Nådeløs omsorg. Kjærlighet, selvmord, kunst og overskridelse i Olav Duuns fiksjonsverden
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This dissertation discusses questions regarding love, suicide, art and transgression in the work of Olav Duun (1876-1939). The main theses are that there is an attitude worth searching for in Duun's work, and that this attitude expresses a caring which the concept of love is better suited to describe than terms taken from a philosophical ethics. Furthermore, I hold that the much discussed ethics in Duun's work is inseparable from the aesthetics, understood as having to do with beauty, art and, what is most important here, and as the etymological origin of the word suggests is vital, the senses.
Duun's version of love includes the destructive to an intense degree. Love can be frightening, violent and downright lethal. But it is extreme in a positive manner too, for instance in the way it encompasses identification. In Duun, two people who love each other can identify far beyond what is possible in the real world. The author shows the way one can identify with a fictive figure so that the limits of one's own subject dissolve, and at stake here is also, I argue, the way the reader can identify with the work to a degree that one's own identity temporarily disappeares. The theme of love is investigated in several prisms: mainly romantic-erotic love between man and woman, but also love between siblings, between parents and children, cortezia (courtly love), amour passion (passionate love) and philia (the love of friendship).
Suicide is a motif Duun recurrently pays attention to, and my point of departure here is an image which repeatedly occurs: that a person drowning him- or herself leaves his or her shoes ashore, or thinks about doing it. This is understood as an aesthetic moment, a particularly salient point in the texts. It can even be seen as an ethical moment, in that it leads to compassion and empathy, and in my view changes the reader's world more profoundly than a text of a non-fiction genre can do.
Art in Duun's work shares many of the hallmarks he gives love. Statements about the essence, function and status of art permeate the work – usually ambiguous and invariably ambivalent assertions about the oral storytelling tradition, theatre, dance, written literature and especially music. Singing may have the ability to lure a person straight into the cold sea, dance can almost be a dance of death, and even though he consequently presents art as insidious, the author never remains oblivious to the fact that it also has a social use, as entertainment and show-off. In addition to being highly transitory and often not credible, a word such as shame hovers over this motif, and this deep and unsettling ambivalence is no doubt accentuated by the fact that the medium through which these statements are given us, is the same medium the author treats so harshly in those very same utterances.
And finally transgression, the concept which covers most of these topics, is understood as an urge to surpass the inescapable conditions of life, an unending stretching towards and over the boundaries of what is possible. Transgression is found in the oevre both as an urge within the individual and as a poetologic ideal. Moreover, Duun constantly and in several ways transgresses the logic of language. The most important insights, he holds, must be expressed poetically, as enigmatic and equivocal. Socially, he never gives up his castigation of consensus. Whether this is to be found in the relations between man and man or in the religious system of charismatic christianity found in the meeting house, it is always presented as complacent and poorly justified.
The dissertation also takes an interest in time and death, as these are conceived to be central both to narrative, art, and Duun's conception of the world. Duun dilligently draws the reader's attention to the irreversibility of temporality and to death as life's most troubling problem. Through his use of narrative, the author also protests against these inescapable conditions; he creates a world where temporality does not concede to chronological- physiological time, where beginning and end cancel each other out, and where a person can live in the text and in the reader's consciousness after he or she is dead. Running through the sum total of my arguments is a preoccupation with a troubling question I believe I share with Duun: Is art a place for moral edification, or is it not? Does one, or does one not, from the involvement with art, become a better person, or a person more suited to live one's real life in the real world?
Theoretically, K. E. Løgstrup and Georges Bataille provide the main framework. Løgstrup is indispensable with regards to the status of the senses, and to connecting this with an ethical perspective. Face to face with nature, man in Duun's world sees himself as small, and this experience leads to humbleness, to an awareness of his modest status in the never-ending universe, but also to respect and responsibility. Bataille gives an optics for the concept of transgression, as well as for eroticism, inner experience and the relations between literature and evil, aspects of art which undermine a surface morality. Bataille's awareness of a deep and impossible communication and community with the reader, a hypermorals, and a hatred of poetry are the key issues here.
Although the aesthetic ethics I find in Duun is left to the reader to formulate, he also advocates a set of concrete virtues, such as dignity, pride, perseverance. To stare the basic conditions of life right in the eye, never to complain, and never to imagine oneself bigger and more mastering than there is reason to, are abilities he favours.
Many of these traits have never been systematically investigated. Or, to the degree they have, they have been treated rather differently than in my interpretation. But even though I deviate from the tradition on many points, it has never been my intention to undermine the ethical perspective or to be disloyal to the status Duun has in Norwegian literature. On the contrary, I hope they may contribute to a renewed view of the author, as more destructive, more extreme, but also richer and textually more advanced than what has previously been thought to be the case. To argue in favour of Duun's current relevance has also been a main issue. Readers taking this challenge will be rewarded with insights, humour and a beauty seldom found elsewhere.