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So what about love in the Nordic countries

September 19, 2009

There currently is a literature festival in my home town. The medieval palaces of the historic centre have put on their yellow feathers to celebrate the brief yearly romance with books and literati. It’s really quite pretty.

One of the events I went to see today was called “Love in Scandinavian literature” and featured two guests: Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder and Danish author Torben Guldberg. I didn’t really know what to expect, I had not heard of Guldberg before, and only saw Gaarder in relation to Sophie’s World and other strange books about jokers, but most importantly two of the most beautiful and intense children’s books I have ever read. Yes maybe there was some love here and there but “Love in Scandinavian literature” made me think most of all of Arto Paasilinna’s The Son of the Thunder God – which isn’t about love either, really, but that’s what I thought of.

I don’t think the guests knew what to say about the topic much. Apparently in the Nordic countries the most popular genre is the detective novel / crime fiction / noir, so they didn’t even see a portrayable “love in Nordic literature”. And yet they talked about love, about their new books (Theses on the existence of love and The castle in the Pyrenees), and about all sort of other things. Guldberg, despite being very young and at his authorial debut, spoke with determination, insight and a very pleasant use of vocabulary. But I must admit the show was stolen by Gaarder. First of all he had a great English accent, hilarious and sweet at once. (It was a great day for accents and pronounciation defects: in the morning I went to listen to Slavoj Žižek). Secondly, much like Žižek in this too, he was taken by what he was saying and often interrupted the translator to add or clarify. And thirdly, what was most exciting was how he managed to throw in, often with a joke or two, his immense love for human beings.

My favourite point was when he answered a question about the difference between a rationalist approach to love and life, which is aware of the randomness of it all, and a spiritualist approach, almost a religious one, which rests on the concept of fate. He talked firstly about the uniquely human tendency to apply a retrospective interpretation which makes us see the workings of chance as the workings of fate. But then he also talked about a certain intuition that we have when interacting with people, an intuition that makes us decide that certain people or certain relationships deserve an effort to be put into them, deserve the risk of exposing ourselves to other people to see if they’re worth getting to know. His conclusion was that it is not necessarily up to mere chance, but there is definitely nothing supernatural or predestined or even less so religious about love. I appreciated the answer because it annoyed me a little bit how the interviewer had tried to forcefully push religion into the topic – I suppose it’s what stirs up debate here in Italy though?

So at the end of it I still don’t know how love is in the Nordic countries (or rather, in their literature). But I know that it was great to hear this man, who talks about how extraordinary the universe is, also speak about love with optimism, without falling in the soppy.

Crossing fingers, David Lodge tomorrow.

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