Version classiqueVersion mobile

Writing Europe

Ursula Keller

Europe Untitled

Guðbergur Bergsson
Traduction de Bernard Scudder

Texte intégral

Sögumaður á hvergi heima nema í eigin verkum, þeim
heimi, landi eða álfu sem hann býr til sjálfur. Tunga hans
er líka tungutak verka hans. Í raun og veru á hann ekki
annað móðurmál en sagna sinna.

1I have the impression that no writer at work is in any way conscious to which nationality he belongs, and that if such an idea would occur to him, he would most likely react against it, he would be against any kind of nationality, and intentionally against any kind of nationalism.

2The author is possibly still less concerned about which continent his works are originated in, or if his own nature springs from another possible world than in his own soul, trying to turn that one into a kind of islands. Groups of islands created by an author, are the stories he tells and gradually, in the process of creation, he turns them into his only fatherlands as they erupt from the sea of his ideas. That is to say, a novelist has no real homeland except in the universe of his works. He makes this world, land or continent through writing, and in accordance to this, he makes this language the language of his works. Truly he has no other mother tongue except contained in his stories.

3Different things happen when a writer wants to gain fame and popularity, not writing in his own terms, but lending himself to a social movement or ideology. If he prefers to stand on such limited ground, he most likely will become a link in a movement or ideology and begin to write for those who expects from him nothing but a simple statement of their opinions and to demonstrate in writing that their approach to life is the correct one. In this case, his fans — the followers of the correct ideology — joyfully await the publication of works from “their author” which are based on arguments that would neither pass the limit of correct expression nor betray a decent parishioner with unusual contexts. At this point he will fully dedicate himself to the art of bringing newer surprises.

4The artist at work should not be in any other place than in the process of creation, that uncertain state of mind. But still, it is from the uncertainty that works spring forth with defined arguments and well formed global vision. But although an author would admit to some degree of didacticism regarding aesthetics in his art, he seeks, above all, to discover his personal way of thinking; which does not always shield him from the outside world.

5In general, with regard to the European novel, even though the writer is highly original, one can tell from which nation his works have grown and if they are exclusively European, or in any way a fruit from other corner of the world. In spite of diversity, European writing has strong national characteristics, the taste of the path, even the specific region that molded the artist as he was becoming a human being, both in a spiritual and physical sense. Still, he might have educated on his own, because the artist early becomes conscious of hit individuality. Despite that, his foundations are based on his birthplace and fatherland mixed with a desire to escape to broader horizons. European art longs for the faraway. But in spite of that desire, no author can escape his homeland. It follows him as his double. It makes no difference how an author tries to escape the unpleasantly narrow life of his fatherland, in his attempt to become cosmopolitan he will eventually fail, except if he has gone astray, to that place where freedom become shear chaos.

6No matter what a theme a free writer uses, he will treat it in terms of himself. A biography is everything that happens with regard to the flesh and inner life. Thoughts, outlook, opinions are as important parts of life as having had an accident, forgetting to get the gas, loosing a leg in war, singing about sexual potency, or appearing on television. That person who writes a story is, at once, the reader and the author, later, when he looks over his work, he usually becomes his own critic as well. It is not until the book is being published that he becomes the author.

7To realize this and to express it without hesitations is to be a European writer. Generally speaking, European writers tend to practice the interaction of the self-observation and social analysis in their works. In other regards, authors do not have the feeling that they are something special, though they possibly conceal a desire to become something. No book is anonymous any more.

8A novice not only writes a novel, he composes he himself and changes from an undefined mist into defined material. It is impossible to know how he will appear in the end. But it is certain that if he goes on writing, he will have to wipe out a great part of himself and then rebuild himself with the next work. The art of writing is the art of erasing one self in order to form one self again. It is similar to the art of remembering and to forgetting. Above all it is the art of remembering by means of forgetting.

9How often has the European culture have had to use this artifice in order to save itself from destruction by the means of the art of simply forgetting or forgetting-remembering?

10Even if his sense of nationalism is not strong, it is rather easy to see in the writing of an author, the style, the general atmosphere, and plot —if the novel has any value —he is not only of his own nation, but a still superior nationality, though only in his art. In this way, Goethe could have only been German, Cervantes Spanish and Dante Italian. Nobody would think them being Danish. On the other hand, H. C. Andersen could only be a Dane. These authors, each in his way, have found readers in most nations although it might have taken a long time to reach them. The reason is that the mentality of the European ruling classes is open and closed, liberal and full of prejudices. The same laws seem to apply to literature as in politics; thus the towers of Europe are constantly collapsing but their foundations remain intact. For a similar reason American literature, local or provincial, has been dominant, not because of its quality, but because of American domination in general. But now the whole empire seems to have taken so many steps towards its decline that many people have dared to become tired of it. As a result, the European culture might begin to once again become similar to the independent author. He does not write to express faith, but in the spirit of autobiography. Once again one could even expect anything, a real surprise even, from the European culture, because it knows from bad experience that its message cannot be blind nationalism and praise of a leader.

11To begin with, European culture should admit that it took a long time to see the humiliation of writers and literature in light of the following truth:

12Most of the so-called “great writers” humiliated European culture and the arts in general during a better part of the last century. And this could explain why so few people now take writers seriously any more and why buyers, rather than readers, just gulp down fluff, as if a novel were something like an American hamburger in a fast food restaurant in which it is announced:

13We are closing down. Everything has been sold!

14This is now the general situation with regard to European literature. Authors have to face facts —it is only up to them and in their hands to save themselves from difficulties and regain their former dignity, most of which has been lost.


Further Reading:
Swan. Novel. Translated by Bernard Scudder. Mare’s
Nest, 1991.

Table des illustrations

Fichier image/jpeg, 198k


Born in Grindavik, a fishing village in southern Iceland, in 1932, Guðbergur Bergsson qualified as a teacher and then spent many years in Spain, studying Spanish, literature, and art history in Barcelona. Since his writing debut in 1961 with Músin sem laedist (The Creeping Mouse), he has published many novels, poetry volumes, short stories, and a children’s book. Guðbergur Bergsson is considered one of Iceland’s most innovative authors. He was awarded the Icelandic Literature Prize both for his novel Svanurinn (The Swan), published in 1991, and for his autobiographical novel Fadir og módir og dulmagn bernskunnar (Father and Mother and the Mystery of Childhood). He lives and works in Reykjavik.

Bernard Scudder (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2003

Conditions d’utilisation :


Volume papier
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search