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More cannon fodder

Yet another reminder that there is unparalleled authorship.


[canon] «Why is all this coming right now? Is Norwegian literature from the last century in danger of being forgotten? » It is understandable that Aftenposten's Ingunn Økland asks these questions (May 26). "Right now" it seems that the list culture – I almost had the culture we associate with Erlend Loes Naiv.Super – is in the process of colonizing large parts of Bok-Norge.

The most ambitious of spring's canon projects is undoubtedly The Norwegian literary canon 1900-1960, edited by the literary writers Erik Bjerck Hagen and Petter Aaslestad. Well assisted by colleagues Tone Selboe and Jørgen Magnus Sejersted, the two editors have found 16 Norwegian authors that all literate readers should read: Olav Duun, Kristofer Uppdal, Cora Sandel, Sigrid Undset, Olaf Bull, Francis Bull, Tarjei Vesaas, Aksel Sandemose , Johan Borgen, Jens Arup Seip, Rolf Jacobsen, Olav H. Hauge, Alf Prøysen, Agnar Mykle, André Bjerke and Gunvor Hofmo.


The epoch division – 1900-1960 – is not watertight, it is rather the result of a pragmatic choice. About Paal Brekke, we read that he is «a possible canon candidate who can just as easily be placed in 1900-1960 as in 1960-200. He, like Jens Bjørneboe, we have chosen to push ahead of us, because he published his most central works in the first half of the 1960s ».

The four literary scholars each write their own chapters – and they each write in their own way. While Bjerck Hagen emerges as the pragmatist who is not afraid to take big words in his mouth, Aaslestad appears as the thorough close reader. Selboe is at her best when she comments, analyzes and challenges an author's reception story. Victory Place I would characterize as a good mix of the other three: a close-reading pragmatist with a critical eye directed at the historical horizon of understanding a work can be said to be a part of.

There is a lot to grasp here, and everything suggests that the book will "lead to discussion of concepts such as quality and taste before and now". Is the selection too large? Insufficient? Does the book serve as a critique of prevailing aesthetic ideologies, or is it rather to be regarded as an academic legitimization of the status quo? It is gratifying that both Francis Bull and Jens Arup Seip are on the list. The presentation of the two authors of the prose could curb the great Norwegian misconception that only fiction is literature.

In Bloom's footsteps

But then there were the weaknesses. Only exceptionally is Norwegian literature placed in an international context, and it is striking how unproblematic the canon question itself is for Bjerck Hagen & co. Only halfway through the book, in Petter Aaslestad's chapter on Sandemose, is one of the literary discussions' heaviest discussions about what it takes for a work to be considered canonized.

Aaslestad refers to Harold Bloom, perhaps the foremost canonist of our time: In The Western Canon (1994), Bloom «quickly finds that adding strangeness to beauty is characteristic of canonical works. In most cases, it is a type of originality that is either such that it cannot be assimilated, or that it is assimilated in such a way that we stop seeing it as strange ”.

Why not elaborate on this? For readers with no knowledge of Bloom's canon theory, the book could easily appear as an exercise in pure assertion. This criticism can be particularly directed at several of Erik Bjerck Hagen's formulations. What does Bjerck Hagen mean by words like power, strength, person and self? These are words for Bloom included in the description of canon as a battle between younger and older literature, such as Ibsen's fight against the great predecessor, Shakespeare.

Why is this happening right now? You come a long way if you read Bloom's canon book before you read The Norwegian Canon 1900-1960.

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