Jens Bjørneboe and Gateavisa

ANARCHISM / Audun Engh on Jens Bjørneboe's significance as a source of inspiration for Gateavisa in the 70s


In November 1973, we who worked in Gateavisa's editorial office sent piles of Gateavisa no. 6-73 to approx. 50 street vendors around the country. We attached a circular with information about the plans for the coming year. Here it says, among other things:

«The next issue will come approx. January 15, and will i.a. contain an article about the Sami culture, written by a girl at the high school in Karasjok, Norwegian and foreign alternative comics, interview with Frank Zappa on Kalvøya and articles by JENS BJØRNEBOE! Bjørneboe came up to the editorial office one evening last week, and asked to become an employee of the newspaper. He is tired of writing in the established press, and would like to help promote the ideas Gatevisa and similar measures stand for. We will probably also do an interview with Bjørneboe. "

The prediction did not come true. We did not receive any articles for Gateavisa from Bjørneboe, but his participation in the public debate still inspired the editorial work. In nos. 1-75, Arnstein Bjørkly mentioned a play Bjørneboe had written for Club 7's theater group, Scene 7. Bjørneboe was interviewed in Gateavisa no. 1-1976 by the editorial members Dag Kongsvik and Mari Toft. The topic of the conversation was his criticism of the practice of the Norwegian police, prosecutors and the judiciary.

A reader sent us a cassette with a recording of a lecture Bjørneboe had given in Bergen student society in 1971, also with sharp criticism of the Norwegian judiciary. We wrote the entire recording and published the lecture in no. 1-1977, the year after Bjørneboe died.

Although Bjørneboe did not become a writer for Gateavisa, he was of great importance to our business.

Although Bjørneboe did not become a writer for Gateavisa, he was of great importance to our business. As early as 1969, he wrote an article on "Anarchism as the Future" published in 1970 in the collection of essays We who loved America at Pax Forlag. Bjørneboe predicted that anarchism would "be heard in the coming decades, probably as the most vital political impulse from now on". Gateavisa helped to realize Bjørneboe's prediction.

I was present when a group from the editorial office visited Bjørneboe Wayland. A concrete result of the visit was that he donated NOK 2000 for the renovation of Hjelmsgate 3 in Oslo, the old wooden house which from the late 60s has been a haunt for alternative businesses.

Degrees of anarchism

Most of what I have been involved in later in life has been influenced by Bjørneboe's statements about anarchism and anti-authoritarian attitudes in the early 70s. He did not emphasize anarchism as an absolute ideology, in line with Marxism, but said that it will always be about degrees of anarchism: A society is healthy to the extent that it has anarchist features.

The following statement burned into my mind and has helped me understand that oppressive attitudes exist cross-politically. This is not an exact quote, but my memory of Bjørneboe's most important message from one of our conversations: In politics, there is an axis from left to right. But there is another and equally important axis that runs across: authoritarian to anti-authoritarian.

In the following approx. For 45 years, this message has been crucial to my ability to deal with the struggle against authoritarian forces in politics, religion, art and architecture. Within all movements and disciplines, one encounters actors who are either characterized by liberal and inclusive attitudes, or appear as fanatics who believe they represent the truth and therefore have the right to define and crush opponents.

Should Bjørneboe be remembered as an anthroposophical intellectual or anarchist rebel?

My work over the last 20 years for diversity, local participation and respect for traditions in architecture has triggered furious reactions among believing modernists. A professor at the School of Architecture in Oslo told me that he had read Gateavisa as a teenager and admired me. But now he considered me a traitor to Gateavisa's ideas because I supported classical architecture and collaborated with Prince Charles.

My answer was that Street newspaper has always challenged accepted truths and advocated freedom of choice and diversity. My critique of the power of modernism over architecture was therefore a continuation of the newspaper's struggle against authoritarian ideologies, from Marxist-Leninism to capitalism, or against people who were intolerant of all drugs other than alcohol. Bjørneboe helped to clarify this anti-authoritarian perspective.

Innovation should flourish in the most diverse environments, including among people who belong to the established power elite. Bjørneboe had been a teacher at Steinerskolen, and many anthroposophists were outraged by his harsh social criticism and sympathy for anarchism.

Bjørneboe and posterity

In 1978, two years after his death, a bust was removed Bjørneboe located at Club 7. He frequented there and was the only guest with credit at the bar. In Gateavisa 5-1978, I criticized the placement of the bust, partly because I thought Club 7 had contributed to Bjørneboe's alcoholization. Some perceived it as a moralizing perspective, and perhaps they were right. I agreed that the bust should rather be placed in the garden in Hjelmsgate 3. The bust is now at the nightclub Røverstaden, which is located in Club 7's old premises and continues some of the club's atmosphere.

The controversy over whether Bjørneboe should be remembered as an anthroposophical intellectual or anarchist rebel, triggered an action when the National Theater staged a performance with Bjørneboe texts in 1977, called I take me that freedom. 15 anarchists were present and interrupted the performance. A manifesto was read out. The activists believed that the National Theater had overthrown the rebel Bjørneboe and made him a harmless bourgeois artist. Among the protesters was an editorial member of Gateavisa, Lasse Tømte, and the filmmakers Petter Vennerød and Svend Wam.

We wanted to pay tribute to Bjørneboe for his support of anarchism and counterculture.

Jens Bjørneboe took his own life on May 9, 1976. During the funeral nine days later, I participated with a group from the Gateavisa editorial staff and the anarchist community. The funeral was staged by anthroposophers. Bjørneboe had belonged to the movement and taught at Steinerskolen, but many of his anarchist supporters experienced the funeral as an attempt to recapture Bjørneboe's soul. We wanted to pay tribute to Bjørneboe for his support of anarchism and counterculture. It did not go unnoticed, and Dagbladet wrote: "Two young representatives of the anarchist movement covered the floor in front of the coffin with a red and a black flag."

The anthroposophical priests who led the ceremony walked around the coffin and waved incense burners. As the smoke spread around Bjørneboe's body, I whispered to the editor who was sitting next to me: "Now he gets the last blow." We were well aware that Bjørneboe had shown interest in alternative drugs, in addition to his large consumption of alcohol.

Among people who identify with Bjørneboe's rebellious sides, it is now being discussed how the book Red Emma may be reissued and set up on a suitable theater stage. Although Bjørneboe never managed to write the play completely, it is an important part of his life's work and should be made available. Some have suggested a new pirate version if the survivors maintain the ban on publishing. Jens Bjørneboe obviously still inspires many to think and act freely.

Also read: Thomas Hylland Eriksen: A late hippie confessions

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