Over the holiday I have been plugging away at Finn Alnæs’ Koloss. It is slow going, as this is in a lot of ways a profoundly stupid novel. Øystein Rottem wrote about it in conjunction with Agnar Mykles Sangen om den røde rubinen in a chapter in his book on gender and identity in Norwegian literature, LystLesninger (1996). Rottem reads the two novels as responses to modernity’s crisis in masculinity. His point in comparing the two is that Koloss expresses a certain ideal of masculinity connected to physical prowess while Mykle’s book represents a different ideal connected to the “sensitive outsider” or artist. Rottem is totally right in criticizing Alnæs for being too in love with his protagonist. There is just no critical distance there at all. It’s hard to believe that the novel was critically acclaimed in the 1960s. Nonetheless, it is really interesting as a historical document that can tell us a lot about how gender was conceptualized in the period.
What I am finding surprising as I work my way through the novel is what I can’t help but see as a blatant undercurrent of homosocial desire (Eve Kosovsky Sedgwick’s term from Between Men). Actually, I shouldn’t be surprised, since Alnæs’ protagonist Brage Bragesson is just so unbelievably manly (aka heterosexual) that it’s, well, unbelievable. Reading the novel today, one can’t help but giggle when Alnæs describes Brage’s antagonist Bentein Dagestad as looking like Tony Curtis, a gay icon. Neither Rottem nor any other analyses of the novel that I’ve read mention this at all. (Last night as I was drifting off to sleep I couldn’t help but think I need to write a revisionist adaptation of Koloss called Niendemannen from Bentein’s point of view…)
The novel is divided between Brage’s court case and his exploits after being released from prison, most of which take place in the wilderness around his cabin. This sets up a nice contrast between the “civilized” space of the courtroom that Brage/Alnæs wants to critique and the “primitive” space of the cabin that Brage/Alnæs holds up as a utopia.
So, although I’m hating reading the book, I think I’m really going to have fun writing about it. If this cabin project has taught me anything, it’s the value of reading bad literature.