Category Archives: Reviews

Jonathan Franzen on the 19th-Century Writer Behind His Internet Skepticism – Joe Fassler – The Atlantic

Ideen om at vi er nødt til at begrænse brug af alle de muligheder vi har nu til dage, tiltrækker mig meget.
Det er som om det er i vores tidsalder at det er blivet meget aktuelt.
Det gælder for vores energiforbrug, brug af plads og naturens resourcer, de muligheder som videnskab giver os eller som her brug af det sociale internet:

Jonathan Franzen on the 19th-Century Writer Behind His Internet Skepticism – Joe Fassler – The Atlantic

“The groupthink of the Internet and the constant electronic stimulation of the devices start to erode the very notion of an individual who is capable of, say, producing a novel.”
  • Good novels are produced by people who voluntarily isolate themselves, and go deep, and report from the depths on what they find.
  • And so it seems to me that the writer’s responsibility nowadays is very basic: to continue to try to be a person, not merely a member of a crowd.
  • I’m trying to monitor my own soul as carefully as I can and find ways to express what I find there.

I never liked fairy tales

(edit: I found this post from febr. 2008, written just before I started this blog. I might as well publish it here. I’ll write soon about how/why I found it)
H. C. Andersen. Source: Wikipedia

I never liked fairy tales, not even as a child. Yesterday I visited the H. C. Andersen museum in Odense and it didn’t really help me to change my mind. As a boy I liked the set-up of the stories, the athmosphere and questions that arose during the reading. I often was wondering how the story would end and how all problems would be solved. But the solutions that were offered to create an end to the stories were most of the times very unsatisfying. It was as if the writer didn’t know himself and just when it became interesting he or she created a witch or a fairy to do some magic and suddenly solve all unsolved endings. And they live happily ever after and got many children. Boom! End.

I had in mind that H.C. Andersen and the Grimm Brothers used old folk tales and other sources and I got the idea that those original sources might be more interesting than these uninspired endings.

During my visit to the museum yesterday I got the impression that H. C. Andersen was a hard working writer that gave almost everything in order to succeed. He tried many things to get his career going and apparently had the plan of producing as much as possible and hoping that something might work some day. This fits with my idea of the writer of the fairy tales being someone who knew how to write a story but who didn’t had much to add.

It is also interesting to make a comparison between all his travels and visits to the upper class of Europe, and an, especially in our days, often advised managment plan of making one’s name known by giving interviews, lectures and making as much noise as possible. His travel activities must have helped him making a career in writing, which might explain part of his fame.

According to the museum there are some reports of H. C. Andersen being unaware of the impression he made during these visits (most striking when visiting Charles Dickens) and probably unjustly combined with the fact that the seemed to be unsuccesful with woman I got the idea that he might have been a hard working man that had his mind set up on succeeding as a writer.
The texts of the exhibition gave the impression that he wasn’t perfectly happy about his private life. It must have been tough for the young H.C. to become anything at all considering his unfortunate background, so his determination must have been vital for him during the main part of his life. One wonders if it didn’t turn into an obsession that ruled his life a little too much to become happy. It is nice that people like his stories but it must have been even more important for him as a person to live a happy life.

Lærer Urup, by Jakob Knudsen

Lærer Urup (1906) Jakob Knudsen
Edition: Gyldendal 1949

Language: Danish

Picture: Rødding: mindetavle for Jakob Knudsen – by Hubertus45 via Wikipedia.

The stone on the picture can be found on the grounds of Rødding Højskole. It bears a text referring to Jakob Knudsen as his father was a teacher on this school and Jakob therefore born there.

When I came across it on the internet I had never heard of Jakob Knudsen but the text on the stone made me curious. I read more about him on the “Arkiv for Dansk Litteratur” and a few days later I bought “Lærer Urup” in a second hand bookshop.

The main character of the book, Lærer Urup, (“lærer” means teacher) is supposed to, more or less, mirror the views of the writer himself. Jakob Knudsen had some clear points that he wanted to make, and the book therefore has a clear theme right from the start. Not much time is waisted to explaining his theories with the help of examples interwoven into a storyline.

To make it all digestible the book is written in a popular tone in a daily language, dialogues even written in several dialects.

The story is about a teacher and his controversial theories about religion, society and education. These theories bring him into conflict with a. o.  the local priest of the village where Lærer Urup is starting out as a teacher, and the discussions between these two gives the writer plenty of opportunity to explain his views. Soon after his appointment the teacher gets criticised from different directions but he stays firm and true to his believes which result in complications that form the main elements of the storyline of the novel.

The novel is interesting, it has its main strengths in the opinions and views of the main character. The story itself is not too well written in my opinion, some parts seem to be realistic and truthfully descriptive, other scenes are more theoretical and give a rather black and white description of characters and situations. I felt that too much was happening and as if that was done to attract a wider audience.

Lærer Urups views are interesting however, and his bold statements make them very clear.

“Jeg troer, at alt, hvad der kommer umiddelbart fra Gud til os – Naturens Verden tænker jeg ikke paa – det er Lys, Sandhed, Glæde, Frihed, Kjærlighed; alt hvad der hedder Straf, Strænghed, Lov, Tvang, Frygt – det hører Naturen og Menneskeverden til, men dér er det ogsaa fuldkommen nødvendigt, hvis vi Mennesker ikke skal raadne op i vor egen Elendighed, – ogsaa for at vi skal faa Trang til Gud. Det er Tidens Slaphed, den sjaskede Blødagtighed og Kraftesløshed, der volder, at den er ugudelig.”

Lærer Urup, page 39.

His religious views are based upon the idea that it is up to humanity to make life on earth bearable. God is light, truth, joy, freedom and love and he created the earth and its nature. But it is up to the humans to create a society and make it work. Strict rules are necessary, punishment and even force as well.

“Aa ja, Moralen er ikke saa højtidelig i sin Begyndelse, som man troer. Tager man Angsten bort, saa forsvinder mindst Halvdelen af Moralen med det samme.”

Lærer Urup, page 17.

It is on the other hand important for Lærer Urup that people can make up their own mind and that they should not be forced to think or believe what society tells them. Physical and spiritual freedom are two opposites for him.

His criticism upon society, written in 1906, can still be used for contemporary society, it might as well become popular again soon. The book discusses subjects that will probably never be out-dated.

Vejle Kunstmuseum

I recently visited Vejle Kunstmuseum again. My previous visit had been some years ago, when it still was just one building, the old library.
At that time there wasn’t too much space but I nevertheless liked the atmosphere and thought it had been a nice visit. Sometimes you get more out of a small museum than a big one, as you have to concentrate on the few things that are exhibited. But of course in a small museum it is very important what the current exhibition displays.
I know Vejle museum has a large amount of high quality prints and drawings which were at that time only visible on demand during the opening hours of the library. When I saw on their homepage that the museum has been extended with 2 other buildings I was hoping that there would be some room now for an permanent exhibition of some of the prints and drawings. Unfortunately there wasn’t really anything visible in the normal museum exhibition, but it is possible to see some fine Rembrandt etchings on request. They are in a separate, locked room and absolutely worth the trouble asking for permission to see them.
The current special exhibition at the moment (until the 10th of January) is a fairly big exhibition of the museums works and private works of the local artist Albert Bertelsen. I knew he makes very interesting graphical works, both abstract or for example with themes from Færøerne so this was a good opportunity to visit the museum in its new state. And I liked just about everything about the museum and the Bertelsen exhibition. The main exhibition shows local works and other works from different periods, as there for example is a classical room with views upon Vejle or a small room with works by Svavar Gudnason followed by a Cobra inspired room with among others Asger Jorn, Richard Mortensen and Else Alfelts. I didn’t see any foreign (non-Danish) works in the museum as far as I remember.
Albert Bertelsen was great, just as I had expected. He knows his job, has an excellent technique and a fine sense of humour, composition and mood.

Liefdeleven by Marcellus Emants

Det er i livet nu engang sådan

at der i allerhøjeste grad ikke findes lykken

som vi mener at den burde se ud.

A thought that came up while reading the book (unfortunately in danish).

Someone said somewhere that Emants writes rather scientific and perhaps even cold, and Liefdeleven (1916) by Marcellus Emants (1848-1923) reminds me indeed a bit of a scientific study.  Emants is known to write about actual persons and situations, and it is generally thought that Liefdeleven is about his third marriage  (1904) with a German actress (the name of the main character “Christiaan Duyts” – Duyts meaning “German” in dutch- seems to support this).

I must say that I found it a little hard to get through the first chapters, as it at that point reminded me of a nurse-loves-doctor kind of pocket that comes with the latest ladies magazine.

But as the story progresses it becomes more naturalistic to an extend that it even gets hard to be confronted by many of the conversations/discussions in this part of the book. It was here that I started to suspect that the book referred to, or at least has pieces of, an actual situation in the life of Marcellus Emants.

The book is written from a male perspective which gives it a perhaps interesting one-view-only look upon the problems that arise in the book. It doesn’t help that in a key section of the book (The conversation with doctor Diepe – “Diep” means “Depth” in dutch) one reads about the opinion of another male, who is not exactly taking a female point of view.

After that I got curious to know what would happen next and I did not get disappointed.

I actually don’t think the book is much about how bad it is to be married, or how hard it can be when you meet the wrong person. I think the book is about the reality of life. Some people are lucky and can keep their dreams alive, can be happily married, have a good job so that they never have to suffer in whatever way. They can continue being happy. But what about war, poverty, disaster, crime, sickness or, to a lesser extend, divorce, loneliness or discrimination? These are all aspects of life, and one can argue whether or not a person should experience at least some of these things to experience what life is really about. People that are being born happy and that die happy are lucky and I wish everybody could experience that. But we are part of nature, and nature is not just one happy story.

Life is full of lies, dreams, promises. We all live a lie, and many of us will unravel a few of those lies.

A sidenote:

I think there is a little bit too big a gap between the description of nature in beautiful,original words, very poetic, and the rest of the story. Christiaan is a painter of landscapes, hence the descriptions, but for me it doesn’t really fit into the story. It’s slightly out of tone. It does make me want to try to create poems out of the descriptions though.

LibraryThing

I spent some time discovering LibraryThing. It was a pleasant surprised to notice how serious the site appears to be. It seems to attract older people who don’t mind some social activity but prefer to do so “without meeting people”.

It basically is a good site to make a list of the books you own and get information about the writer, pictures of book covers, list of other books written by the writer, recommended books that you might like etc. The site links to many large bookshops (including Amazon of course) and many libraries, giving quick access to the details of just about any book in the world. The first 200 books you enter to your collection on the site are for free, after that an annual or a lifetime fee (25 USD) is required.

I started out by adding a few books that I just read, and who knows maybe one day I might pass that 200 books mark. It is fulfilling to think of all the data you can get from your reading habits, probably because it makes you feel that it really represents who you are. When we were teenagers many of us played our music loud to show the world what kind of cool guy/girl we were. That doesn’t really work anymore when you discover that wearing that extra earring doesn’t really make you look smarter, and that to many people it might actually be a sign that “things are not quiet developed up there”. So we middle-aged people try it with books. “I read Socrates” so that makes me smart; “I have more than a thousand books in my library,so don’t you tell me where to buy bread!”

It will take a while for us older people to discover that it is just as silly as writing “Red Hot Chilli Peppers” on your school bag. But until then i’ll fill out the books I read, tag and order them and compare my library with others to see how I am doing. “I’ve got The Poverty of Philosophy by Karl Marx, anyone else who is just as intellectual as me?”.