Train of thought

At the moment I am sitting on a train at the station in a town called Halden (earlier Fredrikshalden), waiting to continue on into Sweden and (eventually, after a bus and another train) Lund. It’s always a little thrilling to travel to a conference, seminar, or (as in this case) workshop.

I can’t help thinking about the fact that I applied for a job in this town that I might have gotten had I not withdrawn my application. At the time the commute just seemed insurmountable, but based on this morning’s experience, I’m not so sure that it would have been that bad. I left the house just before 5:45 am, took a bus, then a ferry, then a tram to Oslo central train station. I had about 15 minutes to spare before the 7 am departure of the train, and we got into Halden at about 8:45. Yeah, it was three hours, but two of those hours were spent sitting in quiet comfort on the train, reading Nina Witoszek’s The Origins of the “Regime of Goodness”: Remapping the Cultural History of Norway. If Witoszek ever took a moment to envision her target audience for this book, the image that would have appeared in her mind would be me. I am finding it fascinating so far (I’ve only read the first chapter so far. And no, it did not take me two hours to read. There may or may not have been some sandwiches and some sudoku involved).

Witoszek has some really brilliant turns of phrases in her description of Norwegian culture. Here are a few tidbits:

  • “Flagging its ethical credentials and asserting its noble, well-oiled ‘outsiderhood’ in Europe, Norway poses a formidable challenge to all suspicious hermeneutists. Is it possible that its dazzling success is a product of smart international branding, or, as has sometimes been suggested, the result of mass delusion?” (12).
  • In Norway “[…] nature has been deployed as a locus of belonging and an emblem of national identity. Norwegian society may have changed, but nature has never made an exit from national history. It has been a perpetuum mobile, a semiotic center around which everything moves” (19).
  • “The persistent acculturation of nature is not a romantic façade, but part and parcel of a genuinely felt experience of nature as the nesting place of a ‘good and pure self'” (22).
  • “Norwegian collective identity is still defined by the remembrance, commemoration, interpretation and re-interpretation of the ‘good nature’ which flourishes in the North” (21).
  • “[…] unlike the Americans – addicted to fantasies about unlimited wealth, fame, love, power and happiness –  the Norwegian Dream is about a world which has limits and boundaries” (24).
  • Norway as a culture  “[…] has in many ways banished the city from its moral universe” (25).

Crikey. All that just in the first chapter. It will be an interesting challenge to review the book, especially since it is so intertwined with her previous book, Norske naturmytologier. It may be difficult to separate out the two books and evaluate the new contribution of this one. I fear I’m going to have to go back and re-read the first one, then re-read this one before I’ll be able to do a fair review. My plan was to use this trip to Lund to start and finish  my book review, so I really hope that’s not the case!

I was so wrapped up in getting ready for the trip yesterday that I neglected to report my research activity. Two interesting things happened. The first was that I finally had a meeting with my colleague from the school of education about my book proposal on the “multimodal” Ibsen. He was incredibly helpful, and had many very specific suggestions for reconceptualizing the project–tweaking it so that it will be useful for teachers. I love it when that happens.

The other thing I did was make a final decision about how and what to present on Hoel’s Når nettene blir lange at the workshop tomorrow. After thinking through various flashier alternatives, I settled upon the most basic format imaginable; I’m just going to read from a manuscript with no slides and no video clips. I know that’s sort of not done in film studies, but it’s the only way I can really guarantee that I can make all my points and stick to the allotted time.

What that meant, however, is that I had to spend the entire day cutting down the article from 21 to 10 pages of text. It was an interesting process, and actually a good deal easier than I had imagined. The first major move was to cut out nearly everything on cabins and just focus on the Christmas aspect of the film. My main criterion for cuts beyond that was to eliminate anything that needed extra explanation and anything that was an elaboration on a main point. If someone listening who hasn’t seen the film might be confused or led astray, I took it out.

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