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The Phoenix Principle. Some Remarks on H. C. Andersen's Poetological Writings
In "Aunt Toothache", the narrator compares scholarly wisdom to the work of a little worm that crawls over a leaf and studies its lines and veins: "Just like that worm, we crawl around on one single leaf, do not know anything beyond it, and then, immediately, we start holding [plenary] lectures on the whole big tree." As a faithful Andersenreader, I'll try to take this as a piece of advice, and so I'll concentrate on some few and small leaves that I've picked from the whole tree of Andersen's collected works: his programmatic writings on poetry, seen from my worm's perspective of a 'closereading'.
But - are there any poetological writings in Andersen's works at all? Of course, a lot of his fairy tales are in one way or another concerned with poetological problems, they all include reflections on the conditions of his own writing, on the past or present state of poetry in the world or in Denmark, on 'reality', 'imagination', on 'phantasy' and so on. To begin with, we can find numerous explicitly philosophical, mostly metaphysical and aesthetic passages in his stories and novels, from the early Romantic parodies on Romanticism in Fodreise to the dialogues of Esther and Niels Bryde on immortality and beauty, on the Bible and Goethe's Faust in the novel To Be or Not to Be ( At være eller ikke være ). On the other hand, there are all the fairy tales that are deeply concerned with the conditions of the genre (seen as an equivalent of poetry itself, in accordance with German and Danish Romanticism), right from the first small volumes up to stories like the "Nightingale" ("Nattergalen"), "Pen and Inkstand" ("Pen og Blækhuus"), "The Willo'the-Wisps are in Town" ("Lygtemændene ere i Byen, sagde Mosekonen") or "The Gardener and the Noble Family" ("Gartneren og Herskabet").
But besides that there are a couple of small writings of a completely different kind: short explanatory essays, exclusively concentrated on aesthetic theory, usually covered with a veil of allegory, but free from any dominating narrative structure. Even the purely poetological fairy tales have a complex story to tell and can be read by children who do not understand a single allusion to poetry, whereas these proclamations, declarations, these "rhapsodic" or "lyricecstatic" essays (as Johan de Mylius put it in Hr. Digter Andersen 1 ) on the possible shape of Romantic poetry in modern times can in no way be understood without regarding their theoretical impact. Therefore, I would like to concentrate on five of the most important of these texts: "The Phoenix Bird" ("Fugl Phønix"), "The California of Poetry" ("Poesiens Californien"), "The Bird of Folksong" ("Folkesangens Fugl"), "The Muse of the New Century" ("Det nye Aarhundredes Musa") and the unpublished fragment "Et Blad skrevet i Norge" ("A Paper Written in Norway"), one of Andersen's last texts. In the following, I will argue that these writings are quite closely related to each other as documents of a process that was never quite completed, and that they constitute an attempt to establish a poetological concept that is situated on the borderline between Romantic values and early Modernism.
1. "The Bird of Folksong"
Andersen's most obviously Romantic program can be found in "The Bird of Folksong" ("Folkesangens Fugl"), first published in "Folkekalender for Danmark 1865" (1864), then included in his collected writings ("Samlede Skrifter") in 1868. 2 In a way, it can be read as an answer to the "Nightingale". But here, the confrontation of artificial and natural art that had been established there, is completed by a second opposition, which seems to be influenced by Grundtvig's ideas of national poetry as natural poetry - as our text has it: "God speaks to us in our maternal language with the tones of the bird of folksong [...] saga and song [...] make the evening a Christmas evening." Here, folksong appears even as a messianic saviour.
In order to take this central identification seriously, one should understand the text as perfectly adapted to Danish national Romanticism in the middle of the l9th century; maybe it is inspired by the national conflicts in the southern parts of the kingdom. Northern myths and traditions are identified as one neverending song, sung by the spirit of the northern peoples, "Folkeaanden", 'the spirit of the people', seen as a metahi-storical, a natural and Godgiven entity; in fact (and as the last consequence of Herder's concepts) it has to be understood as a special revelation of God to the Scandinavian peoples: In the voice of Nordic folk traditions and mythology, God's own voice can be heard. The allegorical figure which is meant to represent this tradition is here called the "bird of folksong that never dies" (there is no doubt, I think, that "folksong" here must be understood not as an equivalent of the German Romantic "Volkslied", but as the epitome of Nordic oral traditions). Anyway, if this is, in brief, the crucial idea of the text, one might wonder where in the fictional world this "bird of folksong" can be seen and listened to - since the story, in fact, introduces a whole ornithological panorama (as we will see); on the other hand, the opening scene tells us a story from folksong tradition, but it doesn't show us any bird at all. This nocturnal scenery has obviously been inspired by the wave of Ossianism and possibly by Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg's DanishGerman "Poem of a Bard" ("Gedicht eines Skalden", 1766). 3 It shows a lonesome mound by the sea, a hero's grave in prehistoric Jutland, the warrior's ghost sitting on his tomb, restlessly waiting for his redemption which can only be brought by a bard who sings the song of his glorious deeds. A ship appears and, lo and behold!, a bard jumps down on the beach, listens to the ghost's story and then sings it out into the noise of the storm and sea, and now the old warrior is finally content.
This could be the end of the story - a little picture like some of the scenes in Andersen's Picture Book without Pictures (and in fact it had originally been planned as a small text of that kind). But here, it is only the starting point for a poetological allegory - for in the very moment of the viking's redemption, a little bird flies up from the grave. It leaves the scenery and starts into a long flight - not across the waves and foreign countries but through the centuries and right into the modern world of 1865. This bird is "the bird of folksong". It is not only the scenery that undergoes a change but the complete set of narrative rules: space turns into time, a concrete though phantastic historical scene turns into an abstraction, a Romantic story turns into a poetological parable. And the process of change has not come to an end yet: Waiting for the story of the bird's fate in the modern times, we are disappointed again. The parable simply loses sight of the allegorical animal; instead, it confronts us with a third image. Now, we see the huge panorama of a big but lifeless city, all covered in ice; in its wintery and deadly atmosphere, it may remind us of the unredeemed viking's grave in the beginning. And above this city there are birds flying around in the sky, singing their different songs about the dead landscape. In spite of our expectations, the "bird of folksong" is not among them; Andersen has simply withdrawn it from the fictional world. Instead he makes it clear that these birds stand for those contemporary poets who do not believe in the ideas of national Romanticism any more - which does not seem quite unreasonable, considering the ice-covered city. But then, suddenly and finally, a different voice can be heard, coming from underneath the ice: It is the voice of the city that, surprisingly, is not quite dead, the voice of human life in it has survived the cold and awakens again (probably this is another hint at the national awakening, and an answer to the catastrophe of 1864). This voice is now, in the last sentence, identified as the voice of the "bird of folksong that never dies".
This third and final picture in Andersen's text represents another shift in direction: a second level of allegory is established, combined of different allegorical entities (contemporary literature as a flight of birds, the nation as the big city, the end of glory and Romantic selfconfidence as deadly ice). This allegory is obviously much more abstract and more complex than the simple image of the bird of folksong; however, the narrator's conclusion interprets it as another encouraging proof of the real existence of that bird, the spirit of the people.
The story that Andersen told us in the first part has turned into an aesthetic pamphlet. Its obvious intention is to confirm the ideas of national Romanticism in spite of and against the actual political changes. But the process of narration shows us something quite different: it is not the harmonious and conclusive unfolding of a Romantic commonplace but a heterogeneous and disharmonious allegory of increasing complexity. It's not a myth but an abstract construction. (Maybe Andersen's subtitle "en stemning", "a mood", is meant to be a kind of excuse for this lack of consistency.) The narrative and imaginative elements that in a traditional Romantic parabolic story could have constituted a poetological message together with a simple plot, are split up into fragments of an abstract allegory that doesn't lead to a new entirety. The only message that is left in the end is the need for poetry, the hope for it as a means - maybe as the only remaining one - of redemption for a civilitation that is covered in ice.
What has taken place here, is a - perhaps involuntary - unfolding of an aesthetic concept that establishes poetry no longer as an emanation of a Godinspired "folkeånd", "people's spirit", but as an aesthetic construction invented by a poet. And this turn of the argument, this poetological gain is paid for with a reduction of narrative. If one compares this text to a genuinely Romantic poetological fairy tale like "The Nightingale", the differences are striking: That earlier story of a poetological bird unifies aesthetic reflection and a fairy tale; the theory is narrated, and the narration enacts a theory; the story is the message. According to the ideas of early German Romanticism, it is at the same time a piece of art and a reflection on art. It represents what Friedrich Schlegel had called "Transzendentalpoesie": poetry as poetic theory, poetic theory in the shape of poetry, in dialectic tension yet a poetic unity. In contradiction to that, "The Bird of Folksong" confronts us with several heterogeneous modes of narration and reflection on extremely different levels of abstraction that cannot be integrated anymore into a conclusive and harmonious picture. The Romantic poetics that is meant to be proclaimed by the text, has in fact come to an end. Romanticism proves to be irretrievably lost. The emblematic figure that is established by the text has vanished from it long before the text is over. Its proclaimed immortality proves to be nothing but a proclamation whereas allegorical construction has taken over. The bird that never dies is dead.
Thus "The Bird of Folksong" documents a crisis that seems
quite typical of a couple of conservative aesthetic reflections in the post
Romantic era of the 1850s and 60s. But even in the deepest crisis Andersen, as we all know, does not cease to experiment with new types of texts and theories. In his birdcage we have to expect the strangest species. The one that flies closest to the bird of folksong is not the nightingale but "The Phoenix Bird". Here again we find a description of a poetological bird that never dies. But this time, the immortal bird dies indeed, it has to go through death in order to win a new life. >
2. "The Phoenix Bird"
The "Phoenix" text was first, strangely enough, published as a children's story in "Den nye Børneven" ("The New Children's Friend"), in May 1850. One year later Andersen included it in his most ambitious and probably most artistic travel book, "In Sweden" ("I Sverrig", 1851); finally, in 1869, he published it for the third time, now again as an independent piece in the collection of "Eventyr og Historier" illustrated by Vilhelm Pedersen. (The title had first appeared as a possible headline for the early fairy tale now called "The Garden of Paradise", "Paradisets Have", 1839.) 4
Just like "The Bird of Folksong", this rhapsodic essay is composed as an allegory. But comparing the two texts, we find a remarkable increase of abstraction in this one. Here we find no historical scenery; all topographical and historical concreteness is now replaced by purely mythological imagery, explicitely taken from Arabian traditions, especially from the Koran, and from the Bible. The conclusiveness of the proclamation derives exclusively from the conclusiveness of the myth of The Phoenix Bird itself. Without that it might have been difficult to convince us that the decay of poetry was a necessary condition for its new life and strength.
But it is just this idea that is at the center of the text. It gives a description of a process that, in the first step, puts an end to all poetry - literally: to poetry itself. In the second step, however, this end is interpreted as the necessary condition for a new beginning, a new birth of poetry, a resurrection from the grave in an entirely new and different shape. "The bird of paradise! New in every century, born in flames, died in flames [...]: The Phoenix Bird in Arabia. When you were born in the Garden of Paradise, under the tree of knowledge, in the first rose, God kissed you and gave to you your real name - poetry ."
Within this highly abstract allegory - supported by the conclusiveness of the wellknown myth and thus free from the necessity to give a more concrete and precise description of the reasons why the bird has to die - Andersen manages to call the mortal crisis a mortal crisis and at the same time to proclaim it as the beginning of something completely new, or more precisely: a new beginning of the same thing, but in a completely different shape. This is what I'd like to call the Phoenix principle : loss of identity as the first step to a renewal of identity, failure as success, defeat as necessary condition for a triumphant victory of poetry.
Now, one might argue that this proclamation might very well be completed and modified by the rest of the book that the "Phoenix" chapter is only part of. And I could answer that Andersen himself regarded this chapter as a text that could be read on its own. But doubtless, its integration into the Sweden book does give it more complexity and richness than it could ever have had in its isolated version.
In the context of this book, the text is related to different chapters: On the one hand, it can be read as an answer to the preceding chapter, "Trollhättan". 5 There, the new technical exploitation and transformation of the former wilderness, the glory of the industrialized age, the triumph of reason and science are confronted with the figure of the old, 'Romantic' mountain ghost of the Trollhättawaterfalls. In the shape of a friendly old man, the ghost examines the new machines and factories and canals and floodgates - and finally has to admit that his time is up, modern technology has proved to be stronger than the old Romantic ghosts. So at the end of the chapter, the ghost turns into a huge bird and flies away into the woods as his last refuge, downward, "in a falling curve" (Mogens Brøndsted); 6 the industrial era has taken over. This end of the old mountain ghost can be seen as the beginning of the "Phoenix" chapter: The defeated bird of Romanticism passes through its own death, undergoes the deepest transformation, and then - and thus - returns in the shape of immortal Phoenix.
On the other hand, the "Bird Phoenix" is closely related to two more theoretical chapters: "Truth and Science, or A Sermon in Nature" ("Tro og Videnskab, en Prædiken i Naturen") and "The California of Poetry" ("Poesiens Californien"). 7 Both of them try to interpret the new scientific, technical, industrial developments as new chances for Romantic poetry; according to Ørsted's optimism, they attempt to widen the realm of Romanticism into the new era. Here Andersen offers no solution for the crisis that at least for the Romantic ghost of Trollhätta has been a mortal one, but denies that there is any crisis at all. Here, the Almighty speaks through science as well as through faith, and the coming poet will, as a new, childlike Aladdin, lead poetry to its "new California", the land of miracles in science. 8
In these tensions and contradictions, the peculiar ambivalence we have seen in the "Bird of Folksong" appears once again. "The California of Poetry" might seem more daring at first sight, but if one takes a closer look at it, it offers more of a continuation of Romanticism freshened up with a good deal of new subjects than a start into a new era of art. In spite of ist revolutionary appearance, even the "California" chapter turns out to be rather conservative. According to Andersen's own "Phoenix" parable in the beginning of the same book, the crucial condition for that new start must be the end of tradition. This is what these last chapters shrink from - and this is the starting point for Andersen's most ambitious and most modernist poetological program: "The Muse of the New Century".
3. "The Muse of the New Century"
"The Muse of the New Century" ("Det nye Aarhundredes Musa")
was first published in "Nye Eventyr og Historier", vol. V, in
1861 9 - quite an unexpected place again, because here this highly abstract
aesthetic proclamation was more liable to be overlooked than to win the
public attention Andersen explicitly had hoped for. He was convinced that the New Muse was "a work of genius like few other things he had
written", as he told Adolph Drewsen. The published text was its eleventh
version, the result of a long and complicated creative process; fragments of
some of the earlier attempts, especially in Andersen's
"Optegnelsesbog", were published by Helge Topsøe-Jensen in
1963. 10 This "phantasy play",
as Andersen also called it, starts off in an ironic mode that within a
few paragraphs changes to an almost prophetic tone; and the role of a
prophet is to be taken seriously: Here, a prophet announces the coming
of the muse and its "revelation", he proclaims a new poetry as a new age
of salvation. Again, the religious metaphors are striking. In a letter to
Henriette Hanck, Andersen had, as early as in 1838, wondered where
and when a new poetry might arise, and he had asked: "O, where will
the Messiah of this poetry be born! happy he, who can be his St. John
theBaptist.'' 11 In our text, the Muse itself appears in the role of Messiah, and it has already been born in the machine halls and factories of the Industrial Revolution, in the technological transformation of the world - but it cannot be identified with this concrete process.
Gerhart Schwarzenberger (in his seminal essay on "Andersen and 'the New'") as well as Heike Depenbrock and myself in our plenary lecture at the first Andersen Conference here in Odense have been inclined to identify the 'New' of the 'New Muse' with the new subjects Andersen deals with in this text just as he did in "The California of Poetry". 12 And it is true, of course, that the New Muse, in one way or another, is connected with the new subjects of industrialisation and its consequences, with new scientific and technical achievements. But in reading the text anew and reconstructing its relations to Andersen's former programmatic writings, I'd like to define the categories more precisely. The contemporary developments of the 19th century are here described only as conditions and circumstances of the New Muse's birth, but not as its central essence. In its radically new aesthetics, the childlike New Muse does not only play with photographs and machines but also with every possible literary tradition in world history - with the sagas and Molière, Longfellow and Holberg, with troubadours and Romanticism. Even more firmly than in "The California of Poetry", Andersen distances himself from national Romanticism and takes up Goethe's idea of a "world literature", in a very concrete technical sense: "Soon, the Chinese Wall will tumble; the railways approach Asia's sealed cultural archive, - the two cultural streams meet!" So, in the age of telegraphs and worldwide communication, "the Muse is a cosmopolitan". Her realm is, first of all, a place of literature, an aesthetic space. As an innocent child, the messianic muse plays with everything , and - what is even more important for our subject - she plays with it, without taking care of any traditional rules and prescriptions, programmatically connecting them to "the rhythm of her hymn of present times" ("Rhythmer til sin Nutids Hymne"), a sound that has never been heard before.
So the industrial era is one of the reasons and also one of the possible subjects of the New Muse - but it is not her essence. Considering this, one can also wonder what the "new century" actually means. A "new century"? It is evident that there was not the slightest 'turn of century' in sight when Andersen's proclamation was published in 1861, although the text treats it as if it was imminent right here and right now. Obviously, the "new century" does not literally mean a new century. Once again, one might recall the "Phoenix" chapter: There, too, the word "century" stands for the different eras in the history of rises and falls, deaths and rebirths of poetry. With regard to this, I suggest that we ought to understand the "new century" here not as a specific period in time and history but as a metaphor of a different idea of time - just like, in Christian theology, God's Kingdom is not a time or place to be expected within world history, but an absolutely different idea of another time and place that puts an end to all history, a final negation of time, eternity: different from our life in time, different from the world.
And apocalyptic imagery of this kind is exactly what Andersen establishes in his pamphlet. But he does not speak about Doomsday and Heavenly Jerusalem; instead of this biblical imagery, he uses the most fitting and most actual literary metaphor available in his country and culture: the opposition of "Ragnarok" and the "New Gimle". The New Muse's place is not in this world - at least not in the world as we know it:
we nowadaysold folks would tremble under her strong tones and recognize in them a Ragnarok, the fall of the old gods, [...] only a little picture of [every time and race] swims on the stream of eternity, in the small capsule of the word [...] which one will ours shine from - ? Ask the Muse of the new century, in Ragnarok, when the new Gimle arises in glory and understanding.
The old poetry, the old world have come to an end, they are standing on the edge, about to fall; but according to the Phoenix principle, they will reappear in a new life, a new shape that cannot be understood before it has appeared. In some of his early notes on the New Muse, Andersen - more directly and overtly than in the printed text - addressed this obituary notice to a specific literary school that he thought was outdated: "Nordic prehistory has died out; Oehlenschläger has renovated the old heroes and gods, let us leave it at that."
In the published version, Andersen transforms this explicit allusion to the prince of Danish national Romanticism into a sentence that, at second sight, turns out to be more general and much more fundamental: "the old gods [...] are dead, there ist no kind of sympathy for them in the new era, no kind of kinship!" This is quite radical, and seen as a poetic text it is evidently a paradox. Andersen makes use of 'Romantic' mythological imagery - and at the same time he denies, even rejects any possibility of speaking this way. The argument is obviously based on a fundamental paradox: the old gods are dead, which also means that Ragnarok is over; and at the same time the new Gimle is near, Ragnarok is imminent. So what Andersen does is to quote a way of thinking and a tone of speaking that he himself declares impossible. He uses some of the most crucial images of Scandinavian national Romanticism in order to transform them into metaphors for the absolutely different, the 'New'. So what these passages represent is an aesthetic Romanticism deprived of its ideological centre - it is in fact a kind of Romanticism without Romanticism. And this is precisely the formula that Hugo Friedrich has suggested in his classic study on the roots of modernist theory to describe the new poetry and programs of Charles Baudelaire. 13
4. Baudelaire, "Anywhere Out of the World"
I do not have time enough here to enlarge on all the details that the Andersen of the New Muse has in common with Baudelaire, so I'll have to be content with a short glance at one of Baudelaire's "poèmesen prose" that seem to be remarkably close to Andersen's ideas (just like to some of Henrik Wergeland's "Sujetter", by the way). It was first published in a magazine in 1867 and then included in the collection "Le Spleen de Paris"; and its title quotes a Romantic English poem by Thomas Hood, also used in an essay by Edgar Allan Poe (and translated by Baudelaire): "Anywhere out of the world", subtitled: "N'importe où hors du monde''. 14 The text is a dialogue between the poet and his soul, and its subject is the search for a place where the unhappy soul could be at rest. The poet recalls and suggests the most romantic places which his literary traditions can offer - the cosy rural world of the Netherlands, exotic Batavia and the Arctic ocean. But the soul does not answer - until, finally, in a sudden outburst it cries out the name of the only place it longs for, the paradoxical place that is an utopian nonplace: "anywhere out of this world". "Enfin, mon âme fait explosion, et sagement elle me crie: 'N'importe où! n'importe où! pourvu que ce soit hors du monde!'"
This poem holds a central position in Baudelaire's oeuvre: it is the climax of a group of poems (including two versions of "L'invitation au voyage" 15 or, in the "Les fleurs du mal", the "Rêve parisien" and "Le voyage" 16 ). All of these poems are concerned with the imagery of the journey to the land that cannot be said - and which at times is imagined as death, the entrance to an unkown land. (Here, one remembers the final words of Andersen's "Story of a Mother" when the dead enter "the unknown land", "det ubekjendte Land" - in the very last line of the text, in the very moment of its silence.) The only place where the unspeakable can be alluded to, the last saviour in this world, is poetry. Only in poetry, the metaphysical idea of a world as a whole, as a place of harmony and peace, can be presented as the absent - it can be hinted at, invoked, and this invocation takes place in remembering, in quoting the longings of Romanticism and crossing them out at the same time, in transposing their fulfilment from the traditional romantic places in the world (history, wilderness, national spirit and so forth) to the utopian "anywhere out of the world". Indeed, modernist poetry of this kind is Romantic poetry deprived of Romanticism.
To Baudelaire and many contemporary philosophers and artists, art seemed to be the last possibility of proclaiming metaphysics in the age of positivism and natural science, of philosophical postKantian criticism and Nietzsche's fundamental attack against any kind of metaphysics (now including that of enlightened reason itself); it was Nietzsche who found the famous formula of art as the last possible metaphysical activity.
Something of this kind, I guess, is happening in Andersen's "New Muse". Here, the individual and poetological allegory of The Phoenix Bird is transformed into the 'collective' and historical allegory of the end of the world as the beginning of its new birth: Ragnarok and Gimle. In both texts it is most significant that this new shape in the future is proclaimed as unspeakable and invisible in the present, and thus it remains completely abstract. Except for such unprecise categories as "short, clear, rich" that monotonuously reappear in different contexts (in the "New Muse" as well as in other poetological writings), the description of the new muse remains extremely vague, is in fact almost empty; if you're trying to look at its face, you'll stare into a void - as the most provocative passage of the text says: "What is the new muse's program? [...] What does she want?", and the answer is: "You had better ask, what she does not want!" The New Muse's position is negation.
The only place where we can trace the new poetry as an expression of a new world is the text of this prophetic and poetic proclamation itself - for there is no other way of showing its presence than this proclaming of its absence - and of its coming . The new poetry is exclusively to be found in the poetry of the new. And here, paradoxically, it will never be found as something positive and present, but only and always as something negative and absent. The New Muse's device is a kind of "Apocalypse Now".
Thus, the entire proclamation is marked as a negative form of the messianic muse. The most radical form of this significant selfnegation is the hymnic celebration of the speaker's own submission, of his destruction under the unspeakable new:
Greetings, you Muse of the new century of poetry! our salutation rises and is heard as is heard the worm's hymn of thought, the worm that is cut to pieces beneath the plough, while a new springtime is dawning and the ploughman draws his furrow and cuts us worms to pieces, crushes us, so that the blessings may be bestowed upon the coming new generation. - Our greetings to you, Muse of the new century!
This is the last and probably the most surprising step of Andersen's argument. The beginning, the realisation of the new and absolute, is at the same time the destruction of the old and relative - and this destruction will include the speaker himself. This is the most radical and most consistent expression of the Phoenix principle. Never has the postRomantic Andersen come so close to the ideas of early French modernism; here, he might indeed appear as an unkown brother of Charles Baudelaire.
However, I doubt, that Andersen's final proclamation is meant to be conclusive; maybe the text should be read as a process of transformation from Romanticism to a modernism 'malgré soi'; perhaps the obvious selfcontradictions between the Romantic imagery in the beginning and the radical abdication to it at the end should not be harmonised but seen as steps in the development of an argument. And by including this proclamation in a collection of fairy tales, Andersen revokes his own modernist radicalism, trying to reromanticise his antiRomantic position. Even here, he is "den forsigtige rebel", as Elias Bredsdorff has put it: "the cautious rebel".
5. "A Paper Written in Norway"
There are very few texts where Andersen explicitly refers to concrete achievements of contemporary modern poetry. One of the most intriguing and least popular ones is the last leaf I would like to take a final and brief look at: the fragment "A Paper Written in Norway", written less than three years before his death, during his last journey through Norway (1872). 17 This paper - obviously an unfinished sketch which includes a couple of corrections and variants - is Andersen's most explicit reaction to the beginning success story of modern Norwegian literature. And once again, the text returns to the categories of national Romanticism. It starts in a tone and imagery that perfectly meet the requirements of (now: Norwegian) patriotism. The heroic mountain landscapes remind the traveller of a heroic history and represent the national greatness and character; patriotic poetry gives expression to this collective identity; and the Danish visitor is deeply impressed, even intimidated by this country and its poets. In the central sentence, Norway itself is adressed: "Norway, yes, you are the future of poetry."
With all this, the text proves quite a surprising selfdenial - haven't we learnt from earlier stories like "The Elf Mound" ("Elverhøi") and "The Rags" ("Laserne") that Andersen, to put it mildly, was not very enthusiastic about Norwegian patriotism which seemed so vulgar and at the same time humiliating to his Danish identity? And wasn't he quite conservative and defensive towards the revolutionary new modes of writing that had been established by poets like Henrik Wergeland and Henrik Ibsen? (Maybe you remember the anecdote of Andersen travelling on board a ship together with Camilla Collett; they get into a discussion about Norwegian literature, and Andersen makes fun of the "uncivilized" and "uneducated" Henrik Wergeland - not knowing that Camilla was Wergeland's sister.) Wergeland's Whitmanian free verse, his attempts to establish a new form of poemsinprose even earlier than Baudelaire did - all this seemed to represent a kind of poetry that Andersen had to reject as chaotic, void of form, and as a threat to his postRomantic background.
But according to the Phoenix principle, this rejection is exactly the reason why, in this fragment, in a religious formula we have heard before, he calls Wergeland a "St. John the Baptist of poetry in Norway": "There unrolled, void of form in poetry but great and true: Norway [...], Wergeland sang (the St. John the Baptist of poetry in Norway)". With modern Norwegian poetry, a new era is dawning; the messianic Muse herself is approaching in the works of, for instance, Bjørnson and Ibsen (who are alluded to in the text) - so maybe, in opposition to the former poetological metaphysics, its place is no longer somewhere out of the world but in a concrete kind of poetry that is written in Christiania. (And maybe modernist ideas could be thus harmoniously combined with another kind of patriotism.) But anyway, the gist of the argument is still the paradoxical selfnegation of the speaker and of the era he stands for, even here. At the end of the fragment, Andersen adresses the Danish-Norwegian language and proclaims the fall of Denmark; the Norwegian daybreak is the Danish sundown: "He who builds his great house on your rock will not fall down in the storm that is to come over the land of Denmark, you lovely, so small in the world, so great in my heart." Again, the narrator sees himself in the position of the worm that is beeing cut through by the plough; again, he praises the birth of the New Muse as the end of his own life and times; and again, he clings to the idea that saves him from despair - the 'Phoenix principle'.
As I said in the beginning, Andersen's programmatic writings - inclined to radical modernist points of view and at the same time maintaining most conservative Romantic values, written in an often provokingly strange tone and at the same time published in travel accounts and collections of children's stories - these writings are situated on the threshold between late Romanticism and young Modernism, somewhere between Oehlenschläger and Wergeland, between Ørsted and Baudelaire; and every now and then, they take a step into one direction or the other. Seen as a whole, they form one large strenuous attempt to find a poetry for the new age he lived in, without giving up the traditions he himself was raised in and which were so dear to him. One could criticize this position as indecision; and indeed every attempt at fixing him, at defining his position on one of the two sides must fail. But looking back to the literary history of the 19th century from an era that has called itself "postmodernist", one might just as well acclaim Andersen's ambivalence as a rejection of simple solutions, a rejection of onedimensional concepts of "eitheror". His favourite movement, here as in other contexts, is the crossing of borders. Even as a literary theorist, he is more sophisticated than we sometimes would expect (or maybe like) him to be - or as he himself put it: "Jeg er original" - "I am an original!"
4. Sverrig , Romaner og Rejseskildringer [ RR ] , vol. VII, pp. 1415; Eventyr, vol. IV, pp. 5051; cf. commentaries ibid., vol. VII, pp. 23435. Cf. Heike Depenbrock/Heinrich Detering, "Poesie und industrielles Zeitalter in H. C. Andersens I Sverrig ". In: Johan de Mylius/Aage Jørgensen/Viggo Hjørnager Pedersen (eds.), Andersen and the World. Odense 1993, pp. 3155. tilbage
8. Cf. de Mylius, Hr. Digter Andersen, pp. 31617, and Gisela Perlet, "Nachwort", in her German edition of HCA, Reisebilder aus Schweden und England: In Schweden; Ein Besuch bei Charles Dickens. Leipzig/Weimar 1985, pp. 198207. tilbage
12. Gerhart Schwarzenberger, "Den ældre H. C. Andersen og 'det nye'". In: Danske Studier , 1962, pp. 1747; Heike Depenbrock/Heinrich Detering, "Der Tod der Dryade und die Geburt der Neuen Muse" . In: Kurt Braunmüller/Mogens Brøndsted (eds.), Deutschnordische Begegnungen. Odense 1991, pp. 36690. tilbage
14. Charles Baudelaire, "Le Spleen de Paris". In: Sämtliche Werke/Briefe, herausgegeben von Friedhelm Kemp und Claude Pichois in Zusammenarbeit mit Wolfgang Drost, vol. VIII, pp. 25295. (French text and German translation by Friedhelm Kemp, cf. Kemp's commentary ibid., pp. 37778.) tilbage