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Hagar Olsson and the Soldier of Modernism - War, Brutality and Borders in the Interwar Period

Chapter in book
Authors Gunilla Hermansson
Published in A Cultural History of the Avant-Garde in the Nordic Countries 1925-1950 / Editors: Benedikt Hjartarson, Andrea Kollnitz, Per Stounbjerg and Tania Ørum
Pages 730-745
ISBN 978-90-04-38829-1
Publisher Brill Rodopi
Place of publication Leiden, Boston
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion
Pages 730-745
Language en
Keywords Hagar Olsson, modernism, avant-garde, war, gender
Subject categories Specific Literatures, General Literature Studies


For the Swedish-speaking Finnish writer and critic Hagar Olsson, modernism and war were closely connected. Modern art was perceived not just as brutal and provocative in itself, but as arising from the fierce energies of World War I and at the same time embodying a protest against it. This essay examines how Olsson simultaneously appropriated and critically assessed different avant-garde aesthetics in her utopian and anti-militarist photo-novel På Kanaanexpressen (On the Caanan Express, 1929). It is viewed as part of a more widespread tendency among Nordic artists during the 1920s to deal with war and revolution as a way of testing avant-garde aesthetics/ideology “at home”. Whereas other novels by Emil Bønnelycke, Tom Kristensen and Elmer Diktonius also exhibit ambivalent attitudes to the ties between violence, masculinity and avant-garde aesthetics, Olsson’s novel stands out as even more radical in its experimental form as well as offering a more complex analysis of the role of gender.

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