Anna Jörngården, Skapande sorg. Nostalgi, modernitet och kön i Kerstin Ekmans Händelser vid vatten och Majgull Axelssons Aprilhäxan. (Creative Mourning. Nostalgia, Modernity and Gender in Kerstin Ekman’s Händelser vid vatten [Blackwater] and Majgull Axelsson’s Aprilhäxan [April Witch].)
In the late twentieth century, nostalgic reactions become more prevalent, reminiscent of the cultural currents of the previous fin de siècle. This essay analyses the novels Händelser vid vatten [Blackwater] (1993) by Kerstin Ekman and Aprilhäxan [April Witch] (1997) by Majgull Axelsson from a perspective of nostalgia, modernity and gender. The purpose is to explore what line the novels take in relation to a nostalgic discourse, characterized by a polarization of gender. As modernity takes hold, woman is increasingly associated with the primitive, which man leaves behind in an age of progress. Woman is perceived as being to a greater extent part of nature and the private, while man is regarded a part of culture and the public. Thus, stability, continuity, and the mystical, which are threatened by changes in society, are preserved within conceptions of the feminine. Consequently, the feminine becomes an object of male desire, while women are conceived as lacking nostalgic reactions; there is no reason to long for continuity and the traditional if you are not supposed to have differentiated yourself from that realm. The study demonstrates how the two novels thematize the experience of loss; how the female nostalgic voice functions in relation to traditional male nostalgia; and how woman is portrayed respectively as a nostalgic subject and as an object of nostalgia. This leads to a discussion of woman’s position in modernity, and whether a utopian dimension of nostalgia can be detected in the novels.
The essay elucidates nostalgia as a complex phenomenon, which is treated with ambivalence in Händelser vid vatten and Aprilhäxan. The experience of loss and longing can be described as a counterpoint in the two novels, while romanticizations of the past simultane-ously are unmasked and revealed as mendacious. In both novels, women function as nostalgic subjects, something which is interpreted as a transgression of the nostalgic discourse, since it contradicts the notion that woman is untouched by the forces of society and the passing of time. However, woman also functions as an object of nostalgia, although this is subjected to deconstruction. The main dismantling factor of the nostalgic discourse is how Ekman and Axelsson destabilize the boundaries between nature and culture, as well as between the private and the public. When no clear dividing lines can be distinguished between these dimensions, there is nothing untainted left for nostalgic yearning.
The title of the essay is “Creative Mourning”, an expression that points to the double function of loss in the two novels: as something both expressed at a thematic level and as a driving force for literary creativity. This means that the novels partly counteract the loss they thematize, by preserving the past and the fantastic in fictional form and by shedding light on a part of history which otherwise risks being forgotten, all of which leads to a change or a shift in the dominant discourse of modernity. Thus, the pondering of memory contributes to the changing of a collective cultural memory. Accordingly, nostalgia used as a startingpoint can work as a utopian force, since it focuses on the flaws of current society. In both novels, consuming obsession with the past is explained as a result of the zeal of the modern future-oriented society to discard everything considered old and past, which has lead to the opposite result. Therefore, the central conclusion is drawn that the opposite of nostalgia is not oblivion, but memory.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2006. Vol. 127, 283-348 p.