The Late 20th and early 21st centuries


The Late 20th and early 21st centuries
   Scandinavian literature after World War II reflects the political realities of the Cold War era. Denmark, Iceland, and Norway all joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), while Sweden maintained its prewar neutrality and Finland lived in constant awareness of its neighbor to the east. The atomic bomb cast a dark shadow over people's lives, and the fear of nuclear war is reflected by, for example, the novel Atomsto8in (1948; tr. The Atom Station, 1961), by the Icelandic writer Halldor Laxness (1902-1998). The existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre (19051980) and Albert Camus (1913-1960) also had a strong impact on Scandinavian literature, as exemplified by the novel Rytteren (1949; tr. The Riding Master, 1951), in which the Dane H. C. Branner (19031966) allows freedom and goodness to triumph over the urge to control others, as well as in the novel Løgneren (1950; tr. The Liar, 1954) by Branner's countryman Martin A. Hansen (1909-1955).
   Many writers in Denmark, Iceland, and Norway opposed the decisions by their respective governments to join NATO, as the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States was not seen in black and white terms. Sweden, which chose the so-called third way with regard to the conflict between the superpowers, also led the way in the Scandinavian protest against the American involvement in Vietnam. One of the most vocal opponents of the Vietnam War in Scandinavia was the
   Swedish poet Goran Sonnevi (1939-), who became known throughout Scandinavia in 1965 when he published his poem "Om kriget i Vietnam" ("About the War in Vietnam"). Another early Swedish opponent of the war was Sara Lidman (1923-).
   Opposition to the Vietnam War became a rallying cry for a large number of Scandinavians on the left, including many writers. Some of these writers were committed Marxist-Leninists who looked to the China of Mao Zedong for inspiration; some of them also admired Enver Hoxa's Albania. Believing that their historical mission was to awaken the Scandinavian working class and actualize its revolutionary potential, they wrote books with that specific aim, often with a strong focus on political issues of interest to workers. Much of this literature is written in a style called documentarism, meaning that a lot of factual information is built into the story and that sometimes actual documents are used. This literary technique was pioneered by such Swedish writers as Sara Lidman, whose novel Gruva (1968; The Mine) contains interviews with mine workers, and Per Olov Enquist (1935-), who has written several important documentary novels, among them Legonarerna (1968; tr. The Legionnaires, 1973), which tells the story of a group of soldiers from the Baltic states who were forcibly repatriated at the end of World War II.
   One of the more typical Norwegian literary efforts on behalf of Marxist-Leninism is the documentary novel Sauda! Streik! (1972; Sauda! Strike!) by Tor Obrestad (1938-), which tells the story of a strike in an industrial community in western Norway. The novel Historiens kraftlinjer (1975; The Power Lines of History) by Espen Haavardsholm (1945-) offers Albania as an example of an ideal society. Of greater interest is a novel by Dag Solstad (1941-) entitled Arild Asnes, 1970 (1971), in which the author, in semi-religious language, describes his transition from a middle-class writer to a committed socialist.
   Danish writers were generally less extreme than their Swedish and Norwegian colleagues. A case in point is Villy Sørensen (1929-2001), who in his essay collections Den gyldne middelvej (1979; The Golden Mean) and Demokratiet og kunsten (1988; Democracy and Art) argued that human life can best flourish at some distance from both radical socialism and dogmatic capitalism, a standpoint he had consistently advocated throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
   With the end of the Vietnam War and the decline of Albania and China as political ideals, there was a reduction in both the revolutionary fervor and the anti-Americanism of Scandinavian leftist writers. One of the major strands in Scandinavian literature in the 1980s and 1990s is a strong interest in the lives of ordinary men and women, exemplified by the Swede Kerstin Ekman (1933-), who in her novel Handelser vid vatten (1993; tr. Blackwater, 1997) and the trilogy Vargskinnet (19992003; The Wolf Hide) has given literary life to a central Swedish community near the border of Norway. Existential questions were still of great interest, and erstwhile Marxist-Leninists found it necessary to confess to and reflect upon their past follies, or at least slightly misplaced commitments. Obrestad does so in the novel Ein gong maå du seie adjø (1981; Someday You Must Say Good-Bye), and Solstad explains his past, with a vengeance, in the two novels Gymnaslærer Pedersens beretning om den store politiske vekkelsen som har hjemsøkt vart land (1982; High School Teacher Pedersen's Account of the Great Political Revival That Has Visited Our Country) and Roman 1987 (1987; Novel 1987).
   The most interesting trend in recent and contemporary Scandinavian literature, however, is what may loosely be termed postmodernism. Sometimes used so as to include metafiction, fabulation, and literary self-reference, postmodernism is a manifestation of a broader tendency toward anti-realism. Unencumbered by the dreams of dialectical harmony, postmodernism celebrates the contradictions of existence and mixes old and new, high and low forms of literary expression. The mystery story, a "low" genre, for example, is mixed with more traditional "high" narrative in the aforementioned Kerstin Ekman's Handelser vid vatten. A similar mixture can be found in some of the work of the Finland-Swedish novelist Kjell Westo (1961-), whose books Drakarna over Helsingfors (1996; Kites Above Helsinki) and Lang (2002) exemplify some of the literary techniques of postmodernism and its focus on cultural analysis. Similar techniques are found in the work of the Danish novelists Peter Høeg (1957-) and Ib Michael (1945-). Høeg's novels Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne (1992; tr. Smilla's Sense of Snow, 1993), which contains elements of the thriller, and Kvinden og aben (1996; tr. The Woman and the Ape, 1996), in which the wife of a scientist falls in love with an intelligent ape, may be characterized as postmodern or instances of magic realism. Michael's novel Kejserens atlas (2001; The Emperor's Atlas) can fruitfully be regarded as a magic realist text.
   Kjartan Fløgstad (1944-) and Jan Kjærstad (1953-) exemplify postmodernism in Norway. Fløgstad has written a long series of novels in which anti-realist techniques figure prominently, starting with Dalen Portland (1977; tr. Dollar Road, 1989), while Kjærstad's novel Forføreren (1993; tr. The Seducer, 2003) is the first volume in a trilogy about a television personality. As Scandinavian literature has crossed the threshold into the new millennium, its future seems bright indeed.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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