Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

H.C. Branner and the Colors of Consciousness

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

H.C. Branner and the Colors of Consciousness

Article excerpt

Time past and time future What might have been and what has been Point to one end, which is always present.

T.S. Eliot

Commenting on the power of the image in his essay "Kunst og virkelighed" (1962), H.C. Branner observed that "de store forandringer viser sig altid forst i kunsten, hvad der er en simpel folge af at billedet gar forud for tanken" (30) [the great changes always appear first in art, a simple result of the fact that pictures precede thoughts]. In expressionistic language, Branner often struggles to capture the pictures of the multivalent dimensions of consciousness and creates antimimetic imagery that, especially in his more elaborate stream-of-consciousness, not only expresses emotions but also stretches temporal and spatial boundaries. Like pictorial expressionists, Branner relies heavily on chromaticism to convey subjective states of being.

Much has been written about H.C. Branner as a humanist or psychoanalytical writer regrettably confining him to the postwar Heretica movement or the more narrow definitions of "Freudian" or "existentialist." This pigeonholing has deflected attention from Branner's inventive stylistic devices. In Ideologi og ostetik i H.C. Branners sene forfatterskab, Erik Skyum-Nielsen argues cogently that the relationship between Branner's ideas and his prose style was symbiotic and that focusing only on humanist or psychoanalytic ideas is myopic. Branner's notions of humanism and psychoanalysis changed dramatically throughout his career; his visual sense, though, remained strong, manifesting itself in an image-laden prose that frequently portrayed consciousness in pictures, painterly or iconic.(1) As Skyum-Nielsen has noted, all of Branner's writing reveals "en vilje eller hang til at se billeder i alt og metaforisere oplevelsen" (Ideologi 190) [a will or tendency to see pictures in everything and to make metaphors out of experience].

Paralleling the horrors of war that inspired much of the distorted imagery of German expressionism, heightened emotional states serve as the catalyst to the imagery in Branner's literary cosmos. Whether fearing the impending World War II or suffering from angst over a failing marriage, a dangerous pregnancy, or a terminal illness, Branner's characters are forced onto acute levels of consciousness and are driven to a state in which images take precedence over words which, in fact, become noticeably impotent at these moments.(2)

In his essay "Humanismens krise" (1950), Branner commented on contemporary changes in the arts:

   Maleri og skulptur har sprongt det naturalistiske virkelighedsbillede for
   at give farver og former frihed til at udtrykke deres egen komplementore
   sandhed. Prosadigtningen har forladt det naturalistiske handlingsmonster
   reed dets tidsmossigt fremadskridende forlob og konstante, eentydige
   menneskeopfattelse og soger nu at ordne dets elementer pa en ny made, sore
   loser det menneskelige bevidsthedsliv fra tidsfolgens sammenhong og
   udtrykker det tidlose, relative og mangetydige i dets vosen. (22-3)

   (Painting and sculpture have exploded the naturalistic picture of reality
   to give colors and forms freedom to express their own complementary truth.
   Prose writing has abandoned the naturalistic plot structure with its
   temporally progressive sequence and constant, unambiguous concept of
   humanity and now seeks to arrange its elements in a new manner, one that
   releases the life of human consciousness from the context of progressive
   time and that expresses the timeless, relative, and ambiguous aspects of
   its nature.)

In his own prose, Branner attempts the same feat with varying degrees of success: his chromatic imagery is important in expressing his view of the atemporal consciousness, which moves from image to image and ranges through past, present, and future in varying patterns. Henri Bergson has observed that the past "nous suit h tout instant: ce que nous avons senti, pense, voulu depuis notre premiere enfance est la, penche sur le present qui va s'y joindre, pressant contre la porte de la conscience qui voudrait le laisser dehors" ((Euvres 4-98) ["follows us at every instant; all that we have felt, thought, and willed from our earliest infancy is there, leaning over the present which is about to join it, pressing against the portals of consciousness that would fain leave it outside" (Creative Evolution 5)]. …

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