Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Jersild's Humpty-Dumpty Darwin

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Jersild's Humpty-Dumpty Darwin

Article excerpt

   Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall
   Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
   All the King's horses
   And all the King's men
   Could not put Humpty-Dumpty
   together again.

   Humpty-Dumpty was an egg.

THIS FAMOUS LITTLE NURSERY RHYME is the epigram for a long essay divided into chapters called Humpty-Dumptys fall (1990) by P.C. Jersild. The egg image evokes the human sense of wholeness which began to fall with increasing speed during the 1600, 1700, and 1800s. The falling egg reached its maximum velocity in the late 1800s and shattered at the beginning of the twentieth century. For Jersild, the fall of that egg, Western society's sense of loss at the discovery of the fragmented and still evolving human condition and its final splat on the floor of the twentieth century, led to a "fruktbara splittringen" (165) [fruitful shattering]. The original wholeness that humanity supposedly perceived in itself was broken, but Jersild suggests that the breaking of the egg created the necessity for science, religion, art, and philosophy (the humanities) to work together (165).

Humpty-Dumptys fall is labeled a livsaskadningbok [philosophy-of-life book or looking-back-on-life book], and it continues a theme about the nature of humanity that runs sporadically throughout Jersild's oeuvre but which becomes, in non-fiction and fiction, an ongoing creative meditation during the 1990S. In 1997, Jersild published a second book-length essay based on a series of lectures he gave at Uppsala University in 1996 entitled Darwins ofullbordade (which might be translated as "the unfinished Darwin" Jersild uses the phrase in the sense of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony.)(1) In essence, this second essay attempts to contextualize for the 1990S Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and, more specifically, to offer Jersild's own moral and philosophical perspective on life as we approach the millenium. This book, with its emphasis on our genetic make-up--on the animal within us--is rooted in Jersild's scientific training and in Darwinian theory. The different sections or chapters of the essay illuminate some of Jersild's earlier fictional works by referring back directly or indirectly to themes in them.

The novel Sena Sagor (Late Tales), published by Jersild in 1998, seems to grow out of Darwins ofullbordade and Humpty-Dumptys fall and continues themes and images from several of his previous novels. Sena sagor takes up the problematic discussed by Bo Larsson in "En Gud som vaxer" For Larsson,

   Funderingarna kring rationalisms mojligheter och granser liksom fragor
   kring vad en manniska ar: hennes ursprung, hennes mojligheter, hennes mal
   och meningen med det liv hon lever, aterkommer gang pa gang i hans bocker.

   (Meditations about rationalism's possibilities and limits as well as
   questions about what a human is: her/his origins, her/his prospects and the
   meaning of the life s/he lives recur time and again in his books.)

Sena sagor, then, allows Jersild to focus on some of his most profound philosophical and psychological concerns within the scientific and rational parameters which are so fundamental to his identity.

Darwin represents one of the peaks of this Western rationalist tradition and a turning point in humanity's view of itself in relation to the universe. In this essay, I want to glance back at some of Jersild's earlier uses of Darwinism and the theory of evolution by natural selection, then briefly discuss Humpty-Dumptys fall as a precursor of Darwins ofullbordade and of Sena sagor. Jersild's novels have often focused on the problematic nature of human identity, sometimes by comically intermixing animal and human language and social systems as in Den elektriska kaninen (1974; The Electric Rabbit) or by describing society's treatment of animals, as in Djurdoktorn (1973; The Animal Doctor), and sometimes by going back to scientific figures, such as Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, and Charles Darwin in Geniernas aterkomst (1987; The Return of the Geniuses]. …

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