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After 13 years, Sigrid Undset days have now become Norway's leading literature meeting place.


[festival] Norwegian literary festival at Lillehammer has changed its profile with new festival director Randi Skeie and artistic adviser Stig Sæterbakken. "Infidelity" is a more potent and concrete theme than last year's bland "staging", and this year's festival has stretched both in height and breadth to accommodate several types of dissemination and audience. It might have been a serious poly-stretch, but this year's festival was a solid success. Even the weather was different: raining rain for the first three days, and scorching sun for the last three. There was something for everyone here.

Subject and party

The festival is the literature industry's seminar and party week. Subject and party constitute each other in such contexts, and the Literature Train last week strongly influenced Mjøsbyen.

The locals are proud of the festival, but do not engage in much close contact with the urban festival participants. The exception is the outdoor events in Søndre Park, where you always have the opportunity to act regular park tricks or imperceptibly sneak away if you wish. Another exception is like Friday and Saturday nights. Anything other than the Wehrmacht can cause god-fire dooms to let go of the week's ritual drunk, so there was excitement in the air last weekend. Not least at Haakon's pub (a small bar with beer), which both locals and festival participants for unknown reasons insist on filling to the brim as soon as the thirst comes. But there was no fight between city and country, not even cuddling.

One of this year's major projects was the presentation of Norway's literary canon. I was not alone in fearing the worst when the jury was presented a few months ago, but was pleasantly surprised. The jury has dared to think about quality and relevance, without resorting too much to temporary waves of political correctness. Some critics have claimed that the 25 selected works represented the conservative and expected. Nothing could be more wrong: It is rather the buzzing criticism that has been predictable. It sounded in my head like the commander immediately rolled out. And: the festival does not allow its canon to remain a summer's sight: Quotes from the 25 works will reach on the walls and place around the perimeter in Lillehammer. To irritation and pleasure presumably.

Müller and Finkelstein

This year's main lecture (new of the year) was by Romanian author Herta Müller, who grew up in Romania. Clearly inspired by the language situation in a dictatorship, she told the paradox that in telling something, or putting something at the forefront, one always chooses a metaphor that not only threatens, but actually changes the original content.

This can be a picture of how literature is created and given its own life, and at the same time how a thought police can turn natural phenomena into harmful agents by constantly threatening and monitoring the population. So that snow, which is otherwise quite poetic, can act as the foremost agent of the surveillance police: Herta Müller's mother hid in an earthen hut to avoid being deported to forced labor. It went well until the snow came and revealed the footsteps of her food-delivery helpers. Herta Müller's fusion of poetics on the one hand and the memories of a dictatorship on the other, could have defended the entire festival alone.

Another highlight was the long-announced Norman Finkelstein. He gave an accessible lecture with highlights from his new book For Israel's defense?, but the greatest expectation was for the debate with Odd-Bjørn Fure from the Holocaust Center. (discussed on page 26). The psychologist Lynne Segal also took part in the debate, calling for less focus on World War II perpetrators and victims, and rather on what the rest of us did; we who were not immediately at war.

The UK and Australia tightened immigration laws in line with the harassment of Jews in Germany, and Norwegian police sent wherever they found Jews. How about today? The situation is turned on its head, but is still the same: The nations of the world do not dare to criticize Israel for fear of being called anti-Semites. But, as you know, it's never too late to turn around.

Lillehammer City's painting collection opened its most expensive exhibition ever with an extensive presentation by Anders Zorn. He painted about a hundred years ago, mostly from the middle and upper classes, but also something from the working class. The great thing about Zorn's images is how they, like classical portrait art, unite how the models wanted to see themselves idealized, with a revealing look for the peculiar, time-typical and in some cases scary. In literature, Balzac does the same. The exhibition lasts until the autumn.

Art and music

Another art exhibition was based on Lars Fiskes and Steffen Kverneland's cartoons. Their autobiographical bullets in the footsteps of Olaf Gulbransson, Edvard Munch and Kurt Schwitters are hysterically funny art of the "highest class". The exhibition at Gallery Dreyer lasts until June 11.

In the same place, unlike many others, I saw the theater monologue Fången on the lighthouse about what happened to the announcer who revealed the real reason why a Soviet "submarine" was stranded in the Swedish archipelago a few years back. The local Liv Hege Nylund was in charge of the audience, which held the audience between themselves and the classic theatrical. Leif Stålhammar was the actor who was both one of us, and a tragic storyteller who presented his inevitable story.

Among the musical elements, Kjartan Fløgstad with bands was mostly for a 1970s song club, while the harding fiddle trio Valkyrien Allstars gained many new fans with his inventive goulash of old and new. They can win the Melodi Grand Prix for Norway – if they want to. And last but not least: the innovation GUT, with the genre designation «German darkcore». Behind this relatively new "band" is the increasingly relevant Cornelius Jakhelln, the newly beaten, Norwegian winner of Cappelen's Nordic novel competition. Black metal, the intimate cabaret, Jakhelln in dressing gown and the singer Tori Vrånes as a mix of Madonna and Diamanda Galás. It will be a party of such.

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Kjetil Korslund
Historian of ideas and critic.

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