Fløgstad, Kjartan

(1944-)
   A Norwegian novelist, short story writer, and poet, Fløgstad is the most significant postmodernist in Norwegian literature. His first two published books were poetry collections, Valfart (1968; Pilgrimage) and Seremoniar (1969; Ceremonies). He soon found his narrative voice, however, with the books Den hemmelege jubel (1970; The Secret Jubilation) and Fangliner (1972; Painters), both volumes of short prose. Then followed the novel Rasmus (1974). These books all drew on Fløgstad's experiences as a sailor and as a factory worker and provided true-to-life descriptions of life in the merchant marine and on the factory floor. Unlike the works of many of Fløgstad's socialist realist contemporaries, they were written to be read by common people.
   Fløgstad's first postmodern work, the novel Dalen Portland (1977; tr. Dollar Road, 1989), became his definitive literary breakthrough and also garnered him the Nordic Literary Prize in 1978. The book mixes features of popular literature with the conventions of belles lettres, intermingles old-fashioned literary conventions with modernist ones, alternates segments ofrealistic narration with outlandish fantasy, and tells its story of industrialization in western Norway through a veritable chorus of sometimes competing voices. The author even appears as one of the story's characters, and the activity of writing is figured as this character's knocking with a wrench on the side of a boiler in a factory, listening for hollowness in the language.
   Other novels are even more characteristic of postmodernism. Partly set in the fictional industrial community Lovra, Fyr og flamme (1980; Fire and Flame) is subtitled "Av handling" (Dis Sertation/ From Action); it tells a story of industrial development and subverts the story that is told. U3 (1983), which takes its title from the U2 incident of the Cold War in which the Soviet Union shot down a U.S. spy plane, mixes a reasonably realistic tale, rich in detail, with such improbable devices as a "retrospectoscope" that allows the narrator to look back into the past and thus know the details ofhis story. This novel also has a strong political message, as it warns about the consequences of Norwegian membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the resulting potential for United States dominance of Norwegian foreign policy.
   Fløgstad's most problematic book, at least from the perspective of his typical reader, is Det 7. klima (1986; The Seventh Climate), which twists Norwegian and European intellectual history and wryly comments on the problems and practices of the Norwegian mass media in the guise of a fictional autobiography of a certain Salim Mahmood, a Pakistani immigrant to Norway. Det 7. klima is such a radically open work, in Umberto Eco's sense, that there is no critical agreement as to its meaning.
   Kniven pa strupen (1991; The Knife to the Throat), on the other hand, gives the reader a clearer sense of the author's intentions. As in Dalen Portland and Fyr og flamme, the history of Norwegian industrial development figures prominently. Set in the 1980s, however, Kniven pa strupen presents life under late capitalism, when factory workers have mostly been replaced by machines and the traditional work ethic of the people has given way to greed and crime. With many elements of the traditional mystery story present, the novel presents a tale of murder, theft, and robbery with captains of industry in the leading roles. In spite of Fløgstad's irony, humor, and legendary punning, it is a bitter book that mourns the direction that Norwegian society has taken. The same anger at social conditions is present in Fimbul (1994), which also is a novel about crime, this time with an admixture of terrorism. Set in 1978, when the Nobel Peace Prize is to be awarded to Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin in Oslo, the story centers on the theft of a mortar that is to be used in a fictional assasination attempt. The attempt is foiled, but not before Fløgstad has managed to assault the Norwegian language with his numerous bad puns.
   Fløgstad's social criticism is continued in his magic realist novel Kron og mynt (1998; Heads and Tails), but this novel is not nearly as acerbic as its two predecessors. Fløgstad is much more playful as he constructs a linguistic universe that clearly takes precedence over the segments of reality that are depicted. Anything can happen in Fløgstad's imagination, and his command of the language is superb. This is also the case in Paradis pa jord (2002; Paradise on Earth), which tells the story of a Chilean boy named Jose Andersen (a pun on the name of the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen), the illegitimate son of a Norwegian engineer and a South American native, who travels to Norway in search of his patrimony. The result is a truly adventurous narrative in which Fløgstad once again offers a funhouse image of his homeland.
   Fløgstad has also written travelogues and several volumes of essays, mostly of cultural and social criticism. He writes in nynorsk.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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