Sunday, 23 August 2009

An ambitious literary manifesto

According to Swedish daily DN, seven young Swedish prose authors have launched an ambitious literary manifesto called, in Swedish, Manifest för ett nytt litterärt decennium. Whether they will stick to what they promise is another matter, but their hearts are, in my opinion, in the right place. The culprits are: Susanne Axmacher, Jesper Högström, Sven Olov Karlsson, Jens Liljestrand, Anne Swärd, Jerker Virdborg and Pauline Wolff. The points of the manifesto can be summarised thus:

1) Bring back storytelling to prose. No more novels about shopping ladies or crime novels set in various Swedish places for couleur locale.

2) Serious novels are called for, more epic than lyrical, following a list of Swedish greats including Lagerlöf, Söderberg, Delblanc, Dagerman, etc.

3) No exploitation of the biographies of those unable to defend themselves masquerading as literature.

4) "Vi vill låta stilen och formen underordna­ sig berättandet, miljöskildringen och karaktärs­gestaltningen – inte tvärtom." That is to say: we want to let style and form remain subordinate to the narration, the description of setting, and of character - not vice-versa.

5) Literature is not autobiography or diaries.

6) No overload of slapstick or word play.

7) Literature is not journalism. No books fostering social debate masquerading as novels.

8) No sensationalist novels written by journos at leading Swedish dailies.

9) Literature as an art form. No more cliques centred on publications or groupings.

10) No selling out of prose fiction. Novels are to be read.


Well, I hope they practise what they preach. I shall be looking out for works by these revolutionaries.


David McDuff said...

There are too many "rules and regulations" in this list - it's a recipe for more marginalization, sadly enough.

The new developments need to happen naturally, on the part of individual authors, not as the result of some group "manifesto". Literature and politics are not the same.

Eric Dickens said...

I'm more sanguine about the "rules and regulations". It's the fact that some of these things are being said publicly at all that encourages me. Too long has literature been moving in the direction of either commercialism or incomprehensibility. Even if they don't keep their word, even if they are naïve, it's nice to see that younger people are thinking in these terms.

Most good literature is indeed the work of individuals, but some movements in literary history have involved the clubbing together of such individuals. Only half of such idealists embracing any given movement will "make it" to the pinnacle of their national literature, but its the way they goad the literary world into thinking that I find pleasant.

SvD also had a short "notis" about this manifesto. I shall examine the works of these authors over time, one by one, to see if this is indeed well thought through. But Sweden is a country where society needs shaking up from time to time. If this doesn't become one of those sterile cerebral "debatter", there is always the chance that they will help break the mould of dreariness.