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  • Norwegian Contributions
  • Lene M. Johannessen

a. 20th- and 21st-Century Prose and Poetry

To a larger extent than has been common in recent years, Norwegian Americanists' contributions in 2007 tend to revolve around contemporary fiction. We begin with a title that rings familiar to a great many readers, Fight Club. To most the title will evoke images of the movie, but as in so many other cases the novel inconspicuously precedes the images we know from the screen. James Annesley has called these writings "blank fiction" to denote the literary works existing in virtual obscurity until the movie industry picks them up and launches them into the world (other instances are American Psycho and Prozac Nation). In "Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club: Ritualized Violence as Identity Formation," pp. 117–28 in Nieves Pascual and Antonio Ballesteros Gonzáles, eds., Feeling in Others: Essays on Empathy and Suffering in Modern American Culture (LitVerlag), Erik Kielland-Lund explores Palahniuk's novel in relation to Annesley's thesis concerning blank fiction's commodification of "its own language of its own period," to what Susan Faludi calls the "ornamental masculinity" of our time, and to Robert Bly's and Michael Kimmel's ideas on the crises of masculinity in the Western world.

The rationale of ritualized violence, Kielland-Lund suggests, can largely be explained against certain trends that convene in postmodern loss: "With all the old certainties gone, both in terms of work, living conditions, and gender roles, the young men at the cusp of the new millennium are deeply troubled by a sense of being cheated out of their rightful inheritance, and the response to this frustration is often an assertion of physical power." The analysis that follows focuses on how Fight Club [End Page 513] (the novel) lets its characters negotiate the anesthetics of consumerism by resorting to pain as a venue to feel. He argues that this search for "renunciation, immolation, and physical pain" can be traced back to the Puritans and Thoreau. Their desire for simplicity rings a similar note in relation to mindless materialism and consumption. After a Freudian reading of the complex relationship between the two aspects of the main character and their relationship to the world they seek to destroy, the discussion moves to Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism from the late 1970s and its concern that a culture of individuals "without an inner core, ready to follow the lead of a different drummer" would make them easy prey to whichever charismatic leader comes along. This is of course precisely what Durden and his Fight Club members embody. Kielland-Lund ends his discussion by reflecting that even if Fight Club is a depressing reminder that things may not have fared quite as one hoped for in the aftermath of the 1960s and 1970s, at least it holds out the hope that "man's perennial quest for existential meaning simply refuses to be swayed by the siren song of a stupefying consumer society."

The life and death of John F. Kennedy never ceases to capture our imagination. In his essay on how the Zapruder footage figures in two of Don DeLillo's novels, Libra (1988) and Underworld (1997), Øyvind Vågnes ("Inside the Zapruder Museum," Working Papers on Design 2) reflects on the ekphrastic fascination that we continue to display in relation to the 26-second film. Writing his theses into a broad register of critical positions on the function of ekphrastic writing (the literary word speaking about an art form different from itself, from the Greek phrazein, "speaking," and ek, "out"), one of Vågnes's main concerns is to reroute the focus on ekphrastic writing: traditionally it evokes "sculptures and paintings in words," he argues, "but seldom objects outside the realm of whatever passes as 'art,' even after the 'end of art.'"

The question of why DeLillo "invested so much of his creative powers in writing about the events that surround Kennedy's death" has several possible answers. One is of a more general nature, having to do with JFK's assassination as marking the beginning of the paradigm shift of the 1960s and, Vågnes suggests, possibly even invoking "the Lyotardian breakdown of...


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pp. 513-519
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