Helene Blomqvist, Det monistiska problemet och de blasfemiska textstrategierna i Lagerkvists Sibyllan. (The Monistic Problem and Blasphemous Textual Strategies in Lagerkvist’s Sibyllan.)
This article discusses literary articulations of what can be named ‘the monistic problem’ — closely linked to the theodicy problem — using Pär Lagerkvist’s novel Sibyllan (The Sibyl) as an example. Sibyllan is the story of two people, who both have been ‘burnt’ by God – a male god, an almighty patriarch — and yet neither of them can let go of him. They rage and fret and cast blasphemous utterances at him but still their destinies are tied to him. To analyze this novel properly, it is necessary to consider the way in which it is constructed — not as one story, but as two parallel intradiegetic stories, bound together by a heterodiegetic voice. This makes the novel dialogical, in Bachtin’s sense of the word. Under the surface, this text conceals a question, a question that is posed twice, by the stories of the two main characters. The question can be formulated thus: What is God like, and why does he seem so unreasonable? But this novel, as Lagerkvist himself states, is also a book of passion and rage. So the question is: How on earth shall I be able to endure this life with this god? When examined closely, the god of the novel appears to have two different faces, both male: either he is the evil god, the almighty tyrant, whose avenging hand strikes man if he doesn’t obey, or he is the indifferent and exalted, the incomprehensible god who is so far from everything human that it is impossible for any of us to understand anything of what he is like. In both cases, it is evident that the world view is monistic: God is the one ruling principle of the Universe. It appears that a monistic world view (or ontology) is the prerequisite of Pär Lagerkvist’s entire religious struggle, as of the struggles of so many others. As the theologian Gustaf Aulén says, it seems as if western man is caught in a monistic way of thinking, partly due to the unhappy mistranslation of the Greek ‘pantochrator’. The concept ‘Lord God Almighty’ is not only unbiblical, but also really incomprehensible. This study demonstrates how Lagerkvist uses blasphemous literary strategies to point to the absurdity of a monistic ontology coupled with the belief in a good god and with the notion that we should submit willingly and with trust to this monarch. Is there then an alternative to this world view and this concept of God? If there is in Lagerkvist’s novel, it should be the sibyl herself, as a parallel to both the virgin Mary, the mother of God, and to Gaia, the great mother of all living things. At the end of the novel, Gaia still sits as an All-mother high up on the slopes of the divine mountain above Delphi, watching everything with her old eyes and her burnt face. As several echo-feminist thinkers say, maybe this is the god that our world needs today.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2007. Vol. 128, 129-145 p.