Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Autumn's archive

In Hbl, Clas Zilliacus writes about Bo Carpelan's posthumously-published novel Blad ur höstens arkiv (Schildts, 2011, 204 pp.), which takes the form of a semi-autobiographical reflection contained  in 101 diary entries. Commenting on this form, with reference to the Danish poet Paul La Cour, Zilliacus makes some topical observations about the history of the European novel, a genre which included not only the romance, but also the picaresque and the epistolary diary, neither of which was characterized by plot:

Hela genreproblemet är omdebatterat. Att Urwind fick Finlandia­priset 1993 vann allmänt gillande. Men att samma författare fick priset för Berg 2005 var oerhört i sig. Dessutom – priset hade snävats in till ett romanpris – utlöste utkorelsen en principfråga: Var detta verkligen en roman? Skön var Berg, och poetisk, men intriglös; den saknade den spänningskurva man har rätt att kräva av sina lässtunder.
Det var trångsynta invändningar. Romangenren hade en av sina första stora perioder under tidigt 1700-tal, då det kryllade av dagboksartade ting. Då kunde man ha trott att genren var bestämd att vara just fingerad dagbok. Visst blev det mer intrig efterhand, men vem säger att just intrigen var romanens bestämmelse? Är det dagens vurm för thrillerns whodunit som har skruvat in romanen i ett så litet hål?
The whole problem of genre is the subject of much debate. The award of the Finlandia Prize to Urwind in 1993 gained general approval. But that the same author won the prize for Berg in 2005 was unheard-of. Moreover - the prize had been narrowed down to a novel prize - the choice triggered a fundamental question: was this really a novel? Berg was beautiful and poetic, but had no plot: it lacked the tension one curve had the right to demand of one's reading hours.
Those were parochial objections. The novel genre had one of its first major periods in the early 18th century, when it swarmed with diary-like things. Back then one might have thought that the genre was precisely designed to be a fictional diary. While it is true that a greater element of plot gradually developed,  who will say that plot was the novel's designation? Is it today's craze for the thriller and the whodunit that has forced the novel into such a small pigeon-hole?
It's also significant that, as Zilliacus also aptly points out, in addition to his diary-like works of fiction, Carpelan also produced a traditional historical detective novel, showing perhaps that while he was perfectly capable of working in that form, he did not consider it the most suitable medium for the realization of his artistic  intentions.

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