The article «Poesins vanitas» («Poetic vanitas») presents five lyrical examples of the vanitas theme in Western literature, spread out over as many centuries (from the 15th to the 20th). The Spaniard Jorge Manrique’s (1440–79) «Couplets on the Death of His Father» expresses an involvement with the problem of time typical of much Spanish poetry, based on the medieval topic of ubi sunt. In the sonnet «All Is Vanity» by the Schlesian poet Andreas Gryphius (1616 –64), the same Biblical theme is played off against the Baroque fascination with material culture and instantaneous experience. The Swedish poet Viktor Rydberg (1828 –95), for his part, represents nineteenth century idealism, confronting a new sense of existential emptiness and meaninglessness (provoked by recent scientific and technological advances) through recourse to memory and dreaming. By contrast, the poem «Troubled Dreams» by Finno-Swedish Edith Södergran (1892–1923) shatters standard Romantic illusions in its early modernist version of the vanitas trauma. Finally, the German-speaking poet Paul Celan (1920–70), born in (present-day) Romania, gives voice to a post-war experience of utter desolation, perchance, however, relieved by the presence of the beloved.
«No art without the recollection of something lost»
In the memory of Atle Kittang’s poetry scholarship
This article deals with the poetry scholarship of the prominent Norwegian literary scholar Atle Kittang (1941 –2013). It focuses on the striking change in his conception of poetry and poetry reading in the span from his first book on poetry (Lyriske strukturerer/Lyrical strutures, 1968) to his last book (Poesiens hemmelege liv/The secret life of poetry, 2012). These books mark a radical shift from understanding poetry as a coherent, complete meaning (expressing the poet’s subjective grip of the world), to a focus on poetry as rupture of meaning. This change has consequences for Kittang’s understanding of poetry reading. His great confidence in the reader’s analytical and hermeneutic process is replaced by a reading experience where the aesthetic sensation of otherness is prominent. Kittang finds the moment of otherness – in a striking adjective, in an atypical metrical pattern – transgressive, because it leaves the genre and the conventions of text and thought behind.
Emotion and eclecticism in Lyriske strukturer [Lyric Structures].
The article discusses Lyriske strukturer by Atle Kttang and Asbjørn Aarseth, an introduction to the reading of poetry originally published in 1968 and republished in a fourth, revised edition 1998. Admired for its close readings, this book is considered a Scandinavian classic in the tradition of New Criticism, but has been regularly criticized for mixing a romantic expressive understanding of poetry with rhetorical and structuralist elements. This article discusses the possible theoretical incoherence in the work as a productive form of eclecticism and suggests that the idea of immediate emotion is a necessary element in the understanding of poetry, while theoretical consistency is of less importance. The metaphor of poetry as the «overheard» is central to Lyriske strukturer and has been influential in subsequent scholarship, but the article argues that this is based on a crude misreading by Northrop Frye of John Stuart Mill’s metaphor, concealing the basic romantic essence of the «overheard». The article finally argues that although Aarseth and Kittang did right to hold on to an expressive theory of poetry in spite of theoretical difficulties, their close readings unfortunately emphasized the aesthetic experience of sublimation at the cost of life experience such as anguish and hope as the defining moment of a poem.
The everlasting and holy longing
Exceeding desire and dangerous longing do not play an important role in current aesthetic, philosophical or religious thinking. In modern and post-modern fiction, however, these concepts are highly present. As a modernist, living within what appears to be a dissolving reality, Ibsen discusses the theme with special attention to the question of making a choice. Is it possible to avoid desires and longings by simply neglecting them? For the post-modern Murakami however, it is more a question of opening up to a reality where everything can apparently happen. But Murakami is uncertain about what is real and what is fantasy. The framework for the article is fairytales from Antiquity and Norwegian folklore, where desire and longing are placed within a more or less specific religious context.
Our very own Thue. The early history of academic literary criticism in Norway
Exploring the origins of an academic criticism in Norway, Arne Hannevik (2001) decided to disregard the state scholarship awarded to H.J. Thue in 1841. Allegedly, Thue’s scholarship did not lead to any results. In this article, however, Hannevik is proven incorrect. H.J. Thue (1815–1851) is here, however belatedly, presented as the true pioneer of Norwegian literature studies. Combining comparative and national criticism as well as historical and aesthetic research, ‘the robber baron’ for a decade dominated the literary field of the young nation together with his student roommate, M.J. Monrad.
Life Imitates Art. Productive Mirroring of Work and Life in Readings of Jan Potocki’s Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse
This article presents the history of Jan Potocki’s novel Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse, exploring how the publication history of the book mirrors the story contained in the text. New manuscripts were discovered in 2002 that completely changed the reception of Potocki’s novel. The discovery revealed that the author had written two distinct versions of the text. It also led to the conclusion that the nineteenth-century Polish translation, which had until then dominated the reception of the text, was a combination of the two versions, and therefore highly unreliable. This translation had a crucial influence on the twentieth-century editions and translations, causing what in retrospect are rather curious interpretations. Intriguingly, this publication history appears as a reflexion of the novel’s own plot, which tells the story of the discovery of a manuscript containing numerous stories in different languages, and which thematizes the hermeneutical difficulties in dealing with a world in which the truth can only appear in fragments. The article explores how this mirroring of life and art may serve as a productive tool for hermeneutical enquiry.