Rifbjerg, Klaus


Rifbjerg, Klaus
(1931-)
   A Danish novelist, poet, dramatist, critic, and journalist, Rifbjerg is motivated both by a desire to understand himself as a human being and by a wish to create an alternative vision that counteracts modernism s sense of meaninglessness. An extremely prolific writer, Rifbjerg publishes constantly, and some of his work is of greater value than the rest. His best poetry is better than his best novels, but he is known to many people mostly as a novelist. His literary debut was the poetry collection Under vejr med mig selv: En utidig selvbiografi (1956; Getting Wind of Myself: An Untimely Autobiography), in which he introduces himself to the world as a poet. It was followed by his first novel, Den kroniske uskyld (1958; Chronic Innocence), which tells the story of two friends, Janus and Tore, who are both in love with Helle. Helle commits suicide and Tore ends up in a mental hospital.
   The poem Camouflage (1961) tries to strip away the layers of acculturation that cover up the true identity of a person. The poetry collection Mytologi (1970; Mythology) begins with a rather disrespectful poem about Prometheus, which sets the tone for the rest of the volume. Amagerdigte (1965; Amager Poems) offers poetic snapshots from Rifbjerg s childhood. In the collection Fædrelandssange (1967; Patriotic Songs), Rifbjerg tries to remove the layers of myth with which the true image of Denmark has been covered over.
   In his youth Rifbjerg spent a year as a student at Princeton University, in the United States, and the novel Leif den lykkelige jun. (1971; Lucky Leif Jr.), the title of which is a pun on the name of Leif Ericsson, the Old Norse voyager to America, tells about his experiences in a humorous manner. His novel Arkivet (1967; The Archive) has Denmark in the 1950s as its setting and describes the lives of perfectly ordinary people in a realistic manner. The diary novel Opera- elskeren (1966; The Opera Lover) is the story of a man who is unable to integrate his anima and who therefore is unable to relate productively to the woman in his life. Brevet til Gerda (1972; The Letter to Gerda) also portrays a man s failure to communicate.
   One of Rifbjerg's most successful novels is Anna (jeg) Anna (1969; tr. Anna (I) Anna, 1982), a tale of mental illness and its cure. Anna lives in Pakistan and travels back to Denmark to get help for her urge to kill her daughter. While en route she helps a young man escape from the policeman who is guarding him, after which the two of them go on a crime spree across Europe. After much violence and several deaths Anna gets to Copenhagen, where she is cured largely due to the symbolic significance of the harrowing experiences she has just been through.
   Rifbjerg s outspokenness has often made him the target of criticism, to which he has responded in several novels with characters who can be recognized as real people, thinly disguised. He satirizes the confessional autobiography in the novel Dobbeltgænger eller den korte, inderlige men fuldstændig sande beretning om Klaus Rifbjergs liv (1978; The Double, or, The Short and Heartfelt but Completely True Account of the Life of Klaus Rifbjerg), the long title of which seems to undermine the book s claim to both brevity and authenticity.
   During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Rifbjerg continued to be highly productive. Some of his more important novels from this period are Dilettanterne (1973; The Dilettantes), which is set in Spain and takes social responsibility as its theme, telling the story of a scientist whose discoveries are wanted for evil purposes by a dictatorial government. Similarly, En omvej til klostret (1983; A Detour to the Convent) concerns a scientist s political involvement. De hellige aber (1981; tr. Witness to the Future, 1987) is a political fantasy novel; the Danish title, which means "The Sacred Monkeys," refers to people s inability to perceive evil.
   Many additional novels by Rifbjerg explore the lives of ordinary men and women, especially the relationship between the sexes. The novel Falsk forår (1984; False Spring) investigates the emotional consequences of adoption. In Karakterbogen: Et virrehoveds bekendelser (1992; The Grade Report: The Confessions of a Bobble-Head), Synderegistret: En angivers betragtninger (1994; The Rap Sheet: An Informer's Reflections), Facitlisten: En gammel snyders papirer (1995; The Answer Sheet: The Papers of an Old Cheater), and Tidsmaskinen: En rutsjebaneførers bekendelser (2002; The Time Machine: The Confessions of a Roller-Coaster Driver) Rifbjerg offers commentary on both public and private events. Divertimento i Mol (1996; Divertimento in Minor) is a meditation on the role of the narrator in fictional communication.
   Rifbjerg has also written numerous scripts for stage, television, and radio, as well as screenplays and a large number of essays. He received the Nordic Literary Prize in 1970.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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