The Creative Dialectic in Karen Blixen’s Essays

By Marianne T. Stecher

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This new study addresses the provocative essays of Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), an iconic figure in Scandinavia and the Anglo-American world. Celebrated for her literary tales, Karen Blixen’s essays offer sagacious reflections on three significant challenges of the twentieth century: feminism, Nazism, and colonialism. Karen Blixen (1885–1962) contributed to topical debates in Denmark, particularly during the 1950s when her distinct voice on Danish radio became familiar to a nation of listeners. Some of her lectures, radio addresses, and newspaper chronicles were later published as essays and now constitute a distinct genre within her work. In this study, Blixen’s most important essays are critically examined for the first time. The book demonstrates that a "creative dialectic" informs these essays, an interplay of complementary opposites that Blixen sees as fundamental to human life and artistic creativity. Whether exploring questions of gender and the status of the feminist movement at mid-century, or the reign of National Socialism in Hitler’s Germany, or colonial race relations under British rule in East Africa, Blixen’s observations are insightful, witty, and surprisingly progressive for an author notable for aristocratic sensibilities. Blixen’s essays are also framed by a "dialectic method," which develops an idea by drawing on opposing viewpoints in order to arrive at an original vantage point. The Creative Dialectic builds on archival research, historical study, literary criticism and theory, as well as bilingual readings of Blixen’s renowned literary work. For the first time in an English translation, Karen Blixen’s essay, “Blacks and Whites in Africa” (1938), by award-winning translator Tiina Nunnally appears in this publication. Marianne Stecher Ph.D. (UC Berkeley, 1990) is Associate Professor of Danish and Scandinavian Literature at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she teaches regularly in the Department of Scandinavian Studies. She has published History Revisited: Fact and Fiction in Thorkild Hansen’s Documentary Works (Camden House, 1997), and edited Twentieth Century Danish Writers (Thomson Gale, 1999) and Danish Writers from the Reformation to Decadence 1550–1900 (Thomson Gale 2004). "A very illuminating book which traces the pattern of the ‘creative dialectic’ into Karen Blixen's essays on three significant currents of the 20th Century: Feminism, Nazism, and Colonialism. This study elucidates Blixen's originality in dealing with these precarious issues." -- Lasse Horne Kjældgaard, Danish Society of Language and Literature.



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