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Posts Tagged ‘Norway’

The Lindworm

May 22, 2015 | by

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An illustration of the Lindworm doing battle, circa 1477.

Last night, as part of the Norwegian-American Literary Festival, four Norwegian writers—Gunnhild Øyehaug, Lars Petter Sveen, Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold, and Carl Frode Tillerspoke at New York’s 192 Books. James Wood, who moderated, asked them to address the question of perceived Norwegian literary tropes like solitude and loneliness. Sveen pointed out another: the shared cultural knowledge of fairy tales. 

Of course, you’ll find solitude and loneliness there, too. Norwegian fairy tales are, even by the genre’s grim standards, dark, thematically and often literally, too (e.g. “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”). For an American audience, accustomed to tall tales that focus on the heroic, and devils who rarely do anything worse than argue with sharp-witted Yankee lawyers, Norway’s fairy tales are downright scary.

“The Lindworm”—also translated, when it is, as “The Lindworm Prince”—is a story with variations across Scandinavia. The version anthologized in the seminal Asbjornsen and Moe collection goes thus: Read More »

The Norwegian-American Literary Festival Comes to New York

April 28, 2015 | by

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Knausgaard’s band, Lemen.

You may have noticed a Knausgaard theme on the Daily today, between our interview with his translator Don Bartlett and Ian MacDougall’s probing analysis of the author’s scatological side. We’re celebrating the release of My Struggle’s fourth volume—but we’re also celebrating the latest Norwegian-American Literary Festival, a series of readings, conversations, and musical performances coming to New York for three nights next month.

The festival begins on Wednesday, May 20, at the Westway in the Meatpacking District, where Karl Ove Knausgaard’s reunited college band, Lemen, will take the stage. James Wood’s band, the Fun Stuff, will perform, too, and Lydia Davis will begin the night in conversation with Dag Solstad about writing family history. Solstad is one of Norway’s preeminent writers, the author of thirty-three books translated into thirty languages. Davis learned Norwegian by reading his latest novel, a four-hundred-page epic whose title translates, roughly, as The Insoluble Epic Element in Telemark in the Period 1591–1896. Read More »

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Mein Scheisse

April 28, 2015 | by

Knausgaard’s fecal fixation.

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Gesina ter Borch, Kinderen die hun behoefte doen (Children Relieve Themselves), ca. 1650.

“I’ve been reading Knausgaard,” I’ve heard on more than one occasion, over this Scandinavian-grade winter, from a friend across a barroom table. And a few minutes into the conversation, almost inevitably: “There’s this part in the third book about taking a shit … ”

It came as no surprise that my friends wanted to talk My Struggle, the Norwegian novelist’s opus on the everyday in six volumes. (The fourth is out in English translation today.) But the number of those friends who zeroed in on Knausgaard’s excretory musings was another matter.

And it’s not just My Struggle. The subject reemerged earlier this year when The New York Times Magazine published “My Saga,” Knausgaard’s two-part North American travelogue, in which a jaunt on the john in a Newfoundland hotel leaves him with a hopelessly clogged toilet. He recounts the aftermath at length. The episode was at the center of Knausgaard talk.

Lest readers think this focus is a factor of the company I keep—that I surround myself with prudish types offended by bathroom scenes, fetishists attracted to them, or the scatological-humor crowd—I direct them to James Wood, a critic at a venue no less proper than The New Yorker. In an interview with Knausgaard published in the Winter 2014 issue of The Paris Review, Wood says, Read More »

Signing Off, and Other News

April 21, 2015 | by

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The Brox Sisters tuning a radio, ca. 1920s.

  • Historically, U.S. novelists have made their subject “the American dream,” starry-eyed and ambiguous as it may be—but “has the American dream run out of road? Perhaps an exhaustion with national myths explains the recent advent of post-apocalyptic literature … When the dream has been blown to bits for more than a century, all that’s left is to tell bleak stories of human survival set in the wreckage of a junkyard.”
  • Today in blunt, clear-eyed statistics: one in six writers did not earn any money from their writing in 2013, a new report from The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society said, “though 98 percent saying their work had been published or used in other ways. 11.5 percent of authors now earn a living solely from their writing—down from 40 percent a decade ago.”
  • Norway has announced that it will cease FM radio broadcasts in 2017, and others are expected to follow suit—meaning the age of analog may be drawing to a close.
  • Critics, Saul Bellow felt, “ought to provide useful encouragement and then get the hell out of the way. This … helps to explain the lifelong tension between Bellow and Lionel Trilling, the leading critic of his time … Bellow greet[ed] Trilling at a party: ‘Still peddling the same old horseshit, Lionel?’ ”
  • “I feel about so-called intellectuals, especially academics—English professors in particular—almost the same way I once felt about my rural townsfolk: that I can’t get far enough away. At least, I have come to learn, there was among my fellow country dwellers an engaging suspicion of pomposity, a strange verbal lyricism, a physical vigor, and the deep lonesomeness of Celtic immigrants who sense ‘I shouldn’t really be here.’ ”

The Law of Jante

February 11, 2015 | by

How an irritable Danish author left an enduring mark on the national character.

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Aksel Sandemose in 1963. Photo: Leif Ørnelund

Your modern-day Dane is not what you would call a God-fearing creature. The Danish church, though never formally separated from the state (as happened in Sweden), plays an ever-diminishing role in the lives of the vast majority of Danes, with Sunday attendance experiencing an apparently inexorable decline, divorce increasing, and church leaders gently shunted into the margins of the popular discourse. You would imagine, then, that the teachings of Martin Luther would hold little currency in Danish society today, yet many of the core principles of Lutheranism—parsimony, modesty, disapproval of individualism or elitism—still define the manner in which the Danes behave toward one another and view the rest of the world, thanks in part to the enduring influence of an improbable literary figure.

Aksel Nielsen was a sensitive and sickly child who grew into a weak and stunted young adult. The son of a smith, he was born in 1899 in the somnolent North Jutland town of Nykøbing on the island of Mors. He received a rudimentary education at the local school until 1916, when, at the age of seventeen, he went to sea on a schooner bound for Newfoundland.

This was the first of many flights from reality upon which the bookish Aksel would embark during his life: the next came just a few weeks later on the other side of the Atlantic, where he jumped ship. But, with the world now at war, Nielsen’s habit of scribbling secretively in his notebooks late at night in his bunk bed, combined with his strange accent, aroused suspicion in Canada. His workmates began to think he might be a German spy. Once again he fled, this time back to Denmark, via Spain, working to pay his passage on a ship. Read More »

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Context

November 6, 2014 | by

A daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson from Mount Holyoke Seminary, ca. 1847.

I’ve always loved this line of Emily Dickinson’s: “November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.” Where did I first encounter it? Who knows—maybe a kid’s book of quotations or a calendar or something else. I know the context was cheerful rather than melancholy, although on a day like this one—gray, rainy, fall shading into winter—it felt apt, in its gnomic way.

What did Norway convey to Dickinson, who had never left New England? A bleaker, more romantic version of the same? A place of Norse legends and epics? Perhaps she’d met Scandinavian immigrants and this informed her remark. But however she intended it, it’s so evocative. It was not until very recently that I read the fuller context, from an 1864 letter to her frequent correspondent Elizabeth Holland:

It is also November. The noons are more laconic and the sunsets sterner, and Gibraltar lights make the village foreign. November always seemed to me the Norway of the year. ------ is still with the sister who put her child in an ice nest last Monday forenoon. The redoubtable God! I notice where Death has been introduced, he frequently calls, making it desirable to forestall his advances.

In the same letter, she mentions the recent death of the family’s maid, Margaret O’Brien—“I winced at her loss, because I was in the habit of her, and even a new rolling-pin has an embarrassing element, but to all except anguish, the mind soon adjusts.” Another friend is ill. And, of course, there would have been the background of the Civil War, felt even from within her home. The letter ends, “Sharper than dying is the death for the dying’s sake.” 

The first English translation of Asbjørnsen and Moe’s landmark Popular Tales from the Norse appeared in 1859. It’s filled with trolls, enchanted animals, captive princesses held under spells. One of the best known is “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” a Cupid-Psyche story in which a maiden is only allowed to interact with her husband by darkness. Others feature mountain people, envious of those who get to live by daylight. Did it make its way to Amherst? I have never read of it in Dickinson’s letters, but perhaps a scholar can tell me otherwise.