"H. C. Andersen og den optimistiske dualisme".
This paper has been published in Andersen og Verden, Odense 1993.
Hans Christian Andersen and Optimistic DualismErik M. Christensen
(summary for pages 177-91)
Optimistic Dualism is a concept designed by me (in 1966) in order to describe a period in the history of ideas. The period of "Optimistic Dualism" covers Danish Literature roughly between 1800 and 1870. The dualism in optimistic dualism is ontological, i.e. it concerns reality, in fact two radically different sorts of reality; it is the Time/Eternity dualism, and the concept of optimism concerns the possibility of bridging the gap between time and eternity. The Lutheran Evangelical Danish State Church was, of course, the principal agent of optimistic dualism; however, a great variety of different schools of thought and religion are found within the scope of the overall idea of optimistic dualism. They may even despise each other, e.g. in the way Kierkegaard looked down upon Andersen, and others found Kierkegaard impossible. Nevertheless, all prominent figures in Danish literature, philosophy, and religion during these years may be characterized as optimistic dualists one way or the other. It should be noted that this dualism - two kinds of reality: time and eternity - is seriously doubted only towards the end of our period. What is really controversial all the way through is rather the means by which it is possible to reach out successfully from time towards eternity. The Grace of God, hard work, human love, right thinking are among the means praised or damned or simply accepted.
The exact nature of optimistic dualism as held by Andersen remains to be established. Dogmatic belief in a strict sense does not seem to cover the optimistic dualism of his fairy tales.
Andersen's overt and latent optimistic dualism may, however, be the major reason why more and more people - children and adults - find it difficult to accept him. How serious is the problem?
In his textbook Kunstmärchen (1977) Jens Tismar writes:
Skepsis gegenüber dem Märchen und seinen Mächten äußert sich indirekt in Andersens Verfallenheit an die Gegenständlichkeit der Welt. [...] Dies poetische Manöver hängt mit jener verschwommenen religiösen Annahme zusammen, daß in den Dingen wie in den Personen dieser Welt die Gedanken Gottes sich offenbarten. (pp. 58-59)
Such criticism of Andersen's philosophy/religion is more often suggested than made explicit. Johannes V. Jensen, e.g., the most prominent Danish writer in the first half of this century (Nobel prize 1944), a Darwinist himself, praised the fairy tales in 1916. While insisting that the times had changed since Andersen's day, thus demanding a new form and a new content, he said nothing of Andersen's "verschwommene religiöse Annahme", his "unclear religious supposition". Paul V. Rubow finds on the other hand, that the real objective, the "finis finalis" of criticism, is to discuss idea and form in the poet's work, and he sees Andersen as the apprentice of Hans Christian Ørsted. The fairy tales are inconceivable to Rubow (1943) without Ørsted's religious philosophy. Optimistic dualism is central to Ørsted's thinking.
The only trait which decisively differentiates the "folk" tale from the "literary" fairy tale is the oral medium, the storyteller. Andersen's literary form imitated the oral medium and he thus managed to establish his own person (and/or the person reading his tales aloud to someone else) as the authoritative centre of attention. The combined impact of his optimistic dualism and the rôle, formerly so attractive, of impersonating the lovable storyteller, is known to have been too much for parents caring for their children's mental education.
Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales may, however, survive as a function of the degree to which people are able to disregard his "verschwommene" religiosity, his optimistic dualism, i.e. his determinate context in the history of ideas. Admirers of Andersen should take comfort from Roger Seamon's views of New Criticism, Deconstruction etc.: "a sequence of words divorced from a determinate context [...] has an infinite number of possible meanings" (1990).