Fornaldarsögur, terrorism, and the 2008 financial crisis
Thursday February 27, 2014, at 16.30
This paper arises from a survey of a dozen or so Icelandic novels which respond more or less directly to the 2008 financial crisis. Iceland’s medieval past appears in most of them—predictably, given the prominence of medievalism in the Icelandic national self-image and the widespread image of the banker as an útrásarvíkingur. Sometimes this medievalism is in a fairly traditional nationalistic form, referencing the Íslendingasögur as a touchstone for Icelandic values. But by reaching out to the fornaldarsögur and riddarasögur, genres which were rejected by National-Romantic thinkers, Bjarni Bjarnason’s Mannorð and Bjarni Harðarson’s Sigurðar saga fóts develop creative critiques of Icelandic culture.
More surprisingly, however, the more literary of the novels tend also to allude to the Middle East and Islamic terrorism, particularly Sigurðar saga fóts and Kári Tulinius’s Píslarvottar án hæfileika. These bring traditional Icelandic nationalist medievalism into an intriguing collision with post-9/11 American medievalism, which presents (parts of) the Islamic world as ‘still medieval’: as acting with medieval barbarity and deserving the same treatment in return; and as representing a ‘neo-medieval’ world-order where states do not have full sovereignty, but have to use whatever means they can to exercise power amidst overlapping and competing sovereignties.
The paper will explore how nationalist and Orientalist medievalisms interact in Icelandic financial crisis novels to interrogate or construct Icelandic identity in the wake of the kreppa—and consider what this means for us as medievalists.
Alaric Hall studied at Cambridge, Glasgow and Helsinki and is a lecturer in medieval literature at the University of Leeds. He has researched popular belief, multilingualism, and romances in medieval Scandinavia, and is presently in Iceland to learn the art of ethnography.