Histcon.se Time, Memory and Representation Tid, Minne, Representation

A Multidisciplinary Program on Transformations in Historical Consciousness

Ett mångdisciplinärt forskningsprogram om historiemedvetandets förvandlingar

Anders Olsson

Professor of Comparative Literature, Stockholm University


B. 1949. Professor in Comparative Literature, Stockholm University. Member of the Swedish Academy. PhD in Comparative Literature from Stockholm University in 1983, with the dissertation Ekelöfs nej. Has published extensively in the area of poetic modernism and literary and hermeneutic theory, notably Den okända texten (1987), Läsningar av intet (2000) and Skillnadens konst (2006). Currently in charge of a research project on Nelly Sachs, funded by VR.

Ongoing research

Olsson will contribute a book-length study which develops the concept of reading literary texts in the wake of Gadamer’s hermeneutic philosophy. Through the idea of Wirkungsgeschichte it will elaborate an understanding of canonicity as dialogue with the tradition, rather than seeing canonical works as an established list of guiding examples.

Olsson has shown, in the article “Requirements of an Aesthetic Concept of the Canon” (2011), that the concept of Wirkungsgeschichte provides a fruitful entry to this problematic, in that it dislocates the historicity of the exemplary texts from the historicity of linear time. At the same time it is evident that it does not refer to an eternally valid order of “timeless” works. The important works must somehow demonstrate their validity anew, in a process of continued reception.

In his later writings Gadamer speaks of how the eminent work demands a renewed lingering, a Verweilen, by the recipient, in order to be fully understood. If one puts so much emphasis on the role of reception in understanding, how can one account for these textual demands, seemingly immanent in the work itself? How can one understand this demand for repetition and renewed reading, on the basis of the concept of Wirkungsgeschichte? Does this endow the work with a new form of historicity, or does it instead explode the framework of dialogical hermeneutics? Do we have to construe a new kind of historicity with no or “only” potential effects?

The study will attempt a new understanding of reception in terms of re-reading, which gives intervention and innovation a crucial role. The thought-provoking late dialogue between Gadamer and Jacques Derrida, that Olsson has worked out in an article on Gadamer’s concept of Verweilen (forthcoming, 2014), shows the need of this development.

The study will be carried out against the backdrop of Cultural Memory Studies, but will claim that literary memory in the activity of reading is a productive relation to the past - beyond the passive archive and beyond canonicity as a set of established norms. Reading is, thereby, not looked upon as an act of memory in itself, but as an ecstatic experience that necessarily puts cultural as well as individual memory into play. Passages in the writings of Marcel Proust, Italo Calvino and Ezra Pound are in this argument given considerable force.

Selected bibliography

"Lyrical Melancholia in Swedish Literature", in Comparative History of Nordic Literary Cultures (eds. Linda Rugg/ Karin Sanders) 2014-15 (Forthcoming).

"Dröjandets hermeneutik", i Hermeneutikens aktualitet. Anders Burman (utg.) (Stockholm: Axl Books, 2014) (Forthcoming)

– "The Limits of the Unlimited. Gunnar Björling's Wordscape", in Comparative History of Nordic Literary Cultures (ed. Dan Ringgaard) 2014 (Forthcoming)

"Aching Through: Nelly Sachs's poetics of Exile", in Languages of Exile. Migration and Multilingualism in Twentieth-Century Literature. Axel Englund and Anders Olsson (Eds.) (Oxford, Bern, Berlin...: Peter Lang, 2013, p. 221-242.)

Vad är en suck? En essä om Erik Johan Stagnelius (Stockholm: Bonniers, 2013)

Bonniers, 2011.

Ordens asyl. Inledning till den moderna exillitteraturen (Stockholm: Bonniers, 2011)

Skillnadens konst (Stockholm: Bonniers, 2006)

Läsningar av Intet (Stockholm: Bonniers, 2000)

Att skriva dagen. Gunnar Björlings poetiska värld (Stockholm: Bonniers, 1995)

Den okända texten.En essä om tolkningsteori från kyrkofärderna till Derrida (Stockholm: Bonniers, 1987)

– Ekelöfs nej (Stockholm: Bonniers, 1983, diss.)

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