Gustafsson, Lars

(1936-)
   A Swedish poet, novelist, short story writer, and essayist, Gustafsson has a doctorate in philosophy from Uppsala University, and his works give evidence of a strong interest in existential and epistemological questions. He has also been well received in the English-speaking world and has been a faculty member at the University of Texas, Austin, since 1983. In his native Sweden, however, he has often been criticized for being too self-absorbed, arrogant, and excessively theoretical.
   Although Gustafsson also wrote prose, in the early part of his literary career he was more important as a poet and published several volumes of poetry. Selections from some of these early collections appeared in English as The Stillness of the World before Bach: New Selected Poems (1988); this book also contains a portion of Gustafsson's long poem Karleksförklaring till en sefardisk dam (1970; Declaration of Love to a Sephardic Lady), a watershed event in his oeuvre, in which he introduces the Jungian concept of the anima as his image of womanhood. Another successful volume of poetry was Varma rum och kalla (1972; tr. Warm Rooms and Cold, 1975).
   Gustafsson's earliest prose works are rather unremarkable. In the 1960s he published three novels. One of these, Broderna: En allegorisk berattelse (1960; The Brothers: An Allegorical Story), introduces the difficulties of childhood into his work. The short story collection Förberedelser till flykt och andra berattelser (1967; Preparations for Flight and Other Stories) introduced motifs that were to become central to Gustafsson's next several novels.
   Five prose works written during the 1970s — Herr Gustafsson själv (1971; Mr. Gustafsson Himself), Yllet (1973; Wool), Familjefesten (1975; The Family Celebration), Sigismund: Ur en polsk barockfurstes minnen (1976; tr. Sigismund: From the Memories of a Baroque Polish Prince, 1985), and En biodlares dod (1978; tr. The Death of a Beekeeper, 1981)—all share a protagonist named after the author, Lars. A mixture of social criticism and philosophical themes, they were later published together as Sprickorna i muren (1984; The Cracks in the Wall). The joy of intellectual activity is strongly present in Tennisspelarna (1977; tr. The Tennis Players, 1983). Set in Austin, Texas, it reflects Gustafsson's stint there as a visiting professor. At this time he also published two collections of poetry, Sonnetter (1977; Sonnets) and Artesiska brunnar cartsianska drommar: Tjugotva larodikter (1980; Artesian Wells, Cartesian Dreams: Twenty-two Didactic Poems).
   Gustafsson's novels from the 1980s show the influence of postmodernist ideas about writing. The action in Sorgemusik för frimurare (1983; tr. Funeral Music for Freemasons, 1987) takes place on several continents, and it is unclear who is the novel's protagonist. BernardFoys tredje rockad (1986; tr. BernardFoy's Third Castling, 1988) offers three interrelated stories. The novel En kakelsattares eftermiddag (1991; tr. A Tiler's Afternoon, 1993) was intended as a thematic sequel to En biodlares dod and focuses on an aging man's relationship to the past. Historien med hunden: Ur en texansk konkursdomares dagbocker och brev (1993; tr. The Tale of a Dog: From the Diaries and Letters ofa Texan Bankruptcy Judge, 1998) is set in Austin, Texas, and features the killing of a dog as well as the murder of a Belgian-born professor who, as it turns out, had published some anti-Semitic articles in his native land during World War II. In a literary context it is difficult not to think about the Belgian-born deconstructionist Paul de Man, whose character was in the process of being assassinated by some at the time Gustafsson's novel was written.
   More recently, Gustafsson has published the novels Tjanarinnan: En karleksroman (1996; The Maid: A Love Story), Windy beratter (1999; Windy Narrates), Blom och den andra magentan (2001; Blom and the Second Magenta), a thriller that features the search for a rare postage stamp, and Dekanen (2003; The Dean), a combination of mystery story and philosophical novel. A recent collection of poetry is En tid i Xanadu (2002; A Time in Xanadu). Gustafsson has also written philosophical, cultural, and literary essays.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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