Politics at the Service of Aesthetics. The Case of Karen Blixen (with focus on her essay “On Modern Marriage and Other Observations”)

Ieva Steponaviciute

Abstract


Karen Blixen was by no means a passive observer of social and political processes that were taking place around her, as is testified by her essays and articles like “Breve fra et Land i Krig” (1940), “En Baaltale med 14 Aars Forsinkelse” (1952), “Fra Lægmand til Lægmand” (1954), etc. The situation is different with regard to her fiction in which she completely avoided contemporary political and social topics, showing disapproval of realism in literature and the novel as its dominant form. Posing herself as another Scheherazade who neglected social questions and yet created immortal stories, Blixen has succeeded in establishing this image of herself as one of the most durable clichés in her reception. However, this is not to say that political and social issues are totally absent in her fictional texts. In “The Deluge at Norderney” and “Babette‘s Feast,” for example, we hear the echoes of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune with all the great political, social and ideological changes these processes have brought about, while „Sorrow Acre“ sets against each other two historical epochs and social structures − the feudal and the liberal. Out of Africa is in its own turn full of comparisons and contrasts between the native African and the European world concerning their ethical values, mentality, social and cultural practices, which has naturally turned it into an object of scrutiny in postcolonial studies. This list can be continued, however, it is important to note that in Blixen’s texts, the highlighting of social or political issues never seems to be a goal in itself. They are integrated into the overall narrative design both as means of creating the atmosphere (when they are viewed from the distance of time), and also, as a background for expressing certain aesthetic concepts and approaches. Even Blixen’s essays, which address social matters directly, rest on aesthetic arguments. The present paper will investigate from this perspective one of Blixen’s early texts – the essay “On Modern Marriage.” It will be demonstrated that by combining together the discussion of different models of man–woman relationship and different artistic traditions, the essay opens itself up as metatext suggesting an original typology of art. It becomes impossible to decide which of the two discourses – the social or the aesthetic one has the dominant voice in the text, and by foregrounding this ambiguity, the essay subverts the practice of reducing literature to its social function − as simple manifestation of ideology.

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