Lars Gyllensten's 'Sokrates Dod': Intertextuality and the Ludic Spirit

By Lide, Barbara | Scandinavian Studies, Spring 1994 | Go to article overview

Lars Gyllensten's 'Sokrates Dod': Intertextuality and the Ludic Spirit


Lide, Barbara, Scandinavian Studies


INTERTEXTUALITY, LIKE MOST PHENOMENA, existed long before it was given a name. Indeed, the practice of creating dialogic relationships between texts was well established centuries before Julia Kristeva introduced the term intertextualite (Kristeva 66)(1) or Bakhtin and Voloshinov wrote of the interaction of utterances within a transcontextual system and the dialogic relationship of one text to another.(2) Intertextuality is unavoidable in the creation of literature, for all writers, as Robert Alter points out, "in one way or another... are forced to enter into a dialogue or debate with their predecessors, recycling bits and pieces of earlier texts, giving them a fresh application, a nuance of redefinition, a radically new meaning, a different function, an unanticipated elaboration," in a "process of infinite combination and permutation of texts" (Pleasures of Reading 114).(3)

Literature, as George Steiner reminds us, is "by essence thematic," operating "in an echo chamber of motifs," which, together with themes, make up "the weave of intertextuality" ("Roncevaux" 299). Consequently, literature devoted to a frequently treated theme or subject would be especially abundant in dialogic relationships with other texts. Thus in writing about Socrates using Kantian terminology in reference to Hegel in Om Begrebet Ironi, a text that comes to grips with a multiplicity of precursors, Kierkegaard states, "Hegel griber og begriber Historien i dens store Fomationer. Saaledes har da Socrates heller ikke faaet Lov til at staae hen som ein Ding an sich, men han maa hemfrem, enten han saa vil eller ei" (1:245). [Hegel grasps and understands history in its greater formations. Hence Socrates cannot stand there like ein Ding an sich. but must come forth whether he likes it or not.] The Socrates who has come forth through the ages is indeed one who has been conceived, rather than reproduced, by those who have written about him.(4) And the method of conception, beginning on the dialogical plane with Plato's Socratic dialogues, has developed bothdialogically and dialectically, perhaps culminating in, but certainly not concluding with, Kierkegaard's Om Begrebet Ironi med stadigt Hensyn til Socrates.

Those familiar with the work of Lars Gyllensten are aware that he acknowledges Kierkegaard as one of his mentors, whose dialectical--and dialogical--method he adopted and then adapted to meet the needs of his own method of "infinite inquiry" that pervades both his fictional and non-fictional works.(5) It is but a short leap from Kierkegaard's work on the concept of irony to Gyllensten's novel Sokrates dod, and while it is a leap from one genre to another--from a non-fictional philosophical text to a purely literary and fictional one--Gyllensten's text participates to a considerable extent in a dialogue between both fictive and non-fictive literature, sharing an intertextual relationship with a number and a variety of other texts.

My purpose here, in discussing Sokrates dod, is to engage in two kinds of intertextual exploration: the first--and most extensive--involves placing the novel in "the intertextual space of possible sources."(6) As Gyllensten's narrator states in the prologue to the novel, "Den har historien handlar just om ett dodsfall. Det ar en mycket beromt och remarkabelt dodsfall, som har blivit skildrat manga ganger forr. I likhet med alla dem, som berattat darom tidigare, var ocksa den forfattare, som nu gripit till pennan i denna sak, forhindrad att sjalv vara narvarande" (7). [This story deals specifically with a death. It is a very famous and remarkable death, which has been described many times before. Just as all those who have told about it earlier, this writer too, who now has taken up the pen on the subject, was not able to be present himself.] Clearly, unless Gyllensten's tale of Socrates were to arise entirely out of the author's fantasy, information had to be gleaned from what had been written before. …

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