Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Exile and Naturalism: Reading Georg Brandes Reading Emil Aarestrup

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Exile and Naturalism: Reading Georg Brandes Reading Emil Aarestrup

Article excerpt

Jeg elsker dine brune Ojnes Morke og dine blode Krollers fagre Fald. Jeg kunde falde ned paa Kno og dyrke din underlige Rost, der rober al din dulgte Lidenskabs forborgne Styrke.

EVERYTHING in these few lines, from the intimacy and eroticism--staged through the use of metonymy--to the rhythm, meter, and rhyme structure suggests that the Danish poet Emil Aarestrup is the author. I will not reveal quite yet whether or not Aarestrup actually wrote these lines although the use of the five-verse stanza might indicate that Aarestrup is not the author.

The seduction employed in these lines could easily lead the mind to Kierkegaard's reflections on seduction in Forforerens Dagbog [The Seducer's Diary]. Here, Johannes the Seducer, in one of his letters to Cordelia, asks rhetorically: "Er en Omfavnelse en Strid?" (387) ["Is an embrace a struggle?" (Seducer 164)]. The letter only has this short question, which at first seems unimportant, almost bizarre. Why would anyone ask whether an embrace is a struggle when we tend to think of an embrace as something physically delightful where two lovers are holding each other? However, it is not just this kind of embrace that Kierkegaard has in mind. This becomes clear if the question is read in light of Johannes's previous letter:

   Min Cordelia!

   "Min--Din" disse Ord omslutte som en Parenthes mine Breves fattige
   Indhold. Har Du lagt Morke til, at Afstanden mellem dens Arme bliver
   kortere? O, min Cordelia! Det er dog skjont, jo indholdslosere
   Parenthesen bliver, desto betydningsfuldere bliver den.

   Din Johannes. (387)

   My Cordelia,

   "My--Your"--those words, like parentheses, enclose the paltry
   content of my letter. Have you noticed that the distance between its
   arms is becoming shorter? Oh my Cordelia! It is nevertheless
   beautiful that the emptier the parenthesis becomes the more
   momentous it is.

   Your Johannes. (Seducer 164)

According to Johannes, the words "My--Your" are to be seen as a parenthesis surrounding the letter to Cordelia. Talking about these parenthetical arms, Johannes further plays upon the idea of a physical embrace. He mentions the paltry content of his current letters and, by way of contrast, takes the emptiness of the parenthesis as that which gives his letters the desired significance.

In this letter to Cordelia, Johannes thus pays attention to words as an embrace, words that resemble a gesture. But what is a gesture? A gesture can be seen as form without content, signifier without signified. It suggests something deictic or empathic. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a gesture also supports the "theory that human speech originated in oral imitation of bodily gestures" (s.v. "gestural"). Johannes the Seducer is talking about words that are pure form, but yet empathic, and, for this reason, more original. He is thus presenting the idea of words based on the figure of pars pro toto where a single part designates the whole and where the embrace of "My-Your" can express a totality. Hence, words are to be seen as a living organism, where the detail reveals the essence.

The notion of gesture and words as a living organism is also what Arnold Schonberg addresses in an essay from 1912 in which he claims that the work of art in its essence is so homogenous "dass es in jeder Kleinigkeit sein wahrstes, innerstes Wesen enthullt.... Genauso wie ein Wort, ein Blick, eine Geste, der Gang, ja sogar die Haarfarbe genugen, um das Wesen eincs Menschen zu erkennen" (5) [that it reveals its truest, innermost essence in every little detail. Even so, a word, a glance, a gesture, the gait, even the color of the hair, are sufficient to reveal the soul of a human being]. When Johannes presents the gesture of words as the ultimate gesture, it is because as a pars pro toto this gesture reveals the nature of his desire to embrace Cordelia.

Over the years, numerous critics have compared Kierkegaard's Forforerens Dagbog and his idea of the aesthetic to the poetry of his contemporary Emil Aarestrup. …

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