- Locating August Strindberg's Prose: Modernism, Transnationalism, and Setting
Locating Strindberg's prose is not as simple as it might seem. The five texts discussed by Anne Westerståxhl Stenport in her suggestive and provocative study are mobile and heterogeneous, shuttling—like their author in the 1880s and 1890s—between countries, cultures, and languages. For Stenport, [End Page 295] they are transnational, rather than international, juxtaposing elements from different traditions while eschewing the notion of a center. These texts, moreover, encourage us to rethink the meaning of "setting" in literary narratives. There is, Stenport argues, no correspondence between architecture and subjectivity in these texts. Nor do they fit into a model of European modernism that emphasizes the cultures of individual cities such as Paris, London, Berlin, or even Moscow. Instead, for Stenport, Strindberg's prose exemplifies a transnational modernism. It may even challenge us to rethink European modernism as a transnational phenomenon.
Locating August Strindberg's Prose focuses on an unusual selection of Strindberg's prose. It opens with a discussion of Plaidoyer d'un fou, a volume in Strindberg's fictional autobiography. Written in French, which was and was not a language of intimacy for Strindberg, the text explodes the boundaries of the interior that had appeared to guarantee the coherence of the central character in earlier volumes. At best, the bourgeois interior is a prison; at worst, it drives him crazy. Travel in this volume is a release and a threat, for it also calls into question the protagonist's sense of his and his partner's identity, leading him to suspect—among other things—that she may be a lesbian.
The discussion then turns to Bland franska bönder, which may have originated as a project conceived in the spirit of Rousseau to represent uncorrupted men of nature, but the peasants in Strindberg's text are mostly mediated by other cultural representations, and the countryside figures as the other place that makes Paris possible. Still, Stenport reads Bland franska bönder as an ethnographic text. Its narrator views the countryside and its inhabitants with a dispassionate gaze that resembles that of an ethnographer or flâneur. And the text itself registers a crisis in the French countryside in the 1880s.
If Paris is the other of the countryside in Bland franska bönder, the setting of Inferno, one of the most often discussed prose works by Strindberg, is explicitly split between the city and the Austrian Alps. Stenport reads Inferno against the grain. This is a heterogeneous text that juxtaposes very different locations. It was certainly a seminal text for the central European poet Rilke and also points forward to the French surrealists' representations of Paris. But on Stenport's reading, the city in Inferno does not live up to its reputation among some Strindberg scholars and in the work of literary historians such as Pascale Casanova as the literary capital of the world. It is instead one stop in an ongoing journey.
The fourth text is the relatively unknown Klostret. Loosely based on Strindberg's life in the early 1890s, when he met and married his second wife, the narrative moves from Berlin to the coast of Europe to London [End Page 296] and back again. Most notable are the scenes in Berlin that include depictions of a group of bohemian artists who congregate in a cloister-like bar and also a homosexuals' ball. Here as in Plaidoyer d'un fou crossing boundaries entails confronting the fluidity of sexual desires and identities and a rebellion against traditional gender roles, particularly those associated with marriage.
Locating August Strindberg's Prose ends with a discussion of Taklagsöl, written in Swedish and published in 1906. Although this text originated after Strindberg returned to Sweden for the final time and depicts the ruminations of an older man, the "curator," as he lies in bed in his bourgeois apartment, it juxtaposes a variety of settings outside that dwelling, including Africa. Whereas the railroad...