Prof. Arnold Weinstein’s Breakthrough to Northern Arts

In 2008, PROF. ARNOLD WEINSTEIN set out to research the lives of twentieth century Scandinavia’s prominent artists and authors. The result was a book that introduced the American public to cultural icons they’d previously known little about…

Xander Brett

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Prof. Arnold Weinstein has been an academic at Brown University since 1968. He studied at Princeton and Harvard, and at the Sorbonne in Paris and the Freie Universität in Berlin, before marrying a Swede and changing his focus from comparative French and German literature to the works of the Scandinavian modernists. “I learned Swedish to be able to talk to my in-laws,” Weinstein laughs as we talk over Zoom. “Gradually, it became increasingly clear that Scandinavian literature is under-taught and under-valued. And, in the 1980s, I decided to do something about that.” Using his flat in Stockholm as a base, Weinstein examined the works of Ibsen, Munch, Kierkegaard and Strindberg. Unable to read Old Norse, he’d chosen to explore these canonical writers using a ‘breakthrough’ technique. “There was a book by Georg Brandes called The Modern Breakthrough (Det moderne gennembrud),” Weinstein explains, “which revolted against the themes of Romanticism.”

“The more I thought about the term,” he goes on, “the more I realised I needed to restore to that notion something of the violence that characterises Scandinavian literature.” Weinstein wanted to rescue an idea of a modern soporific region and, using the works examined in his book, his courses at Brown University have introduced Scandinavian literature to generations of students. But, despite the widespread success of the book outside academia (The Atlantic described it as one of the 2009 ‘Best Books of the Year’), he’s unsure he’s succeeded in bringing about a marked change in American knowledge. “It got a wonderful review in The Times Literary Supplement in the UK, and in the Chronicle of Higher Education in the US,” Weinstein muses, “but whether I’ve made the kind of conversions an author would like to make is impossible to say.”

PROF. ARNOLD WEINSTEIN is an American academic. His book is available to buy now.

This article is a Fika Online exclusive.

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