Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Double-Voiced Discourse in Thorkild Hansen's 'Jens Munk.'

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Double-Voiced Discourse in Thorkild Hansen's 'Jens Munk.'

Article excerpt

DURING THE DECADES FOLLOWING World War II much has been written about the fictive character of the historical text. Literary scholarship proposes that history is a narrative prose discourse shaped by literary conventions and the historian's imagination. In Metahistory (1973) Hayden White analyzes the narrative structure and fictive components which govern historiography. In "The Anatomy of Historical Understanding" (1966) Louis Mink argues that the historian employs an intuitive mode of understanding, not the empirical method of (social) science. Michel Foucault's L'Archeologie du savoir (1969; English trans. The Archaeology of Knowledge [1972]) also contributes to the discussion of historical knowledge and casts doubt on the value of conventional historiography by seeking "to untie all those knots that historians have patiently tied" (Archaeology 170). An analysis of Thorkild Hansen's historical fiction expands on this crucial discussion about representation and narrative structure in historical writing. Thorkild Hansen's Jens Munk (1965), as historical narrative, accepts Hayden White's and Louis Mink's blurred distinctions between historiography and historical fiction. As an anti-positivist the author views the historical past as orderless and inaccessible to scholarly verification. This vision of history refutes the notion that a true story lies buried in the historical evidence and that it is possible for the historian intuitively to reconstruct it.

Literary scholars Lars Olof Franzen and Lars Peter Romhild note that the striking difference between conventional historiography and the documentary novel is the greater presence and authority granted to the narrator of a documentary novel, who often assumes the role of an omniscient story-teller who evaluates documents, comments on the significance of events, and structures the facts into a meaningful plot. Thorkild Hansen tended to reject the term historical novel and maintained that his works were reliable documentary accounts of the historical past. In an interview from 1966, following the publication of Jens Munk, he insists that his works constitute a "virkelighedsgengivelse" [a reproduction of reality], not a "virkelighedsfortolkning" (Clausen 255) [an interpretation of reality]. To this end he makes use of a fictive narrator who enables him to comment on the problems involved in apprehending a past reality. Jens Munk offers striking examples of the use of this narrative strategy. Rather than view the disputed border between historiography and historical fiction as a contest between "truth" and "fantasy," it could be suggested that there are subtle distinctions in the formation of the narrative discourse. Jens Munk may be regarded as a kind of metahistory, a work which, by means of metafictive "voices," addresses itself to the difficult process of reconstructing the past.

I. THE WRITER AND THE STORY

Thorkild Hansen's literary production attests to his fascination with history and the process of reconstructing the past. Each of his historical works demanded extensive scholarly research and, in the case of Jens Munk and the Slave Trilogy, fact-finding expeditions to the historical loci. Hansen's documentary works won him popularity with the Danish public for over a decade; he achieved his breakthrough with the publication of Det lykkelige Arabien (Arabia Felix) in 1962 and quickly earned the reputation of a scrupulous documentary writer. As Denmark's most prominent writer of documentary fiction, Thorkild Hansen is an anomaly on the literary scene of the sixties. His outlook is deeply rooted in the post--War decade, and he belongs to a philosophical tradition shaped by Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and French existentialism. The influence of existentialism, particularly the work of Albert Camus, is delineated in Hansen's early work, Resten er Stilhed (1953, The Rest is Silence), written during his five-year sojourn in Paris(1) Hansen's historical narratives are fundamentally influenced by the anti-historicist tendency which permeated the intellectual climate in Europe in the years around World War II. …

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