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Mateusz Topa, University of Gdańsk

A Curious Case of Identicide

- Professor Andersen’s Night by Dag Solstad

  • Name: Mateusz Topa
  • Academic credentials: Scandinavian Studies, Ph.D. student at the University of Gdańsk (Poland)

Abstract: Dag Solstad’s 1996 novel “Professor Andersen’s Night” narrates the story of Pål Andersen, a middle-aged university professor who accidentally witnesses (or so he believes) a murder. Even though Pål feels he has a legal, moral, and social obligation to report the crime, he cannot bring himself to notify the police. This sets the scene for professor Andersen’s critical examination of his own life, a life – as we quickly gather – suspended in an identity vacuum.

Solstad’s novel gives us a unique glimpse into the development and formation of Norwegian – and by extension Scandinavian – cultural, social and national identity in the second half of the 20th century. At the same time, it situates this development against the backdrop of a more universal context of Western European (post)modernism. It is at this intersection between the national/regional (Norway/Scandinavia) and the international/global (Europe/World) that professor Andersen struggles to collect shreds of his identity, trying to understand what caused its breakdown.

The paper will follow professor Andersen in this attempt and, as a result, will branch out in two sub-themes. The first one is a critique of the cultural elite in Norway (and Scandinavia) who, according to professor Andersen, have gradually deconstructed (murdered) both individual and collective patterns of identity with their irony and hypocrisy. The second one centers around professor Andersen’s irrational and perhaps paranoid fear that an “other” cultural mindset might replace (murder) the identity vacuum he is trapped in – this again both at the individual and collective level. Throughout the presentation, other European literary works illustrating parallel developments will be referred to as a point of comparison.

Both of the abovementioned sub-themes (“self-deconstruction” and “fear of an external threat”) will reveal a strong need to re-think how landscapes of identity are formed, maintained, and what they could mean in a fast-changing, globalized world.

Theme: Scandinavian Identity Throughout History

Earlier Event: June 16