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"Only with the head can no one become, or remain, a socialist"

An attempt at a reassessment of Sigurd Evensmo's authorship and a post about the necessity of art.


ORIENTERING 1970: Literary history is full of settlements and conflicts between changing directions. At a distance, such settlements almost always seem exaggerated. Sometimes you see a kind of justification. And rarely have they been politically necessary.

The settlement with Sigurd Hoel has been such a politically necessary settlement, – with Hoel then as a common denominator for the tradition we associate with psychoanalysis and Freudianism: the psychologizing novel, or psychologism, as this direction is somewhat derogatoryly called.

The urge to give psychological explanations in this way, to explain, for example, Nazism and fascism from a psychological pattern characterized Hoel's generation and much of the war and post-war Norwegian literature. Freud, who once opened the way to a new reality, eventually became the concept behind which reality was hidden.

Today, psychologists' causal explanations appear to be too simple, often banal. Torture can hardly be explained by unfortunate childhood experiences or a special family pattern (the bombs are not triggered by hidden mechanisms in President Nixon's mind). Imperialism is an economic and political reality. (Dow Chemicals or Bethlehem Steel's death factories have no psychological background.)

The settlement with Hoel and his entourage has therefore been both powerful and necessary. Their form closed off a further experience of the world: it became petty-bourgeois, private.

But this settlement has long overshadowed another fact. That is, that the 40s and early 50s accommodated something more than Hoel and the disciples, plus the two big ones: Borgen and Vesaas. And then I think primarily of Sigurd Evensmo's authorship.

Elements of the Hoel tradition can also be found in him. But well note only items. Far stronger and more conspicuous is the environment and the political background he rolls up. This is especially true of the trilogy Borderland-Bats-Homeward, written against a background of mass unemployment, strikes, political upheavals in the labor movement itself, shrill Hitler triumphs in Europe, the betrayal of Spain, occupation and illegal work here at home.

It is the growth and strife of the labor movement, its history through 15 crucial years Evensmo here has brought to life, sharper and more detailed than any other in our entire literature. And I would be very wrong if this authorship is not rediscovered by new generations within the Norwegian labor movement. The struggle he portrays between the classes has once again been moved closer, sharpened and actualized. The society he describes is basically the same. The solidarity, the longing for cohesion, which is the work's rhythm and pulse, will therefore easily propagate to new restless minds. They will find context in this work, gain roots in their own history, – and become involved, as only it can be, who themselves have the experience in the body. And Evensmo will give them an experience that does not go over so easily.


Not at all. "Only with the head can no one become – or remain – a socialist," writes Göran Palm in his latest book, What can you do?. He himself lets political doctrines break the resonant chapters, so that a new dimension is added. The perspectives are new and surprising. The author makes us not only understand, but also experience history, the class struggle, politics. Thereby he multiplies the effect of the written word, as it appears through pure agitation, analysis or factual literature.

In other words: Fiction has not "played its role" at all. But it will, in the time to come, have a much stronger element of documentation. Traditional forms will disintegrate and material that has so far been reserved for newspaper articles and debate books will be drawn into a literary context.

I think Evensmo is better than anyone else fit to write this dramatic, but
as yet undescribed section in the history of the Norwegian labor movement.

In Sweden, where most phenomena can be observed five to ten years before they appear here at home, this has already become obvious:

Per Olov Enquist tells in The Legionnaires about the fate of the Baltic refugees. Who were they? Where did they come from? What did they have to fear after the Swedish government decided to extradite them to the Soviet Union? And he describes the Swedish reaction to the government's decision. How to create an opinion? Who created it? Why did the reaction in this case become so strong, when the same Protestants had passively come to terms with the rejection of Jews and anti-Nazi refugees from Hitler's Germany?

Through a highly developed documentary technique, Enquist reveals reaction patterns and driving forces in the political mechanism – and he has, rightly, been proclaimed a innovator of the realistic novel.

Another politically conscious author, Sara Lidman, has in the play Martha, Martha used the old triangular drama – a woman and two men – as an illustration in flesh and blood of the conflict between labor buyers and union leaders versus the workers. But the fable itself she has created with the help of the words of the workers and those in power in Sweden through almost a century from the Sundsvall strike in 1879 to today.

This development towards a politicization of literature is, I think, an inevitable consequence of modern news dissemination, increased insight into the people's liberation struggle and into the sharpened contradictions between labor and capital here at home. And I think that very few writers in the long run can remain unaffected by this development.

For the man who in 1949 published The bats, this must seem half melancholy. About this book you can say that it came at least ten years too late – or 20 years too early.

It came at the same time as Marshall aid and NATO weapons, McCarthyism and emergency laws, were brought home on the workers' government's newly acquired Atlantic fleet. There were no economic cycles for such books about the movement's struggle time. War manufacturer and Social Democrat minister, CIA and Haakon Lie shook hands. Sigurd Evensmo left Arbeiderbladet in protest, – and stayed since Orienterings first editor. His books, with the exception of English sailors, was quickly forgotten by a prejudiced contemporary, came later in the shadow of a new generation's entry – and then ended up in literary history, stamped with the label "social realism". In short: passé.

Nothing could be more wrong. A book that The bats is in many ways more relevant today than when it was published, semi-documentary in the sense that the author has used authentic events as background material. Yes, this book is so modern in its choice of subject matter and technique, that many politically oriented authors today could have a lot to learn from Evensmo from that time. I would think that the trilogy today would attract attention, and that very few would take the objections from that time seriously. As if the novel "is… unfortunately more strongly influenced by reportage than by free poetry" (Knut Coucheron Jarl in Aftenposten).

But Evensmo has not taken the line further. He has almost fallen silent as a fiction writer, and it is a bloody sin, because he has a substance that few others have a part in.

At Easter 1948, for example, one of the Labor Party's leading men, still wavering, tried the "new" thoughts on Evensmo and his own brother. In Arbeiderbladet's editorial staff, he first experienced up close the unrest and doubt, and then how a mood is created, and then turns into pure psychosis. And a few years later, he was one of the focal points of groups that, with very different starting points, formed the first organized opposition to NATO policy in Norway, the later circle around Orientering.

Here is enough to scoop off, and I wish Evensmo one day threw all inhibitions overboard, and got the surplus and courage to go on this drug. That would mean he led the line from Borderland, The bats og Homecomingri Norwegian post-war period, – and made us experience and understand a period of time that for many of us is still vague and unclear, but whose nerves and ramifications we sense in the Norwegian labor movement to this day. And that has marked the history of the movement for the last 20 years.

I believe that Evensmo is better suited than anyone else to write this dramatic, but as yet undescribed section in the history of the Norwegian labor movement. I think he – like Enquist – could uncover reaction patterns and driving forces in a mechanism that is still half hidden from most people. And I hope one day to be able to say the same thing about ham, as the lyricist Tor Obrestad on Brecht:

With his thorough knowledge of history and his painful lessons about the four days behind history, he knew what forces in the røynda determine the direction of the sky on the national machine guns.

«When I read Per Olov Enquist's book about The Balt delivery, cast the shadow of Bertolt Brecht over the paper. "

In the meantime, a Norwegian film director should also take a closer look The bats. Norwegian filmmakers made big eyes on Bo Widerbergs Ådalen 31. Here was breadth, drama and that social conflict material which in its essence did not feel less relevant today. But why always look towards the Swedish border? Why not seek out domestic prerequisites? We have everything here. An alert and politically conscious director can do at least as much The bats as Widerberg made out of his substance. Just get started.

But maybe Evensmo is right when he in his new book, Observations, accuses us of disregarding our own sources and our own creative abilities? Maybe we become provincial, because we often stare abroad, and rarely take our own preconditions to help? Perhaps the Norwegian cultural critic has become a kind of Jean de Suede – a modern successor to Holberg's Hans Frandsen, who after fifteen weeks in Paris came home and called himself Jean de France? And who announced: "I am used abroad to courtesy and gallantry, and therefore impossible can just the mean and rude people who are my family."

So it was Observations to be notified. But I have wanted to say this in such detail. It has far too seldom been said – and I think Evensmo may one day be entitled to have his authorship assessed in a context. I believe that this authorship, or parts of it, will experience a rehabilitation in the 70s. And I would like to see this article move a number of readers to the libraries. They will not regret the trip.

Observations, on the other hand, is new this year and is available in bookstores. The book contains many wise considerations (as well as a few I do not share), and it sheds sharp light on key issues in our own time, nationally and internationally. Many of the threads relate to Evensmo's previous writings, not least the collection of articles Facts and Fakes, but also adds new features, and it will consolidate Evensmo's reputation as our finest and most stylish kåsør next to Johan Borgen.

But the book's undisputed highlight is the short story "The Double Man" – about Supreme Court attorney Helmut Patschke, alias Gestapo chief Helmut Reinhardt. In short, a small masterpiece, where Evensmo in small flashes of lightning illuminates the most eerie of all in our barbaric twentieth century: The Desktop Killer!

Sigurd Evensmo:
English sailors (cheap book), kr. 15, -.
Borderland, The bats og Home (nearest library).
Facts and Fakes, kr. 20,50.

Observations, kr. 30,00. Gyldendal 1970.

By Kjell Cordtsen, former editor.

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