Saturday, August 29, 2009

Never in Sweden:-Case Study 1

Never In Sweden – Our first case study: The time has come to introduce my readers (actually, there are none) to my first “Never In Sweden” case study. On August 22, the Swedish book reviewer Jonas Thente reviewed Thomas Pynchon’s newest novel Inherent Vice and continued commenting in his blog. Thente’s opening lines in the blog had not directly to do with this novel but rather with the hypothesis that “Never in Sweden” could one find a Swedish author who could bring off what this American author had succeeded in doing.
Thente’s words in my translation (see for the original): “There are disadvantages associated with reading novels like Thomas Pynchon’s most recent, Inherent Vice. In any case if one lives and works in Sweden. Why is it that no Swedish author can manage to combine societal analysis with such sharp and consistent burlesque? The Swedish “cottage” (a reference to a Swedish concept – folkhemmet) feels all too confining to me after (reading) a novel such as Pynchon’s – or those by so many other international authors.”
You, the American or Brit who reads this might well conclude that such an incident is, as the Brits say, “a one off” event, of little interest and implying nothing. Not so within an “Only In Sweden” context since the Swedish literary establishment with self-designated leader former Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy (Nobel Prize in Literature) Horace Engdahl will very likely – if privately – remove the name Thente from his list of acceptable reviewers. Given Engdahl’s contempt for American authors, for Thente to have the temerity to suggest that an American author deserves the attention of the Swedish reader, who unlike the American, has no interest in fiction written under the influence of mass culture, is a cardinal sin.
By an odd twist of fate, Thente has during the same week landed in the middle of the kind of literary (?) debate that is an “Only in Sweden” phenomenon. To that I will return if as few as one single angry Swede visits my blog. In that case, you will learn more about Horace E., även på svenska.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday night in Sweden and it is time to give you a first sample of my friends who belong to "dem" (see previous post). Saturday night was the wedding party of my friend Sipel and her husband Jamil, born in that part of Kurdistan that lies within present-day Iraq. These parties are part of what makes living in Sweden possible, a magnificent combination of friendship, music, and dance all at the highest level without the need for stimulants - you choose.

Such parties including this one often start at 18.00 and continue until 02:00 the next morning. From the get-go, the central feature is the music and the dance. Here, in this first post, I offer a sample of the most basic form this takes. Except for the time it took to film this, I get high - or in a continuous state of "highness" - from being part of this "trance dance". There is a continuous infusion of energy both from the responses of all in the ring and especially from those with whom you, as individual, are linked, and from the music itself which is driving and poly-rhythmic (not Swedish dance-band music, jag lovar dig).

There are plenty of variations within this basic form but here you see it as a sort of Kurdish Dance 101.

So let's see if a link can bring this up. Remember I am in week one and so far nobody actually has looked at this blog. Men jag har tålamod.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Du är inte svensk-You are not a Swede

Long ago in Göteborg, I sat next to a woman on the trolley to Saltholmen. She started talking to me and I replied. And then, suddenly, she looked at me, deeply shocked, and said with emphasis “Du är inte svensk!” I already knew that since I had come fairly recently from the US of A. So why the shock? If you are an ethnic Swede (etnisk svensk) I will give you two clues. Since three fourths of my grandparents were ethnic Swedes who emigrated to the USA, then my appearance might reflect that history. And, since I learned Swedish late in life, jag talar svenska med amerikansk brytning.

In any case in my 13 years in Sweden I have learned that this distinction – vi och dem – where “vi” (we) are the ethnic Swedes (see Svante Pääbos genetic studies) and “dem” (them) is everybody else – is extremely important.

Why just the other day Sveriges Radio P3 (young) woman talked briefly with a caller speaking perfect Swedish who said “I was born in Indonesia but was adopted by a Swedish couple and came to Sweden as an infant. And what did the P3 woman say? You guessed it, she said “Du är inte svensk.”

The Swedish National Encyclopedia definition of svensk is.- first in NE’s English dictionary simply noun - Swede and then in its Swedish dictionary translated Noun - person from Sweden. Our P3 woman clearly does not agree with this definition and has a different way of classifying people, at least as long as she is in Sweden.

So lets look at two pictures of the same drummer - taken by me June 2009 while listening to Turkish music. Picture our P3 woman looking at this person live in Göteborg. Then for contrast, picture her on vacation in the USA where she looks at the drummer. She studies his face closeup. How does she think when in Göteborg? I leave the answer to you. Now, how might she respond if her American friend said to her, “What do you think, Kerstin, is he American?”

That’s all for now. What do you think? How do you think?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The excerpts from Professor Allan Pred's obituary are presented in order to illustrate the benefits of having multiple roots, of being able, apparently, to merge what some see as separate identities into a single more powerful one (See On Identity, Amin Maalouuf on this subject). With those roots and a powerful intellect, Professor Pred was able to see what even intellectual ethnic Swedes seemed to have so much trouble seeing, let alone acknowledging. I also present these excerpts because my very interest in the subject he treats so deeply has its roots in a somewhat similar history. Thanks to a Swedish wife and a bilingual daughter, I, like Pred, was able to move to Sweden upon retirement from the University of Rochester and thus to experience a single Swedish city, Linköping, full time. The effect on me was identical with the effect on Pred. My thoughts follow his, but they find the expression for which I was looking in his profound contributions in print.

Allan Pred was born in the Bronx in 1936. His father was a high school French language teacher, his mother a housewife and musician. Both of his grandparents had been Jewish immigrants from Poland. A child of the late Depression, he rarely looked back to New York after his departure for Antioch College in 1953. His new horizons were out in the Midwest and later across the Atlantic to Europe – what became a life-long love affair with Sweden. He first visited the country while a graduate student at Chicago, drawn, in part, by the theoretical and scientific innovations of Swedish geographers … When he met his wife of 44 years, Hjördis, in San Francisco in 1962 the die was cast. They lived between Berkeley and Sweden on a yearly basis, raising bi-lingual children. In the 1980s, they bought a summer home in Sörmland, Sweden…

Inevitably he turned to contemporary Swedish life and to what he took to be the deafening silence surrounding the question of race and racism. In two powerful and controversial books – his stunning excoriation of cultural racism, memorably entitled Even in Sweden: Racisms, Racialized Spaces, and the Popular Geographical Imagination (2000) and The Past is Not Dead: Facts, Fictions and Enduring Racial Stereotypes (2004) – Pred courageously exposed a deep vein of pain and shame…

Excerpted from

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The phrase Only-Never In Sweden has its origins in the title of a book by the late Professor Alan Pred - Even In Sweden published by the University of California Press in 2000. What is it that occurs Even In Sweden? The sub (or super) title of Professor Pred's book makes that clear: Racisms, Racialized Spaces and the Popular Geographical Imagination.

Professor Pred and I first arrived in Sweden from our east coast (me) and west coast (him) locations at about the same time - 1990-1991. We both brought with us the soon to be discovered curious notion that Sweden was, unlike other countries, a place where all were accepted, all were equal whatever their color, background, or history. It is now difficult to trace the origins of this curious faith, but anecdotally I can report that I had read of black American jazz musicians who reported that in Sweden or Denmark they had been received as equals and not subject to the treatment all too often given them in the United States.

I went back to the USA in 1992, puzzled by my discoveries that Sweden was not at all as I had believed. Once I returned in 1996 to stay for good, I, like Professor Pred, learned day by day how wrong we had been about what it meant to be "different" in Sweden. Anyone who takes up residence in a new country becomes an amateur sociologist, one who learns a little bit about elements of the new societies and may even go beyond that to try to understand that new society.

Yet one could feel quite alone because the Swedish self image was and perhaps is that we are the best in the world, seen from the moral and ethical point of view. Feeling quite alone, it was an extraordinary experience to discover one day in 2004, that an American Intellectual (not a designation liked in Sweden) had studied in depth the phenomena that I observed daily on a personal level in the small university town of Linköping.

The next step to be taken is to draw on the obituary of the late Professor Pred and to sample his paraphrases of Gunnar Myrdal's statements about America and race.