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Catastrophes of Redemption: Modernism and Fascism in Norway

  • Author(s): Krouk, Dean N.
  • Advisor(s): Sandberg, Mark
  • et al.

This study examines selections from the work of three modernist writers who also supported Norwegian fascism and the Nazi occupation of Norway: Knut Hamsun (1859-1952), winner of the 1920 Nobel Prize; Rolf Jacobsen (1907-1994), Norway's major modernist poet; and Åsmund Sveen (1910-1963), a fascinating but forgotten expressionist figure. In literary studies, the connection between fascism and modernism is often associated with writers such as Ezra Pound or Filippo Marinetti. I look to a new national context and some less familiar figures to think through this international issue. Employing critical models from both literary and historical scholarship in modernist and fascist studies, I examine the unique and troubling intersection of aesthetics and politics presented by each figure.

After establishing a conceptual framework in the first chapter, "Unsettling Modernity," I devote a separate chapter to each author. Analyzing both literary publications and lesser-known documents, I describe how Hamsun's early modernist fiction carnivalizes literary realism and bourgeois liberalism; how Sveen's mystical and queer erotic vitalism overlapped with aspects of fascist discourse; and how Jacobsen imagined fascism as way to overcome modernity's culture of nihilism. In various ways, I argue, the intellectual orientation that motivates their turn to fascist utopianism also lies behind their modernist urge to create new anti-bourgeois and anti-realist forms of artistic expression.

Each case shows a transition from an aesthetic form of anti-rationalism or anti-nihilism to political form of renewal - a shift from a literary encounter with modernity's scene of chaos and reduction to an ideological fantasy of redemption via fascism. As we know, the sort of redemption that Hamsun, Sveen, and Jacobsen imagined to be embodied in European fascism turned out catastrophically - for their own postwar lives and compromised legacies, but more importantly for the millions of people they never knew who died in the Nazi genocide.

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