Anežka Kuzmicová, En myrtenkvist i högra ögat. Torgny Lindgrens Legender i möte med bysantinska helgonberättelser. (A Myrtle Bough in the Right Eye: Legender [Legends] by Torgny Lindgren Encountering Byzantine Saints’ Lives.)
The historical connotation of the word "legend" in the European literary discourse imposes upon the reader of any text of such attribution the presumption of certain specific genre features. Given their content, the short stories gathered in Legender [Legends] (1986) by Torgny Lindgren do not, at first glance, display many parallels with Christian hagiography, apart from a few traditional topoi. Taking into account, however, the Byzantine hagiographical narratives about the desert hermits and, above all, about the holy fools, a large number of homologies become apparent. Like the early Byzantine Life of Symeon the Fool by Leontius of Neapolis, which serves as the major means of illustration throughout this comparative paper, the stories from Legender mainly feature characters acting in a manner opposite to the traditional forms of sanctity. At the same time, the narrative mode prevailing in Lindgren’s short stories is one of ambiguity. Hence, the characters of Legender are portrayed as oscillating between exemplary conduct and foolishness. This remarkable common feature serves as a suitable point of departure for such a reading of Legender which refers to Byzantine hagiography as intertextual background.
Nevertheless, as this study is meant to demonstrate, the recurrent thematic affinity with holy foolishness is only a symptom of a far more complex correspondence between the Byzantine intertexts and the eight short stories selected from Legender. With the help of numerous quotations from primary and secondary sources, distinct parallels are shown to exist between the orthodox Christian, particularly the Byzantine, conception of man and universe, and the one which is manifest in Legender. The disposition of the argumentation is based on a gradual descent from the most general aspects of the affinity, such as the paradoxical, overall synthetic way of understanding the world, to its more specific symptoms: the strictly non-dualistic conception of man resulting in the accentuated corporality of the characters, unprecedented in Christian writings, and the tendency to perceive all creation as holy, which to the characters’ corporality ascribes a special semiotic significance.
On a more specific level, the synthetic world view implies a particular understanding of the relationship between the community and human individual. As they consistently assign a holy value to the community, supreme in relation to the interests of any individual, and as they put stress on the destructive impact of any behaviour not respecting such principle, Lindgren’s narratives are constructed upon ethical rules identical to the fundaments of orthodox Christianity. This ethical kinship becomes most evident in the narratives in which the characters practise kenosis.
Thus, one of the most remarkable paradoxes common to the Byzantine stories of the desert hermits and holy fools and Legender is the fact that their protagonists, while mostly portrayed with the aura of certain sanctity, offend the rule of the primacy of fellowship by living in isolation. There are two different forms of this severe seclusion of theirs: a predominantly spiritual one, i.e. the holy foolishness, and a complex one, both spiritual and physical, i.e. the hermit life.
As opposed to the Byzantine texts about the holy fools, there are no explicit apologetics implemented in Legender proclaiming the characters’ sanctity unquestionable despite their acts of folly. In this sense, the narratives are entirely consistent in their ambiguity. On the other hand, a considerable degree of understanding is expressed by the narrator even for the characters who commit major crimes, since the fictional world of Legender is reflected from a strictly deterministic perspective.
Finally, the paper demonstrates how the correspondence of ideas between the Byzantine texts and Lindgren’s narratives is reflected in the literary style of Legender. Rhetorical features typical of Byzantine texts recurrent in Legender are inter alia: the general lack of psychology, anti-aesthetic description, hyperbole and, above all, the paradox. Hence, ambiguity remains the constitutive principle in Lindgren’s ’legends’ even regarding the individual utterance.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2005. Vol. 126, 204-248 p.