Marginal and metropolitan modernist modes in Eyvind Johnson’s early urban narratives

Bjarne Thomsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Participating in the re-mapping processes that inform the current, spatially inclined theorising of modernism and critiquing a centrist perspective on the development of literary modernism, the article compares the uses of a range of urban environments – from the ‘marginal’ northern Swedish town to the central-European metropolis – as sites for the probing of emerging modern societies and states of mind in Swedish autodidactic author (and later Nobel laureate) Eyvind Johnson's early urban writing published between 1924 and 1928. The article demonstrates how a polytopic, decentring and locational approach to the understanding of modernist topography, with 'geomodernism' as one of its labels, can be utilised to unpack the ambiguous centre-periphery relationships that are operative in and across Johnson’s narratives at both European and local levels. Referencing literary theorists such as Raymond Williams and Frederik Tygstrup, the article argues, moreover, that the town- and cityscapes represented in the narratives may meaningfully be read in the light of a new interest in affectivity as a shared and spatial phenomenon. The article shows how modes of mobility, ‘circulation’, co-ordination and rhythm are of the essence in the narratives, including manifestations and metaphors of mechanised technology. This works to capture new societal and mental states and furthers a sense of dominant affective climates. The article concludes that Johnson’s new urban writing of the 1920s represents a sustained challenge to spatially confining understandings of modernism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-90
Number of pages30
JournalScandinavica - An International Journal of Scandinavian Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2015

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • geomodernism
  • affect and place
  • periphery and centre
  • technology and literature,
  • literature of the North
  • Eyvind Johnson


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