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  • Den menneskelige plet: Medialiseringen af litteratursystemet by Stefan Kjerkegaard
  • Jon Helt Haarder
Stefan Kjerkegaard. Den menneskelige plet: Medialiseringen af litteratursystemet. Copenhagen: Dansklærerforeningens forlag, 2017. Pp. 158.

The basic premise of this sympathetic monograph is that the mediatization of late modern society has changed the conditions of writing and reading literature. The author Stefan Kjerkegaard—associate professor at Aarhus University's Scandinavian Department—contends that teachers and researchers of literature have not adequately responded to the changes entailed in mediatization. A remedy for this problem is offered by Kjerkegaard's book.

Den menneskelige plet (The Human Stain) has been published by Dansklærerforeningen, the association of Danish teachers in Denmark, and is clearly and successfully written so as to be relevant not only to Kjerkegaard's academic colleagues, but also to the much larger audience of teachers of literature in the Danish Gymnasieskole (upper secondary schools)—as well as to university students of Scandinavian literature at home and abroad. At the center of Kjerkegaard's study, we find the publication in 2013 of Yahya Hassan's epoch-making collection of poems, which carries his own name as its title.

Kjerkegaard subscribes to the view that mediatization is the process in which media are integrated into the workings of society's institutions and at the same time become an institution in themselves, which shape the interaction between other institutions. For the literary institution, this means that literary texts thematize processes of mediatization, not least their effect on the conditions of identity formation and human interaction. At the same time, however, the literary institution itself changes, not least in its notion of the relation between literary texts and their—until now—primary medium, the book, on the one hand, and what we think of as "context" on the other. This affects the object of literary studies and thus the very foundations for reading, in lay as well as professional contexts. Or rather, it ought to have such effects, as Kjerkegaard argues. By contrast, institutional inertia seems to cause readers to cling to a conception of the literary text as by definition a book that is born an autonomous aesthetic object, made of words.

Other scholars and theorists engaged in rethinking the literary text and literary practice, as Kjerkegaard is seeking to do, tend to criticize the methodological and aesthetic conventions underpinning literary criticism, in short, close reading. Kjerkegaard wisely, in my opinion, argues that close reading ought to remain an indispensable part of not just literary studies (such as his own book), but of the very literacy on which modern society depends. Close reading, however, is clearly insufficient if one wants to understand contemporary literature. [End Page 142]

Following a rather long line of other, not least Scandinavian, scholars, many of whom make appearances in his book—yours truly included—Kjerkegaard interprets the biographical turn from the 1990s and onward as probably the most important sign of these new times. The advent of autofiction as a genre and the by now ubiquitous biographical devices within many forms of literary writing have refashioned not only the relations between readers, writers, texts, and society, but also the very boundaries between texts and contexts. Yahya Hassan is not just a person; it is also the title of a collection of poems and something that happened in the state of Denmark from October 2013 and onward.

In order to deal with the new situation, Kjerkegaard suggests a new terminology. Intervention needs no translation and denominates the release of a work as the author's communicative act. Iværksættelse is harder. It means something akin to "implementation," but it contains the very word "work"; a literal translation would be "in-work-setting." Literature in this communicative conception is not something that just exists; it is made, co-created by people such as writers intervening and readers responding. With Bruno Latour, whom Kjerkegaard mentions in passing, we could say that literature is instaurated (Latour, Inquiry into Modes of Existence, Harvard University Press, 2013). This obviously raises the question, What then, exactly, are we reading, analyzing? Kjerkegaard's answer is, unsurprisingly, that we should read texts as well as paratexts. In his third chapter, he introduces...


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