Soon it will crack

the house is on fire

Anno 2007

Whose fault is that? And what will save the Earth?

The Earth’s ecosystems show higher temperatures. Draught, flooding, cyclones, rising sea levels; heat waves, fires, most recently in California. In only two years, the Arctic has lost land areas the equivalent of five Great Britain. The ice in Greenland has started to melt, and so has the glaciers of Himalaya; should the warming continue, forty percent of all species will be extinct before 2050.

The tipping points. This is the term the journalist Andreas Malm opts for to depict the critical situation in which life, all life, is at stake. The tipping point is a location in time and space in which, literally speaking, the content of the chalice overflows. A condition of the Earth caused by Western civilization’s intensified consumption of fossil fuels; oil, coal, natural gas, emissions of methane.

The large discharges of climate gasses started after 1850, but the pivotal change took place as late as 1976-1977. The temperature rose by 0,3 degrees, and 0,2 degrees in the decades that followed. Since 2000 the rate has increased even more, between 1990 and 1999 it was 1 percent, between 2000 and 2004, it was 3 percent.

And now the phenomenon is moving fast, faster than the IPCC (the UNs Climate Panel) can count and faster than anybody could expect. The capacity of Nature to absorb the emissions of gasses is effete, something that was expected to happen at the end of this century. The debilitation is caused by the ecosystems of the world organizing critically, reaching the breaking point. Instead of adjusting gradually to new conditions, the ecosystems collapse. Like the pyramid of a heap of sand that may be piled higher and higher, but with another grain of sand falls.

All climate researchers would not agree with the description of the situation as a pyramid of sand. The IPCC, as of recent awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, has for long abstained from doing so.

Andreas Malm’s book is a monumental referential work of the amassed research now proclaiming the Earth to be in a state of emergency. Not because of the environmental destruction, that since half a century has been put on the agenda by investigators, free thinkers and environmental organizations; but solely due to climate change.

Malm goes about his task properly; beginning with the birth of life; definition, principle, explaining the circle of coal, the great role of blue green algae, the photosynthesis. The reader is brought on an expedition of epochs and eons, and taken on a journey through the revolution of oxygen, the cambric revolution, i.e. when animals appear, and earlier events of mass extinction on Earth.

It is a somewhat brushy educational tour entertained by telescope and microscope, in a jungle where the processes, the concepts, the metaphors from various researchers’ worlds of imagery pile up. Now it is illuminating, now it is a bit confusing.

Some words are key to the theme. Biosphere, referrals, cyclic causality, spandrels, liminality; the concepts give witness to a victory over an outdated view of nature that has impeded insights, and, thus, has contributed to the mistaken prognosis of the IPCC. It is not recommendable to count species just separately; each species must be considered in relation to other species. It is wanting to regard ecosystems as separate, or to miss the fact that organisms are fellow creators of the environment. The progression of nature cannot be understood as exclusively gradual, it develops in leaps, and collapses in landslides.

Malm’s book slows down the discussion simultaneously as it raises the level of emergency. It says: Let us start from the beginning and not exclude how deep the climate crisis is entrenched in our perceptions of life itself. It draws in the reader to share the fascination for natural science and the climate struggle on the side of the critical Marxist-Darwinists Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Levins and Richard Lewontins, writers who see the development as more interacting with the surroundings compared to the view of Richard Dawkin and his adapting genes.

Yes, I am on board. But not at any price. Not to the price of overlooking the research tradition that succeeded to zoom in both socially and theoretically, and, thus, was able to pose even broader and sharper critique. Carolyn Merchant, Evelyn Fox Keller, Sandra Harding have shown how the old mechanist view of nature got a head start with Francis Bacon’s misogynist metaphors in the 17th century and how it replaced an earlier cosmic view of nature. In fact, this cosmic view resembles the approach Malm introduces as new and disregarded, an outlook that was early understood by non-European cultures as the web of life. Everything’s connection to everything else.

The Nobel prize discovery 1983 of the complex organization of the DNA-molecule (1948) by Barbara McClintock, for many years shut out by her fellow research colleagues; the interaction between the DNA-molecule and the cell, the organism and the environment outside the organism, is for instance missing in Malm’s reasoning, despite the finding being key to the argument. Also, the metaphors seem unsuspectedly masculine coded; thorn apples, battle fields, battles, attacks, missiles and the examples of cars, producers, and factories.

Perhaps Miss Universe’s Profesora (Catti Brandelius of Sweden) would have emitted her famous statement: “Why this, my mama may have told you.” But, the protagonists in Malms’ book are not mothers, or even men and women. The homo social world, with its production methods, social relations, technology, and nature view, is not the subject of contemplation. Rather, it is to be saved by the masculinity that created it and its climate crisis. Is it possible? Desirable? Sustainable?

Malm’s work is powerful, yet mysterious; if the house is on fire, if a pyromaniac is residing in the cellar and all payable research says that the flames may start at any time, why get lost in the biospheric brushwood? And if the situation is already surprising us, if the collapse of the Greenland ice threatens to raise the sea levels by seven metres, and national emergency is called for at this instance, why not be thoroughly power critical?

In Malm’s book the world remains in the hands of the patriarchal culture. It is a divided world, and a great risk. Andreas Malm promises to write another volume, a sequel, in 2008. In the meantime, may no threshold be reached, no grain of sand be the precipitating one. Biogeochemists in panels and parliament – organize. If most is not done now, chances are it will be too late.

• Andreas Malm, Det är vår bestämda uppfattning att om ingenting görs nu kommer det att vara försent, Stockholm: Atlas 2007 [Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming by Andreas Malm, Verso 2014]

Originally published in Aftonbladet Culture 2nd of November 2007, translated from the Swedish 29 May 2019

©Arimneste Anima Museum #8

Den röda hunden


Orson Welles film The Stranger från 1946 bearbetar svindleriets problematik i gestalt av nazisten på flykt undan rättvisan; när det passar honom beter han sig som vanliga människor, och gör på så vis bedrägeriet svårupptäckt. Om filmens huvudsakliga tema känns igen finns andra aspekter som gör den till ett unikt historiskt verk: första Hollywoodfilm (läs kommersiella film) att visa dokumentära bilder av nazisternas brott mot mänskligheten; tidigt inpass mot den omhuldade myten om nazisternas djurvänlighet.

Via Sydamerika flyr nazisten till USA där han skaffar sig amerikansk identitet samt en fru från en välbärgad och välsedd juristfamilj: Mary. Med Mary och hennes hus följer även en hund: Red. Hunden Red lever i frihet hos sin matmor: van att resa sig på två ben och hälsa, tilldelas munsbitar vid middagsbordet, ströva fritt i omgivningarna. Men efter matmors giftermål förändras hundens tillvaro. Husets herre – den kamouflerade nazisten – ger order om hunden: ”På natten får han sova i källaren. På dagen ska han vara kopplad.”



Behandlingen att koppla på dagen och fängsla på natten drabbar hunden men är också ett indirekt hot mot makan tillika hundens matmor. Mary är ovetande om makens dubbla identitet och bakgrund men protesterar: ”Han [hunden] har aldrig varit instängd under hela sitt liv. Jag tror inte på att behandla hundar som fångar. Och Red är min hund.” Maken-nazisten replikerar med att hänvisa till det uråldriga husslavssystemet (famulus): ”Och du är min fru.” Det vill säga: uråldrigt sett ska hon som maka lyda under maken. För säkerhets skull förtydligar han: ”Snälla Mary, jag vet vad som är bäst.”



Självfallet vet nazisten vad som är bäst för honom därmed inte för andra. Men vid det laget har förklädnaden börjat falla: under en akademisk konversation lyckas han inte avhålla sig från att förneka den judiske filosofen Karl Marx tyska hemhörighet. Dessutom irriteras han alltmer av hunden Red; svårmanipulerad har hunden börjat larma om att en människa ligger begraven i husets trädgård. Relationen mellan husse och hund slutar som anat illa. Hunden Red spelar sig själv i dramat, men förmedlar även symbolik: Hunden leder tankarna till motstånd i allmänhet, kanske rött som i socialistiskt, men även till hur kategorin djur blev offer i de steg-för-steg-processer som gjorde nazisternas brott möjliga.



Mordet på hunden Red upptäcks av Reds vän, Marys bror Noah, som rapporterar till en Mr Wilson från de allierades brottskommission [Allied War Crimes Commission]. Mr Wilson visar sig till fullo införstådd med sambandet mellan mord på djur, och mord på människor: ”Vad säger lagen om ett sådant här mord – är det samma sak som att döda en människa? Det borde det vara. Det är lika illa.” Varför? Nazisten vet: ”Mord blir en kedja, en länk leder till nästa, tills öglan dras åt.”

Analysen av mordet på hunden Red sätter utredaren på spåret; Wilson återupptar och slutför den fallna hundens avslöjande av nazisten. Mary däremot är undergivet lojal trots eller på grund av förlusten av Red och förmår inte ändra uppfattning om sin make; när hon genom dokumentation delges nazisternas brott hamnar hon i förnekelse. Wilson vet vad han gör: ”Nu har hon fakta. Hon förmår inte erkänna dem, de är så fasansfulla. Vi har dock en allierad och det är hennes undermedvetna.”

I det undermedvetna pockar Marys sanningsträngtan på uppmärksamhet; en trängtan som inte ger sig. Nazisten däremot är i avsaknad av dito lidelse, här finns bara tomhet, lögner. Efter en fåfäng och dramatisk flykt, brotten omöjliga att sona, är tiden inne för justis.


  • The Stranger [Främlingen] (1946), manus Anthony Veiller, Orson Welles, John Huston, Victor Trivas, i regi av Orson Welles, med Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, Orson Welles, Red


  • Reklamannons för The Stranger (1946)
  • Red hälsar i kyrkan på Mary (Loretta Young), Marys bror Noah (Richard Long) och far Judge Longstreet (Philip Merivale).
  • Nazisten (Orson Welles) försöker sparka bort Red.
  • Noah och utredaren Mr Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) får upp spåret efter nazisten genom att ta mordet på Red på allvar.

© Arimneste Anima Museum # 16

The Hope That Never Fades


A Biography of a Grandfather and his Vienna

Machatunim, a library of German and French novels, illustrated art books, works of the ancient Greeks, translations of the Russians classics, and a prostate surgery. This is the list of reasons which explains why the maternal grandparents of Peter Singer, philosopher at Princeton, one of the discoverers of late modern animal ethics, did not make an attempt to flee from Nazi Germany and Europe. Machatunim is Yiddisch for the relationship between the respective parents of a married couple. The fact that there exists a specific word is a testament to the Jewish culture’s love of family and relatives; you do not abandon your next of kin when the situation becomes precarious.

Or, for that matter, forsake your cherished library. Singer’s grandparents, Amalie Oppenheim and David Oppenheim, having lived in Vienna for most of their lives, simply could not imagine that they would become persecuted or deported. David Oppenheim, decorated with war medals following his service on the German side in World War I, could, understandably, not. The word for the evening and night between 9th and 10th of November 1938, ‘Reichkristallnacht’, is a Nazi euphemism for the action when people were murdered, synagogues burned down, businesses destroyed, homes plundered, and thousands of people were sent to the concentration camps of Dachau. The pretext for the action was the killing of a Nazi embassy official in Paris, by the seventeen year old Herschel Grynszpan revolting against the anti-Semitic politics and pogroms.

The night was followed by professional bans, boycotts of businesses, harassments in the streets, deportations. Thereafter it was clear that emigration must be the route to survival. Yet Amalie Oppenheim and David Oppenheim remained. They belonged to the older generation of Vienna, centre of Europe during the Habsburg era, a city which had given equal rights also to Jews and had welcomed Jews immigrating from Eastern Europe. In actuality, the Jewish intellectual culture thrived, merging fruitfully with the traditional Austrian ditto. Opera houses and theatres played for full houses, socially progressive conversations and disputes could be heard everywhere at food stalls, cafés, and restaurants. In Austria, especially in Vienna, and in contrast to Germany where Jews were kept from holding central positions, Jews managed the steel corporations, built the railroads, established banks, owned many of the city’s shops, edited the morning papers, founded hospitals, and made up the majority in the corps of physicians. Despite the everyday anti-Semitism, Jews also dominated Vienna’s culture and politics; in 1919 the city became the first in the world with a social democratic majority, including several Jewish politicians.

In Pushing Time Away, My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna, Granta books 2004, Peter Singer tracks his grandparents at the very site in Europe. Through letters, articles, and interviews with still living friends, their life and work is narrated, foremost the grandfather’s, together with the politics of the day, and together with Singer’s own thoughts about himself and his grandfather. Amalie Oppenheim, brilliant student of natural sciences, was encouraged to continue at the university. David Oppenheim, classical philologist, and professor, became, during the decades that preceded the Nazi takeover, one in Sigmund Freud’s inner circle and a member of Psychoanalysis’ editorial board. In collaboration with Freud, David Oppenheim authored a book about symbolism in folk tales; regretfully it was not published as David left Freud for the psychiatrist Alfred Adler’s intellectually more open attitude. Adler’s theories stood out as sympathetic; the feeling of togetherness was as strong a motivational power as sexuality; every individual is frail and possessed by complexes; together with fellow human beings emotions of inferiority may be combatted.

Amalie Oppenheim and David Oppenheim engaged in intellectual and moral issues concerning human nature. Both were tolerant to human sexuality and fell in love with and had erotic relations with both women and men. David Oppenheim’s outlook became feminist oriented and socialist sympathetic, in opposition to the Jewish tradition but with universal core values. Characteristic is David Oppenheim’s reaction when he is informed about the high status his children has gained as whites in their new country, Australia: ‘[A]nyone who, having themselves been reduced to a pariah, finds consolation in regarding someone else as still lower, basically sanctions what is done to him.’ Peter Singer’s reflections on a grandfather he never got the opportunity to meet are indeed sincere, however the critique of the decision to stay in Vienna seems a bit harsh; it is not difficult to understand reluctance to start anew in a foreign country. It was in Vienna Amelie Oppenheim and David Oppenheim had given their all and it was here they wanted to stay until the end.

More difficult to understand is why Amalie Oppenheim’s life is left in the shadows. Perhaps the reason is that Amalie Oppenheim survived the deportation to Theresienstadt while her husband did not; in that case, this explains but does not justify the circumscription in focus. In 1942, the most celebrated of Vienna’s artists, writers, musicians, war veterans were sent to Theresienstadt to deceive them, the world, and the International Red Cross with a Potemkin façade; in the propaganda, Theresienstadt was presented as ‘the paradise ghetto’. When having nearly reached the destination, sixty kilometres outside of Prague, the Oppenheim’s belongings were confiscated along with David Oppenheim’s insulin for diabetes. Behind the deftly arranged inspections, behind the deceitful frontage, in the reality of the ghetto, people were dying of illnesses and hunger or they were, in the deceptive language of the Nazis, ‘transferred’ to the death camps of Auschwitz.

The fate of the Oppenheim’s, and the fate of Jewish Vienna, is narrated by Singer as a tragedy, a moral collapse. From humanism, faith in education and social equality, to eradication. The values the Oppenheim’s so truthfully believed in were defeated; from having laid the foundation of the social reformist rule of Vienna and having saturated much of the city’s open and tolerant cultural climate, these values were replaced by the worst, a fascism more terrible than ever; the fascism that burns books rather than discusses the content. ‘Red Vienna’, Singer says, was not in time to build a societal tradition so unfaltering that nobody would want an authoritarian rule.

Peter Singer’s urgent biography ends on an optimistic note. The racism which downgraded Amalie Oppenheim and David Oppenheim, and which murdered David Oppenheim and millions of others, was eventually rejected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The International Criminal Court was installed for the purpose of condemning genocide and crimes against humanity, no nation in the world embraces racism openly. Although mass murder since the second world war was and still is enacted, and although the work for human rights is slow, it is equal values that is the future.

Published in Swedish 19 November 2007 in Tidningen Kulturen no 39.

© Arimneste Anima Museum # 15

Bessie Head



Två romaner som inspirerat senare författares alster till den grad att de nästintill försvunnit ur romanhistorien. Berättelser så inflytelserika att inte många känner till dem. Studier i natur och känsloliv, skildringar under huden på stolta män, existentiella moraliska maskulinitetssagor. Den första mot bakgrund av ekologiska villkor och den andra med fokus på sociala rangeringar.

Uppvuxen med åtskillnadslagar och stamkonventioner och efter att ha avtjänat ett politiskt fängelsestraff söker sig huvudpersonen Makhaya i When Rain Clouds Gather, på svenska När regnmolnen hopas, till det låglänta grannlandet i norr. Trots att månaden är juni och köldvinter råder lyckas han som flykting korsa gränsen – och äntligen bli fri under himlavalvet! Men är det nya landet mindre fördomsfullt än det han lämnat?

I byn ger kvinnorna inte mycket för Makhayas vänliga uppsyn. Erfarenheten säger dem att mäns godhet i första hand handlar om att främja egna syften. Kvinnornas bemötande förargar Makhaya: Vad är deras misstro annat än ondska sprungen ur fattigdom och förtryck, en tragisk inskränkthet som imploderar den afrikanska kontinenten, mentaliteten hos förbittrade som vore han inget annat än sina könsorgan? Han som i barndomen revolterat mot stamregeln som gav honom mer värde än sin syster! Han som vägrat att gifta sig och skaffa barn i ett land med lagstadgade falska föreställningar om människors olika värde! Ska han nu, ohörd, inrangeras bland manschauvinisterna?

Männen sköter boskapen som betar bland de lågväxande träden och kvinnorna utför jordbruksarbetet från solens uppgång tills mörkret får himlen att lysa av stjärnor. Makhaya erbjuds sängplats hos Dinorego den solitäre, vänskap med Mma-Millipede den ålderstigna, och dito med Gilbert, en inflyttad brittisk socialist. Frustrationen och hämndlystnaden sjunker undan när han upptäcker att Gilbert i likhet med honom själv högaktar generositet och samarbete. Snart förenas de båda i kamp mot boskapsspekulatörer och andra aktörer ovilliga till förändring.

Främst ägnar de sig åt att övertyga byn om att hägna in boskapen och föda den på spannmål, att idka tobaksodling för avsalu och att äga i samfällighet. Med reformer kan byborna göra sig mindre utsatta för torkan, översvämningarna och svälten som följer av köttätandets ensidiga diet; boskapens idoga betande av markens växtlighet; markförstörelsen, hungern och felnäringen som drabbar de unga värst.

Men litet kan göras åt att det är molnen, blixtarna och det efterlängtade regnet som avgör, förstör eller förlöser människornas slit med djuren och jorden. Naturen, gräsarterna, gamarna, taggbuskarna, det vita gräsets förhållande till människornas och djurens behov att föda sig och överleva.

Även romanen Maru, en saga som skriven för att filmas, utgår från funderingar och känslor omfattade av två män. Maru, välsignad med direkt förbindelse mellan sina tankar och marken under fötterna, vet att han en dag och på grund av sin svartsjuka, kommer att vilja göra sig av med Moleka, rivalen. Tills dess föredrar han att verka utan att synas och att säkra sin makt genom att hantera och muta folket i byn.

I byn råder outtalade regler för status och livsvillkor. Barnens handgripligheter på skolgården synliggör en systematisk ringaktning som upprätthålls av barnens föräldrar och som fanns i världen ”till och med innan den vite mannen mötte för många som såg annorlunda ut och blev universellt ogillad för sin livsinställning”. En grupp på en kontinent ser ned på en annan grupp på en annan kontinent som ser ned på en tredje. En skammens nedåtriktade terapi: Hursomhelst är jag inte en sådan som de.

Flickan Margaret får utstå spottet och nypen och konservburkarna skramlande efter sig på skolrasten. Margaret som hittades bredvid sin döda mor av en missionärs fru som gav flickan sitt namn och uppfostrade henne till självklar likvärdighet – varje dörr går att öppna och rummen att fylla med egna bestämmelser! En dag kommer du att vara till nytta för ditt folk! ”Ty sanningen är att de som spottar på de föregivet underlägsna är jordens verkligt låga eftersom anständiga människor inte beter sig så.”

Med litteraturen som främsta umgänge odlar Margaret sitt sunda förnuft och sitt sinne för logik, förmågor som ger henne kontroll över det enda hon är garanterad att förfoga över: sina tankar och sin välvilja. Margarets höga betyg och adoptivmoderns kontakter ger henne arbete som lärare i byskolan. Dessvärre, och som förväntat, chockas och förvirras rektorn, kollegorna, eleverna, männen av Margarets samtidigheter. Margarets hud och röst och elegans, hennes blick, hennes närapå perfekta accent och hållning.

Rektorn, en dickensk Uriah Heep-figur, är snabb att värja sig mot nykomlingen. Om inte lärarinnans grupptillhörighet kan vändas mot henne så kan könstillhörigheten: Lärarinnan vägrar dölja att hon av födsel tillhör de lägsta bland folket i byn! Lärarinnan vägrar skyla över att hon hör till en skara som ingen normal vill se existera annat än som slavar och kuvade hundar! Hur ska inte elevernas föräldrar komma att reagera! Rektorn känner sig rättfärdigad att hitta (på) ett misstag möjligt att pådyvla nykomlingen.

Läraren Dikeledi däremot, dotter till en uppsatt man i byn och oförstående inför kniv-i-ryggen-politik, förtjusas av sin nya kollega. Ingenting med Margaret passar med något annat så vad mer av spännande egenskaper finns där att avtäcka? Själv skulle Dikeledi inte våga stå upp som Margaret när hon utan minsta skam låter proklamera sitt ursprung inför rektorn. Eller som Margaret våga visa adoptivmoderns teckning av den döda modern betitlad ”Hon ser ut som en gudinna”.

Men kanske undervärderar Dikeledi det egna kuraget? Och sin egen förståelse för vad pådyvlad skam kan innebära? ”Ingen förtryckare tror att han förtrycker. Han påstår alltid att han behandlar sina slavar väl. Han säger aldrig att det inte borde finnas några slavar.” Dikeledi går till faderns hus och betalar utan knussel två av faderns slavar reguljär månadslön mot att de, likaså utan knussel, klär sig väl, äter medelst etikett samt under tystnad och med högburet huvud stegar omkring i byn.

Margarets vänskap med ansedda kollegan Dikeledi och Margarets respektfulla behandling av sina medmänniskor säkrar föräldrarnas tillit – trots rektorns konspirationer. Men saker och ting kompliceras när Margaret träffar Dikeledis pojkvän Moleka och de båda faller för varandra. Och när dessutom Maru faller för Margaret.

Den drabbade Moleka, ivrig att göra intryck, bjuder in byns lägst aktade till fest under vilken han demonstrativt äter med samma gafflar och från samma tallrikar som gästerna. Byns reaktion låter inte vänta på sig, och talet hörs långväga: Molekas ödmjukhet är ytlig! Vore det inte för Margaret skulle Moleka ha tillbringat kvällen med sina många älskarinnor!

Endast rivalen Maru imponeras – och tar avstånd: Jag är inte som du, Moleka. Jag äger dem fortfarande som slavar. De sköter mina etthundratusen kor. De sover på marken. Vad händer när de får höra att de blir behandlade som jämlikar?

Ja, vad blir det av Molekas vision? Den som inspirerats av Margarets existens och hållning? Vad händer när dörrar slås upp och ingen – inte heller byns kor och getter – utgör slav åt någon annan? När de undertryckta nåtts av budskapet? När ilskan över sekel av tyranni och nedvärdering inte längre är möjlig att hålla tillbaka.

Bessie Heads författarskap rymmer bland annat även självbiografin A Question of Power från 1974, en samling kortprosa med fokus på afrikanska kvinnors erfarenheter betitlad The Collector of Treasures från 1977 och ett porträtt av en by med intervjuer och anteckningar om händelser från hundra år tillbaka i tiden: Serowe, Village of the Rain Wind publicerad 1981.


  • Bessie Head, When Rain Clouds Gather, London: Gollancz, 1968
  • Bessie Head, När regnmolnen hopas, översättning av Leif Dupré, Stockholm: Askild & Kärnekull, 1984
  • Bessie Head, Maru, London: Gollancz, 1971


Bild: When Rain Clouds Gather & Maru, introduced by Helen Oyeyemi, London: Virago Press, 2010


© Arimneste Anima Museum # 15

Olympe de Gouges



Historical Amnesia and Progression

The historic opening of academia in Europe, to a large extent driven by social movements, making attendance possible for the categories of women, people of enslaved and manual labouring descent, other categorized groups, and dissenters/non-compliers, will continue to revolutionize knowledge and research by transforming traditionally conceived notions of epistemology, methodology, and the history of science. Still, there are far-reaching perspectives that remain to be generally embraced as urgent areas for research. In this article, such an issue is highlighted by focusing on texts by a historical person who was defamed and convicted because she explored topics in her time that were subjected to formal or informal censorship; women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, and the human – non-human relationship. I find it fruitful to use the concept ‘category of women’ and/or ‘female category’ to emphasize that the term woman has existed and exists as a legal category maintained by influential societal forces and institutions. Of specific relevance to my topic are the circumstances during the French Revolution when the binary and hierarchical classifying of people according to sex and gender was continuously utilized to formally exclude people in the female category from active citizenship and political organizing.

‘But the conservative avoided her and her book as social plagues. Many people would not even look at what she had written. Satisfied with the old-fashioned way of treating the subjects therein discussed, they would not run the risk of finding out that they were wrong,’ said Elizabeth Robins Pennell in her book Life of Mary Wollstonecraft (Robins Pennell 1884: 173). Robins Pennell was referring to Mary Wollstonecraft, but the same could be said about Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793). Olympe de Gouges wrote The Rights of Woman (Les droits de la femme) containing the Declaration on Woman and the Female Citizen (Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne) in 1791 and Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman 1792. Perhaps the two political philosophers met in Paris during the French revolution: Wollstonecraft on a long visit from England, and de Gouges as a playwright journeying from one social class to another in the big city. Or did they know of each other from hearsay? The way they had heard about the North American Attakullakulla’s questioning of ‘the imbalance, disorder, and violence of white colonial society’ when he negotiated with the British: ‘Where are your women?’ (Moore, Brooks and Wigginton 2012: 179). And, perhaps, in the way the two literary activists embraced the universal humanist declaration stated by the chairperson of the Cherokee Women’s Council Nanye’his, echoing across the revolutionary Atlantic world, to the white men in 1781: ‘[W]e are your mothers. This peace must last forever. Let your women’s sons be ours, and let our sons be yours. Let your women hear our words’ (Moore, Brooks and Wigginton 2012: 180). And, perhaps, in the way de Gouges had read Hannah More’s long anti-racist poem Slavery from 1788:’ Does then th’ immortal principle within / Change with the casual colour of a skin?’ (Moore, Brooks and Wigginton 2012: 213).

Which were the possible contacts and philosophical trajectories of the European proto-feminists Wollstonecraft and de Gouges? Besides Lisa L. Moore’s, Joanna Brooks’ and Caroline Wigginton’s anthology Transatlantic Feminisms in the Age of Revolutions, not many have employed such a perspective. And, if one can speak of a body of Swedish Wollstonecraft-research, one can hardly do so in respect to de Gouges. The Swedish Library catalogue Libris’ list of titles gives a hint of the difference in attention: 8 titles in Swedish (of in total 49) for de Gouges, and 119 titles in Swedish (of in total 970) for Wollstonecraft. That is, almost fifteen times more interest for Wollstonecraft compared with de Gouges. What does this difference imply? That English nowadays is the academic language of priority and that the French language (and the Swedish language) is not? That most scholars prefer to use sources and research questions that can be reflected upon and published in English, thereby leading to increased chances of reaching more readers and getting more citations? Perhaps, but there are also other answers.

Probably the earliest text in Swedish about Olympe de Gouges (by a women’s rights champion) was written by Ellen Hagen (Hagen 1925). De Gouges’ Declaration on the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen has been translated into the Swedish language and published a few times, starting in the 1970s (Schimanski 1972; Ambjörnsson and Eriksson 1998; Österholm 2006). In our time, Kim West has translated the foreword to de Gouges’ play L’esclavage des nègres (Gouges 1789/2012) and I have translated a paragraph often left out both in Swedish and in English translations of de Gouges’ Rights of Woman (Gålmark 2013: 19; 2016: 17−18). De Gouges’ other texts, including her dramas, have not been published in Swedish. In recent years, magazine articles have been published about Olympe de Gouges in Swedish (Jarlsbo 2007; Kåreland 2010; Gålmark 2016b), however, in recently published Swedish collections of historical political key texts on women’s gender and sexuality, de Gouges’ Rights of Woman is missing.

A contributing factor to why de Gouges is not included in the Swedish canon of European gender history today may be that de Gouges’ texts do not suggest a given reading. The political publications – essays, pamphlets, posters – are both personal and political, inserted with short and amusing scenes taken from de Gouges’ own life. The texts appear naturalistic, freely created, full of temperament. The richness of associations, suggestions, didactic, and polemical points makes them entertaining – and difficult to interpret. However, there is a unique Olympe de Gouges-tone and a ditto style. Janie Venpée suggests that de Gouges’ political writing may be read as a theatre script of the author’s life drama (Venpée 1999). In Olympe de Gouges’ pamphlets, she is the hyper-talented and engaged author acting in a world in flames. In her Declaration… she is the expert of state with the constitution in her hand, a brilliant paraphrase of the Declaration of Human Rights from 1789, which in 1791, and to de Gouges’ disappointment, did not include people in the category of woman, people in the slave category, nor did it include men with a low income, male servants, or men under the age of 25.

Olympe de Gouges’ political texts oscillate; sometimes they are progressive, sometimes conservative; often they are marked by her autodidactic education of classical texts. Her work pushes, slows down, and evolves in relation to the revolutionary process. To read a proposition by Olympe de Gouges is to wait for the next text and the next event. It is telling that her Rights of Woman contains a post-script written from the contemporary cab (a horse-drawn carriage). In opposition to the rules of patriarchal society she moves around freely; in various rooms, and categories, by turns profound, by turns polemic and ironic; between the theatre and the home; between the city and the countryside; between dramas and pamphlets; marginalization and fame; slander and recognition. Between her ‘many small mistakes’ and her subsequent revisions (Gålmark 2016a: 9).

The French language was de Gouges’ second language after Occitan (a distinctive Southern French language group) and de Gouges was basically self-taught. Above all, de Gouges was enfant naturel, a child of nature, only in part born within marriage (according to de Gouges: not acknowledged by her father) and as such legally recognized during the French revolution due to activist politics from, among others, de Gouges herself. Olympe de Gouges’ fearless political ambition was not a coincidence; she held the distinct opinion that the voice of a human being is not to be corrected. Wrongs and mistakes belong to human nature – and nature is wonderful. The human being, as the most diverse and varied in colour, is the most beautiful animal; however, when the ‘human’ is perceived to be ‘a white man,’ the human is transformed into ‘the most stupid animal’, in French, ’Le plus sot animal’ (Gålmark 2013: 19).

Here is where we get to the heart of the matter: Olympe de Gouges’ use of nature as an inspiration for a philosophy and politics of equality: Nature and animals do not suggest divergent rights for men and women; nature does not suggest slavery of human beings; nature is richer and more diverse; and, furthermore, it is in general impossible to distinguish the sex of an animal only by looking at the exterior form. De Gouges points to the doubtfulness in using simple arguments about animals and nature in disputes over human relations; however, she does not hesitate in her over-arching view: Nature shudders before slavery of all sorts. In relation to the wealthy colonizers of her time, de Gouges appears fearless in her political philosophy. She picks holes in the arguments of the slave owners in the assemblies of politics, in cultural forums, in the homes, on the ships, or on the plantations on other continents, proclaiming that the reason for the existence of slavery is not found in Nature, but in the economic interests of the colonizers. Prior to the outbreak of the revolution, Olympe de Gouges is the only person in the female category who has the courage to accuse plutocrats and colonists of their doings; most likely she is the first writer to use the word capitalist (Gålmark 2016a: 111).

Olympe de Gouges declares: ’I am an unparalleled animal. I am neither man nor woman, I have the characteristics of both vanity and courage’ (Gålmark 2013: 21). With just a few sentences, de Gouges touches upon later times’ humanist discussions about the theory of evolution, for instance Edith Södergran’s stanza in ‘Vierge moderne’ (Hästbacka, Johansson and Johansson 2016), and Jacques Derrida’s ‘L’animal que donc je suis’ (Derrida and Mallet 2008). Her paragraph recognizes, affirms, and refuses the categories. De Gouges was keen on emphasizing her affiliation to the female category, declaring: ‘it is a woman who poses the question’ (Cole 2011: Appendix 5); however, she also expressed opposition to what we today would call a cis-normative gender perception (a socially constructed normal female body), and a critique of the, even today, prevailing making invisible of mankind’s residence in Metazoa (the whole crowd).

To interfere with the binary categories of gender order, and to question racism and the excluding human definitions, is provocative also in our time. In translations of Olympe de Gouges’ texts, the paragraphs where she employs the word animal to assert equality are often left out – and many of the readings of her work consider her texts paradoxical. However, if an interpretation of inclusion is opted for, de Gouges’ animal- and nature discourse becomes logical and comprehensible. Indeed, with an animal-embracing interpretation, based in a resistance to the ancient ideal being/citizen as equal to the exterior form of a white able-bodied privileged male human (anthro-androcentrism, Gålmark 2005), the view is strengthened of de Gouges as a consistent justice-aiming and truth-endeavouring author and proto-feminist ahead of her time.

Although Olympe de Gouges’ journey upwards on the class ladder proved successful, it was continuously met with problems. During her most prolific time as an author and playwright de Gouges was subjected to sabotage, slander, and physical attacks. According to Janie Venpée, de Gouges was the only woman (human in the female category) during the revolution who was prosecuted – and sentenced – with reference to the content of her publications (Venpée 1999). The disparagement of Olympe de Gouges continued after her execution. In patriarchally marked depictions of the French revolution, de Gouges was heckled by the most prestigious of French male historians – Bretonne, Michelet, Guillois, the brothers Goncourt – in similar wordings as the male revolutionaries used when de Gouges lived. Predictably, the politically constructed female category was often left out in standard narrations and interpretations of the French revolution, not the least in Swedish. Although the category of women had asserted itself as a revolutionary protagonist, it was perceived as a force that hindered the revolution, and thus became marginalized, or overlooked. And this although the exclusion, in the case of Olympe de Gouges the extinction, took place during the terror laws of the Republic. As we know, the majority of the executed were not aristocrats, but male craftsmen, poor people, women of all social classes, and famous and cherished revolutionaries of a different political leaning than the one of the prevailing regimes.

The misunderstandings of de Gouges became predominant, even though de Gouges’ critique predicted the Republic’s suicide (the violence against their own), and even though de Gouges died without imagining that her literary work could be read as something else than truly revolutionary. It was not until over a hundred years later that de Gouges obtained redress as a literary activist, by the feminist and socialist Léopold Lacour’s portrait Trois femmes de la Révolution, les origines du féminisme contemporain. It should be noted that Lacour unfortunately did not manage to appreciate Olympe de Gouges’ literary aesthetics. Lacour mentions possible translations of his book into Swedish and Norwegian; however, the book seems never to have been translated (Lacour 1900). In the Libris-catalogue, a copy of the book from the French edition was received by the Swedish National Library (The Royal Library) over a half century (1956) after the book was published in 1900.

Most likely, the lack of success for Lacour’s book contributed to the, even today, minimal interest in Olympe de Gouges in Swedish. Lacour’s title contains the word feminism, used by Frida Stéenhoff three years later, in Feminismens moral. What had happened if Lacour’s portrait of de Gouges had been widely read in Swedish? Had the debate over the rights of women and the feminist movement progressed earlier if it had been possible to read Stéenhoff in dialogue with Lacour? If the image of the French revolution’s people in the category of woman had appeared more favourably and less burdened with guilt? If it had been known that the French feminist of the 19th century, the labour activist and editor Jeanne Deroin – before Léopold Lacour published his book – asserted the women’s rights heritage of Olympe de Gouges and the French revolution? (Scott 1996: 86; Gordon and Cross 1996: 137–139, 149).

In a radio program in Swedish from 2003 with invited scholars, Mary Wollstonecraft is discussed as the ‘creator of the first feminist manifesto’ (Sveriges Radio 2003). The word manifesto may be defined in various ways; and titles without the word may be perceived as manifestoes, for instance feminist texts by Qasim Amin (1893), He-Yin Zhen (1903), Elsa Laula Renberg (1904) Luisa Capetillo (1911), Mina Loy (1914). Alternatively, feminist texts may contain the word manifesto: Valerie Solana’s Scum Manifesto (1969), Black Women’s Manifesto (1970), Radicalesbian Manifesto (1973), Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (1984), Queer Nation Manifesto (1990), Emi Koyama’s Trans Manifesto (2001), Alison Kafer’s Crip Manifesto for Social Justice (2013/17). However, in the context of the 18th century, yet holding Wollstonecraft in high esteem, for those who have read Olympe de Gouges’ Declaration of the Rights of Woman with its evident form of public announcement, political programme or speech, there is little doubt who wrote the first European women’s rights manifesto of that period.

It seems curious that a proto-feminist of animal-defending and anti-racist leanings, for long slandered due to her revolt against the social role for people in the female category, would be perceived as too transformative in relation to the discussions of today. However, the image and preconceived notions of a person’s oeuvre may become so established that they remain so despite facts and accessible primary sources. A name or a movement may lack prestige of association and become affected by conservatism due to earlier investments in research. This is not remarkable; the academic world, as we know, often prefers referring to the already established and researched. To relate to earlier works, and to highlight the not yet accepted, or forgotten, or made invisible, or defamed, ought to give, but does not always give the same prestige as the studying of aspects of the established. Rather, such endeavours may meet obstruction, a circumstance not unfamiliar to gender scholars.

Why, there is reason for asking: How to recognize themes that enter the stage after one’s own ideas have been accepted as subjects of concern? How to evade hindering research questions that have been affected by historical amnesia and are perceived to dislodge established research? And when the patterns of perspectives expand borders for what traditionally is included in the humanities, in gender research, and historical research? (Regarding this matter, Maria Jönsson’s sentences, in Subjekt Södergran 2016: 90, are gratifying and worthy of imitation.) In an article in Tidskrift för genusvetenskap from 2010, Ulrika Dahl speaks of when the perspectives of intersectionality were introduced in Swedish; how a phenomenology of stopping emerged, aiming to conserve prevailing outlooks and power relations (Dahl 2010: 72). Dahl discusses the initial resistance against whiteness-studies; however, the tardiness in relation to new thoughts and transforming perspectives may be regarded as a general problem.

Which is why the lack of interest in other topics and social patterns other than the dominant ought to be acknowledged as a continuously existing phenomenon also in forums where it may be least expected. In contemporary texts in Swedish concerning the topic of future feminisms and feminist terminology, power-critical gender perspectives in relation to the ‘animal’ category are missing. Which are the possibilities for critical questions regarding humanity’s fellow non-human beings, including power-critical analysis of social and political constructed ‘animal’ and ‘nature’ categories in the politics and culture of human relations, historically and today? In what way does the revolutionary process take place for not yet established research questions within the humanities, and within gender research? And the problem I would like to discuss in an ulterior text: How may the process be criticized and changed in a constructive way?

An open-minded approach to feminism will, in my view, continue to push the humanities forward, becoming humane/ities, admitting the human being as queer, converging normality and non-normality into variation and difference. Such an insight will entail an understanding of the human being as the one agent power on planet Earth with the ethical responsibility to give space to every human being to bloom in whatever way s/he* wishes while also acknowledging, taking into consideration, respecting, and giving space to humanity’s fellow non-humans (other beings, and nature).

A wider feminist critique of the standard image of the French revolution would open for new interpretations, new questions and perspectives, and thereby more profound knowledge. A broader interest would also support the development of history as a field of study and education. Olympe de Gouges, and the historically defined women categories with their plethora of voices, discourses, travels, and self-images have for too long been disregarded in teachings both in schools and at universities.



Ambjörnsson, Ronny and Eriksson, Gunnar. Europeiska urkunder (ed) (1998) Stockholm: Natur och kultur.

Cole, John R. (2011) Between the Queen and the CabbyOlympe de Gouges’ Rights of Woman. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. Appendix.

Dahl, Ulrika (2010) Rapport från Vithetshavet. Tidskrift för genusvetenskap 31(1–2): 70−74.

Derrida, Jacques (2008) with Mallet, Marie-Louise (ed) The Animal That Therefore I Am. New York: Fordham University Press.

Gordon, Felicia and Cross, Máire (1996) Early French Feminisms 18301940: A Passion for Liberty. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Gouges, Olympe de (1789/2012) Ur De svartas slaveri. Danius, Sara, Sjöholm, Cecilia and Wallenstein, Sven-Olov (ed) Aisthesis: estetikens historiadel 1. Stockholm: Thales.

Gålmark, Lisa (2005) Skönheter och odjur: en feministisk kritik av djur – människa-relationen. Stockholm and Göteborg: Makadam.

Gålmark, Lisa (2013) Antroandrocentrismens giljotin – exemplet Olympe de Gouges. Sosiologi idag 43(2): 9–36.

Gålmark, Lisa (2016a) Revolutionens rosenvatten: Olympe de Gouges feministiska humanism. Stockholm: Dela förlag. In English: Rosewater of the Revolution, Olympe de Gouges feminist humanism. Stockholm: Dela, 2020

Gålmark, Lisa (2016b) Revolutionens frihetsmän valde att tysta Olympe de Gouges. Feministiskt Perspektiv, November 20th.

Hagen, Ellen (1925) Pionjärer: Marie Olympe de Gouges och Markis de Condorcet gestalter från franska revolutionen. Tidevarvet 3(7): 4–5.

Hästbacka, Elisabeth, Johansson, Anders E. and Johansson, Anders S. (ed) (2016) Subjekt Södergran: om jagen i Edith Södergrans poesi. Stockholm and Göteborg: Makadam.

Jarlsbo, Jeana (2007) Feministen som slogs in i döden för slavarna. Svenska Dagbladet July 28th.

Jönsson, Maria (2016) Jaget som randupplevelse. Subjekt Södergran: om jagen i Edith Södergrans poesi. Stockholm och Göteborg: Makadam.

Kåreland, Lena (2010) Den franska kvinnosakens glödande elegant. Dixikon 12 maj 2010.

Lacour, Léopold (1900) Trois femmes de la Révolution: Olympe de Gouges, Théroigne de Méricourt, Rose Lacombe: les origines du féminisme contemporain [Tre kvinnor från revolutionen: Olympe de Gouges, Théroigne de Méricourt, Rose Lacombe: den moderna feminismens ursprung]. Paris: Libraire Plon, Plon-Nourrit.

Moore, Lisa L., Brooks, Joanna and Wigginton, Caroline (ed) (2012) Transatlantic Feminisms in the Age of Revolutions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Robins Pennell, Elizabeth (1884) Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. Boston: Roberts Brothers.

Schimanski, Folke (ed) (1972) Kvinnan och revolutionen: texter om 200 års kamp för kvinnlig frigörelse. Staffanstorp: Cavefors.

Scott, Joan Wallach (1996) Only Paradoxes to offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Sveriges Radio (2003) Mary Wollstonecraft. Filosofiska rummet 9 mars.

Venpée, Janie (1999) Performing Justice: The trials of Olympe de Gouges. Theatre Journal 51: 47–65.

Österholm, Hanna (ed) (2006) Feminismens idéer. Lund: Studentlitteratur.


Published in a shorter version: Gålmark, L., “Historical Amnesia and Progression – the Case of Olympe de Gouges” in Journal of Gender Research 39 (1):  107−114.

Photo: Liberté (1793) by Jeanne-Louise Nanine Vallain

© Arimneste Anima Museum #14





Advice for the Democratic Defence

Do holy principles exist? Is it possible to weigh principles against conditions? Alternately, combine them with parrying practice? In a foreword, the author Dalton Trumbo tells the story of how he, during the second world war, refrained from republishing his classic anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun from 1939, written in 1938. The decision was made after a Nazi supporter had sent Trumbo a fan letter thus proving that the message of the book risked getting employed in American Nazis’ propaganda for peace and pacifism.

Nazis as negotiators and peace-makers? Hardly the image most people have of the Nazis, but that is how they desired to appear both in Europe and the USA. Nations and persons and minorities refusing to comply with the dictates were, according to the Nazi propaganda, against peace and were depicted as guilty of invasions and persecutions. An infamous illogical politics: If you do not abide to us invading you, we are forced to invade you. If you do not abide to us obliterating you, we are forced to kill you. Everything is your own fault, we only wanted to keep “the peace”. In the USA, Nazis could be seen demonstrating in the streets of New York carrying signs with pacifist catch phrases stolen from the peace movement.

Yes, a passive USA had without question played into Hitler’s hands. Something Dalton Trumbo in the name of art and politics did not want to contribute to. The passing of time and events changed his book, and the political forces could mishandle the new readings. In this way, in the moment, self-censoring was the bestselling peace appeal’s destiny. In order not to turn into a useful idiot for the Nazis, Trumbo considered facts about the surrounding world. A decade later, following the end of the second world war, the political situation was different – and the novel was republished (1959 and 1970).

When Dalton Trumbo realized the state of his novel, he, as a political leftist, had already unveiled the intentions of the Nazis and their false message of peace. However, not everybody was as politically aware, erudite, and up-dated. Many people were fooled – or let themselves be fooled. Almost everyone may be deceived by deceitful main figures. Today, with strong reactionary forces around, armed with old and new strategies for old and hidden agendas, this is something to keep in mind. Not everything is what is seems to be, and that which seems to be, may in actuality be the case.

Whereupon today resting argumentative books become up to date. In Denying the Holocaust (1993), the American historian Deborah E. Lipstadt, recently on a visit to Sweden to present her new book Antisemitism Here and Now (2019), shows how right wing figures, since the second world war, have acted to present Nazism as conceivable and on the level. Lipstadt discovers a new tactic: At first, they made attempts to exculpate the Nazi German politics and the Holocaust, then, when the attempt failed, they started to deny the facts. Interestingly, she also finds that these extreme right people generally encompassed anti-feminism with outspoken misogyny as a central ingredient.

For her critical and sharply written book, Deborah Lipstadt was sued in Great Britain by denier and historian David Irving – a trial she won and related in her book History on Trial (2006), adapted for the screen by Mick Jackson as Denial (2016). Beyond the offending of the victims, Holocaust denials are in itself a strange phenomenon. How may one contradict something so certified and researched? How may anybody want to reveal themselves as fact resistant beyond all reason? Unfortunately, they know what they are doing, says Deborah Lipstadt. By repeating lies over and over again, they are able to plant seeds of doubt. In this way, they manage to create confusion simultaneously as they may be perceived as standing on “the other side of the debate”.

People less familiar with science and knowledge – the public, journalists, politicians – risk being blindsided, says Deborah Lipstadt, by these abusers of freedom of speech clad in well-tailored costumes and fashion blouses. In the Canadian documentary Prosecuting Evil (2018) by Barry Avrich, the Chief Justice of the trials against Einsatzgruppe, Benjamin B. Ferencz, tells about a Nazi officer’s humanitarian facade. It is a short sequence spotlighting the Nazi camouflage tactic. The officer’s pleasant manner facilitated the deceits more effectively. Look here, our intention is to take care of you; our strive is the absolute peace.

That is, peace under the boot heel. Fascism and Nazism’s modus operandi. The total lie, the complete indecency. The Nazis named the suburb of Auschwitz, Theresienstadt, “the city that Hitler gave the Jews”. Clean, neat and perfect, nothing offensive close to the curtain, nothing seen near the fence. A scene hiding a reverse reality. When it was too late, the truth was revealed. The smiles and the peace were a grimace. And the benevolence and helpfulness the first step towards exploitation and killing.

About this method of fraud has been testified many times. So, what happens if the slipping in of horrible ideologies and practices happens later on, when they are conceived as decidedly illogical and forever discarded? A situation Lucía Punezo describes in the fiction movie The German Doctor (2013), based on a factual event in Argentina during the 1960’s. The movie begins in what constitute everyday smoothing between human beings – trust, empathy, and rationality – and shows how these essentials may be deployed to mislead and break others.

In the Nazi and Fascist obstruction, confidence in the other person is eroded and belonging to the female category implies being perceived as the most desirable object. And, thus, being exposed to existential horror. Is there on the whole anybody that I may trust? May anything at all be taken as a given? Once ordinary confidence is broken, each and everyone is left to moral and political suspicion, doubt, and confusion.

Which then is the practical conclusion? How may fascist forces be met and resisted – with remained human feeling? One sustainable answer is that lectures in democratic values and history must be given continuously and start early in life. For the public discusson, Deborah Lipstadt gives the advice not to debate deniers of facts, especially not Holocaust deniers, since to be seen on the same arena make them appear as legitimate opponents and contributes to spreading their message.

Deborah E. Lipstadt’s recommendation is as follows: do not forbid their speech, let them speak, oppose them. But do not assist in giving them a platform. Do not give them space, do not legitimize them as a counterpart. Participating in a panel is a kind of commission of trust, which is why freedom of speech for everyone is not on par with a place in the panel. Deborah Lipstadt’s solution combines self-defence, arriving from historical and today’s facts and experience, with the honouring of democratic and humanitarian principles. An advice that fits our time.

Original article in Swedish

  • Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun, New York: Bantam, 1989
  • Dalton Trumbo, Johnny var en ung soldat, övers. Kerstin Gustafsson, Stockholm: Prisma, 1987
  • Deborah E. Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust, the Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (1993), Penguin, 2006
  • Photo of Benjamin B. Ferencz

©Arimneste Anima Museum #13

The Revolutionary Olympe de Gouges




Mention the French Revolution and Maximilien de Robespierre and you will find yourself in a dispute continuing throughout the night. Mention Olympe de Gouges and you are met rather with silence. Was she perhaps a champion of the women’s cause? Incidentally, women during the French Revolution, were they not all impressive however revengeful Madame Defarges as in Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities?

Many people hold their own – rather firm! – opinion about the most decisive revolution in European history. Presumably marked by the fact that school literature in history cites male names to the extent of almost ninety percent (Sweden), leaving ten to fifteen percent to female names, facts shown by the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter, 15th of January 2015 and confirmed recently by Swedish Television.

So, let us say that each and everyone’s image of the historic event needs some enrichment. In most of what has been written about the French Revolution, the women, if present at all, are depicted as somebody’s wife. To be sure, unpaid female labourers and supervisors played the part of considerable, yet not acknowledged, political figures. But is luring the father, the brother, the husband, the male friend, or colleague the only political manoeuvre pursued by people in the female category?

If there existed a group that can be said to have initiated and driven the French Revolution, it was the women. The sweat shop workers, the seamstresses, the washer women, the women of the marketplace. The intellectuals of the salons and clubs and the cultural workers at the theatre. The march on Versailles is the women’s march, many of the propositions adopted in the National Assembly, and later in the Convention, were proposed by the women.

They carry arms, they use violence and they fight among themselves. But they are also a significant force behind the fact that the Revolution was not as violent as is usually presumed. Only twelve percent of the Revolution’s popular events developed into brutality, and murders, according to Micah Alpaugh’s Non-violence and the French revolution political demonstrations in Paris 1787–1795 from 2014.

Yet, as is noted, the Revolution collapsed. The Revolution which established and encouraged an equal view of human beings and came to inspire people all over the world to rebel against slavery and dictatorship. The Revolution which inaugurated suffrage for white men and abolished slavery within the French Empire. But which started to execute political opponents within their own circles. As is known, the guillotine became a vehicle for censorship also devouring those who had given it order for its use.

That is, a vehicle of expurgation for the republic, which, less well-known, had persisted in denying active citizenship to the category of women. One of the first women to be condemned publicly was Olympe de Gouges, born out of wedlock to a daughter of a washer woman and a local landlord in Montauban in the south west of France. A single mother with a chosen name, Olympe de Gouges started a career in Paris as a playwright and was an outspoken literary figure. She deliberately decided to act in the role of an independent writer: ‘Nothing ought to be hidden. The writers with the most integrity ought to say what they see, hear and feel; to me there exist no parties’, she writes just before the outbreak of the Revolution.

Olympe de Gouges’ themes evolved into what would today be called classical feminist. Mental and bodily integrity, political rights, education, criticism of the sexual double standard. The situation for workers and marginalized groups, the elderly, children like herself born outside of marriage. Reforms concerning equal rights for men and women to divorce, and rights for children born out of wedlock, were accepted by the Convention. The proposal for a voluntary progressive tax became a reform which was accepted early on by the National Assembly. The French Socialist Party’s Ségolène Royal embracement of Olympe de Gouges in her book Cette belle idée du courage from 2013 should come as no surprise.

Indeed, de Gouges’ work of plays, philosophical theses, manifest and debating essays may be the first to show how the personal and the political are connected. She revealed the oblique and circumscribed conditions of citizenship, shaped tabooed issues, and widened her feminism by criticizing the French slave trade; already in 1784 Olympe de Gouges created her critical play L’Esclavage. With typical audacity, she attacked the justifying references to nature and ’the animals,’ pointing out the actual guilty party of the slave trade: the colonists and their economic interests.

Especially the last-mentioned made de Gouges into a target for sabotage, slander, and intrigues. The commentaries about her as a playwright at the national theatre Comédie Française, were sarcastic and condescending; as one critic argued: To write good dramas a beard on the chin is required. In addition to women’s rights and the criticism of slavery in de Gouges literary oeuvres, there was the most provoking theme for her contemporaries: the abhorrence of violence. During the Revolution, Olympe de Gouges is the only person in the female category who, in print, criticized the exaggerated violence and death penalties.

And this, too, when enemies were affected: ‘Even the blood of the guilty befouls for ever the Revolution when it is effused profusely and cruelly,’ she wrote. In the beginning, and like most of the leading revolutionaries, including the women, since their only political status was as royal subjects, Olympe de Gouges favoured a constitutional monarchy. However, she was soon radicalised into giving her support to the Republic. But, she contended, the right to upheaval, proclaimed in the sensational Declaration of Human Rights (1789), does not acquit one from the duty to act with compassion: to sustainably transform the king into an equal, let the king survive the abdication.

When reporting on other people escalated, Olympe de Gouges proposed verbal duels as a means to solve interior conflicts and exhorted – to no avail – her revolutionary colleagues to meet her in literary duels. In the National Convention, the deputies responded by satirising de Gouges ‘revolution with rose Water.’ One of them admitted that there was more than one way to freedom, also the one ‘sprinkled with roses’. De Gouges replied that she for one, and for the sake of the Republic, had the courage to throw herself in the Seine with her feet tied to a set of cannon balls – on condition that Robespierre followed suit.

A partly prophetic suggestion. Not long after, in the summer of 1793, de Gouges was arrested for having protested the death penalty, criticized the government, by suggesting a national referendum, and for challenging the female gender role. When terror politics was voted for as a law in the Convention, and Robespierre had reached full power, she, in smuggled-out pamphlets, accused the male rule of making itself guilty of contra-revolution: ‘Is not freedom of speech and freedom of the press humanity’s most precious inheritance, treasured in article VII in the Constitution? Your random acts and cynical enormities ought to be condemned by the entire world.’

Polemical and pedagogical. Capricious, incorruptible, impossible to categorize. The Republic, which had profited from the female category and Olympe de Gouges’ large input to the Revolution, did not listen to de Gouges. It did not have to. Patriarchy constituted foundation, floor, and walls in the societal feudal pyramid which the Revolution challenged but never succeeded to tear down completely. La ‘Patrie’ was the mother-land liberated from monarchy – for men. As Carl-Göran Ekerwald writes in his book Frihet, jämlikhet, broderskap from 1988 and 2013, the French Revolution constituted Europe’s most important contribution to the spiritual history of humanity. And yet, one might ask if a feminist revolution may not have amounted to as great, or even greater, a transformation.

With her Declaration of the Rights of Woman from 1791, Olympe de Gouges pinpointed the largest restriction in the Revolution’s human rights, the exclusion of the female category, and male gender as a criterion of full worthiness. The people in the category of women – with its economic, social, religious, bodily, amorous differences and variations – were never ascribed active citizenship during the Revolution. The 30th of October 1793, some days before the execution of Olympe de Gouges, the Convention withdrew the informal right of women to assemble and speak at political meetings and discussion clubs. A few years later Napoleon attained power as a dictator and most of the French Revolution’s democratic landmarks were repudiated.

Who is given the power to speak? At all times, the right to express oneself threatens authoritarian rule because such powers tend rather to pose the question: Which is the political implication of this statement? What are the results of this utterance in relation to the maintenance of power? Freely expressed conversations, testimonies, and stories, especially from the excluded and marginalized, confront basic power relations – and are thus given less or no value.

However, this may be true also for a limited democracy, such as the early French Republic, given the perspectives of the revolutionaries in the female category. We conceive of freedom of expression as the right of the individual and overlook the fact that circumscriptions may also affect the group, in this case the status of woman employed as a formal hindrance for civil and political rights; the politics of exclusion thus affects the individual, the category, and society as a whole.

The peaceful Revolution – Rosewater of the Revolution – was never perceived by the ruling male revolutionaries as a possible course, although it may in the long run have been the most viable. Olympe de Gouges’ male contemporaries did not take her ambitions to act as a statesman seriously. However, it is just as likely that she, a proto-feminist backed by the female category, both created and died for one of democracy’s most essential elements: the role of the critical activist writer.


Published as ‘Revolutionens frihetsmän valde att tysta Olympe de Gouges’, in Fempers 20th of November 2016

Photo: Olympe de Gouges, statue by Jacques Canonici, Pontigny, France

Further reading

  • A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens 1859
  • Non-Violence and the French Revolution, Political Demonstrations in Paris 1787–1795, Micah Alpaugh 2014
  • Cette belle idée du courage, Ségolène Royal 2013
  • Rosewater of the Revolution, Olympe de Gouges Feminist Humanism, Lisa Gålmark, (original 2016), translated from the Swedish by the author with Alan Crozier 2020


© Arimneste Anima Museum # 12


Slick knockout



or Rolling With the Punches

När dagens drag queen-föreställningar blivit del av underhållningsindustrin är det lätt att undra med Judith Halberstam (för två decennier sedan): ”Som min tidigare bok om kvinnlig maskulinitet visade har den genusobestämda kvinnliga kroppen sällan tilldragit sig samma intresse som sina manliga kontrahenter”. Eller utropa som de första queeraktivisterna i Queers read this leaflet: ”Queer, unlike gay, doesn’t mean male”.

Ja – var är alla drag kings? Svar: I Norrland!

I föreställningen Slick på Norrlandsoperan i början av 2017 och senare på Dansens Hus i Stockholm våren 2018 solodebuterade Sofia Södergård i egenskap av dansare, skådespelare, DJ och koreograf. Världsstjärnan Qarl Qunt intog scenen – en ung manlig attraktiv och välbärgad person i dyra kläder, dito frisyr och armbandsur förälskad i sin egen image och sin egen underbara kropp. Publiken fick följa Qarl visuellt och musikaliskt i olika rum och scener där Qarl dansade och rörde sig till musik (Beyoncé) på sin fjärde världsturné. En skickligt applicerad makeup betonade den existerande kroppsstyrkan och gjorde intryck med djupt placerade ögon, borstiga ögonbryn och bred haka. Qarl visade maskulin disciplin i stela och kontrollerade gester: ta upp plats, röra sig långsamt, föra sig rakt och utvidgande som om armhålorna rymde tennisbollar, göra en sak i taget, ta paus, ta tid på sig, allt i strävan efter realness, att bli verklig, passera som privilegierad funktionskroppad vit urban populär manlig heterokropp. Slick iscensatte en komma ut i/ur en walk in closet – ett levande skådespel av stereotypa gester som utmanar det maskulina och det feminina via attraktiv butchness.

Speglingen – Sofia Södergård i drag som Qarl Qunt som butch – visade tydligt hur mänskligt beteende kan bli till kreativt performativt görande som skapar upphetsning hos en ickekonservativ publik; att stöka till den heteronormativa genusordningen och utlösa lyckliga kollektiva känslor av frigörelse. Den illusoriska slick-manliga vita funktionaliteten polerade Qarls passerbara yta, kalibrerad för att befästa eller röra sig uppåt på den socioekonomiska stegen. Sofia Södergård/Qarl Qunt lyfte vitheten hos slickmannen, det repetitivt imiterade i det som uppfattas som urbant, välbeställt, strejt, manligt, standardfunkis, medelålders eller ungdomligt. Att Qarl skulle kunna kategoriseras som annat än cis-man (kvinna, inter, trans, icke-binär) samt tänkas ha en icke-explicit icke-normativ funktionalitet, blåtonad hud på grund av en nedärvd hudsjukdom, mognad som hos en sex(ton)åring, inga sexuella aktiviteter med andra (trots önskemål om det) och ett fyllt bankkonto med sms-lånade pengar doldes effektivt bakom den performativa stereotypen. I en scen hoppades Qarl få framgång i dejtingsammanhang men blev besviken. Melankoliska och sorgsna känslor överfördes till publiken vars mest uppenbara känsloreaktioner på Qarls kroppsliga ageranden i övrigt bestod av glada skratt och agiterade visslingar.

Slick formerade sig till en satirisk rolling with the punches, erfarenheten som mänsklig överlevare i kategorin vit västerländsk kvinna i periferin (Norrland) samlad till en uppercut, det vill säga kraften hos motståndaren, här centrums vita manliga hetereonormativa kropp, avleddes genom att den egna kroppen flyttades runt och inväntade rätt tillfälle att gå på knockout. Efter showen avklädde Qarl sig de stela kroppsrörelserna och upprepade uttalandet om valet att ibland, i knepiga eller utsatta lägen, utnyttja Qarls performativa skicklighet: ”Jag upplever väldigt stor skillnad i hur jag blir bemött när jag ser ut som man eller kvinna”. Att synliggöra genus som ett resultat av stiliserade göranden kan förverkliga fantasier och skapa kreativa föreställningar. Särskilt drag erbjuder möjligheter att visa hur beteenden kan kopieras och återupprepas genom överstilisering och hyberbola gester. Som Sofia Södergård säger: “När jag klär ut mig till Qarl slutar jag behaga och blir behagad” och ”Det är något befriande med att få leva ut den maskulina stereotypen”.

Tracy C. Davis och Thomas Postlewait, citerade och diskuterade av Dirk Gindt, menar att scenkonsten är förknippad med det som uppfattas som ”showigt, bedrägligt, överdrivet, artificiellt” och som kompenserar för inre frånvaro och avsaknad. Tomhet, brist och omoral är i sin tur kopplat till femininitet i motsats till maskulinitet som naturlighet, helhet och närvaro. Men var kommer dikotomen ifrån? Uppställningen närvaro kontra frånvaro är knuten till synen på penisutrustning och avsaknad av penisutrustning – noterad av Sigmund Freud och kritiserad av bland andra Jean Piaget, Karen Horney, Erik Erikson, Clara Thompson, Betty Friedan, Juliet Mitchell – och till vuxna människors performativa göranden att namnge och omtala penis men inte klitoris. Mänskligt inlärt eller imiterat beteende styrs av individens historiska och samtida socio-ekonomiska förhållanden; icke-erkännandet av klitoris (total längd 7˗13 centimeter inuti kroppen) har lett till en falsk idé om kroppslig brist, otillräcklighet och frånvaro som passar till det historiska, politiska och sociala fenomenet penis vid födseln som nödvändigt (men inte i sig tillräckligt) villkor för att nå formell maktställning (i hushållet, i näringslivet, i politiken).

Föreställningen om penis (men inte klitoris) som den kulturellt högt skattade utrustningen bidrar till att få har vetskap om att klitoris är det enda mänskliga organet med funktionen att ge sin bärare lust och tillfredsställelse. Så har kulturen bortsett från att sexuella och reproduktiva organ burna på utsidan av kroppen är en sårbarhetssituation, jämfört med till exempel att bära ens sexuella och/eller reproduktiva organ tryggt inuti kroppen. Traditionellt uppfattade kvinnliga kroppar behöver inte maskera sig som hotfulla, auktoritära, redo att försvara sig mot skador på genitalierna. Allt i kontrast till konventionellt uppfattade manliga kroppar som måste skyddas på grund av den weakness spot som är penisen et al. Att den traditionella synen på organplatser så sällan ifrågasätts visar hur kulturen genomsyras av patriarkala blind spots. Som numera känt på grund av feministisk aktivism och teori är femininitet och maskulinitet inte lika med genitala organ – vare sig de återfinns på utsidan eller på insidan av kroppen. I Slick-föreställningen lekte Qarl Qunt glädjefyllt med penis- och bröstfetischer i form av squash, purjolök och bakade manbullar/male buns. Föreställningen bekräftade och upplöste kopplingen organ-sexualitet-specifik kropp och överbryggade samtidigt glappet mellan naturligt och teatralt genom att hylla och göra sig av med fetischerna. Slicks löften om konstgjordhet både kulturellt (som i ett sätt att se) och materiellt (som i skapandet av till exempel teater och performance, kirurgiskt lagade klitorisar, gummipenisar, hyggligt prissatta konstbröst etcetera) bidrog till föreställningens frigörande kvalitet.

Ändå kan en fråga sig: Åstadkommer Slick frigörelse för alla? Till exempel – knycker inte föreställningen dansstilarna voguing och waacking från queera subkulturer? Innebär inte föreställningen det bell hooks kallat ett ”ätande av den andra”? Dyrkar kanske inte föreställningen vid ”den vita styrande klassens manliga altare” och utför den inte en ”sexistisk idealisering av vit manlighet”? Invändningen kan låta bestickande men att kritisera föreställningen för idealisering, stöld eller avgudadyrkan blir detsamma som att missa poängen eftersom dessa metoder och ageranden utgör själva poängen (med föreställningen): Qarls blandning av trivselunderhållning, spektakel och samhällskritik ironiserar över de ”många yuppie-artade, strejtagerande, påträngande, mestadels vita människor” som bell hooks iakttog på sin tid i publiken på visningen av filmen Paris is Burning, och som Hiram Perez drygt tio år senare karaktäriserat och adderat som ”vita, urbana, gay män ur den medelklass vars materiella begär sprider sig globalt”.

I Jennie Livingstons Paris is Burning befinner sig kameraögat utanför sammanhanget; i Slick styr skådespelaren/koreografen perspektivet, därmed till stor del relationen mellan skådespelaren/dansaren och publiken. Så uppstår en direkt medagerande autencitet som förklarar varför föreställningen verkar frigörande både på estradören och publiken. Såväl Paris is Burning som Slick hyllar José Esteban Muñoz strategi att på samma gång arbeta på, med, och mot den rådande och dominerande ideologin; alltså inte för eller mot utan genom att stärka och upplösa påtvingade kategorier. Så föds möjligheter för självskapade okategoriska universum (queer). Slick pulvriserade kulturens inpräglade manligt heteronormativita vita överhöghet med sin lekfulla sofistikerade strategi för alla och envars frigörelse från social och politisk stigmatisering och marginalisering. En sant slick knockout.

Andreas Nilsson

Davis, Tracy C. & Thomas Postlewait, “Theatricality: An Introduction,” i Tracy C. Davis och Thomas Postlewait (red.), Theatricality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 5.
Gindt, Dirk, ‘“Your Asshole is Hanging Outside of Your Body?”: Excess, AIDS, and Shame in the Theatre of Sky Gilbert’, The Uses of Excess in Visual and Material Culture, 1600˗2010, (red.) Julia Skelly, Burlington & Aldershot: Ashgate, 2014
Halberstam, Judith Jack, Female Masculinity, Durham: Duke University Press, 1998, 17
hooks, bell, Black Looks: Race and Representation, Boston, Mass.: South End Press, 1992, 147, 149
Livingston, Jennie, Paris is Burning, dokumentärfilm, 1990
Muñoz, José Esteban, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999
Perez, Hiram, “You Can Have My Brown Body and Eat it Too!”, Social Text 84–85, Vol. 23, Nr. 3–4, 2005, 176
Rosenberg, Tiina, Queerfeministisk agenda, Stockholm: Atlas, 2002, 175
Rosenberg, Tiina, Byxbegär, Stockholm: Atlas, 2000
Sveriges Radio, Var är alla drag kings? Sofia Södergård, P4 Västerbotten 29/3 2018
Södergård, Sofia, Slick, Urban Connection, Norrlandsoperan och Dansens 10/5 2018

©Arimneste Anima Museum #5

The Utmost Silence


Reading animality in the fiction of Coetzee

During the 1960s and onward to the beginning of the 1980s the South-African apartheid regime administered one of the most comprehensive censorship policies in the world. Not only books, magazines, films, theatre plays, but also children’s toys, key rings – everything that might contain unwanted messages – were examined. How state censorship affects literature is discussed by the South African author J. M. Coetzee in his anthology against press censorship: Giving Offense, Essays on Censorship, University of Chicago Press (1996).

An author subjected to scrutiny sharpens their means of expression and finds ways to get past the censors. But they cannot eschew the effect of internalised monitoring – an unaware gagging doing the job for the censor. Mentalities that must be the dream come true for all state censors: Citizens watching over themselves! The philosopher J. S. Mill observed an additional level: ‘censure’, the prevailing public opinion as social tyranny, implying intolerance against deviant feelings and opinions, and thus silencing debate.



A few years ago, in the year 2000 – six years after the abolition of the apartheid system – J. M. Coetzee was criticized for having written pessimistically about the Rainbow nation’s possibilities to survive (the possibilities for blacks and whites living together). A Member of Parliament raged at the novel Disgrace (1999), interpreting it as a murder on the dream of equality in South Africa.  Today the book is used in the South African schools. For a writer, whose authorship is marked by subtle – read censorship smart – criticisms against apartheid, the attack must have felt like cruel irony.

In several of J.M. Coetzee’s books there is an overlooked theme: the relation between humans and other animals, and the ethical questions this relation gives rise to. It can hardly be asserted that animal ethics discussions are exposed to conscious censorship directed by the state. Nevertheless, animals are exposed to comprehensive legal exploitation in the meat- and pharmaceutical businesses, and of this exploitation there seems to be general acceptance. Thus, there is a risk for Mill’s ‘censure’: neither the state nor the public has an interest in validating questions about the plight of animals. Interesting, then, is the role the animal theme plays in the drama surrounding Coetzee’s novel Disgrace.

In an article in Journal of Literary studies (2001) the South African literature scholar Wendy Woodward shows how animals in the novel Disgrace may be read as being real beings, rather than, as is usual, as mere metaphors for human lives. And suddenly the terms change for the kind of political interpretation Disgrace was exposed to.

Only if the animals in the novel are read exclusively as metaphors, the interpretation ‘murder on the dream of a rainbow nation’ becomes conceivable; and the last sentences may even appear as scornful:

‘Bearing him [the dog] in his arms like a lamb, he re-enters the surgery. “I thought you would save him for another week,” says Bev Shaw. “Are you giving him up?”

“Yes, I am giving him up”.’

Is the dog one with the dream of equality in South Africa? Has the dog a value of his own? Or are both readings important? If the animals in Disgrace are seen as real individuals, the text is transformed. The tone in the novel changes, another dimension is added, and the death of the rainbow dream becomes unjust, and sad. The protagonist, the aging white man, becomes a disillusioned participant in the murder/murders of the homeless animals, and his daughter’s pregnancy (she keeps the child, the result of a gang rape) becomes the – however tragic – seed to the realisation of the Rainbow dream. Not side by side but in coexistence.

Who would have thought this? That forgotten dogs could lead Parliament Members astray? Without animals, there exist no chances for an equal future.

The interpretation of Coetzee’s animals as bearers of real life rather than as only metaphors is strengthened by Coetzee’s and Amy Gutmann’s book The Lives of Animals (1999) where the situation of animals in the grip of human power constitute the main theme. The book consists of two lectures given by Coetzee at Princeton University about the fictional author Elizabeth Costello, who in turn gives two lectures on the subject of animal ethics at an American university.



Who is saying what? Is Costello Coetzee? Does Coetzee with his form experiment show awareness of the conditions for discussions on animal ethics? Is the hybrid form of the book a way of evading the informal censorship, J. S. Mill’s ‘censure’? Coetzee’s texts have been commented upon by four scholars. The question from literary scholar Marjorie Garber captures the essence of the book’s theme: Are these lectures in fact not about animals but about the value of literature?

However: Why not both? And: Why not also about ‘censure’? The significance of the animal theme in Coetzee’s authorship is strengthened once more by Coetzee’s recent title Elizabeth Costello, eight lessons, where the author’s texts in The Lives of Animals are included as the longest lessons, 3 and 4. Here the role of animals in literature and in human society is of importance not only to the interpretation but also in relation to the authorship as a whole. In the Swedish edition, the two lessons have disappeared, and the subtitle ‘eight lessons’ has been changed to ‘six lessons’ – without any information about this in the book.

In other words: A novel (the English original edition) has become a completely different novel (the Swedish edition) under the pretence of being the same. An illusion is created. The field of vision and the interpretive variations have been curtailed. The protagonist, the author and feminist Elizabeth Costello, has been reduced and the animal chapters (the texts in themselves and the animals in them) have been transformed; from being alive, to being invisible, non-existent. And all of this happening under the utmost silence.

So, the significance of the animal theme becomes once again a kind of politics. In this case there is a soothing paradox: as absentees it is hard to play a greater role.

Translated from the Swedish

First published 6th of February 2004 in Stockholms Fria Tidning

©Arimneste Anima Museum #3

Léonora Miano

Hur kan litteraturen tillvarata och gestalta undanskymda vittnesmål och berättelser? I Konturer av den dag som nalkas, nominerad till Goncourtpriset 2006, låter Léonora Miano ett enskilt barn vara protagonist och berättarröst, nioåriga flickan Musango i kamp mot en mors religiösa föreställningar i det fiktiva landet Mboasu. I därpå följande Sorgsna själar, från 2011fördelaktigt läst i dialog med Ngugi wa Thiongo’s teaterpjäs från 1968, The Black Hermit, gestaltar Miano den unge Antoines desillusionerade strävanden och uppgörelser med sig själv och sin omvärld i jojo-existens mellan en subsaharisk storstad och en europeisk dito. Sorgsna själar börjar som smart satir, nära Robert Musils Mannen utan egenskaper, fortsätter som skröna, för att till sist ända som sedelärande saga.

Mianos fjärde översatta roman från franska till svenska, Skuggans årstid, utgår istället från ett verkligt källmaterial av muntligt traderade kollektivberättelser. Likt Nattens inre, debutromanen som kan läggas bredvid Chinua Achebes världsberömda Allt går sönder (till svenska 1967), är spelplatsen ett landområde nära kusten i nuvarande Kamerun. Men århundradet är ett annat: Nattens inre är sent 1900-tal, Skuggans årstid utspelar sig flera hundra år tidigare. Främlingsfolket i båtar från havet kännetecknas utifrån sin klädsel, och hudens färgnyans existerar inte som identitetskategori. Som Mianos tidigare romaner kretsar Skuggans årstid kring etiska konflikter: människor med sina olikheter och likheter, onda och goda handlingar, tvärsöver vad som idag kallas klass, kultur, könstillhörighet.

Romanen följer tio kvinnor från Mulangofolket, särskilt Eyabe och Ebeise, efter att deras män och söner mystiskt försvunnit från byn. Kvinnorna förvisas till en särskild hydda i byns utkant, utses till syndabockar och blir onämnbara: ”Kvinnorna vars söner aldrig blev hittade”. Skickligt skildrar Miano hur människor kan vara såväl offer som förövare; hur den förtryckta är eller blir delaktig i det som drabbar hen och andra. Var är männen? Hur försvann de? Vem är skyldig och varför? Vem kan en lita på? Finns det sätt att undslippa katastrofen? Hur kan en överleva under de redan ansträngda livsvillkoren och maktspelen?

På en fråga från Hubert Marlin Jr på Flashmag 16/10 2013 om Skuggans årstid svarar Miano att det är viktigt att skilja på historiska minnen som handlar om vad som hände i den afrikanska kontinentens mitt, och historiska minnen om människohandel som kom att höra till andra kontinenter västerut. Människor i södra Sahara bär på traderade minnen och de måste börja berätta, menar Miano. Ändå är det få som vill, trots att det var den västerländska och inte den afrikanska historien som gav upphov till kategorierna svarta och afrikaner. Förfäderna och förmödrarna i södra Sahara definierade inte sig så. ”Att människor härifrån själva börjar berätta och dokumentera hur saker och ting utvecklade sig i deras land och hur de genomlevde historien är mycket angeläget.”

Vad som behövs enligt Miano är saklig komplexitet och djupare analys, och mänskliga hellre än rasifierande läsarter. Rasifierande tolkningar blir i detta sammanhang detsamma som att överta förslavarnas tolkning, menar Miano. Människor i södra Sahara, i äldre tid och idag, var och är människor som alla andra. Att människor begick och begår brott är sådant som hör till det mänskliga, betonar hon apropå den historiska forskning om trafficking som bedrivs av kamerunska forskare: “Varför skulle vi utesluta oss själva från mänskligheten genom att hävda motsatsen? Jag träffar aldrig kaukasier som skäms över sin existens på grundval av att Hitler och Stalin var kaukasiska monster. Det är oerhört viktigt att ta itu med detta nedvärderande medvetande som får oss att skämmas när vi hör att svarta har gjort någon orätt. Jag kan erkänna att jag inte hyser något sådant komplex, det tillåter mig också att se vilken sanning som helst i vitögat.”

För Skuggans årstid tilldelades Miano Prix Femina 2013. I Crépuscule du tourment, ”Skymningsplåga”, Mianos senaste och ännu ej översatta roman från 2016, ger fem kvinnor av idag uppriktiga – och skoningslösa! – vittnesmål om en och samme närstående man; upplevelser och åsikter som vän, dotter, syster, älskare, fästmö. Presentationen av Crépuscule du tourment Le Monde 24/8-16 betecknade verket som ”feministiskt och postkolonialt”. Men det riktigt intressanta med Mianos författarskap är det envisa synliggörandet: Vad återfinns bakom etiketter, identiteter, omständigheter och bevekelsegrunder? Mianos verk lyfter av människor deras förklädnader och blottlägger deras individuella och kollektiva manöverutrymme. Så avtäcks en djupare och mänskligt förenande dimension: Vilken handling är den rätta? Vilken handling tvingas jag eller vi utföra? Vilken handling har jag eller vi möjlighet att välja? För de mina, för andra, för de andra, för mig själv?

Romaner av Léonora Miano till svenska, samtliga översatta av Marianne Tufvesson:

  • Nattens inre, 2006, Sekwa förlag, 2007
  • Konturer av den dag som nalkas, 2006, Sekwa förlag, 2008
  • Sorgsna själar, 2011, Sekwa förlag, 2013
  • Skuggans årstid, 2013, Celanders förlag, 2016

©Arimneste Anima Museum #2

The Labyrinth

In Berlin before World War II, there was a Swedish colony of residents, people visiting or lingering in the city. How did they relate to the development of the society? Critical media at home, in Sweden, were few and there was no visible anti-Nazism collective. Speaking up, boycotting, departing from the masses, organizing in counter-movements was not a celebrated generic reaction until after the war.

Today, the developments in Germany had been questioned by the public. Writers, associations, networks had written critical articles, made statements, organized travel boycotts, demonstrated outside the embassy, demanded of people to openly take a stand. A solidarity association had been formed, as well as social media groups; a convoy had travelled to Berlin to support the country’s democratic forces.

Presumably. Whether people today had understood what was happening and acted accordingly is not easily assessed.

But Swedish Nazi resistance in Nazi-Germany existed. A clear and teeming testimony is found in the historian, cultural writer, and cultural personality Vilhelm Scharp’s memories of Germany and Nazi Germany in the 1920s and 30s, collected in Labyrinten [The Labyrinth] and edited by historian Andreas Åkerlund.

Vilhelm Scharp, born in 1896 in Stockholm, was only ten years old when, after the family split, he was placed at Lundsberg’s boarding school. Recurrent depressions led to writer’s block, self-sabotaging perfectionism, and interrupted studies. Despite failing health, Scharp managed to get a bachelor’s degree in literary history and history – followed by a degree in poetics and history.

This kind of exam, a master’s degree, earned Scharp the right to seek positions at universities and the professional title historian. On recommendation, he was offered a position as a foreign lecturer at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, at the time one of the world’s prestigious universities. From Berlin, Scharp described what happened in the streets, in parks and at election rallies where Nazis gave public propaganda speeches.

He gained insight into and participated in the verbal and strategic battles among foreigners in Berlin, at the embassy and in the Church of Sweden where he was chairman of the youth association.

A second home was the Italian restaurant Taverne on the corner of Courbière-Strasse. Various Nazi critics and other skeptically minded personalities met here between 1930 and 1938. The regulars at the tables under the obligatory portraits of Mussolini and Hitler – expanded by the restaurant owner with a cosmopolitan selection of other portraits – consisted of students, university teachers, diplomats, artists, art dealers, foreign journalists, film, and theatre people.

The restaurant milieu included Arnold Zweig, author of the first great war novel Sergeant Grischa, and friend of Freud, who called Scharp ‘the prevented writer’, and singer Ingrid Wiksjö from Frösön in Jämtland, then celebrated soprano, ‘Die schwedische Nachtigall’, who entertained Taverne’s guests with her knowledge and stories.

As a good listener, Scharp became closely acquainted with Jakob Bollschweiler, better known as the artist Bollsch. Acute financial problems had contributed to his assumption of office, gaining Hitler’s favour and a rapid career. Something he did not want to discuss, but rather told the anecdote about a rich lady’s assertion of dogs’ natural play ability. The artist had countered the lady by placing himself at the lady’s feet, barking, implying that dogs could not play; after all, they were predators who practiced for the natural hunting deprived of them by their matron.

The argument and act, of course, says more about the Nazi-infested artist than about the lady and the dog. And it shows the Nazis’ questionable perception: the phenomenon of ‘play bow’ in dogs – the ability to play physically and mentally, to fight playfully and not seriously – was verified, symptomatically, not by Nazi German quasi-research but by American ethologists (much later).

According to Scharp, Bollschweiler, like many artists of the time, was ‘politically clueless, but responsive to flaming appeals and promises’, unable to withstand ‘a giant wave of audiovisual propaganda that washed over Germany and especially its capital’ after the half-takeover on January 30, 1933. Fortunately, Bollsch’s art was not affected by ‘the muscularly heroic aesthetics of the Germans’, ‘pre-buried Baroque, a woody Düsseldorf romanticism, postcard-dry act models’, when he died in a plane crash in 1937 and was thus saved ‘from withering away among the court decorators of the Third Reich’.

After the seizure of power in 1933, uniformity began through bootstraps, military music, and the songs of the youth movement the Wandervogeler movement, obligatorily placed flagpoles on homes, balconies, and balustrades – an ‘operatic decoration effect in the cool spring breeze’, ‘a numbing mass wave of mass suggestion’, testifies Scharp. How Nazi propaganda could be experienced by the advertising-obsessed people of the time is illustrated by how a Jewish lady, a relative of Arnold Zweig, and friend of Scharp, despite her rejection of Nazism, during a passing Nazi parade, had to put a handkerchief in her mouth so as not to tune in to the cheers of the crowd.

Among the 60 percent eligible who did not vote for Hitler in the 1932 Reichstag elections were those who felt both despair and hope. And among those who experienced the latter, there were many who wanted to keep themselves unaware of the fact that the party atmosphere was being paid for with brutal abuse and hate campaigns. Foreign tourists reported home that the Germans had rallied behind Hitler. Thus, it took only a few years to stage the rearmament, violate the Treaty of Versailles, and occupy the Rhineland.

The European parliaments, horrified by the Bolsheviks in Russia, buried their heads in the sand – or, secretly, preferred Nazism to communism. For the establishment, Nazism could emerge as a useful tool against the ‘red threat’. The combat pilot Göring made many visits, behaved believably, and was admired by chivalrous English opponents as a guarantor of Hitler’s nobleness.

The Chancellor of the Weimar Republic, Frans von Papen, the man who persuaded the Hindenburg that Hitler could be controlled, ambassador in Vienna in 1938 and in Ankara from 1939 to 1944, also participated with charm in international hunting parties – also in Sweden, Scharp says. Not many managed to see through the intricate deceptions of the Nazis. For example, one of the more reputable newspapers in England, the London Times, in a high-profile editorial hailed Hitler ‘as an honest guardian of justice and moderation’.

Journalists who wrote from Berlin to wake up the non-vigilant could be called ‘horror painters and journals’ and were dismissed as hysterics and victims of the ‘gruel propaganda’. Some sought to reach out to the public using irony, but many were censored by their editors. Critical journalists reporting from Nazi Germany had their articles rejected, Scharp recalls. The exception was the American editorial boards.

American journalist Edgar Mowrer reported analytically and with knowledge on the political situation in a series of articles in the Chicago Daily News in 1932, whereupon he was ousted out from the Third Reich – and awarded the Pulitzer Prize in the United States in 1933. The American Hubert Renfro Knickerbocker, journalist, and author, nicknamed ‘Red’ (because of his hair colour), wrote cluelessly about Italian fascism and Mussolini – however subsequently showed insight with revealing and well-written reports about Nazi Germany, a series that, unsurprisingly, led to his deportation.

But most English-speaking journalists were not in the right position to understand what was happening, Scharp says. William Shirer came to write an extensive and widely circulated historical work on Nazism – The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) – in which the Nazi ideology is portrayed as unique to Germany; this interpretation of uniqueness was, according to Scharp, a delusion: Nazism was rather one of several cases of totalitarianism that arose in several European countries.

In this context, Scharp mentions the often-overlooked Swedish advertising cartoonist and sports journalist Rune Carlsson; as very knowledgeable he, according to Scharp, authored ‘the best introduction to the rise and world of ideas of Hitlerism in Swedish’: Tredje Rikets herrar och andra, 1945 [The Lords and Others of the Third Reich]. It may be added that Rune Carlsson is featured in Barbro Alving’s (the signature Bang) documentary book Det kom aldrig i tidningen (1963), in the chapter ‘In the shadow of a boot’, p. 52, about reporting from Nazi Germany in 1937.

In the spring of 1933, cultural figures from other countries were invited to testify to the supposedly positive development of society. Some were pre-excluded, including Elsa Björkman-Goldschmidt, Swedish Red Cross delegate in Russia 1916–1918, director of Save the Children’s activities in Vienna 1919–1924, journalist in Vienna 1928–1938. Elsa Björkman-Goldschmidt later became a member of the Samfundet De Nio in 1950 and editor of the Swedish Literary Journal in 1958.

The female names are otherwise not many in Scharp’s memories, which is why those mentioned should be remembered: Helga Stene, lecturer in Berlin, rock-solid against Nazi overtures, resistance woman and feminist during the war, is one such person. She lectured in Sweden and Berlin and fought against the Nazis in the characteristic organization Parents resistance. The Swedes Sven Hedin and Fredrik Böök, on the other hand, served, Scharp argues, as ‘reconciles for those Germans who, out of their own eyes’ testimony, had begun to doubt the pentecostal gospel speakers, swastika banners and bootstraps’.

Since his years in Uppsala, Scharp was friends with Karin Boye and Herbert Tingsten; all had been active in the Clarté movement. Scharp, Karin Boye, the sisters Märta and Ulla and a number of other intellectuals published the magazine Spektrum in 1931–1933, in which Scharp introduced André Gide and Gunnar Ekelöf’s translation of his play The Counterfeiters.

In January 1932, Karin Boye visited Scharp to engage in psychotherapy; during the stay, Boye and Scharp, and a couple of other friends, went to listen to Göring’s propaganda speech for Hitler as a presidential candidate. Swedish tourists in Berlin, clueless or positive about what was really going on, could then be seen strolling around with blue-and-yellow swastika buttons on homemade ill-fitting SA uniforms, and appeared ridiculous even to those who wore the original.

All the while circles in Sweden, for instance the newspaper Dagsposten to which the German state provided financial support and with the Swedish-German Association as a platform, prepared for accession to greater Germany. Scharp experienced how Nazism grew and sought to sound the alarm in Swedish newspapers. In Nya Dagligt Allehanda he described 1934, under a pseudonym, since he was then a state employee in Hitler’s Germany, the seizure of power and ‘the night of the long knives’ (June 30 and July 1, 1934).

Public opinion in England and Sweden were thoroughly affected by Hitlerian human discrimination. Swedish cultural life was well infiltrated; in October 1935, the Berlin University Talker was welcomed at the Stockholm Opera, citing ‘noble German theatrical traditions’. The choir played Aeschylus The Persians, the classic drama of the victor’s compassion for the defeated – ‘a cynical and planned cultural political hoax action’, ‘a deceitful celebration of the victor Hitler’s noble courage against his beaten enemies’, comments Scharp.

This occurred three weeks after the executioner’s cut in the Nuremberg Law’s Aryan clause when Germany’s Jewish population was excluded from civil rights, and this ‘in a country’, Scharp writes, ‘where they, for generations, have made contributions to cultural and social life’.

The production at the Stockholm Opera literally played into the hands of the Nazis. There was also a micro level of cultural propaganda: German language teachers were sent as fellows to Scandinavia and England to spread Nazism in an appetizing and deceitful way with language examples à la ‘The Führer has created order’ (in German). The fellows then reported home on various social circles and their attitudes towards the Hitler Empire. As Scharp writes, the system was carefully thought out. For the propaganda, ‘grammar examples had a higher coefficient than swastika pamphlets’.

William Scharp and other Nazi critics in Berlin behaved professionally; sometimes spectator-wise, sometimes with direct protest. At first, Scharp sought to maintain strategic contacts within the Nazi Party, and in 1931 he tried to get an interview with Goebbels and sketch out a study plan for Göring’s son, which, however, resulted in Göring trying to get him removed from the lectureship. Herbert Tingsten shared Scharp’s opinion on Hitler’s Germany and visited the friend in Berlin until 1936. Through contact with Göring, Scharp was able to arrange a meeting between Tingsten and Göring, according to Tingsten in an article in DN 8/7 1962, ‘Meeting Nazism’.

Although Scharp’s teaching at the university was supervised by a uniformed SA student, it seemed, by its own admission, as ‘fresh air vents for responsive misfits in the realm of the new community of people’. In Scharp’s eyes, Germany was a problem child of Europe whom it was dangerous to allow to isolate, and he warned against abandoning the democratic forces in the country.

Together with the Vicar of the Church of Sweden, Scharp acted against the Ministry of Propaganda, and especially two Swedish-German friendship associations that conspired to make a Nazi coup in the Church of Sweden in Berlin. Daringly, Scharp also sought to correct Nazis. In 1933–1934, he published three articles in their own periodicals with content that runs counter to the view the Nazis often had of Sweden. The message is directed against racial ideology and the right of the strong and advocates a Swedish democracy practice with roots in Engelbrekt.

The lectureship in Berlin lasted until Scharp was fired by the Nazis in 1936. The dismissal was preceded by the interruption in 1933, when, on Göring’s initiative, he was to be replaced by a Nazi, but after critical publicity in Swedish newspapers was allowed to keep the position. When he finally lost it, he had experienced the Weimar Republic for five years and the transition to the Nazi dictatorship for three years. Back in Sweden, Vilhelm Scharp took the position as grammar schoolteacher at the newly built Sveaplan gymnasium for girls in Stockholm.

With anti-Nazi purpose and on behalf of the Foreign Ministry, Scharp made eight trips to Berlin after his repatriation. He became involved in the anti-Nazi associations Nordens Frihet and The Tuesday Club – one of the lectures he gave at these associations is included in Labyrinten – and participated in helping exiles, including his wife Isabel Neuberger who at the end of the war fled Berlin with her valuables sewn into his clothes.

Scharp acted as a reporter and consultant to the Swedish government on Nazi German propaganda in Sweden and on the Swedish Nazis’ contacts with the country and became active in the governing body of the Cooperation Board for Democratic Construction Work (SDU), founded in 1943 by Alva Myrdal, Torgny Segerstedt and Herbert Tingsten. On the board, he was active with study circles, courses and lectures that taught Swedish-style folk home democracy to refugees in Sweden.

After 1945, Scharp took a seat as a member of the Swedish Institute’s lecturer council and in the 1950s he wrote several articles for Dagens Nyheter, such as ‘Hitler as angel of peace’ and ‘Guests of the dictatorship’. Scharp also criticized Swedish historical research for a lack of interest in the refugees, the German emigrants to Sweden must be interviewed, he said, as they had gained insight into ‘the most skilled and effective political counterfeiting workshop that has existed to date’.

In 1944, Scharp began working on a retrospective documentary book that would depict the memories of the rise of Nazism and its ideological roots, a book on the historical evolution of Nazism: How did a civilized, liberal, and democratic country like the Weimar Republic become Nazi?

The thesis Scharp wanted to champion highlighted, among other things, the importance of Wandervögel – the youth movement that propagated independence, against discipline in school, against nationalism and chauvinism, but which after the First World War began to celebrate the opposite: honor, duty, uniforms, and obedience, as well as learning to use weapons as toys at an early age. The movement developed rapidly in an anti-humanist, primitivist direction and turned into easy prey for Nazism.

That’s how Scharp understood the development of Nazism, says Andreas Åkerlund. The publisher Wahlström & Widstrand expressed interest in publishing the script, but sadly Scharp died (1978) before the project was completed. Andreas Åkerlund further believes that Scharp’s position was indeed actively anti-Nazi – but based on what we know today about Nazi German policy and its methods, it can still be called naïve.

It should be borne in mind that it is only in the late 1960s and in the 1970s that to openly take a stand on burning international issues becomes an exemplary compassionate attitude. And then partly as a reaction to the general appeasement during World War II.

The collection contains, in addition to the essays, an extensive interview from 1929 with Vilhelm Scharp’s generational comrade Erich Maria Remarque, the author of the soldier testimony of World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929).

  • Vilhelm Scharp, Labyrinten, Minnen från Tyskland under 1920- och -30-talen och andra skrifter, utgivna av Andreas Åkerlund, Stockholm: Kungliga biblioteket, 2016.
  • Föredrag av Vilhelm Scharp, Sveriges Radio, 1963.
  • Barbro Alving, Det stod aldrig i tidningen, Stockholm: Bonniers, 1963, se Litteraturbanken.
  • Rune Carlsson, Tredje rikets herrar och andra, Stockholm: Sohlman, 1945.

Originally published in Swedish 5 December 2021 AAM #18

© Arimneste Anima Museum # 21