[Paleopsych] Esther Greenleaf Mürer: Jens Bjorneboe
checker at panix.com
Wed Jan 25 21:35:51 UTC 2006
Also known as: Jens Bjorneboe
[He was among the Norwegian authors enthusiastically recommended to me by
an absolutely delightful and insightful Norwegian immigrant, Lene
Johansen, at last September's meeting of the Association for Politics and
the Life Sciences. (I don't think Knut Hamsen. Funny.) See her site,
lenejohansen.com. She is as broadly read as I am, and has a degree
bachelor's degree from the University of Olso with a degree emphasis in
comparative religion, law, and intellectual history and an upcoming MA in
journalism from the University of Missouri. She was thinking next of
either a doctorate at the Kennedy School of Government at Ha'va'd (please
no! There are too many of them where I work and are merely perfect
bureaucrats) or one in economics (George Mason has by far the most
innovative and varied curriculum in the world, having replaced U.Va. as
the headquarters for Public Choice, having picked up neuroeconomics,
Austrian school, hermeneutical theory and no doubt more, as well.
[She is most definitely my kind of person, in other words, except that she
is not a big fan of classical music, like my current wife is. She also
[I have as yet to read any of his books and would like a recommendation
from those who know me well enough in person or online.]
By Esther Greenleaf Mürer
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 297: Twentieth-Century Norwegian
Writers. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Tanya Thresher,
University of Wisconsin. Gale, 2004. pp. 11-26.
Source Database: Dictionary of Literary Biography
[Norwegian o slash (ø or ø in HTML) replaced by o/, and small
a ring (å or å in HTML) replace with ao throughout.]
WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:
* Dikt (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1951).
* Fo/r hanen galer (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1952).
* Ariadne (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1953).
* Jonas: roman (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1955); translated by Bernt Jebsen and
Douglas K. Stafford as
The Least of These: A Novel (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1959).
* Under en haordere himmel (Oslo: Cappelen, 1957).
* Den store by (Oslo: Cappelen, 1958).
* Vinter i Bellapalma: av forfatteren Hans Berlows efterlatte papirer
(Oslo: Cappelen, 1958).
* Blaomann (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1959).
* Den onde hyrde: roman (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1960).
* Dro/mmen og hjulet: roman (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1964).
* Til lykke med dagen (Oslo: Pax, 1965).
* Fugleelskerne (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1966); translated by Frederick Wasser as
The Bird Lovers (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1994).
* Frihetens o/yeblikk: heiligenberg-manuskriptet (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1966);
translated by Esther Greenleaf Mürer as Moment of Freedom: The
Heiligenberg Manuscript (New York: Norton, 1975; Norwich, U.K.: Norvik
* Uten en traod, anonymous (Oslo: Scala, 1966); translated by Walter
Barthold as Without a Stitch (New York: Grove, 1969).
* Norge, mitt Norge: essays on formyndermennesket (Oslo: Pax,
1968)--includes "Hans Jæger," translated by Mürer as "Hans Jæger," Jens
Bjo/rneboe in English (29 December 1999)
* Semmelweis: et anti-autoritært skuespill (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1968);
translated by Joe Martin as Semmelweis: An Anti-authoritarian Play (Los
Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1999).
* Uden en trævl II (Copenhagen: Stig Vendelkaers, 1968); translated by H.
H. Bridge as Without a Stitch 2 (New York: Grove, 1971).
* Aske, vind og jord: sanger, viser, og dikt (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1968).
* Kruttaornet (La Poudrière): vitenskapelig efterord og siste protokoll
(Oslo: Gyldendal, 1969); translated by Mürer as Powderhouse: Scientific
Postscript and Last Protocol (Norwich, U.K.: Norvik Press, 2000; Chester
Springs, Pa.: Dufour, 2000).
* Vi som elsket Amerika: essays om stormaktsgalskap, straffelyst, kunst og
moral (Oslo: Pax, 1970).
* Amputasjon: arenaspill i én akt (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1970); translated by
Solrun Hoaas as Amputation, in Amputation: Texts for an Extraordinary
Spectacle, translated by Hoaas and Mürer, edited by Karl Kvitko (Los
Angeles: Xenos, 2003), pp. 55-124.
* Politi og anarki: essays om katter, domstoler og mennesker (Oslo: Pax,
1972)--includes "Litteratur og virkelighet," translated by Mürer as
"Literature and Reality," Jens Bjo/rneboe in English (28 March 2000)
<http://emurer.home.att.net/texts/lit-real.htm>; "Hemingway og dyrene,"
translated by Mürer as "Hemingway and the Beasts," Jens Bjo/rneboe in
English (18 June 1999) <http://emurer.home.att.net/texts/hemingwy.htm>.
* Hertug Hans: en novelle (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1972).
* Stillheten: en anti-roman og absolutt aller siste protokoll (Oslo:
Gyldendal, 1973); translated by Mürer as The Silence: An Anti-novel and
Absolutely the Very Last Protocol (Norwich, U.K.: Norvik Press, 2000;
Chester Springs, Pa.: Dufour, 2000).
* Tilfellet Torgersen: rekonstruert av aktstykker. Scénario (Oslo: Pax,
* Haiene: historien om et mannskap og et forlis (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1974);
translated by Mürer as The Sharks: The History of a Crew and a Shipwreck
(Norwich, U.K.: Norvik Press, 1992).
* Dongery: en collage om forretningsstaanden og om markedsfo/rerens liv
(Oslo: Pax, 1976).
* Under en mykere himmel: brev og bud fra en Steinerskole, edited by André
Bjerke (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1976).
* Ro/d Emma (Oslo: Forlaget Bjo/rnsons Grav, 1976).
* Samlede dikt, edited by Bjerke (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1977).
* Lanterner: noveller, reisebrev, epistler, edited by Bjerke, illustrated
by Bjo/rneboe (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1977).
* Om Brecht, edited by Tone T. Bjo/rneboe and Fredrik Engelstad (Oslo:
* Om teater, edited by Tone T. Bjo/rneboe and Engelstad (Oslo: Pax,
1978)--includes "Teateret i morgen," translated by Mürer as "The Theater
Tomorrow," in Amputation: Texts for an Extraordinary Spectacle, pp. 3-18;
"Skogene bak Iguananatten," translated by Mürer as "The Forests behind The
Night of the Iguana," Jens Bjo/rneboe in English (28 April 2000)
* Bo/ker og mennesker: artikler i utvalg, edited by Aud Gulbransen and
Jadwige T. Kvadsheim (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1979)--includes "Ernst
Josephson--hans liv og kunst," translated by Mürer as "Ernst Josephson,
His Life and Work," Jens Bjo/rneboe in English (July 2001)
<http://emurer.home.att.net/texts/josephsn.htm>; "När jeg skrev Jonas,"
translated by Mürer as "When I Wrote Jonas," Jens Bjo/rneboe in English
(February 2001) <http://emurer.home.att.net/texts/jonas.htm>;
"Strindberg--den fruktbare," translated by Mürer as "Strindberg the
Fertile," Jens Bjo/rneboe in English (July 2001)
Editions and Collections
* Samlede skuespill (Oslo: Pax, 1973).
* Samlede verker, 15 volumes (Oslo: Gyldendal/Pax, 1995).
* Samlede essays, 6 volumes (Oslo: Gyldendal/Pax, 1996).
Editions in English
* "Anarchism--Today?" and "Anarchism as Future," in Degrees of Freedom:
Anarchist Essays by and about Jens Bjo/rneboe, translated by Esther
Greenleaf Mürer (Philadelphia: Protocol Press, 1998), pp. 1-11.
* Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Romulus den Store, translated by Bjo/rneboe, Oslo,
* Til lykke med dagen, Oslo, Oslo Nye Teater, 21 February 1965.
* Ornithofilene, Oslo, Odin Teater, October 1965; revised as
Fugleelskerne, Oslo, Nationaltheatret, 5 November 1966.
* Edward Albee, Balansegang, translated by Bjo/rneboe, Oslo,
* Dürrenmatt, Meteoren, translated by Bjo/rneboe, Oslo, Nationaltheatret,
* Friedrich von Schiller, Morderne, translated by Bjo/rneboe, Oslo,
* Peter Weiss, Sangen om utysket, translated by Bjo/rneboe, Oslo,
* Semmelweis, Turku, Finland, aobo Svenska Teater, 24 September 1969;
Oslo, Nationaltheatret, 19
* Amputasjon, Stockholm, Friteatern, 1 April 1970; Oslo, Nationaltheatret,
* August Strindberg, Fro/ken Julie, translated by Bjo/rneboe, Oslo,
* Tilfellet Torgersen, Oslo, Scene 7, 25 November 1973.
* Dongery, Oslo, Scene 7, November 1974.
* Franz Wedekind, Vaorlo/sning, translated by Bjo/rneboe, Oslo, Oslo Nye
* Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, Det gamle spill om Enver, translated by
Bjo/rneboe, radio, Radioteatret, 5 April 1955.
* Brendan Behan, Særlingen, translated by Bjo/rneboe, television,
Fjernsynsteatret, 4 April 1963.
* "Semmelweis," radio, Radioteatret, Norsk rikskringkasting, 29 May 1977.
* "Semmelweis," television, Fjernsynsteatret, Norsk rikskringkasting, 30
* "Fugleelskerne," radio, Radioteatret, Norsk rikskringkasting, 2 October
* "Til lykke med dagen," television, Fjernsynsteatret, Norsk
rikskringkasting, 3 May 1988.
* Vaopenlo/s: Jens Bjo/rneboe leser egne dikt, read by Bjo/rneboe,
Zarepta, SKA 1434, 1976.
* Bertolt Brecht, Tolvskillingsoperaen (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1964).
* Miodrag Bulatovic, Helten pao eselryggen (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1966).
* André Grabar and Manolis Chatzidakis, Det kristne og bysantinske maleri
* Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Meteoren (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1967).
* Donatien-Alphonse Françoise, marquis de Sade, Justine eller Dydens
ulykker (Oslo: Pax, 1970).
* Georg Büchner, Dantons do/d and Voyzek, in Büchner, Samlede verker
(Oslo: Gyldendal, 1973).
SELECTED PERIODICAL PUBLICATION--UNCOLLECTED
* "Det utrolige," Spektrum, no. 2 (1949): 101-111.
Jens Bjo/rneboe was one of the most cosmopolitan, versatile, and
controversial Norwegian writers of his day. His career is fraught with
paradoxes. He belongs to the tradition of Norwegian literary radicalism in
that he engaged intensely with the issues of his time and place, taking
the part of the wretched, defending individual freedom against convention
and authoritarianism, and mounting strong attacks on the Norwegian
educational and judicial systems. Yet, he was first and foremost a
European writer, mindful of a deeper cultural stream--the Bible, classical
antiquity, and the masterpieces of European literature and art--and most
of his major works are set outside Norway. While his writings are both
strongly political and strongly metaphysical, Bjo/rneboe resisted
identification with any political or religious orthodoxy. Although he made
relentless use of his own biography, his sights remained firmly fixed on
the outside world. In his essay "Litteratur og virkelighet" (Literature
and Reality), published in Politi og anarki: essays om katter, domstoler
og mennesker (Police and Anarchy: Essays about Cats, Courts, and People,
1972), he maintained that "Skjo/nnlitteraturens omraode er hverken det
indre eller det ytre; dens oppgave er ao utforske mo/tet mellom dem begge"
(The province of literature is neither the interior nor the exterior; its
task is to explore the meeting between the two).
The list of non-Scandinavian writers, artists, and thinkers to whom
Bjo/rneboe pays homage in his works is a long one. German, French, and
Italian names predominate, but the roster also includes Eastern Europeans
and Anglophone writers. His essays on Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee
Williams--"Hemingway og dyrene" (translated as "Hemingway and the Beasts,"
1999) in Politi og anarki and "Skogene bak Iguananatten" (translated as
"The Forests behind The Night of the Iguana," 2000), first published on 3
December 1962 in the newspaper Dagbladet and collected in his Om Teater
(On Theater, 1978)--are among his strongest. The failure of his work to
cross the language barrier into English during his lifetime has prevented
this atypically universalist Norwegian writer from receiving a hearing in
the international arena where he most properly belongs. Only since 1990
have a significant number of his works appeared in English translation.
In a span of twenty-five years Bjo/rneboe published four volumes of
poetry, fourteen novels, six plays, and several hundred articles and
essays. In addition, fourteen of his translations of German, French, and
English works were either published or performed. He was a disciplined
craftsman; yet, most of his work is flawed. He was an experimenter, not a
perfectionist. He says in "Litteratur og virkelighet" that "efter min
oppfatning er diktningen en empirisk vitenskap" (in my experience writing
literature is an empirical science), and he was continually in search of
the right form for the expression of what he wanted to say. He is at his
most polished and formally conventional as a poet and at his most
experimental in his trilogy of novels popularly known as Bestialitetens
Historie (The History of Bestiality) and in his plays. As a dramatist
Bjo/rneboe sought alternatives to the bourgeois theater tradition of
Henrik Ibsen, which he saw as reflecting an ordered, moral, logical
worldview that no longer sufficed.
Jens Ingvald Bjo/rneboe was born on 9 October 1920 in Kristiansand in
southern Norway. He was the youngest of three children of Ingvald
Bjo/rneboe, a shipowner who also served as the Belgian consul, and Anne
Marie "Maja" Bjo/rneboe, née Svenson. His mother, who was twenty years
younger than her husband, cultivated the family's prominence in local
society while distancing the children from their father. Bjo/rneboe
relates in an unpublished autobiographical fragment that he felt stifled
by the conventional and conservative small-town milieu. He was a sickly
child and was often depressed and lonely. At fifteen he took a year off
from school because of pleurisy and read voraciously. A book that made a
decisive impression on him was Wolfgang Langhoff's Die Moorsoldaten: 13
monate konzentrationslager (Peatbog Soldiers: Thirteen Months in a
Concentration Camp, 1935; translated as Rubber Truncheon: Being an Account
of Thirteen Months Spent in a Concentration Camp, 1935). This account by
an escapee from the Oranienburg concentration camp set Bjo/rneboe to
pondering the problem of evil and marked the beginning of his lifelong
love-hate affair with German culture.
From early adolescence Bjo/rneboe became increasingly rebellious; his
alcoholic tendencies also began at this time. He was expelled from several
schools, worked as a deckhand on his father's ships, traveled on the
Continent with his mother, and studied painting with the Kristiansand
expressionist painter Edvard Vigebo. His father died in 1939. The
following year Bjo/rneboe enrolled at the Kunst- og haondverkskolen
(School of Art and Handicraft) in Oslo; the school was closed by the
Germans soon after they invaded Norway on 9 April 1940, and Bjo/rneboe
continued his studies at the painter Axel Revold's illegal art academy.
For two years he shared an apartment with Vigebo and Vigebo's wife, who
had moved to Oslo, and he and Vigebo--who had also studied with
Revold--continued painting together. In Oslo he became acquainted with
anthroposophy, the religious system founded by Rudolf Steiner, through his
cousin André Bjerke and Bjerke's friend Karl Brodersen.
In 1943 Bjo/rneboe was warned that the Germans were about to conscript him
for forced labor, and he and Brodersen fled to Sweden. Bjo/rneboe found
lodgings with Karl Enqvist, a priest of the Steiner-inspired
Kristensamfunn (Christian Community) church, where Bjo/rneboe participated
in services as an acolyte. During the rest of the war years he deepened
his acquaintance with anthroposophy and studied painting at the Kunglige
Kunsthögskolan (Royal Academy of Art) in Stockholm under Isaac Grünewald,
a former pupil of Henri Matisse. Bjo/rneboe made his debut as an artist in
1944 with a solo exhibition of landscapes, portraits, and still lifes in
which the most salient influence is that of Paul Cézanne.
The years in Stockholm brought Bjo/rneboe into close contact with many
refugees from both the German and the Soviet regimes. In 1945 he married
Lisel Funk, a German Jewish refugee he had met in anthroposophical
circles. Bjo/rneboe returned to Norway with his bride and continued to
paint; but he recalled in a 1971 interview with Odd Berset that is
included in Samtaler med Jens Bjo/rneboe (Interviews with Jens Bjo/rneboe,
1987), edited by Haovard Rem, that "Mens jeg malte . . . surret det inne i
hodet mitt alltid en dialog . . . om kulturpolitiske, om sosiale,
psykologiske, og andre problemer. Av og til ble jeg fortvilet, fordi jeg
ikke maktet ao bremse denne ustoppelige dialogen, mens jeg malte" (As I
painted . . . there was always a dialogue buzzing inside my head . . .
about cultural, political, social, psychological, and other problems. I
sometimes despaired because I could not manage to put the brakes on this
unstoppable dialogue while I was painting). In 1946 he had a solo
exhibition of forty-five paintings in Kristiansand and used the proceeds
from the works he sold to buy a typewriter. The following year he appeared
in print for the first time with an article about a Swedish painter,
"Ernst Josephson--hans liv og kunst" (translated as "Ernst Josephson, His
Life and Work," 2000), in the Oslo newspaper Aftenposten. (Bjo/rneboe
continued to draw throughout his life but seems not to have painted after
During the next few years Bjo/rneboe traveled on the Continent. He
supported himself by writing travel letters to Aftenposten, often with
witty illustrations, which were posthumously collected in Lanterner:
Noveller, reisebrev, epistler (Lanterns: Short Stories, Travel Sketches,
Epistles, 1977). He also tried his hand at an historical novella set in
the early seventeenth century, Hertug Hans (Duke Hans), which was turned
down by several publishers in 1948. The title character, the younger
brother of Christian IV of Denmark, is to marry the czar's daughter after
undertaking a mission to the Spanish general Ambrogio di Spinola, who is
fighting the Protestants in the Netherlands. The horrors he encounters en
route are too much for Hans's melancholic nature, and he wastes away and
dies in Russia at the age of nineteen. When Hertug Hans was finally
published in 1972, Bjo/rneboe wrote in the foreword that the novella
"slutter seg konsekvent til nesten alt jeg senere har skrevet: sinnets
mo/te med virkeligheten, med urettens og bestialitetens verden,--med det
uforstaoelige at en i seg selv god og vakker verden er blitt ond og
urettferdig" (was consistent with almost everything I have written since:
the mind's meeting with reality, with the world of injustice and
bestiality--with the incomprehensible fact that a world in itself good and
beautiful has become evil and unjust). Still, Hertug Hans definitely
belongs to Bjo/rneboe's early period and has a clear anthroposophical
In 1950 Bjo/rneboe took a part-time job teaching carpentry at the Rudolf
Steiner School in Oslo. The following year he became a full-time teacher
in all subjects; he remained in that position until 1957. During much of
this period he edited the school magazine, Ny skole (New School). His
articles from that publication, elucidating various facets of Steiner's
system of Waldorf education, as well as two short plays he wrote for
performance by his pupils, were collected posthumously as Under en mykere
himmel: Brev og bud fra en Steinerskole (Under a Gentler Sky: Letters and
News from a Steiner School, 1976).
In 1950 Bjerke published four sonnets by Bjo/rneboe in the magazine Ordet
(The Word), of which he was the editor. The following year Bjo/rneboe
brought out his first book, the small collection Dikt (Poems); it was an
instant success, going through three printings that fall. The poems are
heavily inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke and the Norwegian lyric poet Olaf
Bull; most are sonnets and other forms with rhyme and meter. Themes from
the Bible, classical antiquity, and medieval and Renaissance art reflect
Bjo/rneboe's affiliation with anthroposophy and Waldorf education, as well
as his background as a painter. Poems of a more personal nature include
some that deal with his childhood. The critics, while mostly positive,
worried about Bjo/rneboe's aestheticism and lack of political engagement.
Yet, the seeds of his later anarchism are present in such poems as "Fo/r
solhverv" (Before the Solstice), a long ode to the nineteenth-century
bohemian and anarchist Hans Jæger that concludes the collection.
On a visit to Germany in 1947 Bjo/rneboe had been given trial documents
concerning medical experiments on prisoners in Nazi concentration camps by
Sigmund Rascher; later he had come into contact with members of Rascher's
family. Bjo/rneboe wrote about the case in a long article, "Det utrolige"
(The Unbelievable), published in the magazine Spektrum in 1949, then used
the material as the basis for a play. When the play was rejected by the
Oslo Studioteatret (Studio Theater) in 1950, Bjo/rneboe turned it into the
novel Fo/r hanen galer (Ere the Cock Crows, 1952).
The first two chapters of Fo/r hanen galer are a fictionalized
first-person account of Bjo/rneboe's own experiences: a Norwegian
journalist in postwar Germany encounters relief workers, a former SS man,
and the widow and son of Reynhardt, who is based on Rascher, and pieces
together the events of 1940. The narrator then disappears, and his
reconstruction of the story is presented in the third person. It centers
on the moral schizophrenia that enables Reynhardt to believe that his
experiments on prisoners are ethically and politically neutral as he
succumbs to pressure from the camp commandant, Heidebrand, to use his
scientific prestige for political ends. In the end Heidebrand undergoes a
spiritual transformation, while Reynhardt becomes thoroughly hated and is
finally killed by the prisoners. Although the initial reception of the
novel was in the main positive, most commentators agree that the content
is not well served by the abrupt change of form after the strong opening.
Bjo/rneboe published a second poetry collection, Ariadne, in 1953. The
fiftieth anniversary of Norway's independence called forth one of his most
seminal essays, "Hans Jæger" (translated, 1999), published in Spektrum in
1955 and collected in his Norge, mitt Norge: essays on formyndermennesket
(Norway, My Norway: Essays on the Guardian Type) in 1968. He thinks that
his own generation, having come of age with the Reichstag fire and the
Moscow Trials, has more in common with fin de siècle sensibilities and the
dire prophecies of Jaeger than with those who are celebrating the events
of 1905. Building on Jæger's slogan, "Metafysikk eller selvmord"
(Metaphysics or suicide), Bjo/rneboe works out an early statement of the
tension between his own metaphysical and politically engaged sides by
contrasting two archetypes: the "Monk," who keeps the metaphysical
connection but risks losing "blodtilfo/relsen fra den jordiske virkelighet
og dens problemer" (the blood supply from earthly reality and its
problems), and the "Knight of the Grail," who, if he loses sight of the
Grail, "mister sin navlestreng til det metafysiske som en gang faktisk
satte ham igang, og alle hans gjerninger havner i meningslo/st slagsmaol
og tomt stell" (loses the umbilical cord to the metaphysical realm that in
fact once set him in motion, and all his deeds end up in meaningless
fights and empty busyness). Bjo/rneboe sees Jæger as the quintessential
"tapte Gralsridder" (failed Knight of the Grail): "han tapte metafysikken,
men beholdt selvmordet" (he lost the metaphysics but kept the suicide).
Bjo/rneboe often used essays as preliminary sketches for longer works, and
the essay on Jæger anticipates his next novel, Jonas (1955; translated as
The Least of These, 1959), both with its portrait of Bjo/rneboe's
generation and with its use of the Holy Grail legend. The novel draws on
Bjorneboe's experiences as a teacher. A bright but dyslexic boy from a
poor family is brutalized by the "salamanders," the bureaucrats of the
Norwegian public-school system. When the authorities threaten to send him
to a school for the retarded, he stows away on a ship. He is discovered by
a sailor known only as Jungmannen (the Apprentice), whose history has
elements in common with Bjo/rneboe's own. The boy and the sailor end up as
pupil and teacher at a school much like the Steiner School, a milieu in
which they can thrive.
Jonas was read as an attack on the Norwegian school system and awakened a
storm of controversy. In the Oslo newspaper Verdens Gang (11 October 1955)
the writer Sigurd Hoel called it the most significant Norwegian novel
since the war. In the essay "När jeg skrev Jonas" (translated as "When I
Wrote Jonas," 2001), published in the Swedish magazine Bokvännen in 1956
and collected in Bo/ker og mennesker: artikler i utvalg (Books and People:
Selected Articles, 1979), Bjo/rneboe insists that the work was not
intended as a tendentious novel but as a morality play based on the Holy
Grail legends and the biblical story of Jonah. To the charge that the
school authorities in his novel were caricatures rather than fully
developed human beings he replied that they were intended as symbols of
"systemet--det store vacuum. Dette er samtidens demoni: 'mennesket' uten
blikk og trekk" (the system--the great vacuum. This is the demonic of our
time--the "human being" without gaze or features). Jonas remains the most
widely read of Bjo/rneboe's early novels. It includes some of the finest
descriptions of childhood in Norwegian literature, as well as a moving
portrait of the rootlessness of Bjo/rneboe's generation. It is also his
longest work; it was heavily edited, and passages were rearranged, in the
In 1956 Bjo/rneboe visited the Goetheanum, the world headquarters of the
anthroposophical movement in Dornach, Switzerland. While there, he read
Bertolt Brecht's obituary in a Swiss newspaper. In the foreword to an
unfinished book with the working title "Brecht--kommisær eller yogi?"
(Brecht--Commissar or Yogi?), fragments of which are included in the
posthumous collection Om Brecht (On Brecht, 1977), Bjo/rneboe says that
despite his early immersion in German literature, his wartime acquaintance
with refugees whose relatives Joseph Stalin had handed over to Adolf
Hitler had caused him to avoid Brecht. But after reading the poem "An die
Nachgeborenen" (To Those Born Later), reprinted in the newspaper that
carried the obituary, he came to see Brecht in a wholly different light. A
performance of Brecht's Die heiglige Johanna der Schlachthöfe (1932;
translated as Saint Joan of the Stockyards, 1969) that he saw in Hamburg
shortly afterward rekindled his long-dormant interest in the theater.
Those two events began "en aorelang beskjeftigelse med Brechts diktning og
teaterarbeide" (years of engagement with Brecht's writings and theater
work), which included several sojourns with Brecht's Berliner Ensemble
during which he studied Brecht's plays and observed the company's
Bjo/rneboe's next novel, Under en haordere himmel (Under a Harsher Sky,
1957), also uses characters to represent moral abstractions. It takes aim
at an even more explosive subject than Jonas: the treatment of Nazi
collaborators in Norway after World War II. A family collaborates for
reasons that are naive but well intentioned and is destroyed by the
reprisals following the war. The villain is Wastrup, a leftist
intellectual who cynically undermines the Norwegian constitutional
provision against retroactive laws. He represents what Bjo/rneboe sees as
the destructive, conflict-loving masculine principle, while the heroine,
Fransiska, embodies the life-conserving, constructive feminine
principle--a portrayal that some feminists have found offensive.
As with Jonas, the mythological structure Bjo/rneboe had intended for the
novel was overshadowed by the topical subject matter. The book was met
with virtually unanimous outrage: Bjo/rneboe was accused of falsifying the
historical facts, oversimplification, and distortion, and he received
death threats. Although in Metafysikk eller selvmord: et essay om Jens
Bjo/rneboe og antroposofien (Metaphysics or Suicide: An Essay on Jens
Bjo/rneboe and Anthroposophy, 1996) Kaj Skagen calls Under en haordere
himmel one of Bjo/rneboe's most artistically successful novels, few other
commentators have ever had a good word to say about it.
The attacks came at a time when Bjo/rneboe's marriage was breaking up; he
had lost his job at the Steiner School; and he was suffering a resurgence
of depression and alcoholism. Sentenced to jail for drunk driving, he fled
to southern Europe and spent the next two years traveling, chiefly in
Italy, Germany, and Switzerland. During this period he published a third
poetry collection, Den store by (The Big City, 1958), and the comic novel
Vinter i Bellapalma: av forfatteren Hans Berlows efterlatte papirer
(Winter in Bellapalma: From the Posthumous Papers of the Writer Hans
Berlow, 1958), a burlesque of Hemingway about the relations between
tourists and natives in an Italian fishing village. This novel foreshadows
Bjo/rneboe's treatment of the impact of globalization on a community in
the play Fugleelskerne (1966; translated as The Bird Lovers, 1994)--the
priest, Father Leone, is a clear prototype of Father Piccolino in the
later work--and also anticipates elements in the Italian sections of
Frihetens o/yeblikk: heiligenberg-manuskriptet (1966; translated as Moment
of Freedom: The Heiligenberg Manuscript, 1975). It includes a sympathetic
portrayal of a gay man, the first overt reference to homosexuality in
Bjo/rneboe's writings. But the lighthearted tone of the novel is so unlike
what readers had come to expect of Bjo/rneboe that it has been virtually
ignored by critics.
The year 1959 was a pivotal one for Bjo/rneboe. He continued to prepare
for his long-delayed debut as a dramatist during a long sojourn with the
Berliner Ensemble. A second visit to Dornach provided closure to his
formal affiliation with anthroposophy. In his 1984 biography Fredrik
Wandrup quotes Bjo/rneboe as saying in a 1970 interview in the newspaper
Morgenposten that he had come to see anthroposophy as "en lukket,
autoritær bevegelse . . . stadig mer kryptisk, sekterisk, selvopptatt og
verdensfjern" (a closed, authoritarian movement . . . increasingly
cryptic, sectarian, self-absorbed and isolated from the world).
Bjo/rneboe, however, remained a member of the Kristensamfunn until his
On his return to Norway, Bjo/rneboe published Blaomann (Little Boy Blue,
1959), a bildungsroman about the childhood and early manhood of Sem
Tangstad, a gifted painter from a town resembling Kristiansand. As a child
Sem, whose father committed suicide when Sem was an infant, is isolated
from normal social relationships by his overprotective mother and two
aunts; he finds solace in a set of illustrated books about European art
museums, from which he assiduously copies the paintings. He studies with a
local painter, attends art school in Oslo, marries, and has a child. He is
regarded as a genius but does not exhibit. When he receives a substantial
commission for a portrait, he squanders the money in a several-week-long
drinking binge from which he emerges ready to move forward with his
painting. Critics generally agree that the novel loses its way after a
strong beginning, but recent scholarship has shown how Bjo/rneboe uses
color to symbolize the tension between the physical and spiritual aspects
of the protagonist's life.
In the fall of 1959 Bjo/rneboe served the several weeks' jail sentence for
drunk driving that he had incurred two years earlier. He subsequently
published a series of newspaper articles exposing the medieval punishments
meted out to young offenders and the frequency of bizarre suicide
attempts; in one case he accused the judicial authorities of murder.
Readers reacted with shock, the authorities with silence. Bjo/rneboe used
the prison material in the novel Den onde hyrde (The Evil Shepherd, 1960).
Tonnie, the product of juvenile homes and a reformatory, is released from
prison and attempts to go straight but is rejected by everyone but a
former partner in crime. When he ends up back in prison, he retreats into
catatonia. The insight that the bureaucracy's first priority is always
self-defense crystallized the anti-authoritarian stance for which
Bjo/rneboe became known in the 1960s.
Bjo/rneboe's first marriage was dissolved, and in March 1961 he married
the actress and dancer Tone Tveteraas. The dramatist Helge Krog, who had
been involved in a similar debate on prison conditions in the 1930s,
proposed that he and Bjo/rneboe collaborate on a dramatization of Den onde
hyrde. The collaboration was cut short by Krog's illness and death in
Meanwhile, Bjo/rneboe was working out his own views on dramaturgy. He
wrote an erotic comedy, Ingen har sett oss (No One Has Seen Us), in which
the plot hinges on the gradual revelation of past events through
conversation in the manner of Ibsen's plays. The work was accepted by the
Oslo Nye Teater (New Theater) in 1961, but Bjo/rneboe withdrew it before
it could be performed. He had decided that before he could make his debut
as a dramatist he must find an alternative to the naturalist retro
technique that, because of Ibsen, dominated the Norwegian theater. In the
essay "Strindberg--den fruktbare" (translated as "Strindberg the Fertile,"
2001), published in Aftenposten (4 April 1963) and collected in Bo/ker og
Mennesker, he says,
Pao den rent teatermessig plan er Strindberg blitt en inspirator, hvor
Ibsen er blitt en belastning, en urokkelig gravsten som bevarer den
teaterform som Ibsen behersket og derfor ville beholde uforandret. I den
dramatiske verdenslittertur har Strindberg mange efterkommere, Ibsen
ingen. Ogsao i sin sterilitet var han fullkommen.
(On a purely theatrical plane [August] Strindberg has become a source of
inspiration, while Ibsen has become a burden, an immovable gravestone
which preserves that form of theater which Ibsen mastered and therefore
wished to keep unchanged. In dramatic world literature Strindberg has many
descendants, Ibsen none. In his sterility too he was perfect.)
In quest of an alternative to Ibsen, Bjo/rneboe immersed himself in the
work of such non-Norwegian innovators as Brecht, Strindberg, Williams,
Marcel Marceau, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, and Henryk Tomaszewski and such
pioneers as Carlo Goldoni and André Antoine. Many of the essays in the
posthumous collections Om Brecht (On Brecht, 1977) and Om teater were
first published during this period. In "Teatret i morgen" (translated as
"The Theater Tomorrow," 2003), published in Ordet in 1963 and collected in
Om Teater, Bjo/rneboe argues that as thought becomes more abstract in the
nuclear age the theater must become more physical and concrete, drawing on
pantomime and the circus:
Bak den frykteligste fysiske virkning menneskeheten hittil har
iscenesatt--Hiroshima og Nagasaki--lao ogsao den abstrakteste tenkning
some hittell er blitt prestert. Det mest paofallende ere altsao i hvilken
grad den abstrakte tanke har inkarnert i materien. Det samme mao gjelde
teatret; det filosofiske tankeinnhold vil ikke leve i dialogene eller
monologene som tidligere,--men stadig mere direkte inkarnert i de
fysisk-sceniske prosesser. . . . Et tidsmessig teater vil altsao bli baode
vitenskapelig-filosofisk og sirkusmessig-fysisk pao én gang. Alt mao bli
handling, og det vil bli definitivt slutt pao den gamle statuariske
deklamasjon av "poetiske" eller "dypsindige" replikker.
(Behind the most horrible physical effects humanity has hitherto
produced--Hiroshima and Nagasaki--lay the most abstract thinking that has
so far been achieved. The most striking thing is thus the degree to which
abstract thought has been incarnated in matter. The same must apply to the
theater: the philosophical content will not come to life in dialogues or
monologues as before--but must be ever more directly incarnated in
physical stage processes. . . . A contemporary theater will thus be
scientific and philosophical, and circus-like and physical, all at the
same time. Everything must become action, and there will be a definitive
end to the old statuary declamation of "poetic" or "profound" speeches.)
He embodied these ideas in the experimental fragment Amputasjonen (The
Amputation), published in Ordet in 1964 and collected in Om Teater, but he
did not think that he would find a troupe with the acrobatic ability to
In 1962 the Bjo/rneboes had moved to the former estate of the Jo/lsen
family in Enebakk. Bjo/rneboe's next novel, Dro/mmen og hjulet (The Dream
and the Wheel, 1964), follows the family for several generations but
focuses on Holm Jo/lsen, who had attempted to industrialize the valley,
and his daughter, the novelist Ragnhild Jo/lsen, who died from a drug
overdose at thirty-three. The latter is Bjo/rneboe's most fully realized
female character. His identification with her as an artist--her dark
themes, her immersion in local pagan myths and rejection of conventional
Christianity, and her resistance to finishing her chef d'oeuvre--enables
him to transcend the conventional view of women for which he has often
In 1963 Bjorneboe had completed the naturalistic drama based on Den onde
hyrde that he and Krog had begun, but with the encouragement of the
Israeli director Izzy Abrahami he took the material in a more experimental
direction. To the story of Tonnie he added a sardonic counterpoint through
the use of a two-tier stage set and three representatives of "the system":
the prison director, chaplain, and doctor. The theatrical illusion is
further broken by elements of circus and pantomime and by songs, with
music by Finn Ludt, that contrast with and comment on the action. The play
premiered at the Olso Nye Teater in February 1965 as Til lykke med dagen
(Many Happy Returns).
Bjo/rneboe's second play appeared in two versions. Eugenio Barba's Odin
Theater, then located in Oslo, staged an improvisatory version titled
Ornithofilene after a working draft. It ran for fifty-one performances
between October 1965 and March 1966 and gave Bjo/rneboe fresh insights for
the final version, Fugleelskerne, which opened at the Nationaltheatret
(National Theater) in November 1966 under the direction of Carl Maria
(Charly) Weber and with music by Hans Dieter Hosalla, both of the Berliner
Ensemble. The play is a savage satire of economic imperialism and the way
greed destroys the sense of community. A group of Germans, some of them
former Nazis, want to turn an Italian village into a tourist resort for
bird-watchers; they are opposed by the local hunting club, which includes
former partisans victimized by the same Nazis. After many plot twists, the
defrocked priest, Father Piccolino, finds a way for the villagers to
justify selling out. Fugleelskerne is considered Bjo/rneboe's best and
most innovative play. It has been translated into many languages, and at
least three English translations exist (only one has been published). In
1967 the Nationaltheatret declined an invitation to perform the play at
the International Theater Festival in Venice, exacerbating an already bad
relationship between Bjo/rneboe, who was difficult to work with and was
trying to challenge Ibsen's grip on Norwegian dramaturgy, and the
Norwegian theater establishment. Bjo/rneboe, however, later admitted that
the spectacle of Norwegians playing Italians in Italy would have been
Also in 1966 Bjo/rneboe published the experimental bildungsroman Frihetens
o/yeblikk, which is generally considered his masterpiece. The unnamed
narrator is a rettstjener (rendered as "Servant of Justice" in the English
translation, the word also means "court official") in the fictional Alpine
principality of Heiligenberg. In his spare time he is writing a colossal
multivolume work, The History of Bestiality. The narrator struggles to
remember his past, his long years of wandering in "landet Kaos" (the Land
of Chaos), and how he came to be in Heiligenberg. Like Bjo/rneboe, the
narrator spent the war years in Stockholm and studied painting with
Grünewald. He has also been in Germany--"min pæl i kjo/det . . . det kors
jeg er spirket pao" (the thorn in my flesh . . . the cross I'm nailed
to)--and in Italy, which gave him a liberating perspective. He has written
fourteen "protocols," volumes of The History of Bestiality that mirror
Bjo/rneboe's previous works. The central dynamic of the novel is the
narrator's struggle to overcome his resistance to speaking his own truth
about the world around him. In his Et speil for oss selv: menneskesyn og
virkelighetsoppfatning i norsk etterkrigsprosa (A Mirror for Ourselves:
View of Man and Conception of Truth in Postwar Norwegian Prose, 1968) Leif
Longum contends that in this work Bjo/rneboe finally found a way to
"uttrykke en ny virkelighet, som de gamle ordene, de gamle formene, ikke
lenger strekke til for. . . . Den frigjo/ringsprosess boken forteller om,
bekreftes av det den er: den forteller om en vilje til ao gi en personlig
visjon av sannheten, her og nu, eksistentielt" (express a new reality for
which the old words, the old forms, no longer suffice. . . . The process
of liberation the book tells about is confirmed by what it is: it tells of
a will to give a personal vision of the truth, here and now,
For most Norwegians, however, Frihetens o/yeblikk was overshadowed by
another Bjo/rneboe novel that appeared the same year: the pornographic
Uten en traod (translated as Without a Stitch, 1969), an unflagging
account of the sexual adventures of a young woman. Although it was
published anonymously, the author was soon unmasked; the book was
confiscated; and the author and publisher were prosecuted in a trial that
was frequently in the headlines in 1967. The defense argued that the book
was mild compared to much of the pornography freely available; but the
book was banned (the prohibition was not lifted until the early 1990s).
Bjo/rneboe and the publisher were each fined 100 kroner; Bjo/rneboe had to
pay 5,000 kroner and the publisher 10,000 kroner in court costs, and both
men were sentenced to two days in jail.
After losing an appeal to the Supreme Court--which even increased both the
fine and the jail sentence--Bjo/rneboe wrote a sequel that was published
in Denmark as Uden en trævl 2 (1968; translated as Without a Stitch 2,
1971). It was dedicated to the Norwegian Supreme Court and included
obscene, wittily surrealistic drawings by the author, mostly involving
judges or policemen. That same year he published his first essay
collection, Norge, mitt Norge. The many pieces related to the trial
include Bjo/rneboe's 1957 defense of Agnar Mykle, whose Sangen om den
ro/de rubin (1956; translated as The Song of the Red Ruby, 1961) had been
the subject of a similar case. A section on the United States anticipates
the theme that dominates his next collection, Vi som elsket Amerika:
essays om stormaktsgalskap, straffelyst, kunst og moral (We Who Loved
America: Essays on the Madness of Superpowers, the Desire to Punish, Art
and Morals, 1970). He also published a mostly complete but
nonchronological collection of his poetry, Aske, vind og jord: Sanger,
viser, og dikt (Ashes, Wind and Earth: Songs, Ditties, and Poems, 1968),
meant to show the affinities between his earlier and later work.
Semmelweis: et anti-autoritært skuespill (1968; translated as Semmelweis:
An Anti-authoritarian Play, 1999) was intended as the first in a projected
series of works about "frihetens historie" (the history of freedom). It is
the story of Ignaz Semmelweis, the discoverer of antisepsis. After finding
that childbed fever could be prevented if doctors washed their hands
before examining the mothers, Semmelweis spent the rest of his life
battling to get a hearing from the medical establishment. The issue of
class prejudice looms large in the play as the prestige of the doctors
takes precedence over the welfare of the lower-class women and the
authority of the textbooks overrides the empirical findings of the "mad
Hungarian" who gets his ideas from prostitutes and toilet cleaners.
Bjo/rneboe's first play without songs, Semmelweis is of epic length, with
many short scenes and minimal sets that can be shifted quickly. A statue
of Semmelweis, unveiled at the beginning and present throughout the play,
serves in various ways as a prop. The play begins and ends with framing
scenes evocative of the student protests of the 1960s; meant to lend
contemporaneity, underline the anti-authoritarian message, and provide a
contrast with the docility of the medical students in the central play,
the scenes seem dated today and are relegated to an appendix in Joe
Kruttaornet (La Poudrière): vitenskapelig efterord og siste protokoll
(1969; translated as Powderhouse: Scientific Postscript and Last Protocol,
2000) is a sequel to Frihetens o/yeblikk. The preoccupation with the
atrocities of the twentieth century in the first volume is supplemented by
a longer historical perspective. The narrator now occupies an ambiguous
position as caretaker and, probably, patient in a private asylum in
Alsace. The inmates include an American general, a Soviet ambassador's
wife, and others symbolic of contemporary ills. The unorthodox methods of
treatment used by the chief physician, Lefèvre, include allowing the
patients to give lectures; three of the lectures form the core of the
book. In the first lecture the narrator discusses "Den permanente
Heksejakt" (the permanent witch-hunt), which he sees as a constant of
Western civilization; LaCroix, a retired executioner, lectures on capital
punishment from the executioner's point of view; and Lefèvre, in
"Kjetterbaolenes kultur" (The Culture of the Stake), asks what gives a
human being the strength to suffer torture and death for the sake of
truth. Interspersed with the lectures are conversations; lyrical,
pastoral, and erotic interludes; and an abortive murder mystery. The
formal experiment is too daring to be entirely successful. In Keeper of
the Protocols: The Works of Jens Bjo/rneboe in the Crosscurrents of
Western Literature (1996) Martin contends that "The boundaries which
define our conception of what a novel is are forced to expand or even
dissolve under the pressure of texts such as this one, in which so many
conflicts in style, form and content are held between two covers."
In late 1969 the Swedish director Martha Vestin asked Bjo/rneboe if he had
any material she could use. The following year Amputasjon: arenaspill i én
akt (1970; translated as Amputation, 2003), a revised and expanded version
of the 1964 fragment, was staged in Stockholm by the Friteatern (Free
Theater), which at that time was associated with the touring company of
the Svenska Riksteatern (Swedish National Theater); the Swedish troupe
brought the play to Oslo in 1971. It is a dystopian satire set in a future
when all individual differences have been eradicated. Deviants are
brutally "normalisert" (normalized) or, if that procedure fails, become
human guinea pigs. The setting is a surgical amphitheater where
"disiplinærkirurgi" (disciplinary surgery) is about to be performed on a
deviant. Two rival surgeons, representing the United States and the Soviet
Union, have conflicting theories about what kind of surgery is needed. The
added material includes four vignettes showing how various characters were
or were not "normalized"--cured of such deviant behavior as thinking for
oneself, being a virgin, or liking solitude. Critics found the unrelieved
brutality of the play hard to endure. The first of Bjo/rneboe's plays to
be performed in English, it was produced in Solrun Hoaas's translation in
1977 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and in Canberra, Australia.
In 1972 Bjo/rneboe wrote a series of newspaper articles arguing that
Fredrik Fasting Torgersen, who had been convicted of murder in 1958 and
sentenced to life imprisonment, was innocent. The articles, which provoked
a furious debate, are included in his third essay collection, Politi og
anarki, published the same year. The collection also includes Bjo/rneboe's
fullest statement on anarchism, the essay "Anarchismen--idag?" (translated
as "Anarchism--Today?" 1998). He writes that "anarchismen idag bare kan
eksistere som innslag" (anarchism today can exist only as a leaven) but
that the leaven is essential: "Et samfunn er et sundt samfunn bare i den
grad det viser anarkistiske trekk" (A society is a healthy society only to
the degree that it exhibits anarchistic traits). The following year
Bjo/rneboe's documentary play, Tilfellet Torgersen (The Torgersen Case),
was produced at Scene 7, a small ensemble theater in Oslo. Conceived
primarily as propaganda, the play lends itself better to reading than to
"The History of Bestiality" became a trilogy with the publication of
Stillheten: en anti-roman og absolutt aller siste protokoll (1973;
translated as The Silence: An Anti-novel and Absolutely the Very Last
Protocol, 2000). To the historical perspective of Kruttaornet Bjo/rneboe
adds geographical distance, with the aim of viewing the European
Continental sickness from outside. The narrator is now sojourning in an
unnamed country in North Africa. The theme is colonialism, and Bjo/rneboe
uses the narrator's alcoholism as a metaphor for European dependence on
the exploitation of other peoples. The novel moves back and forth in time
as the narrator has conversations with Ali, an African revolutionary, and
with Christopher Columbus, Maximilien Robespierre, and God. There are
mock-epic accounts of Hernando Cortez's and Francisco Pizarro's conquests
of Mexico and Peru, and a guilt-ridden American Vietnam veteran is killed
by a mob of hungry children. An encounter with a child prostitute sends
the narrator into a drinking-and-sleeping-pill binge during which his
subconscious wrestles with issues of individual and social transformation,
and he emerges with new energy and hope.
Stillheten brought Bjo/rneboe Kritikkerprisen (The Norwegian Critics'
Prize), as well as the Swedish Academy's Dobloug Prize, but, like
Kruttaornet, it got mixed reviews. The two books involve quite different
mixes of Bjo/rneboe's metaphysical and engaged sides and seem to appeal to
different audiences: in general, critics who admired Kruttaornet regarded
Stillheten as a sellout to leftist ideological fashions, while those who
liked Stillheten saw Kruttaornet as reactionary; readers, too, tend to
prefer one novel over the other.
After completing Stillheten, Bjo/rneboe suffered a prolonged bout with
alcoholism and depression and spent several months in a clinic. He
increasingly experienced blackouts and did bizarre things that he did not
remember afterward. His status as a cult figure for youth, and his coming
out as a bisexual, added to the chaos of his life.
The cabaret sketch Dongery: en collage om forretningsstaanden og om
markedsfo/rerens liv (Blue Jeans: A Collage about Sales and the Life of a
Marketer), produced in 1974 and published in 1976, was Bjo/rneboe's last
completed play. It satirizes the advertising industry's penchant for
turning social issues into moneymaking commodities--for example, by
packaging starvation in India as a series of coffee-table books aimed at
different audiences. This return to the musical genre lacks the energy and
bite of its predecessors.
Bjo/rneboe's final novel, Haiene: historien om et mannskap og et forlis
(1974; translated as The Sharks: The Story of a Crew and a Shipwreck,
1992), is an allegorical sea story. The narrator, Peder Jensen, is second
mate and medical officer on the bark Neptune, which sails from Manila in
the fall of 1899 with a crew drawn from the oppressed classes and the
third world and officers from the privileged classes. Jensen becomes a
surrogate father for the deck boy Pat and mediates between officers and
forecastle as the tensions grow into mutiny and the forces of nature
compel cooperation for the sake of survival. The work is an anarchist
allegory with a strong dose of mysticism and functions as a kind of coda
to "The History of Bestiality" trilogy in that the themes broached there
are here presented in a much more accessible form. The novel was
universally acclaimed and was an instant best-seller. In a letter dated 2
November 1974 Bjo/rneboe described the attendant publicity as "en blanding
av mareridt og triumf" (a mixture of nightmare and triumph).
In the fall of 1974, as his second marriage disintegrated, Bjo/rneboe
moved to an apartment in Oslo, but "byen Python" (the city Python), as he
called it, soon overwhelmed him. In 1975 he bought a house and land on
Veierland, an island off the old whaling town of To/nsberg, hoping for the
peace to write his memoirs but managing only an unpublished fragment. He
also planned to complete Ro/d Emma (Red Emma), a play about the anarchist
Emma Goldmann. He attempted to stop drinking and published a long
free-verse poem, "Farvel--bror Alkohol" (Farewell--Brother Alcohol) in the
Oslo newspaper Dagbladet (27 December 1975); it is included in his Samlede
dikt (Collected Poems, 1977). He had many visitors, including his
daughters and young admirers, but was often alone. He was in constant pain
from advancing cirrhosis, and after a harrowing journey to Oslo to read
his poetry for the recording Vaopenlo/s (Defenseless, 1976), he committed
suicide at Veierland on 9 May 1976. Shortly before his death he had
received a grant to go to Japan to study Japanese whaling practices for a
novel to be set in the future.
After Bjo/rneboe's death the struggle over his legacy began. At his
funeral, conducted according to the ritual of the Kristensamfunn, a group
of anarchists placed a red and black flag over the coffin. A fragment of
Ro/d Emma, which Bjo/rneboe had written in the English and German of the
sources he used, was translated into Norwegian by an anarchist collective
and published in a pirated edition by Forlaget Bjo/rnsens grav in 1976 but
was suppressed after a protest from Bjo/rneboe's estate. The following
year a program of readings from his work at Nationaltheatret was disrupted
by anarchists who read a manifesto accusing the organizers of the
performance of exploiting and perverting Bjo/rneboe's work now that he
could no longer defend himself.
Posterity has tried to render Bjo/rneboe "safe." The Henie-Onstad Art
Center, a modern-art gallery in Ho/vikodden that Bjo/rneboe had attacked
as a symbol of capitalist hegemony over the arts, commemorated the
seventy-fifth anniversary of his birth in the fall of 1995 with an exhibit
of his paintings and drawings. It was not well received by fans of his
later writing. In a 2001 memoir the writer Sven Kærup Bjo/rneboe comments
on the significance of the paintings for his uncle's career:
Jens' styrke som saokalt anarkist, og det faktum at han av samtlige
samfunnsstormere i 60- og 70-aorene har overlevet med sitt oppro/r og
fremdeles inspirerer de unge, skyldes denne ballasten av kunnen, og
selvdisiplin. Naor han fo/rst slaor haoret ut og gyver lo/s pao Makten,
pao autoritetene, skjer det med en tyngde i slaget som de o/vrige
(Jens's strength as a so-called anarchist, and the fact that he out of all
the radical assailants of the system in the Norway of the 1960s and 1970s
has survived with his rebellion and still inspires the young, are due to
this ballast of craft, and self-discipline. When he first tears his hair
and lets fly at Power, at the authorities, it happens with a weight in his
punches which the other rebels lacked.)
There was a similar synergy between Bjo/rneboe's activist and
contemplative sides. His nephew comments, "Til siste forble han en
metafysicus og en rebell. . . . den ene ikke utelykket den andre, men
forutsatte hverandre" (To the end he remained a metaphysician and a rebel.
. . . the one did not exclude the other, but they presupposed each other).
In his preface to Aske, vind og jord, Jens Bjorneboe wrote:
Den mest aopenbare motsetning i det jeg har skrevet siden jeg debuterte i
1951, har vært spenningen mellom en sterkt innadvendt, avgjort metafysisk
legning pao den ene side--og en like sterkt utadvendt, polemisk og
dokumentarisk, "samfunnsengasjert" og egentlig revolutionær holdning pao
den annen side. For meg ligger der ingen virkelig motsetning i disse to
ytterligheter, og jeg har ikke o/nsket ao viske motsetningen ut.
(The most obvious contrast in what I have written since my debut in 1951
has been the tension between a strongly introverted, decidedly
metaphysical leaning on the one hand--and a just as strongly extroverted,
polemic and documentary, "socially engaged" and downright revolutionary
attitude on the other. For me there is no real opposition between these
two extremes, and I have not wished to erase the contradiction.)
Jens Bjo/rneboe strove throughout his career to maintain these two poles
in tension. His refusal to abandon either one remains a perennial
stumbling block for his critics. The wish to identify this or that aspect
of his work as "the real Bjo/rneboe," together with the myths and scandals
surrounding his life, continue to make it difficult to assess his
achievement. As the specific controversies and issues in which Bjo/rneboe
was engaged recede into the background, however, the essential unity of
his vision is becoming clearer.
Papers: Jens Bjo/rneboe's manuscripts are in the archives of the
Gyldendal publishing firm in Oslo. His other papers and books are in the
possession of his heirs.
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR
* Samtaler med Jens Bjo/rneboe, edited by Haovard Rem (Oslo: Dreyer,
* Aud Gulbransen and Jadwiga Teresa Kvadsheim, Jens Bjo/rneboe: En
bibliografi (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1978).
* Esther Greenleaf Mürer, "Bibliography of Literature about Jens
Bjo/rneboe, 2: Selected Articles Published since 1976," Jens Bjo/rneboe in
English (January 2000) <http://emurer.home.att.net/about/aboutart.htm>.
* Mürer, "Bibliography of Literature about Jens Bjo/rneboe, 1: Books and
Dissertations," Jens Bjo/rneboe in English (March 2002)
* Fredrik Wandrup, Jens Bjo/rneboe: mannen, myten og kunsten (Oslo:
* Sven Kærup Bjo/rneboe, Onkel Jens: Et familieportrett av Jens Bjo/rneboe
(Oslo: Aschehoug, 2001).
* Arken, special Bjo/rneboe issue, 4 (Winter 1981).
* Atli Evje, "Jens Bjo/rneboe: '. . . det er jo lyrikker jeg egentlig
er,'" in Frihet! Sannhet! edited by Yngvild Risdal Otnes (Oslo: Pax,
1977), pp. 131-153; translated by Esther Greenleaf Mürer as ". . . After
All, I'm Basically a Poet," Jens Bjo/rneboe in English (August 1999), part
1: "The 1950s" <http://emurer.home.att.net/about/evje1.htm>; part 2: "The
* Janet Garton, Jens Bjo/rneboe: Prophet without Honor (Westport, Conn.:
Greenwood Press, 1985).
* Øyvind Gulliksen, "Bjo/rneboe og Amerika," Norsk litteraer aorbok
(1976): 157-169; translated by Mürer as "Bjo/rneboe and America," Jens
Bjo/rneboe in English (28 September 1999)
* Gulliksen, "Tunnel of Love: American Influences on Norwegian Culture,"
in Images of America in Scandinavia, edited by Poul Houe and Sven Haokon
Rossel (Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi, 1998), pp. 101-127.
* John M. Hoberman, "The Political Imagination of Jens Bjo/rneboe: A Study
of Under en haordere himmel," Scandinavian Studies, 48 (1976): 52-70.
* Espen Haavardsholm, "Av jorden har vi gjort et slakterhus," in
Forfatternes litteraturhistorie, volume 4, edited by Kjell Heggelund,
Simen Skjo/nsberg, and Helge Vold (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1981), pp. 216-229;
republished as "Jens Bjo/rneboe," in Haavardsholm, Essays i utvalg (Oslo:
Forlaget Oktober, 1996), pp. 15-32.
* Jens Bjo/rneboe: Bilder (Ho/vikodden: Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter, 1995).
* Jens Bjo/rneboe in English <http://emurer.home.att.net/index.htm>.
* Oddbjo/rn Johannessen, "Det autoritære og 'svikerne': En kortfattet
studie i en bjo/rnboesk temakrets med utgangspunkt i skuespillet
Semmelweis," Sro/landsk magasin, 7 (1991): 50-53; translated by Mürer as
"The Authoritarian and 'the Traitors,'" Jens Bjo/rneboe in English (August
* Johannessen, "Jens Bjo/rneboe and the Norwegian Theater," translated by
Mürer, in Amputation: Texts for an Extraordinary Spectacle, edited by Karl
Kvitko (Los Angeles: Xenos, 2003), pp. 137-142.
* Gary Kern, "Bjo/rneboe's Great Failure: The History of Bestiality," in
Genre at the Crossroads: The Challenge of Fantasy, edited by George
Slusser and Jean-Pierre Barricelli (Riverside, Cal.: Xenos, 2003), pp.
* Inge S. Kristiansen, Jens Bjo/rneboe og Antroposofien: En analyse av
esoteriske og mytologiske motiver med hovedvekt pao det sene
forfatterskapet (Oslo: Solum, 1989).
* Steinar Lem, Bjo/rneboes menneskesyn i "Frihetens o/yeblikk" (Oslo:
* Leif Longum, Et speil for oss selv: Menneskesyn og
virkelighetsoppfatning i norsk etterkrigsprosa (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1968).
* Longum, "Jens Bjo/rneboe and the Laughter of Tuscany," in I rapporti tra
Italia e Europa del nord nella letteratura e nell'arte: Giornate
scandinavie 3-5 maggio 1989, edited by Randi Langen Moen (Bologna:
Universita di Bologna, 1992), pp. 127-136.
* Longum, "Jens Bjo/rneboes Fugleelskerne: tidslo/shet og
samtidsproblematikk," in his Drama-analyser fra Holberg til Hoem (Oslo:
Universitetsforlaget, 1977), pp. 114-126; translated by Mürer as "Jens
Bjo/rneboe's The Bird-Lovers: Timelessness and Contemporary Problematic,"
Jens Bjo/rneboe in English (October 1999)
* Joe Martin, Keeper of the Protocols: The Works of Jens Bjo/rneboe in the
Crosscurrents of Western Literature (New York: Peter Lang, 1996).
* William Mishler, "Jens Bjo/rneboe, Anthroposophy and Hertug Hans," Edda
* Mürer, "Glossary of Historical Persons Mentioned in Jens Bjo/rneboe's
Last Four Novels," Jens Bjo/rneboe in English (August 1999)
* Mürer, "Jens Bjo/rneboe's Winter in Bellapalma: Hemingway Tribute,
Harbinger of Works to Come," Jens Bjo/rneboe in English (June 1999)
* Mürer, "Mad Scientists and Moral Outrage: The Genesis of Jens
Bjo/rneboe's Amputation," in Bjo/rneboe, Amputation: Texts for an
Extraordinary Spectacle, translated by Mürer and Solrun Hoaas, edited by
Karl Kvitko (Los Angeles: Xenos, 2003), pp. 143-166.
* Mark Mussari, "Color: The Material of Immateriality in Jens Bjo/rneboe's
Blaomann," Edda (1999-2000): 340-349.
* Yngvild Risdal Otnes, ed., Frihet! Sannhet! Temaer i Jens Bjo/rneboes
forfatterskap (Oslo: Pax, 1977).
* Kaj Skagen, Jens Bjo/rneboe om seg selv (Oslo: Ekstrabokklubben, 1984).
* Skagen, Metafysikk eller selvmord: Et essay om Jens Bjo/rneboe og
antroposofien (Oslo: Cappelen, 1996).
* So/rlandsk Magasin, special Bjo/rneboe issue, 12 (1996).
* Ottil Tharaldsen, Kvinnesyn og mannsrolle i fire romaner av Jens
Bjo/rneboe (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1977).
* Sigurd Aa. Aarnes, "'Det ondes problem': Nazismen i Jens Bjo/rneboes
dikting," in Nazismen og norsk litteratur, edited by Bjarte Birkeland and
Stein Ugelvik Larsen (Bergen & Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1975), pp.
173-194; translated by John Weinstock as "'The Problem of Evil'--Nazism in
Jens Bjo/rneboe's Writing," in The Nordic Mind: Current Trends in
Scandinavian Literary Criticism, edited by Weinstock and Frank Egholm
Andersen (Lanham, Md.: University Presses of America, 1986), pp. 223-250.
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