Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

The Sacrifices of Ellen Einan

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

The Sacrifices of Ellen Einan

Article excerpt

Understanding, if there is any, never occurs without the implementation of a certain random violence or force. The desire for unity or integrity, the win to systematize and organize, will not hesitate to excise the knots and appendages which impede its advance. Nor will it hesitate to suppress pauses and lacunae, as one literary theorist has reminded us, filling them up with no matter what matter.(1) Yet understanding not only has this moment of violence, but also at its heart, has as a sequela, a moment of expiation or repentance -- if only in the form of an admission of a lack of understanding, of insufficiency. Ultimately, the violence of appropriative desire essential to interpretation is is coupled with an element of standing under, or submission, before an irreducible exteriority. Ineluctably, all interpretation obeys the duplicitous logic, the double-edged blade of sacrifice.

One of the greater virtues of Ellen Einan's poetry is that it alerts us to this sacrifice. To read Einan -- a northern Norwegian poet whose quiet blaze of inspiration has resulted in no fewer than ten volumes since her debut in 1982 -- is to be aware of die fact that one is sacrificing the text?(2) Comprehension is always -- for each and every reading of her poem -- shadowed by incomprehension, meaning by the immeasurable outside. Interpretation is always piecemeal, like a sacrificial meal which only results m the eating of isolated pieces of the offering. Doubtless, the insistence of this insufficiency is the reason why it is so demanding to write about her work. Criticism lacks the resources to do justice to these poems, to measure up to their excess. This lack, though, is the impossibility that grants infinite possibilities to interpretation -- a labor without end, the labor of Danaids.

The distance between us and these poems cannot be closed. Perhaps the most striking distance at the heart of Einan's work is the distance in time. Coming toward us from an archaic past, an odd and other time of slaves, ghosts, mythical beings, and primordial rituals, these poems are not contemporary to us. They would seem to be primitive -- more primitive than any interpretation could hope to be. They would also seem to be more violent and excoriating than any civilized reader would wish to be. Yet there, of course, lies the paradox. For the primitive force, the archaic brutality contained in these poems is by no means entirely distinguishable from die violence of reading -- its Griffe and grapplings, its totalizations and exterminations. If, for instance, the reader of Einan's poems soon feels like a hapless hunter, hungry yet disappointed by the elusiveness of its prey, then it is no less true that a voice in one of those texts assures us that it, too, is not entirely other to "Jegeren, var forste bror" (Nattbarn 24.) [The hunter, our first brother].(3)

The poems of Ellen Einan are evidently not alien to hunting, nor are they oblivious to the ritual and mechanics of sacrifice. From the very first, sacrifice has been a central concern. One might call it a recurring theme if it were not also indistinguishable from the form the poems take. Sacrifice concerns both their act of saying and what they say, both the performative and the constative dimensions of this poetry. But who, in Einan, sacrifices what, and where? No simple answer to such questions is possible. In terms of locality, though, the poetic universe that is drafted, and ceaselessly redrafted often tends toward a strictly delimited topography. The same sites recur: the house, the enjoining garden with trees, and the mountains close by. Moving from the house, via the garden, to the mountains represents a progression from near to far and also from the low to the elevated. Hence an ordered structural system appears to be established. Any such simple topographical analysis soon reveals itself to be grossly oversimplified and unsatisfactory, though, since all the elements are divided and doubled. …

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