The Nordic World

11 09 2016

Over the last month or so I have been ploughing through Karl Ove Knausgarrd’s autobiographical series “My Struggle” and I’m still only one-and-one-third of the way through the six volume series.I’m still not ready to talk about it, there is a lot to process from the books. .. But what I will say is, I have been utterly sucked into Knausgaard’s dark Nordic world: the Norway of the 1970s where families went berry-picking by the roadside on weekends, the bourgeois dinner parties of Stockholm, forward-thinking and yet suffocatingly conformist. I have relished his descriptions of dark snowy winters and grey satellite towns, bracing breezes blowing off the oceans, countrysides of lakes and mosquitoes and comfortable middle-class living rooms. It has got me thinking too about the genius of the Scandinavian countries, a region with a combined population of little over twenty million that has given the world so much: Bjork of course, ABBA, IKEA, Nokia and H&M, the Nobel Prize, Ibsen and Munch, the slinky techno-jazz of Jimi Tenor (beloved in my earl 2000s university years), a string of blazingly boppy pop duos, Neneh Cherry, dark crime dramas, Royskopp, Zhala, Robyn, the sensuous synth-pop of Susanne Sundfør, the Sagas, Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia and Nymphomaniac, Jonas Akerlund and Force Majeure, the sails of Joern Utzon’s Sydney Opera House and heat-seaking melodies of Britney’s Spears Max Martin-produced hits.

What is it about Nordic societies that makes their cultural expression so vibrant? Different as the artists listed are, I thought, what perhaps they have in common is a visceral sense of emotion. Whether bleak or bleakly reaching for joy, there was something about the Scandinavians that seemed primal, the sense of inner selves reaching out. This is something of a cliche of course, often attributed to those long, dark Winters and connected to the nineteenth century ideal of the Vikings as pagans and “noble savages” (in fact they were quite sophisticated, trading as far East as Baghdad. I was surprised to read that Viking noble women were clad in Chinese silk.)

Yet still, there is something about the Nordic countries alien to the rest of the Western world, some remnant of that romantic wildness. I was surprised to note that in Knausgaard’s book I was unable to identify the gender of characters by their utterly exotic Norwegian names – “Kjetil” or “Bodil”. Another frontier to explore…one day…

 

 

 

 

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