Theater of Cruelty

Guess is cowardly!

Norway needs a culture canon. But it is not what most Norwegians seem to believe.


[10. March 2006] Minister of Culture Trond Giske (Ap) is cowardly. He does not dare to defend Norway's diverse cultural heritage. On Tuesday, the Progress Party's cultural-political spokeswoman Karin Woldseth called for a Norwegian cultural canon, a definition of the country's most important cultural work. As in Denmark, where the Minister of Culture allowed professionals to find the country's twelve most important works in literature, architecture and music.

The first reactions here at home were as expected: skepticism. The left's cultural-political spokeswoman, Trine Skei Grande, tells NRK that she sees no point in making such a rating. And she is supported by Minister of Culture Trond Giske: “I don't think we should use major forces to categorize and rank art. We should rather use them to create new art. ”

This is an exceptionally simple cultural view. Giske sets up a populist contradiction between creating new art and knowing the past. Rather, it is a prerequisite for innovative cultural pursuits that one is well acquainted with what was previously created at home and abroad.

What Grande and Giske do not say is that they fear that Frp will use such a culture ring to cultivate the "special Norwegian". So it can go like in Denmark, where cultural nation cultivation leads to increased hatred of everything "foreign and different".

But the problem is that politicians like Grande and Giske themselves support such a false notion of Norwegian culture as an exclusionary project. Instead, they could say: Yes, let's set up a culture canon. For it will show that there is no "typical Norwegian", but that Norway's leading artists have always been inspired by the world out there. Norway has been multicultural for over 1000 years.

The Icelander Snorre wrote down Norway's royal sagas – and he wrote that Turks are "taller, and are ennobled with gifts of every kind, wisdom, strength, beauty". The playwright Ludvig Holberg was as much Danish as Norwegian. Henrik Wergeland died as Allah's believing disciple, after being convinced by two Moroccan Jews in Paris. Henrik Ibsen had to go abroad and experience "The Beauty of the South" to create his great works. Tidemand & Gude lived in Düsseldorf when they painted «Brudeferden i Hardanger». While the national treasure Ole Bull was a cosmopolitan who loved the United States as much as Norway.

A true Norwegian cultural canon will show how international and multicultural this country has always been. What we need now is a minister of culture who has the knowledge to say it.

Dag Herbjørnsrud
Dag Herbjørnsrud
Former editor of MODERN TIMES. Now head of the Center for Global and Comparative History of Ideas.

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