Johannes V. Jensen's 'Den Lange Rejse': A Blochian Approach

By Christensen, Peter G. | Scandinavian Studies, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview

Johannes V. Jensen's 'Den Lange Rejse': A Blochian Approach


Christensen, Peter G., Scandinavian Studies


In Ernst Blohc's 1400-page philosophical magnum opus, Das Prinzip Hoffnung (1953-1959[The Principle of Hope]) one brief mention of Johannes V. Jensen can be found, a reference to the transformation of the Don Quixote story in Jensen's Hjulet (1905 [The Wheel]). Although Bloch does not appear to draw upon Jensen's epic novel Den lange Rejse (1908-1922 [The Long Journey]) in the course of his detailed exposition of utopian themes in world literature, mythology, music, and fine arts, the reader of Jensen's epic may come away feeling that the two authors arc kindred spirits in their development of what Wayne Hudson calls a "philosophical anthropology" (21). Bloch was the most distinguished philosopher to address himself to human longing in this century, and longing is perhaps the key concept in Den lange Rejse.

In 1919-23, when Jensen had finished the last four of the six volumes of the series along with the related essays, Bloch had published the volumes of philosophy that made him initially famous, Geist der Utopie (1918), Thomas Munzer als Theologe der Revolution (1921), and a revision of Geist der Utopie (1923), works presumably unknown to Jensen. Bloch believed that the world was incomplete and in process, and, thus, humanity was on a journey. In the course of voluminous writings over almost sixty years, he developed the idea that humans possess an anticipatory consciousness that gives them access to not-yet-conscious knowledge. This optimistic, visionary aspect of human life, while not grounded by Bloch in Darwin's theories, can be seen as significantly, akin to the mystical progress of civilization as represented by Jensen, to which Jensen himself ascribes a not very convincing base in Darwinism.

This essay will show that a Blochian perspective offers more insight into Den lange Rejse than the Darwinian reading promoted by Jensen. First, we will took at previous criticism of the novel series; second, discuss some non-Darwinian elements in Jensen's treatment of evolution; third, examine narrative structure and imagery in the volumes; fourth, identify some passages of Das Prinzip Hoffnung with similarities in Den lange Rejse; and fifth, compare important aspects of Jensen's and Bloch's life philosophies.

Recent criticism of Den lange Rejse has given prominent place to the issue of what can be salvaged from such an ambitious but uneven work, one which is at times racist and which includes a bizarrely aggrandized treatment of Scandinavians in world history.(1) Two books from 1984 typify, different approaches.(2) Bent Haugaard Jeppesen's Johannes V. Jensen og den hvide mands byrde stresses the importance of imperialism and its links in social Darwinism to the overall design of the six-volume series. He discusses it with particular reference to the conquest of the New, World in Christofer Columbus and "Blut-und-Bodenschaft" motifs in Cimbrernes Tog. He feels that this unsavory element in Jensen's epic has been overlooked by most critics, with a few exceptions, such as Julius Bomholt (1930) and Hans Scherfig (1951; rpt. 1989). In trying to make up for previous omissions in the criticism, Jeppesen downplays the treatment of longing.(3)

In contrast, Sven Rossel in his Johannes V. Jensen, chooses to pay more attention to the mythic qualities of the novels and often considers the theme of longing directly. Rossel both notes the "uneven blend of fantasy and realism" and speculates that "Jensen never really knew whether to base his epic on a synthesis of the longing motif and his powerful Darwinian theories or to follow one or the other of these possibilities"(115).(4) As Rossel indicates, Jensen "preferred to emphasized the letter," and scholars have repeatedly gone to his collection of essay AEstetik og Udvikling (1923) [Aesthetics and Evolution] to discover the author's intentionality. Here we come upon several references to Darwin in the volume's nine essays.(5)

Probably, too much stress has been placed on the epic's Darwinian roots. …

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