- International ScholarshipNordic Contributions
This year’s Nordic contributions include monographs from Sweden, Denmark, and Norway and a good number of critical essays emphasizing ethnic American literatures. In addition to a major interest in modern prose, Nordic scholars are also producing interesting work on poetry.
a. 19th-Century Prose Fiction
In “Failing Description in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Black Cat,’” pp. 270–81 in Kaisa Koivisto et al., eds., Kokemuksen tutkimus 4: Annan kokemukselle mahdollisuuden (Study of Experience 4: Giving a Chance to Experience) (Rovaniemi: Lapland Univ. Press) Jarkko Toikkanen examines Poe’s classic story from a rhetorical perspective to understand its failing representation of experience. Following Joseph Stark’s critique of psychological readings of the story, Toikkanen focuses primarily on the text. He suggests that Poe’s unreliable narrator uses the tropes of ekphrasis and hypotyposis to manipulate the images conveyed. In Toikkanen’s view, the crumbling wall revealing the decayed body of the narrator’s wife at the end of the story is a moment of hypotyposis: physical description proves impossible and only “images as sheer images” remain.
b. 20th- and 21st-Century Prose Fiction
Recent Danish contributions address the literatures of the American South. The anthology The Scourges of the South? Essays on “The Sickly South” in History, Literature, and Popular Culture, ed. Thomas Ærvold Bjerre and Beata Zawadka (Cambridge Scholars) features two Danish contributions. The first, Bjerre’s “Southern Evil, Southern Violence: Gothic Residues in the Works of William Gay, Barry Hannah, and Cormac McCarthy” (pp. 77–91), examines Gothic elements in novels by these writers. Gay’s The Long Home (1999) introduces the character of Hardin, a “walkin’ dead man”; Hannah’s Yonder Stands Your Orphan (2001) features the predatory Man Mortimer, indicative of a larger Southern “zombie culture”; and the fictional world of McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (2005) is permeated by the psychopath hit man Anton Chigurh, who will “kill you in a heartbeat.” Bjerre argues that the cause of the Southern mental disturbance is the lack of experience that makes one completely “alive.” This (di)spirited state of contemporary “things southern” [End Page 481] Bjerre ascribes to the increasing role that materialism plays in the culture of the region. In the other Danish contribution, “Years of Discretion: Clyde Edgerton on Old Age” (pp. 59–73), Jan Nordby Gretlund draws on two personal interviews with Edgerton as well as most of his novels, ranging from Raney (1985) to The Night Train (2011). Many of these novels are set in the fictional Hansen County, North Carolina, a setting that allows for a “postmodern interrogation into serious existential issues such as living, aging, and dying.” Gretlund argues that age and aging are Edgerton’s primary topics, expressed through an abundance of old characters, some dead “but still operating fully in the minds of the living.” Gretlund demonstrates that, however humorous Edgerton’s fiction may be and however individualized his depictions of aging, the end of the process is the same: reduction and an “extended period of losses.”
Gretlund continues his career-spanning interest in Southern literature with Heads on Fire: Essays on Southern Fiction (Odense: Univ. Press of Southern Denmark), collecting 14 essays on individual writers and texts from the 19th century to the present day. The canonical authors Mark Twain and Cormac McCarthy are both treated, but Gretlund is equally interested in newer writers and those who are out of print and unknown to the larger public (e.g., Pam Durban, Percival Everett, and Madison Jones). As a whole the book is highly illuminating in its alternation between impressive in-depth readings and more broadly sweeping explorations of tendencies, especially in more recent work. The first chapter, “Fraught with Fiction,” sets the stage for the essays to come and also serves as a brief history lesson in the literature of the American South. In the following chapter Gretlund concentrates on 1835, the first “Annus Mirabilis” of Southern fiction, a period of unprecedented flowering in art brought to a sudden halt by the cotton depression in 1837. This illuminating chapter puts into perspective the traditional understanding of the first emergence of...