Does the pursuit of existential meaning make sense in a context of continuous acceleration and dissolution? Are nineteenth-century individuals, when confronted with technical and scientific progress, mass society, global capitalism, city life, industrialization of space, doomed to fail in their attempt at emancipation, as the promise of freedom is not maintained, and reality becomes a cage? The questions raised by Berman (1982; 1988) become the starting point for a comparative analysis of the experience of modernity in Scandinavian literary works by Ibsen, Bang, Strindberg, Obstfelder and Claussen, published between 1866 and 1898. In spite of the risk of failure in the protagonists’ lives (P.T. Andersen 1992), emphasis is laid on «the adventure of readability» of modernity and of urban space (Prendergast 1992; Stierle 1993), particularly evident in the observations of the strolling flâneur (Hessel 1979; Benjamin 1974a; 1982; Tester 1994a). In addition to the all-encompassing urban novel (Klotz 1969; Pike 1981), other genres are considered: dramatic poem, drama, lyrical poetry, long poem, prose poem, travelogue, and the short prose forms that were enhanced by the development of newspapers and magazines (Köhn 1989). The urban space in question is material, but also mediated by culture and literature (Borg 2011). This means that spaces can also juxtapose in memory and life experience, connecting the rapidly growing Scandinavian capitals with major European cities, Paris in particular. The construction of a transnational «republic of letters» is however not only a centripetal movement towards Paris (Casanova 1999), but it implies a more mutual intercourse between the big centres and the Scandinavian periphery (Glienke 1999; Westerståhl Stenport 2004; 2010; Briens 2010; Lisi 2013; Fulsås, Rem 2018). In representing modernity, Scandinavian writers of the latter part of the 19th century initiated European Modernism (Bradbury, McFarlane 1991b). Literature is seen as an active part of a larger historical world (Bachtin 1979; Even-Zohar 1990; Bourdieu 1992; Chartier 1994), and the ultimate goal of the close reading of the texts is not a deconstruction but a pursuit of meaning through literature, in the spirit of Berman, Habermas (1985), Calvino (1996; 1997) and Todorov (2007).

Libertà, gabbie, vie d'uscita. Letteratura scandinava della modernità e della città: 1866-1898

Massimo Ciaravolo
2022

Abstract

Does the pursuit of existential meaning make sense in a context of continuous acceleration and dissolution? Are nineteenth-century individuals, when confronted with technical and scientific progress, mass society, global capitalism, city life, industrialization of space, doomed to fail in their attempt at emancipation, as the promise of freedom is not maintained, and reality becomes a cage? The questions raised by Berman (1982; 1988) become the starting point for a comparative analysis of the experience of modernity in Scandinavian literary works by Ibsen, Bang, Strindberg, Obstfelder and Claussen, published between 1866 and 1898. In spite of the risk of failure in the protagonists’ lives (P.T. Andersen 1992), emphasis is laid on «the adventure of readability» of modernity and of urban space (Prendergast 1992; Stierle 1993), particularly evident in the observations of the strolling flâneur (Hessel 1979; Benjamin 1974a; 1982; Tester 1994a). In addition to the all-encompassing urban novel (Klotz 1969; Pike 1981), other genres are considered: dramatic poem, drama, lyrical poetry, long poem, prose poem, travelogue, and the short prose forms that were enhanced by the development of newspapers and magazines (Köhn 1989). The urban space in question is material, but also mediated by culture and literature (Borg 2011). This means that spaces can also juxtapose in memory and life experience, connecting the rapidly growing Scandinavian capitals with major European cities, Paris in particular. The construction of a transnational «republic of letters» is however not only a centripetal movement towards Paris (Casanova 1999), but it implies a more mutual intercourse between the big centres and the Scandinavian periphery (Glienke 1999; Westerståhl Stenport 2004; 2010; Briens 2010; Lisi 2013; Fulsås, Rem 2018). In representing modernity, Scandinavian writers of the latter part of the 19th century initiated European Modernism (Bradbury, McFarlane 1991b). Literature is seen as an active part of a larger historical world (Bachtin 1979; Even-Zohar 1990; Bourdieu 1992; Chartier 1994), and the ultimate goal of the close reading of the texts is not a deconstruction but a pursuit of meaning through literature, in the spirit of Berman, Habermas (1985), Calvino (1996; 1997) and Todorov (2007).
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