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Gosh, it’s been way way too long since I’ve actually written about Norse mythology here, hasn’t it? Well, why not take on one of my favorites: Óðinn’s acquisition of the Mead of Poetry. Loosely based on a version of a talk I prepared but never gave relating to my recent research on the figure of the home and interior in the sagas (I’ve spoken twice, not including academic conferences, on the subject since, but this portion got edited out both times). Watch out, this turned into a super long post.

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The abduction, as I illustrated it for the contest at the Norse Mythology blog.

In our approach to this particular narrative, I think it is helpful to point out the obvious comparison to (and contrast with) the story of the abduction of Iðunn, which I have previously illustrated and discussed. Both stories, after all, involve a Viking raid of sorts, the penetration of a rival community to acquire or reacquire a resource, sexual access to a woman of the rival group, shapeshifting into eagle form (among others), and a dramatic chase scene through the air back to the home of the gods–and both show up in approximately the same section of Prose Edda. Both poems are also set in the so-called “mythic present”, as opposed to the “mythic past” (the prehistory, creation, and ordering of the world) and the “mythic future” (the fall of the gods, disintegration of the world, and the coming of a new world). The mythic present is primarily about the gods attempting to maintain the status quo, meaning, doing their best to assert and maintain their superiority over the giants. Margaret Clunies Ross (whose book Prolonged Echoes informs a lot of this post and my other posts) has called this situation “negative reciprocity”, in that, rather than a reciprocal relationship between gods and giants (ie, fair exchange of goods, marriage alliances, etc, or on the other hand hostilities, whether theft, sexual access to women, or killing, like in a feud or war), the situation is instead one-sided, with the gods, by and large in the mythic present, having their way with the giants while rebuffing the giants’ attempts in the other direction (for example, giants die right and left throughout the mythic present, but the gods are mostly untouched–until Baldr’s death). We might think of it as an attempt to project and enforce a vertical relationship, such as you would have in the hierarchical relationships within the space of the Icelandic farmstead (from the landed family down to the lowest slave), onto the level of horizontal relationships between different groups–but again (or even in parallel with this), it also works well enough to read these as, say, “viking raids”, or as a mythic prototype for the relationship to the Saami, from whom the Germanic Scandinavians extracted tribute–certainly the myths serve to set up a properly demonic straw-man, justifying the aggression of the POV of the mythology.

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Thor’s mother is the giantess “Earth”. There are several giantesses in the matrilines of the gods, even going back to Odin (who essentially creates the world by murdering his maternal great-grandfather). We may take the entry of several giantesses into the community of the gods as either wives or mistresses as a reinforcement of negative reciprocity in the myths, which tends to involve denying the giants sexual access to goddesses while the gods have their way with the giantesses. More on that another time, probably… And incidentally, my comic here is not intended as an accurate portrayal of the giantess Earth–when giantesses play the role of object of desire in the myths, they tend to look the part as well.

From the perspective of the gods (and the aristocratic Icelanders whose interests they may be taken to represent in the Eddas) the proper direction for action is outward from Ásgarðr (“Asgard”, “farm/enclosure of the gods”) towards the land of the giants–as with what we call “acquisition narratives”, such as the origin of the mead of poetry, in which the gods go to the giants and come back with something that is, in the mythic ideology of medieval Iceland, associated with the gods as representatives of Culture, with humanity, etc. When the opposite is the case–the action is directed against the gods, with the giants threatening either their women or their stuff (or just their assumption of superiority, as I can think of at least two instances where giantesses attempt to insist on a more reciprocal standing–more on that another time)–it is a crisis, the natural order of things is inverted (represented in one myth by Þórr getting dressed up as a bride) and (again, in the myths of the mythic present) the myth ends with the restoration of the status quo. The abduction of Iðunn is this latter sort of myth, while the story of the Mead of Poetry is of the former type–one of the most prototypical of the acquisition narratives to my mind.

I would say “welcome to the militant world of Viking mythology”, but keep in mind that the versions of the myths that we have were written down by Christian Icelanders two hundred years after the conversion. In fact, a possible interpretation of the significance of the myths in an Iceland that was Christian but still managed conflicts via bloodfeud (as well as more mundane settlements) is that they functioned as fantasies in which one’s rivals could be completely dominated and demonized–more on that another time, probably, esp. given that the situation isn’t too different in so many of our own stories…

Throughout the myths we find a prominent anxiety over the vulnerable interior at two symbolically conflated levels–that of the community (the home of the gods is marked out by a great wall, whose origin story is itself pretty interesting) and that of the body. One could in fact read the arc of the mythology as a whole (as preserved in the medieval Eddas) in terms of the anxiety of the gods over the threat of penetration, bodily, sexually (generally manifested either as threats to the women of a community or as threats to the virility/masculinity of a man), strategically, etc (all the while, of course, they constantly penetrate away when it comes to the land of the giants). Relevant here are several seminal studies on insults and gender in Old Norse lit (not too far off from us when we flip the bird or say “screw you”, or less bowdlerized forms, but you could be outlawed for such things in Medieval Iceland), but I think I’ll have to save that for another time.

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Possibly Odin in eagle form, on Gotlandic picture stone Stora Hammars III. My own photo, so alas not adjusted to let the image show up more clearly…

The conflation of home/community and body with each other is not unique to the sagas and myths, of course, in particular in terms of the permeability of the body. It is an understandable and, I imagine, universal tendency to think of the home as what keeps the outside out and the inside in, and this concern over boundaries of course maps onto our concerns over our bodies as well, which we also think of in terms of inside/outside, and the integrity of which is often dependent on the integrity of our various shelters. This inside/outside symbolism is of course useful when constructing communal identity (“insiders” vs “outsiders”, to be “in” on something, etc), the perceived unity of the human body being rhetorically mobilized in the articulation of a cooperative unity of many bodies. We find this at play in the larger story of the mead of poetry.

The story begins with one version of the war between the Aesir and the Vanir (we might tentatively locate this at the end of the mythic past, but generally let’s think of the larger myth as representative of the mythic present). In their truce, they exchange hostages—not “hostages” like we are used to thinking, but representative members of one community go to live with the other community—since members of each community now live in the same spaces, they now constitute one community (at some level of signification anyway–arguably the Vanir members are still treated differently, as represented in the Eddas). In addition, and more pertinent to my point here, both sides spit in a big puddle. Wouldn’t it be great if we settled conflicts this way now…. The idea being, their bodily fluids—their insides—are now mixed, and so they are one. Óðinn doesn’t stop there, of course, and he turns this puddle of spit into a person, because mythology. The metaphor of shared bodies equating to communal unity is made concrete as the bodily fluids of both communities are now contained within one literal body.

The person created from the spit is called Kvasir. He turns out to be the wisest being in the world, and he goes around telling folks wise stuff. But then he runs into some dwarves who think he is a smartass, and they kill him (they excuse themselves, saying, essentially, that he choked on his own wisdom)—and of course, they take his blood and mix it with honey to make mead, an alcoholic beverage associated with the aristocratic male community in ancient Scandinavia, because mythology, again, though we will probably get tired of this explanation. These dwarves get into a feud with a giant, who takes the mead in compensation for their killing of his parents, and this giant, Suttungr, hides it in the middle of a mountain, guarded by his daughter Gunnlöð, because duh, that’s what you do when you have magical mead made from the blood of the wisest person in the universe, and before that from the spit of the gods (I know “Drunk History” is a thing–“Drunk Mythology” would be good, but you would have to do this myth in poetic form…).

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The origin of the “rhymster’s share” (aka Odin loses his shit). Image from wikicommons.

So Óðinn finds out and he thinks “Well, that’s not a good way to use my spit, we don’t want the giants to have it”, so he disguises himself, which is typical enough for Óðinn, and goes to seduce Gunnlöð—also quite typical for Óðinn. Well, it’s kind of complicated getting there, as he has to trick Suttungr’s brother into helping him, but in the end he drills a hole into the mountain, turns into a snake, and penetrates the chamber where Gunnlöð is guarding the mead—and if that wasn’t Freudian enough for you all, then he sleeps with her for three nights. In return she lets him drink up all the mead, and he turns into an eagle and flies away, because (again) mythology. Well, Suttungr doesn’t like this, so he turns into an eagle as well and chases Óðinn back to Ásgarðr. When Óðinn gets there he pukes the mead into containers, making the mead of poetry, now refined a final time with this return to and from Óðinn’s gut, available for gods and humanity—so this is where poetic skill comes from. But Suttungr was so close behind him that Óðinn peed himself a bit, and that’s where bad pop songs come from. Read the story in full in Prose Edda (for which, as usual, I recommend Faulkes’ translation–I’m a fan of his edition of the book as well).

The anxiety over penetration (again, of various sorts, both metaphorical and less so) in the state of negative reciprocity that I discussed above is hopefully illustrated well enough between the “Mead” and “Abduction” myths (oh, and please don’t assume the “screw you” ideology noted in passing here is all there is to say about gender in the sagas–it’s true that we tend to consider the sagas written by aristocratic men for aristocratic men, but there is a lot more to women in medieval Iceland beyond saga anxiety over their potential for penetration…). Beyond that, there is a lot more to reading this myth in terms of an implicit symbolic conflation of body, hall, and community. The mead of poetry is an origin myth for a specific type of poetry, Skaldic poetry. The form of skaldic is interesting in itself, but that’s a bit of a complex topic to get into here. In practice, skaldic was a commodity of the aristocratic male (again, this is the general, but not universal, picture we get through the sagas). Poems were composed in honor of chieftains, kings, wealthy men, and the prototypical performance would involve poetry performed in honor of the patron in his hall, with all the other retainers there as well. The communal identity of this boys-club of warriors is both symbolically and concretely reinforced by the fact that they are all together in this hall, “their” hall, that they are drinking alcoholic beverages together, a standard warrior-band practice marked by aristocratic exclusivity (a potential reason for the difficulty of the form), and the fact that they are all participants in this oral poetic performance—in fact, ears are referred as mouths in one kenning, showing us that the appropriateness of the conflation of mead and poetry was not lost on them. They all take in the poetic mead together, symbolizing their communal identity, just like the Aesir and the Vanir become one by sharing their own bodily fluids–we emphasize our communal sense of belonging by symbolically constructing shared bodily insides (think of the blood-brother ceremony, for example, which actually shows up in the sagas as well). OK, OK, kinda gross, but you know, at least I’m not telling you the story of Loki and the goat…

This was a bit of a rambly and long commentary on this myth (sorry), but if you made it this far I hope you will check it out yourself–it is early in the Skáldskaparmál section of Prose Edda. We should note that it is contested how much of this myth actually goes back to the Viking age–I expect that at best Snorri (author of Prose Edda, fyi) misunderstood a bit here or there (as has been suggested for the containers involved), while at worst he invented things wholesale based off of obscure references to the poetic mead in early skaldic poetry. That said, that there was some idea of a mead of poetry that came from Óðinn is indeed clear from some of this earliest poetry, as even then the skalds would articulate their own poetic act as a sort of regurgitation of Óðinn’s gift, so I feel like it is fair enough to apply my interpretation from the previous paragraph to the Viking age court. And while we are certainly interested (from an academic perspective) in sorting out how much is “heathen” and how much is Christian reception of the myth, we should also remember that Viking age religion did not involve the sort of aggressive orthodoxy you find in, for example, Christianity–myths were certainly expressions of religious faith, but there was no fixed text to refer back to, and variance would have been the rule, even, potentially, from fjord to fjord and farm to farm.

And last but not least, for a bonus visualization of the myth check out Drachenseele’s illustration here, done for me as my reward for getting second in an art contest on deviantart!😀

13659048_10105479182161833_7042778099053674245_nYikes, this will be the only post I make this month–and I only did one last month too. Plus, I’ve already posted about my translation of Ola Sigurdson’s Heavenly Bodies, though last time it hadn’t actually come out yet (and the release date I shared then ended up getting pushed back by almost a month). Well, it is out now, and you should all GO OUT AND BUY TEN COPIES RIGHT NOW!!!! Well, OK, not so much urgency, I guess, given that I’ve already been paid for my translation services and will not be getting royalties myself (which doesn’t surprise me with an academic translation like this–I believe the case is different with literary translations, which I confess I would like to move into eventually…). The list price of the book is $60 (actually not so bad for a rather erudite, and potentially obscure, book like this, though I hope the price will help it become less obscure), but Amazon has it for about $43. I’m waiting for it to show up at the UC Berkeley and GTU libraries here in Berkeley… may have to nudge someone about that.

The book is, in short, on the theology of the body, beginning with Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity’s scorn for the body, preferring the spiritual over the corporeal, and going on to both affirm this critique and then to place it in its proper historical situation in 19th century Protestantism–given the centrality of the Incarnation in Christianity, we have to suspect that the religion was not always so “body-denying.” The book then proceeds in three parts of several chapters each, covering first the Incarnation (both the development of the doctrine in the early Church and more recent theological contributions), the Gaze (covering philosophies thereof along with the Byzantine Iconoclasm and the particular Gaze embodied by Jesus in the Gospels), and, at most length, Embodiment (ranging from Merleau-Ponty to Foucault and Butler, from the “closed” Classical body to the open “grotesque” body, to torture, to S&M, to the Eucharist…) OK, look, you will just have to read it yourself. Only $43 on Amazon!!

Since I was (thankfully, given how little time I had finishing up) not asked to give any sort of “Translator’s Note” (I did not expect to write one–in fact, not all translators get to show up on the title page, so I’m very happy I made it to so prominent a place with my first such job), I did not have an opportunity to give the usual “Any reason you might find to dislike this book is clearly my (the translator’s) fault, and no one should blame Ola or the editors at all, because really, if there is a jackass here, it is me.” Or some such. Editors and author all seemed happy with the end result, but certainly there are plenty of places where I could wish for just one more pass of revisions, and here and there I see something where I think “I thought I’d changed that…” (and one place so far where the editors changed something without sticking to the phrasing Ola and I had agreed on, but it still works), but so far I haven’t caught any meaning-changing errors (nor, apparently, did Ola or Eerdmans), and I trust that there are not too many places (ideally very few, but it is my first time doing this…) where my clumsy prose gets in the way of Ola’s argumentation. My first drafts certainly had me thinking too much in Swedish while attempting to write in English. My many revisions (later on with Ola’s commentary) were very helpful in working this out and situating the text more firmly in the target language, but I fear there are still spots that held out till the end. I won’t share any thoughts here on particular translation choices (there were some tricky bits), but we’ll see, maybe that will be a post for the future.

13615127_10105479179038093_2631524740532332328_n.jpgThe project itself was a delight, if often challenging (certainly in scope–let me tell you, this book is a brick), and in spite of the additional stress of translating the last third or so while also filling in as a lecturer in the Scandinavian Section at UCLA (also a fun job, just, you know, more work–also more $$ tho, so that was nice). I’ve told friends and family that this project was like being paid to sit in on three or more graduate seminars in very different fields, which I note was part of the attraction for me. While the ultimate point of the book belongs to (Christian) systematic theology (itself of non-professional interest for my very [in this subject] amateur self), Heavenly Bodies also constitutes a very erudite work in both the history of religions and philosophy, in particular the more continental side of philosophy that owes so much to the later reception of phenomenology, and in particular with regard to two subjects I have long been interested in within the humanities: the gaze and embodiment (the former of which figured prominently in my dissertation on ekphrasis in Viking age poetry–but let the uninitiated beware, while treatments of the gaze and embodiment are ubiquitous from the early 20th century on, what is meant by and the significance of each can vary widely depending what school of thought you are looking at). Ola covers a lot of ground, and diligently and clearly (again, fingers crossed that damn translator did his job right) presents the thought of everyone from St Paul to Origen, Schleiermacher to Barth and beyond to various feminist theologians, laying out the relevant arguments in a sympathetic manner even if he will then go on to argue against, or beyond, them. The philosophers and theorists I am more familiar with are all on display here as well, and more, covering both hermeneutic and radical phenomenologies (ie, from Ricoeur and Merleau-Ponty to Derrida and Marion), as well as various “post-phenomenological” thinkers, from Foucault to Butler (and we also find many other disciplines represented, from psychoanalysis to cultural anthropology–but look, my fingers are getting tired so let’s stop there…). I find Ola’s presentations of these various, often very difficult, philosophies to be quite clear and helpful–well, OK, it is still philosophy and theory, and you will struggle to work through a tenth of the book if you don’t even have a reasonable sense of who Heidegger (for example) is, so I can’t recommend it as a gift for your ten year old niece–maybe wait till she’s finished college, though you will have to suggest she take Philosophy, or English, or Communications, Feminist Studies, something along those lines. Even better, I’m still looking for a teaching position for the Fall and would be happy to tutor the whole family. Look, we’ve already got a textbook…

Well, that was a bit of a ramble. I’ll close by thanking Mark Safstrom for sending Eerdmans my name when they were looking for a translator, former editor-in-chief at Eerdmans Jon Pott, who entrusted me with this job, James Ernest who took over for Jon as I was finishing up the translation, and especially Ola, who wrote this fine and fascinating book and who was so essential in his help with my revisions–I was very grateful for his willingness to spend so much time on a project that was otherwise almost a decade in his past, and I dearly hope the final result does some degree of justice to the original.

Carl

Miles

A quick sketch of Miles Vorkosigan, aka Admiral Miles Naismith, the main viewpoint character (but not the only one) throughout the series. Will try to get a better version up eventually…

My current candy-reading (or listening, since I’ve subscribed to Audible) is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. I’d run across the series maybe 5 or 6 years earlier, but it had been 4 years since I’d last stalled out reading through the books (in chronological order, as opposed to the order written). These books are addicting–so much so that I’m inclined to call them a “guilty pleasure”, but there is enough nuance in worldview, enough (for a 80s-onward military space opera) expansion of representation, enough of a critical attitude towards cultural militarism in the same breath as a sympathetic rendition of characters who love military culture and action, that I don’t want to give the impression that this is “dumb” reading. It’s good escapism, sure, and tailor-made for that in many ways–but it is also a thoughtful exploration of our humanity and our contemporary cultural issues through the lens of space opera. And yes, this is pretty standard space opera/military sci-fi–or at least, it won’t surprise anyone as far as the setting or tech goes–but the elements are, I think, treated well and creatively, with enough twists that you can’t take this as a clone of any old space opera setting.

You can check out the list of books/stories in the series on Bujold’s website here, though the Wikipedia entry for the Vorkosigan saga also has a good chronological list, including info on the omnibus editions, which is where I first started reading–the omnibus editions are also nice since they include the short stories and novellas, which, as I’ve recently been reminded, are themselves at times very central to the overall arc (the novella “Borders of Infinity” certainly is). Personally, I love the narrator for the audio books, so I’ve recently started working through the series on Audible (alas, until I start a podcast or youtube channel I can’t become an audible affiliate–otherwise you would be able to support this blog by signing up for a free trial membership at Audible. Well, you can still sign up, it just won’t benefit me at all.).

The saga starts with Miles Vorkosigan’s parents, Aral Vorkosigan, from feudal, militaristic Barrayar, and Cordelia Naismith, from advanced, liberal, and progressive Beta Colony. I started the series with the omnibus Cordelia’s Honor, and I do recommend starting there–the two novels are good, if not as riveting (for me anyway) as the first Miles book (The Warrior’s Apprentice, which I’ve read at least 4 times), but all the rest of the series is all the more meaningful when you come to it already caring for the family–the backstory (really stories on their own right, the first of the two published before any of the Miles stories) really does enrich the rest. Miles himself is a great viewpoint character–well, this is not to say everyone will like him, but I’ve found him very engaging, and have found my own particular ways to resonate with his character, even if he is in many ways very different than myself. Additionally, Miles is a disabled character. Whether or not his portrayal successfully evades any degree of “abelism” I can’t speak to–we might extend this to other points where the Vorkosigan books are relatively progressive when in comes to representation, in that I’m reluctant to offer any authoritative judgement re: how well Bujold succeeds (this is of course not meant to diminish Bujold’s writing at all–we’re all caught up in systems of privilege, patriarchy, etc, and we all, whether we are the privileged or the unprivileged, have our path working our way out of that). Tung, one of the main characters, is Asian, and certainly the universe is not wholly white, but my impression is that it is not always a complete rainbow; there are many strong female characters, but the books I’ve read so far, minus the latest and those in Cordelia’s honor, are very thoroughly centered on Miles, and the female characters are viewed through the filter of his particular longings–but to be fair, they disrupt this wishful lens quite often; and homosexuality and bisexuality do come in, though the only book I’ve read here where it is especially prominent is one that comes off a bit awkwardly, with a whole planet of men that women are not allowed to visit. Well, I mention all this because I’ve seen others touting Bujold’s progressive representation, and I do think it’s worth celebrating (and it is an enjoyable part of the series, giving us a more realistically full universe)–it is definitely a selling point, but I don’t know that everyone will be equally impressed.[edit–I’ve read further in the series now, and my impression is that Bujold continues to expand and deepen the representation of queerness and genderqueerness–the whole series is, I think, a neat set of pictures of the potential and boundaries of (relatively) progressive (but still “popular”) sci-fi from the mid-80s till now]

Well, that’s my recommendation for now–I’m just this week further in my reading than in my previous reading, so it’s fun entering into new territory! If you are just trying to decide whether this series would be for you, I suggest checking out The Warrior’s Apprentice–if you like it enough to keep going, check out the Cordelia books (Shards of Honor and Barrayar–collected as Cordelia’s Honor), then move on through the rest in chronological order (or whatever order you want–they are all self-contained, but I find that much of the fun is in the references between books).

WP_20160419_11_40_43_ProI’m excited to recommend Marginalia to Stone Bird, a collection of poems by Rose Lemberg, one of my many friends from grad school and elsewhere who have gone on to make their marks in the world of letters (and art and music). I’ve been following Rose’s work since around 2010, when I found out about their creative work (about the time I got a few of my own poems out there, though I still see myself as a much more naive/amateur poet than Rose), and it has been fun to see the increasing recognition for their work in the world of speculative (fantasy and science fiction) poetry and short fiction–so many award nominations! And some wins too! And all this in spite of some really horrible circumstances and trials the last few years. You can find out more about Rose on their main site, their old blog, and their (more active) twitter. Note also their Birdverse Patreon page–for just $1 a day you can support Rose’s ongoing and expanding body of stories set in the “Birdverse.” One of the most recent of these stories is a Nebula Award nominee this year (the conference is happening RIGHT NOW!!!!), and one of the poems in Marginalia, also available online at Goblin Fruit, belongs to the Birdverse as well. Oh, and Rose is also one of the founders/editors at Stone Telling, one of my favorite spots on the interwebz for speculative poetry, so check it out!

Many of the poems in this collection have been published, starting in 2009, in a variety of online and print journals/collections, such as Apex, Goblin Fruit, Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium and others–some of the more prominent platforms for speculative poetry, and many of these poems still available online if you want to get a feel for Rose’s work before committing to a book (or a Patreon). Themes of identity, particularly immigrant and (gender)queer, are prominent throughout Rose’s work, both poetry and fiction, and make for many of the more heartfelt and thoughtful passages in this collection. Rose is also an accomplished academic with experience in topics ranging from folkloristics to sociolinguistics, and I appreciate the ways in which this adds depth and nuance to their work without (at all) feeling pedantic–Rose is an inspiration and model to me as an academic creative writer. This reminds me, I need to get back to my own writing.

I was going to list many of the poems that I enjoyed that are still available online, but I’m short on time, so instead I refer you to the poetry bibliography on Rose’s webpage–many of these (not the most recent, I believe) also show up in the collection, so this is a good way to find out whether you would be interested in the book. A more thorough discussion of the collection is up on Strange Horizons. And check out Rose’s fiction bibliography as well–I know most of you fantasy and sci-fi readers out there read massive multi-volume novels, watch GoT, play WoW, or whatever, but short fiction and poetry are great places to discover new talent, support writers as they start out on their careers, and just find nice, quick, but very deep and thoughtful reads. Expand your horizons!

Some readers may be aware that I spent a year and a half (overlapping significantly with my time teaching at UCLA) translating a book on the theology and philosophy of the body by Swedish theologian Ola Sigurdson, titled Himmelska Kroppar: Inkarnation, Blick, Kroppslighet (Heavenly Bodies: Incarnation, the Gaze, and Embodiment). It was challenging work (my first professional translation, and both very erudite and quite broad in scope), but rewarding and engaging. Ola was very responsive and a pleasure to work with, as was Eerdmans publishing, and the book itself was like sitting in on simultaneous graduate seminars in theology, church history, and the philosophy (which, in turn, ranged from Nietszche to Heidegger to Foucault to Butler–and beyond, and with at least three dozen other major and minor figures as well). On a whim I searched for the English title of the book, and lo and behold it is scheduled to come out at the end of June (I was expecting Fall) from Eerdmans! You can preorder on Amazon — $60 and over 650 pages, but hey, that’s not bad compared to, say, your textbook for college Spanish, right?

Anyway, finding this was a nice bright moment in an exhausting week as I try to figure out whether I’ll manage to find a position anywhere next year. I would love to do a project like this again (as long as folks are willing to pay chapter by chapter, rather than at the end of the project), in case anyone has a text that needs translating–but that said, I would really like to get a book of my own out there finally, or at least some articles. The book may have to wait, but at the moment I’m hopeful about getting an expanded draft of my Cultural Memory conference paper done this summer…

Image taken from the Space.com story–for some reason none of the pictures carried over via the reshare feature…

 

Stephen Hawking is helping to lead Breakthrough Starshot, an effort to develop tiny, light-propelled spacecraft that could reach Alpha Centauri just 20 years after blasting off.

Source: Stephen Hawking Helps Launch Project ‘Starshot’ for Interstellar Space Exploration

I’m really excited about this, but not sure how optimistic I am–have read too many articles lately saying that the tech (and the $$) is not there yet… but we’ll see! It would be amazing to have a probe reading Alpha Centauri withing my lifetime, though I expect I would have to hang on as long as possible to see it happen.

In other space related news, my friend Elizabeth Segran has a new article out at Fast Company on a company that wants to build 3d printed homes on Mars. Cool stuff! It would be nice if all this stuff finally started to take off–we’ve been seeing that “take-off” just over the horizon for a long time now…

File:Lars Gustafsson in 2012.jpg
 Image from Wikipedia
 

Swedish poet, novelist, and scholar Lars Gustafsson has passed away (Swedish language notice here). A literary giant in Sweden, he also made a significant mark internationally. He has been widely translated in English and was included in Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon. He served as a professor at the University of Austin, and the southwest of the United States figures prominently in his work (well, out of what I have read–which is not much, given his impressive output). His work could certainly be erudite (he was a professor in philosophy), but I found much of his fiction to be very accessible, and what wasn’t accessible (like some of the short fiction discussed below) was still quite interesting, even if a reread may be in order at some point (but a reread is in order any time you find something good).

Find a list of his work on Amazon here. I’ve read a bit of his poetry (currently A Time in Xanadu) and recommend it. I am a very casual poetry reader myself (despite most of my non-academic published work being poetry), but he is also quite well appreciated for his verse, so you don’t have to take my word for it! Check out a sampling of his verse here (the poems are listed in the right-hand menu). Out of his many novels some places to begin are Death of a Beekeeper (a novel written as entries in the diary of a man dying from cancer), The Tennis Players (set in Austin, a short comic novel with a professor as protagonist, touching on everything from Strindberg’s period of apparent insanity to early-80s hacking and accidental nuclear warfare), and Bernard Foy’s Third Castling (a novel within a novel within a novel, the first being a straight-up thriller).

Science Fiction nerd that I am, I first became (especially) interested in Gustafsson after randomly happening upon a minor work of his in the tiny science fiction section of Celsius bookstore in Uppsala: Det Sällsamma Djuret Från Norr (“The Strange Beast from the North”). I initially didn’t think it could be the same Lars Gustafsson–I hardly knew of him then, apart from the fact that he was “literary” and “respected”, and these were outright pulpy (well, not so pulpy) science fiction short stories, with a frame narrative on par with the best Space Opera, old or “New”. Not available in English, alas–nor is his much earlier set of short stories Förberedelser till Flykt (Preparations for Flight), a group of experimental short stories that edge into science fiction, fantasy, and magic realism. The two are collected in one hard back edition (which I have out from the UC Berkeley library), but still in Swedish. I’ve played around with translating bits myself here and there, but if I do get that done it probably won’t be especially soon–translation may be especially important for those of us who teach foreign literature, but you don’t get much credit for it academically, a problem when you are a young scholar still trying to find a tenure-track position. :/  But we’ll see–I may have a translation of one of the stories from Förberedelser till Flykt translated soon (one of Gustafsson’s favorites, according to his afterword), and the titular story is translated in, and gives, once more, its title to another collection, Robin Fulton’s collection of translations from Swedish Preparations for Flight and Other Stories (an old volume–1990 I think–but looks like Amazon has a few used copies available). This is one of my favorite stories from the collection in any case, with a very accessible premise (though some of my students still didn’t get what was going on…) and an otherworldly and quietly post-apocalyptic flavor (in my reading, at any rate).

Gustafsson’s blog is still up–mostly in Swedish, but every now and then you’ll find something in English or German. I’m afraid I’m at the limit of what I can recommend–but definitely someone to read, whether you are specifically interested in Scandinavian literature or not.

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