction and nothingness in the poetic process.
This article explores the river motif in some of Petrarchs poems from his famous collection Canzoniere (Canz. 148, 180 and 208) as well as other crucial texts. The river is seen as an index and a structuring pattern of temporality and history, as well as a key symbol for Petrarchs seminal ideas about literary imitation and the Classical Tradition. Yet if an allegory of tradition, Petrarchs rivers also point at the highly important notion of «varietas». Thus the article pursues a double strategy, both throwing light on Petrarchs historical consciousness and addressing the question of how the river motif can be seen to inform and structure his revolutionary anthropology.