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Towards a New Language

Written by: Unni Langås |

The early years following World War II were a time of crisis in Norwegian poetry. In fierce debates in newspapers and magazines, traditionalists like Arnulf Øverland and André Bjerke maintained a dialogue with the new modernists Paal Brekke and Erling Christie on whether it was correct to write poems without rhyme and meter, to mix imagery universes, to use allusion and to decompose the standard syntax of the language. The relationship with the readers was also subject to debate, and terms such as ‘hermetic’ and ‘private figurative language’ were tossed around.

Women hardly participated in this debate. Instead, they had their own journal Kvinnen og tiden (Woman and the Times), which was founded in 1945 by Kirsten Hansteen, Norway’s first female minister, and Henriette Bie Lorentzen, former Ravensbrueck prisoner and now associate professor. Their aim was to establish “a popular women’s front against prejudice and ignorance, lethargy and half-heartedness, for peace, freedom, and progress”. Kvinnen og tiden became an organ of enlightenment for topical subjects such as politics, association activities, psychology, and pedagogics, and the publication’s edifying basic principles stood in stark contrast to the modernistic trends in literature. Inger Hagerup criticised Norwegian literature for lacking a sense of reality and a “desire to look reality square in the eyes”. About Astrid Tollefsen’s poetry collection Sang ved veikrysset (1952; Song at the Crossroads) she wrote: “… it seems as though this sense of emptiness in poetry is becoming a goal in and of itself …” Halldis Moren Vesaas also felt no affiliation to modernism: “Perhaps the crisis we are currently experiencing stems, to a certain extent, from the lack of a foothold outside ourselves. The greatest poetry created today would have to be poetry that serves an idea”. However, there were budding new women modernists who would ultimately leave their mark on Norwegian post-war modernism. Gunvor Hofmo is considered one of the leading figures; two others were Astrid Hjertenæs Andersen and Astrid Tollefsen.

More traditional women’s themes, such as interior decorating, cooking, parenting, and caring for flowers, were also subject areas of the Norwegian women’s journal Kvinnen og tiden. Inger Hagerup and Halldis Moren Vesaas introduced foreign poets such as Emily Dickinson, Edith Södergran, and Karin Boye. Cora Sandel and Torborg Nedreaas also became regular contributors to the magazine.

Contemplative Art

Astrid Hjertenæs Andersen (1915-1985) debuted in 1945 with the poetry collection De ville traner (The Wild Cranes). In Norges litteraturhistorie (1975; History of Norwegian Literature), Willy Dahl characterises the work as ‘bad’, claiming that the poet does not appear to feel at home in a fixed meter and that the imagery displays a tendency towards cliché. The poet simply does not really feel at home. Her work grates in its vacillations between traditional stanza structures and free verse, between rhyme and non-rhyme, between active and passive femininity. But it could just as easily have been classified as ‘good’, that is, an exciting, interesting interpretation of the artistic reality these poems relate to.

A main theme in De ville traner is the place the female holds in the cultural tradition. In the long epic poem “Pygmalion”, the myth of Pygmalion, the artist who fell in love with his own statue, is retold in bound verse. He had created the ideal woman exactly the way she ought to be in order to satisfy his desires. In Ovid’s (Metamorphoses),Pygmalion asks Aphrodite to bring the statue to life. She does, and the poem ends in harmony and happiness. What the living statue actually thought, we are never told. In Astrid Hjertenæs Andersen’s re-interpretation, the myth is revised. She adds verses in the voice of “the cousin of the stanza”:

The cool winds were
apparently told
by the gossip of the sea
that Afrodite at the crucial moment
in the stone’s image placed herself instead,
and the work’s master
she joined in wedlock.

The goddess of love inhabits the statue herself, and the poem thus reverses the roles: Pygmalion becomes an object of Aphrodite’s love. The woman becomes the subject!

Poems criticising or revising artistic constructions of women are especially prominent in Astrid Hjertenæs Andersen’s early work. However, the critical-revisionary poetry is succeeded by a search for identity. In the poem “Marina” in Pastoraler (1960; Pastorals), a split identity steps forth. In a dream, the woman is used and discarded by the man, and three female forms rise out of the sea: “[…] the woman / and myself and a great-winged bird of sand”. They differ in their choice of mode of existence:

The last is given new life at sunrise.
The first will tear her feet to shreds
Running on the rocks and calling out your name.

For me, it is enough to wear my sweetness
like the grass and the light
and the sea anemone in the deep.

The poem can be construed as a choice between modes of existence, where the contemplative and controlled is given priority over the ever-changing and desperately searching. But it is important to note that all three grow out of one, are parts of the same ‘I’.

One of the main figures in her work is the wandering woman.An entire poetry collection is named after her(Vandrersken: 1957; The Wandering Woman) and several other poems interpret the motif of the wandering woman or women, which becomes a symbol of humankind’s search for identity. Where do we come from? What is our purpose?

Astrid Hjertenæs Andersen’s identity theme also has a collective content. “Kvinner i rød kveld” (Women in Red Evening) from Strandens kvinner (1955; Women of the Beach) is an ambitious poetic work about unity in multiplicity, about wholeness in fragments, about the female in history. A collective female is the subject of the poem, and life, time, and space are interpreted from a woman’s point of view.

Andersen, Snorre (b. 1914): Tågen kommer. Illustration from Astrid Hjertenæs Andersen: De tyve landskaper. Watercolour. H. Aschehough & Co, Oslo 1980

Astrid Hjertenæs Andersen published a total of ten poetry collections and three works of lyrical prose: the novel Dr. Gnomen (1967; Dr Gnome), the travel sketches Hyrdefløyten (1968; The Shepherd’s Flute), and Svaner og nåtid (1973; The Swans and Present Time). She was married to the painter Snorre Andersen, and her final poetry collection – De tyve landskaper (1980; Twenty Landscapes) – comprises nature poems written to accompany her husband’s watercolours. This ‘dialogue’ between art forms is a characteristic feature of Astrid Hjertenæs Andersen’s work. She borrowed both motifs and techniques from the visual arts and music. Alongside the epic poems, there are more ‘sculptural’ pieces,

which shape an object or a situation, using words to freeze it in the present. Thus the motif is often something very concrete, with the poem describing in equal measure the various aspects of the motif like the surfaces of a painting. The poetry collection Frokost i det grønne (1964; Luncheon on the Grass), which is one of the high points of her work, contains a series of such poems. The title poem captures four people at a random moment in the morning: two men and two women who stop what they are doing to sense the tiny changes created by time.

In the work of Astrid Hjertenæs Andersen, we only find faint echoes of World War II, and the view of reality is not characterised by chaos and crisis. Her work represents an aesthetic-intellectual poetry with direct references to American imagism.

To Astrid Hjertenæs Andersen, modernism is the only way to approach the world, characterised as it is by flickers and fragments which modern humanity has difficulty comprehending. Thus, in an interview with W.R. Kastborg in I kunstnerens verksted (1967; In the Artist’s Workshop), she says: “[Art] is perhaps the only form of freedom we have today. In the world of art, there is room for everything in absolute freedom, not just dreams and mystery, but the world, the universe, life – any form of life”. Perhaps this freedom is even more important to a woman artist? After an initially strained relationship to both the traditional poetic idiom and to our culture’s traditional representation of women, the modernist literary style became a release for the author. However, it is interesting to note that it does not release the female themes which the traditionalists Halldis Moren Vesaas, Inger Hagerup and Aslaug Vaa represent: female desire and sexuality, motherhood, the transformation of the body. Modernism evokes an orientation towards universal themes seen through a woman’s eyes.

At a Distance to the World and to Herself

Astrid Tollefsen (1897-1973) was fifty years old when she made her debut as a poet. She published thirteen collections of poetry between the years 1947 and 1969. Her poetry imparts an ennui, a sense of distance from everything, and a melancholy that is typical of 1950s Norwegian modernism. In contrast to other women poets of her day, she keeps the subject at a great distance with a marked absence of a poetic speaker. Her poems deal with the world, a world comprising deserted streets, inaudible voices, sleeping hotels, drowsy facades, incessantly ringing telephones, and hands grasping at air.

Formally, the poetic image is the dominant transmitter of meaning. In the image – metaphor, metonymy – the different spheres meet, producing a brief glimpse of something, an opening towards coherence and sketches of wholeness. However, the image is fleeting, it flows into new images, thus depicting a flickering and restless world in which the aim of the poet and the poetry is to formulate the sharp sensations and vague feelings, to capture the moment that passes instantaneously. The style is impressionist, and time and mortality are among the main themes of her work.

The consistent resistance to the poetic speaker and the thematisation of the reality outside in the perspectives of They, We, and One give Astrid Tollefsen’s poems a distant and timeless quality. The futile waiting and the repressed loss dominate a body of work that uses vagueness as a handhold.

time is the horse-drawn taxi’s
trot on the cobblestones
gas lights smoulder through fog

it is dressage in the cage
every second
is a crack of the whip that hits
never misses

time was the horse-drawn taxi’s trot
softened throb of pulse against pulse
in the dark
the master’s merciless cracking whip
gas lights smoulder through fog tonight
long ago.

(Astrid Tollefsen: På nattens terskel, 1966; On the Threshold of Night).

The Sensitive Room

Magli Elster (1912-1993) introduced a new style to Norwegian poetry: an everyday language often in long, free rhythms that are controlled more by description and associative leaps than by the poetic image. In her work, we find an attitude towards lyricism that gained in popularity with Jan Erik Vold and Kate Næss and the new generation around 1965 – an anti-solemn aesthetic that emphasises the ordinary, concrete, and simple.

Her poetry is a response to the modernism that uses literary allusion to a great extent and allows the image to become the most important and meaningful poetic element. However, it also owes much to modernism’s liberation from the fixed metre. In a way, it is free of everything, from forced rhythm to forced imagery, allowing the text to flow freely in long, metonymic sequences:

On a fence in a residential street in Smestad
there is an inscription in enduring chalk
written in just-learned block letters
Immodestly saying to all Sunday passers-by
with and without pram and child:

This poem, entitled “Dikt i kritt” (Poem in Chalk) is from Trikken går i engen (The Tramcar Runs in the Meadow), Magli Eister’s first collection from 1952. The poems in this collection feature distinctive titles, such as “Thoughts on a Bus along Bygdøy Alley”, “Recipe for Dog Rose Days”, and “Butterflies on Bicycles”. Her work is light and cheerful, featuring urban motifs from the immediate surroundings, from young love, from flowers and children, reflecting beauty and harmony.

Magli Elster published four collections of poetry in the 1950s and one final collection, Sekunderne (The Seconds), in 1971, a sensual work depicting longing, the erotic meeting, expectation, and consummation.

The woman in her poems has an exposed and outwardly visible desire, and there is a humour in these texts which dissolves the predisposed tensions between the sexes, between the individual and the world, and which contributes to making the female subject strong and supreme.

The woman’s body as a vase is an old motif that Magli Elster often uses. There is always an assumed receiver perspective in her erotic poems, just as there is a body perspective in the portrayal of longing, happiness, and life, as in the poem “Vasen” (The Vase):

Day by day
and night by night
I am washed clean of longing for you.
Everything is washed away
sorrow is washed away
and happiness
everything the eye has seen on an open spring day
washed away
everything the ear has heard on a trickling summer night
every scent that has poured in
far from the sea and close from skin
washed away
all the skin has felt of warmth, and the blood of frost
washed away
by longing.
Alone again, is a naked vase
whose sole experience is this:
it is blown by a glass-blower’s mouth
is washed clean
for your lone flower

Med hilsen fra natten (1953; With the Complements of the Night).

The Phases of Womanhood

In 1952 a young woman debuted with a controversial collection of poetry. Marie Takvam (born 1926) published the book Dåp under sju stjerner, (Christening under Seven Stars). Here was a poet who depicted, in a straightforward and sensual style, the lust for life of youth: “May you come to life / at our first meeting, / grow out of our earth of love”. The ‘I’ of the pieces longs to be united with the man and to become a mother.

Like few other authors, she depicts the phases and facets of womanhood, from the young, yearning woman of the first book to the old, experienced woman of Rognebær (1990; Rowanberries). This makes her entire body of work, which spans four decades of post-war Norway, an interesting documentation of women’s hopes and disappointments, expectations, and frustrations in a period characterised by profound change.

Eg har røter i jord (1981; I Have Roots in Earth) is the name of a collection of selected poems. The title is symbolic of the role nature plays in Marie Takvam’s poetry as the inevitable point of reference for humankind – historical as well as social. She grew up on a farm on the Hjørund Fjord in the Vestland region of Norway. As an adult, she moved to Oslo, making the migration from village to city that characterised Norway throughout the twentieth century.

Anchoring in nature also means anchoring in the body, and in Marie Takvam’s texts the female body appears naked and strong. The body makes a woman a woman, gives her an identity. But the body also places her in age groups: young, mature, old. The young body makes her attractive, the old becomes problematic.

Marie Takvam’s early collections are part of a New Norwegian, lyrical tradition typically featuring certain motifs and image patterns: “You opened your dark flower / fragrant night, / wrapped me in your petals / and closed”. The language is grandiose, the images traditional, the erotic straightforwardness new and fresh. From the end of the 1960s, her work is influenced more by the times. The use of images becomes more concrete and the motifs more familiar. The suburban housewife’s life in perpetual movement between the three-bedroom flat and the supermarket becomes Marie Takvam’s image of the modern woman’s way of life in the prosperous Norway of the 1960s. What becomes of liberation when the old routines are simply replaced by new ones? Throughout the 1970s and 80s, international involvement and a clearer political profile stands out in her work. However, the insight into the world as an arena for others besides a random woman in a little, random country is present as an undertone of powerlessness or a sense of an insurmountable dilemma. Nevertheless, thoughts, compassion, and words make a difference.

I am alone with these hands
which have milked cows, baked bread,
smashed holes in ice for water,
leafed through books
worn rings,
been kissed by little children and men.

So infinitely do I love this life
that I cannot wither quietly
but cover my eyes
with my palms
and shout out my sorrow.

Marie Takvam: Auger, hender (1975; Eyes, Hands)

Rebellious Tendencies

The new literary environments of the 1960s were more open to the outside world. In Oslo’s student communities, internationally-oriented subcultures developed in which authors such as Jan Erik Vold and Kate Næss reproduced and read texts by, among others, Kenneth Patchen, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Gregory Corso. The readings sought to promote a more oral and social poetry in contrast to written and individualistic poetry. The impulse was inspired by the jazz and poetry movement in the USA – primarily San Francisco around 1960 – which had a broad impact in Europe. The jazz aesthetic carries itself in a deep-seated anti-authoritarian and anti-elitist attitude. Poetry reading communicated the musicality of poetry and contributed to breaking down the barrier between modernism and its public.

The jazz aesthetic corresponded to the young writers’ need to distance themselves from ‘the establishment’, be it individually: their parents; politically: the authorities; lyrically: 1950s modernism; or in terms of the aesthetics of the novel: realism. The different impulses converged in a literary environment that became established over time as the breeding ground for a new generation of writers: the group affiliated with the journal Profil (Profile).

Kate Næss – the Potential of Language for Criticism

Kate Næss (1938-1987) published three collections of poetry: Billedskrift (1962; Pictography), Mørkerommet (1964; The Darkroom), and Blindgjengere (1969; Duds). She also reproduced poetry from other languages, of which some pieces were published during her lifetime, while one collection of her reproductions was first published by Jan Erik Vold in 1989. She reproduced works by Spanish poets including Federico Garcia Lorca, César Vallejo, and Pablo Neruda; a number of German poets including Nelly Sachs, Paul Celan, and Peter Huchel; and the famous American Beat Generation poets Allen Ginsberg, Corso, Patchen, and Ferlinghetti.

Kate Næss gave a negative modern awareness of life a voice that did not harmonise with the official affluent optimism that dominated in 1960s Norway. The economic development, the offerings of the consumer and media society, and welfare apparently did nothing to quell the anxiety and rootlessness. Kate Næss’ work stands in stark contrast to the political climate and ‘listener’s choice’ culture that prevailed during the period.

The poetry of Kate Næss is part of a modernist tradition focusing on the loss of meaning. The individual has no fixed limits in this world to cling to. It is lonely, homeless, and without prospects. A dystopian view of reality underlies failed attempts to penetrate a wall of hopelessness, as in the poem “Skodde” (Mist) from the collection Billedskrift:

Kleiva, Per (b. 1933): Amerikanske sommerfugle, 1970. Poster. Oslo

I built bridges of rain
towards what I did not understand,
but each and every morning
slid backwards in the tracks of the night.
Today, the sundial has stopped,
and everything that happens
are signs I have read long ago.
The fog comes in waves,
in heavy strokes of a bell,
but I no longer know
what is mist, what is time.
In the years of my youth
I sense the night awakening.

The poetic ‘I’ attempts to understand, read signs, and communicate (“build bridges”). This project’s context is time and place. However, these categories are called into question or turned on their heads: Time does not pass, or it moves backwards (“sundial has stopped”, “each and every morning / slide backwards”), the place is hazy (“fog”, “bridges of rain”). Thus the poem thematises a rootless, historyless, and insecure ‘I’. The reference points of existence are lost, and the only fixed point the ‘I’ can see is death (“In the years of my youth / I sense the night awaken”). The poem’s imagery (“fog”, “bell”, etc.) is recognised from the modernism of the 1950s – the first woman poet who comes to mind is Astrid Tollefsen. The imagery of Nelly Sachs, too, with its anchoring elements – sea, sky, earth, and fire, while time is formulated as absence, death as presence – has direct links to the poetry of Kate Næss. Billedskrift is a collection of poems in which the poetic image attempts to mediate between life and death, between emptiness and fullness. But the experiment fails; tendencies towards movement and progress are interrupted and replaced by the monotonous cycle.

Billedskrift attracted much attention from the press. The first edition sold out and the author was awarded a newly created poetry award by the Norwegian daily Dagbladet. The work received more than twenty reviews, mostly positive, although characterised by a pronounced ignorance of modernist poetry. Mørkerommet received mainly negative reviews while Blindgjengere attracted little attention. In her review entitled “On Solving Riddles”, Yngvar Ustvedt wrote: “I do not grasp the meaning of and the life in these poems, they will certainly not explode”. (Dagbladet, 18 November 1969). In contrast, Knut Ødegård in another Norwegian daily, Aftenposten (19 November 1969), called the poetry collection “a condensed collection of explosive moments of experience”.

Mørkerommet moves away from a high-poetic language towards a more prosaic, familiar, everyday style. The lack of punctuation and departures from standard syntax contribute to the impression of approaching a new, simple idiom. The fundamental problems are the same: the individual’s alienation and longing for home. But the sorrow and melancholy are replaced by irony and sarcasm. Black humour becomes an expression of how the ‘I’ understands its inability to eliminate the disharmony. The world is a stage on which each individual acts their part in a play with no ending.

In Blindgjengere,references to the media society are expanded and expounded, and an ever-stronger criticism of superficial attitudes and blind consumption is verbalised. In the poem “Reprise” (Repeat):

the evening at home goes unnoticed and cools
the hall is toned down and expectation flares up
we abandon our bodies
out of our fingertips through the hairs on our necks and knees running
hands that advance: up with the lottery

we awaken in time
finally alone equipped with boots new momentum
in the half-light we kick our clothes act
authentic half-naked life converse on all levels
shots overhead hit the act
familiar as slippers
happiness sways in the air leave be
it won’t be long

before things are drawn back to drawers and cabinets
the blush has played out its role the episodes
stick thickly over built-in situations
theme stands weatherbound in ourselves
for external use only

The mode of expression is passionless and demonstrative, disjointed and flickering like the media reality the text addresses. At the same time, however, we sense a more critical attitude towards this society: The poem no longer seeks an answer to life’s mysteries in metaphysics. It is in the ascertaining language itself that the potential for criticism is found.

In the work of Kate Næss, we see the movement that roughly took place in Norwegian lyricism in the 1960s. In Billedskrift we find the remains of a late-symbolist belief in the power of the image to reveal new contexts and insights. In Blindgjengere there is an overriding mistrust of language, and an awareness that language itself is part of reality and therefore an unreliable instrument of perception. Instead, the poetic strategy is about creating unease and incorporating contrasts and departures in order to put an end to habitual thinking and apathy. The movement from the pathetic to the unsentimental is typical of the period as well, as is the extension of motifs and imagery from nature lyricism to urbanity.

So why did she fall silent, this poet who had the ability to receive and disseminate international impulses and who interpreted the contradictoriness of her contemporaries in a manner so strong and so appropriate for her time? It may have had something to do with the political climate at the transition to the 1970s. Kate Næss has personally called the atmosphere “paralysing”. Her work increasingly received negative reviews as she improved as a writer. Two other significant lyricists from the 1960s also stopped writing at the same time: Georg Johannesen and Kjell Heggelund.

Her poetry expresses ambivalence, doubt, and distance – not in the form of clear speech, but as contradiction and ambiguity. Whereas the traditionalists celebrated the timeless and the male representatives of the 60s generation found their positions in the criticism of the establishment, in the work of Kate Næss it is the tensions of existence that find a language. In a broader perspective, it is evident that her work from the 1960s has much in common with that of other Scandinavian contemporaries: Sonja Åkesson, Inger Christensen, and Eeva-Liisa Manner.

A Shift Towards Language

The most important years for the new openness, the anti-metaphysical and linguistically experimental poetry, were between 1965 and 1969. New simplicity, concretism, and genre-mixing characterised the dissolution of the traditional techniques and modes of understanding. Several authors were occupied with language as an important part of reality, which required exploration in itself. This resulted in a greater meta-linguistic awareness. The form already contains a meaning, the language is not a meaningless system which a writer can ‘arrange’ any way she chooses. The language of weekly magazines, newspapers, trivial literature is investigated and analysed within a literary context. Many inserted so-called ‘ready-mades’ into their texts, and the language became material in concrete poetry and in combinations of text and graphics.

This modernist experiment – which focused on form as a theme – only lasted a few years, but became a landmark experience for many writers who later developed a more distinct social orientation without losing their fundamental language-critical point of departure. The most memorable in this regard are Eldrid Lunden (debut 1968), Cecilie Løveid (debut 1969), Liv Køltzow (debut 1970), and Kari Bøge (debut 1971).

The writer who cultivated this experimental approach in its purest form, however, was Jorunn Aanderaa (born 1934). She published three books: Hansen på jorden (1966; Hansen on Earth), poetry, Tidssignalet (1967; The Time Signal), short novel, and Til (1969; In Existence), poetry. Hansen på jorden is one of the few collections of concrete poetry in Norwegian literature. She uses newspaper cuttings to create montages. She writes her own texts in the shape of figures, illustrates the texts with her own drawings, and uses the surfaces to juxtapose language and space. The dissolution of the subject is accomplished: “I quickly became a sparkling spot / a spoteuse in the midst of spotness”. The dialogic exchanges take place without the reader knowing who the sender and receiver are. The meaninglessness of the language in media contexts takes on new meaning, that is, is exposed within a literary context: “Now the eye can see what the ear hears!” (quote from the Norwegian daily Aftenposten; 31 July 1965).

In the short novel Tidssignalet, the concept of time becomes central, partly through reflection on the physical manifestations of time (“The strokes catching up to me. … The 12 strokes”), partly by turning the language of time upside down (“I would ask the world not to interfere in my time that way”), and partly by revealing the attempts of the main character Mr Singalsen at avoiding time by remaining in bed, not using watches and so on, as self-deception. The little experimental novel, which is absurd and humorous in its technique, thematises life in an empty time, thereby also calling the concept of identity into question. Ironic distance appears as the only adequate way to deal with the world.

An Undercurrent of Nostalgia

The new consumer and media society was countered by new literary forms and a brand new linguistic understanding. The 60s generation broke away from the thinking that assumed that a simple connection exists between poet and message, that literature reflects reality, and that great poetry contains deeper insights, beauty, and truth. But in the 1960s there was also room for the after-effects of this romantic tradition. There was an undercurrent in the literature that sought back to the literary forms of times past and older modes of society. About these authors, it could be said that nostalgia became the response to the problematic aspects of modern civilisation.

Liv Holtskog (born 1934) debuted in 1966 with Kanskje ein (Perhaps One); and with Månen veit ikkje at han lyser (The Moon Doesn’t Know He Shines) from 1990, she had written thirteen collections of poetry that are situated outside the new poetic trends. However, she insists on her world with its clear anchoring of values in the earth, in closeness between people, in tradition, and in which God holds it all together in the idea, confirmed by her poems, that the world is whole and meaningful.

Tove Lie (born 1942) made her debut in 1967 with Øyeblikk (Moments). Her texts are also consciously in opposition to the new modes of writing and thinking of the late 1960s. With explicit reference to romanticism, she distances herself from the new lyricism’s focus on the everyday. She seeks to revitalise poetry’s connection to another – higher – reality: “[…] the morning star comes out like a goddess / from the brow of darkness, the light that makes everything golden, / the light that caresses faces without / regard for a personal status, glows in a grain of sand, twinkles in a leaf, / oh how the light glorifies the things created! …” from Drag av mørke strøm av lys (1983; Gusts of Darkness Currents of Light).

The 1960s: A Time of Transition

In retrospect, 1960s Norway can be seen as a time of transition, a decade in which the post-war themes and symbols fade out while radically new modes of understanding develop. The full import of these modes of understanding was not achieved, however, until the ideological context of the 1970s. The modernist experiment was particularly influential because it promoted a strongly language-critical consciousness that many writers continue to maintain as a fundamental characteristic.

The 1960s also brought the first attempts to write within a context of women’s politics. A number of authors with roots in the 1950s (including Ebba Haslund, Merete Wiger, and Solveig Christov) become increasingly conscious of gender politics throughout the 1960s, and one of the leading prose writers of the 1970s, Bjørg Vik, debuted in 1963.

The early 1960s brought very few new women writers who interpreted the new society and its incongruities. The women writers belonging to the new generation either became unproductive with the approach of 1970, like Kate Næss and Jorunn Aanderaa, or did not really begin to write within the context of women’s politics until the 1970s, as was the case for Liv Køltzow, Cecilie Løveid, and Eldrid Lunden.

Translated by Jenifer Lloyd