Monday, 10 August 2009

The map of Greenland

In our discussion of modern Greenlandic writing, one name that inexplicably escaped mention was that of Naja Marie Aidt, who in 2008 won the Nordic Council Literature Prize for her short story collection Bavian (Baboon), which still apparently awaits translation into English. Whether a Danish writer who was born and raised in Greenland can really be called a "Greenlandic" author is a moot question, but it's one that perhaps deserves to be raised.

In an article published in Information's culture section at the time of the Nordic Council award, critic Bo Sørensen wrote about the prevalence of clichés in most debate and writing about Greenland in Denmark, pointing to the work of self-declared "post-colonial" writers like Peter Høeg, whose bestselling novel Frk. Smillas Fornemmelse for Sne (Smilla's Sense of Snow) may have started out as an attempt to break the conventional stereotypes about Greenland, but ended by falling back into the familiar "colonial" groove. In the article, Sørensen quotes the Danish Eskimologist and Greenland specialist Kirsten Thisted, who talks of Danes' apparent need to continue to represent Greenlanders as "The Other" - something that probably has its origins in a hostility to Western culture and civilization which developed among Danish left wing radical writers in the 1970s and 80s.

It seems that until the "colonial" and "post-colonial" parameters of the Greenland debate are removed, Greenland will continue to languish in terms of a real appraisal of its cultural and literary identity - though there are signs that the change may happen sooner rather than later. Aidt herself, who hasn't written about Greenland in her books so far, says:

Greenlanders themselves are tired of being portrayed exclusively as drug abusers and people who are associated only with social problems, incest and alcoholism. There must be authors who are able to write those stories, but this requires that they should have lived in the country as adults - either as Danes or as Greenlanders. One [Danish-Norwegian] author who has is Kim Leine, and that's why he gets away with it so easily. Because you can really tell that he's at home there.

See also:
Nordic or not
Modern Greenlandic writing
Scandinavia, postcolonialism and belles lettres

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