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Exploring Scandinavia

Friday, May 29, 2015 -
2:00pm to 4:30pm
Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford
Meeting Room 4

This final session of the year's Ibsen Network events looks outward to Scandinavia, as plans are underway to take the Ibsen Network forward into its next incarnation as a Scandinavian Network--the first of its kind at Oxford.  Please do come along and join us for an exciting session that includes Denmark, Sweden, and the Faroe Islands and covers literature, theatre, music, radio broadcasting, language, educational theory, and even late 19th-century social networking.


Lene Østermark-Johansen
“Reading Clubs, Language Societies, and Female Education in Fin-de-Siècle Copenhagen”

Copenhagen became increasingly cosmopolitan in the last decades of the nineteenth century. European aristocracy mingled there at family gatherings held by King Christian IX (1818/63-1906), popularly known as the ‘Father-in-Law of Europe’ as his children had married into the Russian, English, German and Greek dynasties. Foreign artists and academics settled in the city, and Georg Brandes’s lectures at the University on ‘The Modern Breakthrough’ (1871-87) broadened the Danish intellectual horizon to the literatures of France and England. My paper examines the role played by women’s reading clubs, language societies and literary magazines in the proliferation of literature in foreign languages to a Copenhagen audience. The founding of international language societies and private libraries took place alongside the establishment of art schools for women with a frequent overlap of founding members: a dozen female educators constituted the core of many of these institutions in their pursuit of education and professions for women. With their long opening hours, the reading clubs became popular alternatives to the domestic sphere and with their aesthetic interior design, based on the ideals of the English Art and Crafts Movement, they also became exhibition and gallery spaces, where the newly educated female artists could display and sell their works to the wealthy members of the Copenhagen bourgeoisie. Sprogselskabet (The Language Society), founded in 1885, provided conversation in the three major foreign languages (German, French and English) on alternate days, as foreigners and Danes mingled in the salons and library. It briefly issued an ambitious weekly literary journal, Literatur-Revyen, in which the latest publications from Paris, Berlin and London were reprinted in the original languages. My paper examines these physical and literary cosmopolitan spaces with a view to unveiling the increasing internationalism among middle- and lower middle-class women in the Danish capital at the fin de siècle.

Lene Østermark-Johansen is Reader in English at the University of Copenhagen and the author of Walter Pater and the Language of Sculpture (2011) and Sweetness and Strength: The Reception of Michelangelo in Late Victorian England (1998). She has edited volumes on English Romanticism, the Victorian and Edwardian Responses to the Italian Renaissance and the cultural history of the nose. Most recently she issued the first critical edition of Walter Pater’s Imaginary Portraits (2014), and she is currently writing a monograph on Pater and portraiture. She published an essay on the Danish reception of Oscar Wilde in Stefano Evangelista (ed.), The Reception of Oscar Wilde in Europe (2010) and has worked on the ‘Danish Pre-Raphaelites’ in connection with a major Symbolist exhibition at the National Gallery in Copenhagen (2000). 

Stephen Leonard
“A ‘High-Intimacy’ Language in the Atlantic:  the Anthropology of the Radio in the Faroe Islands”

This paper looks at how radio animates feelings of social and linguistic intimacy and has provoked a linguistic consciousness on the Faroe Islands, a rather isolated Atlantic community between Iceland and Scotland. Public space in the Faroe Islands is radio space. The radio is on in public saunas, public toilets, offices, garages, workshops, aboard ships etc. There is a desire to hear the Faroese voice whether it be on the radio, in the church or elsewhere. The familiarity of known voices on the radio is a source of positive linguistic intimacy, especially perhaps when men are away at sea.

In this talk, I adopt a Bakhtinian approach to language in the sense that the speech experience is first and foremost interactional and where a repertoire of apparently individual utterances and idioms are in fact widely shared, but in a geographically bounded place. This is motivated by the idea that the circularity and sharedness of words must be relatively intense for a comparatively ‘closed’ language. Radio and a ‘high-intimacy’ language make for an obvious ethnographic juxtaposition. The shaping of affective experience through radio sound is heightened if the voice is known, and if the speech and language of the voice index a matrix of values shared by a small, inter-related group. Playing off this sense of familiarity which is embraced in the Faroe Islands, radio has been a tool for the elaboration of a puristic language norm shared by so few. The radio represents Faroese society at a metaphoric level and provides the Faroese with a vehicle of feeding into this sense of profound, national cohesion and island identity. The radio fosters a sense of intimacy and the conduit for this is their language.

Stephen Pax Leonard is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology (ISCA) here at Oxford and a Fellow of Exeter College.  He is the author of Language, Society and Identity in early Iceland (2012), The Polar North: Ways of Speaking, Ways of Belonging (2014), and a book of poetry, Arctic Journal (2014).  He studied modern and ancient languages before developing interests in linguistic anthropology. His doctoral research at Oxford examined how linguistic norms and social identities were established in early Iceland and how this identity was reflected in the literature. Subsequently, as a Research Fellow at Trinity Hall, Cambridge and as a British Academy grantee, he documented the language and oral traditions of a group of Inuit hunters living in remote, north-west Greenland. More recently, he has been living in the Faroe Islands, working on a separate project which examines the development of a Faroese language ecology with a specific focus on the role of radio and poetry. His current research focuses on the anthropology of belonging amidst communities living in a changing Arctic climate. His research has been covered widely in the press, radio and television. Recently, he worked on a major documentary on climate change presented by Ann Curry (NBC).

Leah Broad
“ ‘Therefore speak as little as possible’: Communication in Strindberg’s Till Damaskus III”

‘You’ve lived in the erroneous belief that language, a material thing, can be a vehicle for anything so subtle as thoughts and feelings. We’ve discovered that error, and therefore speak as little as possible.’ (The Confessor, Act IV, Till Damaskus III)

Much of the recent literature on modernism has tended towards the investigation of multimedia projects, such as Daniel Albright’s Untwisting the Serpent and Simon Shaw-Miller’s Visible Deeds of Music. However, the incidental music for modernist theatrical productions remains relatively unexplored, despite its fundamental importance to a period preoccupied with re-evaluating the validity of linguistic communication.

This paper will explore the role of the Swedish composer Ture Rangström’s music in the context of Per Lindberg’s 1926 production of August Strindberg’s play Till Damaskus III, using this as a basis from which to discuss the more general possibilities of the theatre and its sounds in modernist explorations of non-linguistic communication and meaning. As the culmination of Strindberg’s highly influential station-drama trilogy inspired by the author’s own religious crisis, Till Damaskus III openly addresses Strindberg’s grappling with religion, concerns about gender politics, and belief in the limitations of language.

I will reflect upon the significance of this production in a wider modernist discourse: as a director who worked with both Max Reinhardt and later with Ingmar Bergman, Lindberg’s stagings are representative of a vibrant Scandinavian modernism, particularly prominent within the theatre. An increased focus upon productions such as these contributes towards the continuing challenges to established narratives and assumptions about modernism, particularly regarding notions of artistic autonomy, and geographical centrism.

Leah Broad is currently undertaking an AHRC-funded DPhil on Scandinavian modernist theatre at the University of Oxford, supervised by Professor Daniel Grimley. Her other research interests are in music and nationalism, and theory and analysis.

Contact name: 
Kirsten Shepherd-Barr
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