Der norwegische Autor Jan Kjaerstad im Interview

Jan KjærstadFoto: SEPTIME VERLAG

von Mar­ti­na Sander

Jan Kjaer­stad gilt als ein­er der bedeu­tend­sten Schrift­steller der Gegen­wart. 1953 in Oslo geboren, war der Nor­weger zuerst Pas­tor, Jaz­zpi­anist und Redak­teur der Lit­er­aturzeitschrift „Vin­duet“. Zurecht gewann er 2001 die wichtig­ste lit­er­arische Ausze­ich­nung Skan­di­naviens, den “Lit­er­atur­preis des Nordis­chen Rates”. Sein Werk umfasst neben seinem stat­tlichen Roman­werk auch Essays, Kurzgeschicht­en, Artikel sowie Bilder- und Kinder­büch­er.

Kjærstads Romane sind von epis­chen Aus­maßen, angere­ichert durch ein enzyk­lopädis­ches Wis­sen, das er ohne Rück­sicht auf den Leser/die Leserin auss­chüt­tet, als hätte er einen umfassenden Bil­dungsauf­trag. Seine Büch­er sind bril­lant. Sie sind sehr gut kon­stru­iert, witzig, sub­til, haben einen schlüs­si­gen Plot, ver­lan­gen dem Leser/der Leserin aber einiges ab. Sein Stil ist manch­mal fast man­isch über­hastet, er springt zwis­chen den Zeit­ebe­nen hin und her, lässt sehr viele Fig­uren sich in seinem Uni­ver­sum ver­lieren. Wollte man jedem Zitat, jedem Autor, jedem Musikhin­weis nachge­hen, Kjaer­stads Lebenswerk würde zum eige­nen. Ander­er­seits sind seine Romane hyper­mod­ern und nehmen aktuelle Fra­gen auf und sparen nicht mit Gesellschaft­skri­tik. Seine skur­rilen Charak­tere sind so wun­der­volle Ver­lier­er, mod­erne Don Qui­jotes, jed­er mit einem Alle­in­stel­lungsmerk­mal, die einen eige­nen Roman wert wären.

Im Inter­view hat uns der Autor Rede und Antwort ges­tanden und ein biss­chen Licht in sein Uni­ver­sum gebracht.

Your book “Kon­gen av Europa” has just come out in Ger­many. How does that feel?
It feels great. But that sounds too weak. I’ll rather say it makes me proud. To get trans­lat­ed is an inspi­ra­tion. When I sit by my desk, and no words come out of my head, when I strug­gle, I can think: Wow, I have some nov­els trans­lat­ed into Ger­man, this impor­tant lan­guage which can give me many mil­lions pos­si­ble read­ers. Some­times it helps, the plea­sure push me on to fill more pages with sto­ries.

It says at one point in the book “Ich habe den Post­mod­ernismus eigen­händig in Nor­we­gen einge­führt, dachte Alf, als er am Früh­stück­stisch saß und Lust auf ein Ei hat­te…“  (“I have sin­gle-hand­ed­ly intro­duced post­mod­ernism in Nor­way, thought Alf, as he sat at the break­fast table and felt like hav­ing an egg …”). Did you, Jan Kjaer­stad, intro­duce post­mod­ernism in Nor­way?
No, I didn’t do that, even if I was the edi­tor of a much read Nor­we­gian mag­a­zine called The Win­dow, where we also intro­duced post­mod­ern thoughts. I have writ­ten in more than one essay that post­mod­ernism nev­er came to Nor­way. If some­thing came, it was a bleak copy, a vul­gar ver­sion, of what experts called post­mod­ernism. I have also writ­ten that I am not a post­mod­ernist. If you should put me in a box, it would be the box of late mod­ernism. My under­stand­ing of post­mod­ernism comes through archi­tec­ture. In my youth I dreamed of being an archi­tect, I drew a lot. On my trav­els I always look for archi­tec­ture. In Vien­na I have stud­ied the work of for exam­ple Hans Hollein. But I don’t write like that. I am a sto­ry­teller, but a sto­ry­teller that tries to find new ways of telling sto­ries. And if Alf I. Veber, in the nov­el, is any­thing, he is an admir­er of the Enlight­en­ment. In a new Roman­tic age as ours, we need the cor­rec­tion from the Enlight­en­ment.

Do you con­sid­er your com­plete works as “eine Anleitung, um einen Stre­ich gegen all das Puri­tanis­che, die Rein­heit­shys­terie, die ern­sthafte Uni­for­mität“ (a guide against all the Puri­tan, the hys­te­ria for puri­ty, het seri­ous uni­for­mi­ty) that you see in Nor­way?
Yes. Very much so. I think that is a nation­al weak­ness. Not only a weak­ness, but a dan­ger. It nar­rows the mind. Hen­rik Ibsen (now com­par­i­son, ha ha) saw that dan­ger, and in his plays he crit­i­cised that trait in the Nor­we­gian men­tal­i­ty. I have writ­ten an essay called “A trib­ute to the impure”, where I pay hom­mage to the fact that the nov­el was born as a bas­tard, that is Don Qui­jote, a par­o­dy. I like the trend today of the so called hybrid lit­er­a­ture. Nov­els mix fic­tion and non-fic­tion. There are far too many dog­mas in Nor­we­gian cul­ture. In a world where migra­tion is a fact, we can­not insist on keep­ing our flag white and clean.

Did your view on Nor­way and your life as an author change after the attack on July 22nd  2011?
I will say no. What hap­pened in Nor­way July 22nd has hap­pened else­where in the world for a long time. And it hap­pens every sec­ond day in for exam­ple Irak (but we don’t react). 22nd of July was a shock for many, and for me – that it sud­den­ly also hap­pened here, in Par­adise so to speak. But noth­ing has changed. Politi­cians told us in speech­es that there should be more empa­thy, but they for­got their words the day after. There is not much empa­thy in Nor­we­gian pol­i­tics, we turn away refugees, also chil­dren, in the same way as we did before. Nor­way has enor­mous space, and few peo­ple, but we don’t want strangers to come and live here. That will be our mis­for­tune in the long run.

Soon, the six and last vol­ume of Knausgard‘s “Min Kamp” will come out in Ger­many. His work has trig­gered lots of con­tro­ver­sial dis­cus­sions, espe­cial­ly with Ebba Witt-Brattström. What do you think, how would she react to your por­trait of women in the “Kon­gen av Europa “?
I don’t know. I have a great respect for her. She has done a lot for the con­scious­ness of young women in Scan­di­navia, and she is a good read­er. We need more women and thinkers of her cal­i­bre. If she finds some­thing to crit­i­cise in my nov­els, I will low­er my head. It is always dif­fi­cult for a man to write about women, espe­cial­ly when women are minor char­ac­ters. I have writ­ten two nov­els where women are pro­tag­o­nists. I hope the read­ers will believe in them. In my last nov­el (2016), “Slek­ters gang” (“The Path of Kins”), the women are the sto­ry­tellers. The nov­el is based on an essen­tial fact: The most impor­tant his­tor­i­cal phe­nom­e­na in the 20th Cen­tu­ry is the fight for the women’s equal sta­tus, equal oppor­tu­ni­ty. There is still a lot to do, but com­pared to the 5000 years before, where women were of less val­ue than men, there has been a great leap for­ward in the last 100 years. I hope the female nov­el­ists will lead the way, write the most chal­leng­ing fic­tion, in the 21th Cen­tu­ry.

After read­ing Per Pet­ter­son and Knaus­gard, the Ger­man lit­er­ary crit­i­cism rec­og­nized a new Nor­we­gian type of author – the suf­fer­ing man.  Do you feel like that is a place where you would fit in, too?
I am not there. I write an oth­er type of nov­el. My field is the imag­i­na­tion. I try to make our imag­i­na­tion wider. Orlan­do, Vir­ginia Woolf. What a nov­el! What a char­ac­ter! For if we don’t make our imag­i­na­tion wider, both in our lives and in our soci­ety, we will not sur­vive. There will be no dis­cus­sion of “the suf­fer­ing man”, when mankind is wiped out, ha ha. To be hon­est I hope man will suf­fer more, our behav­iour is dis­gust­ing. We should repent. It is time for all women to step for­ward. Let the men suf­fer and lick their tears.

In Haru­ki Murakami’s 1Q84, the male char­ac­ters are also lone­ly and search­ing for spir­i­tu­al­ism. Do you think it’s a co-inci­dent that a Nor­we­gian and a Japan­ese writer of the same gen­er­a­tion write about a very sim­i­lar range of top­ics? Do you think its maybe even pos­si­ble to talk about a lit­er­a­cy glob­al­iza­tion?
I am open for that view. The world gets small­er. The Inter­net is there for every­body. But there is no glob­al trend, there are always a myr­i­ad of “trends”.

You list­ed 5 top­ics for a good book. What do you mean by “Svaghet”?
I mean a novel’s weak­ness. Crit­ics use to be hard on a novel’s weak spots, but for me the weak­ness is the nec­es­sary con­se­quence of the novel’s strength. Few things are more bor­ing than “per­fect” nov­els. If a writer takes a risk, the nov­el will have holes, bad pas­sages, illog­i­cal gaps in the com­po­si­tion, un-under­stand­able actions, and so on. There are far too many ele­ments of whale in Moby-Dick. But that is the rea­son why Melville’s nov­el is so splen­did.

In your books, music seems to be very impor­tant. What does music mean to you per­son­al­ly?
I am inter­est­ed in every oth­er art form, because you can find things you can trans­form into writ­ing. I have always stud­ied paint­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy, movies, tele­vi­sion, dance, com­put­er games – and music, both clas­si­cal and new, and of course pop­u­lar music. In “The King of Europe” I have espe­cial­ly looked to pop­u­lar music, the enig­ma of writ­ing a pop song that all the world sings and hums. For me there is no con­tra­dic­tion to say that a track of an album, let’s say 3 min­utes, can give you as much plea­sure – and wis­dom – as a nov­el you read for 3 days. Some­times you can “under­stand”, with your mind and body, some­thing when you lis­ten to a pop song that you can­not under­stand even if you read the whole of “The Ency­clopae­dia Bri­tan­ni­ca”. Kierkegaard has said some­thing like this: Where the sun­shine doesn’t reach, the tunes can reach. I have played clas­si­cal piano for ten years, and I have played in a rock-band for as many years, so music will always mean a lot for me. I still have my key­boards and gui­tars.

Who would then be the per­fect audi­ence for your book?
Read­ers who are open mind­ed and curi­ous.

Thank you so much for your time! 



Jan Kjaer­stad
„Der König von Europa“
Aus dem Nor­wegis­chen über­set­zt von Alexan­der Riha
Erschei­n­ungs­jahr: 2016, Sep­time Ver­lag, 670 Seit­en

Der König von Europa“ kann übri­gens portofrei bei Panke­buch bestellt wer­den!

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