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Summaries of papers from previous international HCA conferences
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Summaries of papers from previous international HCA conferences

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Summary of Poul Houe:

"Den rejsende - et kapitel om H. C. Andersen og vor tid".

This paper has been published in Andersen og Verden, Odense 1993.

The Traveller - a Chapter on Hans Christian Andersen and Our Time

Poul Houe

(summary for pages 434-43)

In a recent interview Salman Rushdie spoke of people who would ask him, or anyone like him, - "are you Indian? Pakistani? English?" Responding to their question he said: "What is being expressed is a discomfort with a plural identity. And what I am saying to you - and saying in the novel - is that we have got to come to terms with this. We are increasingly becoming a world of migrants, made up of bits and fragments from here, there. And we have never really left anywhere we have been."

What seems here to be a non-European imposition of identity problems on the European mind is preceded by some 200 years of European fragmentation from within. In the case of Jens Baggesen, Aage Henriksen has said that his passport gave him access to all of the world but his own heart. Owing to geographical and mental rootlessness, Baggesen was destined to examine European man from bottom to top, but was unable to articulate compatible attitudes to his spiritual and sensual experiences. Baggesen went to many places to learn about himself and the world, but he fell short of finding a single place where he would like to stay and where his learning experiences could coalesce into knowledge. Hence, European man in embryo is divided into two halves, the poet and the politician, before he is even born. The obstacles overcome by Goethe's harmonious concord are seen as overcoming Jens Baggesen in satirical discord. Their two lives are structurally interrelated as fulfillment compared to potential, or as two essays complementing each other.

A similar dichotomy is inherently present in H. C. Andersen's discourse, and my presentation is to be seen as a chapter on this traveller and our (Rushdiean) time. Andersen's harmonious concord asserts itself in the form of stereotyped expressions of his delight in others' delight in him. On the surface they testify to the author's veneration for supreme goodness. Eternal devotion and nature worshipping humanism have joined in overcoming mundane adversity.

But underneath the surface Andersen self-consciously suspected that his scheme was merely a matter of vanity or displacement of deep anxieties. In Mit eget Eventyr uden Digtning (1847; 1942) his notion of life as a voyage is beholden to the Bildungsroman as it purports to establish a connection between the beginning and the end of his development; evocation of providence is the recurrent theme, and even artistic manipulation at the expense of factual representation has been brought to bear on this conception. Yet the fact remains that the composition of Mit eget Eventyr is slanted by stronger and less predictable forces. Andersen simply does not recall the past as well as he recalls the present, and the fact that his opening chapters were literally not at hand at the time when he penned his final touch merely underscores the extent to which his topical experiences (centred on the 1846 trip to Italy during which the bulk of his autobiography was conceived) came to override his portrayal of the past (leaving his reader with an understated mention of the more important 1833-34 trip to Italy). While intended to serve the ends of Bildung, Andersen's artistic means inadvertently display their own shortcomings (or deeper veracity!). Superficially committed to the continuity of life as an inner voyage, he exposes himself to the discontinuity of life as an outer experience.

With H. C. Andersen's Italian journeys as a case in point, and with reference to a composite body of interrelated texts, my discussion demonstrates how the above dichotomy is suspended between intellectual concerns of 18th century Europe and current artistic dilemmas like those of the Indian? Pakistani? English? intellectual, Salman Rushdie.

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