Showing posts with label Greenland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Greenland. Show all posts

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

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Two strands in Nordic literature

Still following the thread that was prompted by the discussion of Greenlandic literature, and particularly by the examples and reflections contained in Karen Langgård's essay, I wonder whether the questions connected with the aspiration towards nationhood may not lie at the centre of the debate on Nordic literature itself.

The uncertainty about national role and identity has had a twofold effect on Nordic consciousness and culture. On the one hand, it has led to a preoccupation among Nordic authors and thinkers with issues of identity, society and community, sometimes expressed in religious terms, but more rooted in the ideas of Hegel, Marx and nineteenth century German sociology. On the other hand, much as in Russia, it has often inspired a reaction against those essentially collectivist concerns, leading to the birth of a kind of ethical universalism that derives from the ideals of the German enlightenment, in particular those expressed in the philosophy of Kant.

Just as the Russian classic authors - Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev - go beyond the limitations of the social and historical confusion of their age to create an essentially moral universe in which time and matter play a secondary though none the less vivid role, so the work of the great names of Nordic literature - Kierkegaard, Claussen, Blixen, Ibsen, Strindberg - inhabits a realm in which the ethical and existential concerns of the individual are transformed into a portrayal of all human life, perceived in the eye of the absolute. Perhaps this is the other side of the "religious" coin.

The two strands, the social-communal and the universal, are still present in Nordic literature today, although - just as in Russia during the twentieth century - the former has gained the upper hand. When an author like Pia Tafdrup describes herself not as a Danish poet, but a poet who happens to write in Danish, she is to some extent allying herself with the Nordic universalist tradition, though also with literary universalism everywhere, and with writers who fought the collectivist tyranny (the examples of Mandelstam, Tsvetayeva and Brodsky come to mind). And those Nordic authors who continue to seek their subjects and inspiration in the analysis of social and political issues are harking back to the uncertain murk of Herder, Hegel and nineteenth century nationalism, with its twentieth century consequences.

This is probably a gross oversimplification, but I think it's one that might be worth further inquiry.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Modern Greenlandic writing

Karen Langgård's Nordica essay on modern Greenlandic writing gives an interesting perspective on the development of fiction and poetry in Greenland - but it's rather a bleak one. In some of the author portraits I can see points of contact or similarity with Sami and North Finnish culture, and an author like Vivi Lynge Petrussen sounds as though she might have something in common with Maria Peura, for example.

But one major problem seems to be the emphasis on "colonial" and "post-colonial" modes of perception and expression which have apparently come to dominate public debate and also literary discourse in Greenland. It looks as though this ideological dispute has affected everything, from education to language and reading and writing - and not in a positive way.

Karen's essay made me want to read some of the works she mentions, but so many of them are marked "ikke oversat"...

Nordic or not

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