Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Nordic or not


Last week there was news that Greenland may soon become a sixth Nordic state. The new form of strengthened self-government for the autonomous country which at present exists within the Kingdom of Denmark apparently contains an "independence option" which can be exercised at a future date.

However, there are questions: would Greenland really be a "Nordic" state? The country's indigenous inhabitants are Inuits, related to other Inuit groups in Canada, Alaska and Siberia. Language-wise there aren't any problems - although Greenlandic isn't an Indo-European tongue, neither is Finnish. But there are aspects of Greenland's history that cause some head-scratching: for example, in 1946 the United States offered to buy Greenland from Denmark for $100,000,000, but Denmark refused to sell. There is also the question of Erfalasorput, the national flag, which doesn't look very Nordic - no cross, but a Japanese-style circle/sun motif.

And what about literature? The list of Greenlandic authors doesn't seem to be a long one, and those who do exist are mainly poets not well known outside their native land. Magssanguaq Qujaukitsoq (b. 1977) has published one collection of poetry, Sisamanik teqeqqulik (The Four-Cornered One), which this year was Greenland's nomination for the Nordic Council Literature Prize, and was consequently translated into Danish. Reviews were mixed, to say the least, however: in Politiken, Mikkel Bruun Zangenberg was hard put to it to say a good word about the book, finding the poems lacking in literary quality and characterized by anti-consumerist and anti-colonial tub-thumping.

But perhaps the problem lies in the difficulty of translation? As Zangenberg pointed out, without a knowledge of Greenlandic, one has no way of knowing.

This seems a pity. If any of our readers can suggest some classic or contemporary Greenlandic writing in translation that might be suitable for our summer reading (the great sommarvila/sommerpause/kesätauko is almost upon us now), we would be pleased to hear about it.

See also: Modern Greenlandic Writing

8 comments:

  1. Browse Gigapedia.Org. The search "Greenland" gives 118 items so far... :-) ("Sisamanik teqeqqulik" sounds cool...)

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  2. On that search I only get 6 items - which Gigapedia.org are you browsing? :-)

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  3. I sent an e-mail to the Lang&Lit Dept at the University of Greenland and got a reply from one Karen Langgård within 15 minutes (!) of my sending my query. If you want a copy of the interesting pdf article that I'm reading right now, about Greenlandic literature in a postcolonial context, send an e-mail to kala@slm.uni.gl . Unlike the "kala" in Finnish and Estonian, this one responded like lightning. Her article is called "Mellem globalisering, nation building og individets dagligdag på godt og ondt - Den nyeste grøndlandske litteratur i teksthistorisk lys ud fra en postkolonial vinkel".

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  4. This is an argument for having a "central" Nordic Voices email address, I think. Perhaps we should establish one?

    The article sounds interesting, though the "post-colonial" aspect sounds a bit forbidding. I have also gone fishing, as you suggest.

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  5. Gigapedia.Org redirects to Gigapedia.Com and when you search there you go to Gigapedia.info... :-) Visit "http://gigapedia.info/1/Greenland" (you must log in)!

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  6. OK, thanks for the link, Lev.

    I see lots of books on oceanography, Norse history, polar exploration and the like, but not much evidence of English or other translations of literary works by Greenlandic authors, which is what I was really looking for...

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  7. I've been looking through Karen Langgård's article. It is not the usual one-sided postcolonial article about novels written in English by scholars at metropolitan English departments in the UK, the USA or Australia. And it is by no means forbidding.

    I support the idea of postcolonial studies (not least as a way of looking at the Baltics) as long as it is not an excuse for serving up old novels written in English, for English Departments to cherry pick from, avoiding history, sociology and ethnology. Langgård is focussing on Greenland.

    New authors' names for me: Villads Villadsen, Kristian Olsen aaju, Hans Anthon Lynge, Ole Korneliussen, Mariane Petersen, Mâliâraq Vebæk, Jessie Kleemann, Hans Hansen, Jørgen Gleisher, H.C. Petersen, Kelly Berthelsen.

    The words "prosa", lyrik", "noveller" and so on do feature, so I imagine that Greenlandic literature is more than a few rehashed sagas or folk tales.

    I'd never heard of any of the authors listed above until this morning. I have obviously not read them and will therefore not discuss quality or importance internationally. Nevertheless, the fact we know a few names to Google for is a step forward.

    I'm not claiming you can become an expert on a literature in six hours, as I didn't know (and cared very little!) about Greenland's literature till David brought up the topic and I e-mailed the university - and got a swift reply! But at least I now know about a dozen names of Greenlandic authors, something not easy to find, even on the internet.

    The one disappointing note in Langgård's article is the frequency of the expression "ikke oversat" after the titles of works. As Danish is clearly the first language in line, I hope that Danish scholars and translators do more to bring Greenlandic authors to our notice.

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  8. For the sake of completion, a few more Googleable names of Greenlandic authors from the Langgård article: Else Løvstrøm, Ernu Nielsen, Vivi Lyngve Petrussen, all prose writers from what I gather. Also the poet Kelly Berthelsen.

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