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Kierkegaard, the Uncanny and Nordic Noir

Unsettling Copenhagen in Philosophical Writing and Contemporary Drama

PUBLIC SYMPOSIUM on 17 May, 2013, 10-5 PM.

UCL, Pearson Building (North East Entrance) Lecture Theatre, Room G22

The event is free but please register your participation as seats are limited. For further information contact Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen

kierkegaard2 5 May 2013 marks the bicentenary of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s birth. The aim of this symposium is to explore Kierkegaard’s writing on Copenhagen in relation to the theme of the uncanny. This will be done by superimposing the Copenhagen found in Kierkegaard’s writings with a contemporary and notoriously unsettling representation of this city: the TV-drama The Killing.
 The event has been generously sponsored by:  
kulturstyrelsen2 embassyofdenmark1


10.00 - 10.15

Anne H. Steffensen, Ambassador of Denmark, London

Welcome address

Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, UCL  Scandinavian Studies (chair)


10.15 - 11.00

Svend Erik Larsen, University of Aarhus

’Wonderful Copenhagen: Dirt and Darkness’

In the beginning of the 19th century Copenhagen was dirty, dark, overcrowded, and poor, for a long time displaying the traces left by the English bombardment of the city in 1807. But at the same time the nation state in the making and the emerging international modernity also spurred new ideas in arts, politics and science. Dirt and dynamics ran parallel in literature and culture. 100 years later this period was called the Golden Age, but people living in those days knew better: Denmark went bankrupt in 1813.

11.00 - 11.30 Coffee Break

11.30 - 12.15

Hugh Pyper, University of Sheffield

’Not at Home: Kierkegaard and the Uncanny Poetics of Encounter’

Drawing on the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, himself deeply influenced by Kierkegaard, this paper explores the relationship between Kierkegaard’s complex and evasive authorship and the city within which it was written. The argument will be that Kierkegaard was never ‘at home’ in the city that he knew so well. Always conscious of his roots among the Jutland peasantry, he never fitted into the social world of the literati of his day. After the Corsair affair, where he became an object of public lampoon, his relationship to the city was soured and he became himself an increasingly uncanny figure in the eyes of his contemporaries. His work shows the evolution of a particular chronotope: the repeated encounter on the city street with the ‘familiar stranger’, encounters which can readily slip into an uncanny register. Copenhagen is the stage on which these encounters are played out as he tirelessly walks its streets and himself becomes part of this city-scape.

12.15 - 13.15 Lunch

13.15 - 13.45

Claire Thomson and Elettra Carbone, UCL Scandinavian Studies

Cultural Mobilities: Mapping Copenhagen in Sculpture and Film

The Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) was one of Kierkegaard’s notorious contemporaries. After his breakthrough in Rome, Thorvaldsen quickly became a celebrity of his time. Like his fame, his sculptures started spreading across borders as he undertook commissions for public monuments from many of the cities in Europe. As is well known, Thorvaldsen’s Museum in Copenhagen was Denmark’s first museum, and remains an untouched 

The mobility and remediation of Thorvaldsen’s sculptures was the inspiration behind a collaborative project between UCL and Kingston University (Dr Sara Ayres), focusing on the cultural mobility of sculptural objects between the Nordic Countries and Europe. Drawing on Stephen Greenblatt’s concept of ‘cultural mobility’, this project – which will culminate in a symposium held at UCL on 3rd July 2013 – will trace the flows of specific objects and examine the impacts that these flows generated and continue to generate on local contexts of display as well as on the sculptural object itself.

Half a century later, the first decade of Danish cinema was dominated by one man, Peter Elfelt, Royal Court Photographer. He was quick to take his film camera outdoors and to find innovative ways to create movement and construct space on screen. As elsewhere, so-called ‘phantom rides’ – films that moved through urban and other spaces on trams, trains or other modes of transport – were popular in Denmark, and recalibrated viewer’s sense of the space of the modern city. This short presentation focuses on the encounter between aviation and film in early Danish cinema. Spectacular aerial films of Copenhagen in the 1910s have survived, and herald a shift in popular imaginings of how the modern city could be apprehended visually.

13.45 - 14.15

Henriette Steiner, ETH Zurich

’Golden Days and Dark Nights – Langebro as an Unsettling Place in Copenhagen’

The painting 'Langebro Bridge in Moonlight' by C.W. Eckersberg from 1836 provides a rare glimpse of Golden Age Copenhagen by night. The painting depicts a strangely compelling nocturnal scene, one which is at once mysterious and commonplace, and while Langebro Bridge constitutes an important topographic feature in Copenhagen, it is depicted as a place that both connects and disconnects places and people in the city. This presentation considers Langebro as an unsettling place in early nineteenth century Copenhagen as well as today: a place that is at once central and peripheral to the city, a place and a non-place, and a place that evokes uncanny sentiments. As an ambiguous topos, Langebro Bridge has spurred the imagination not only of the Golden Age painter C.W. Eckersberg but also of writers such as Søren Kierkegaard and H.C. Andersen, whose representations of Copenhagen will be interpreted in this light.

14.15 - 14.45 Coffee Break

14.45 - 15.30

Gunhild Agger, Aalborg University

’The Killing: Urban Topographies of a Crime’

The action in The Killing I is set in three different locations: Copenhagen Police Headquarters, Copenhagen City Hall and on Nørrebro, a district in Copenhagen. In The Killing II, the municipal environment surrounding the Copenhagen City Hall has been swapped for national politics at Christiansborg Palace, home of the Danish Parliament. In The Killing III, the Prime Minister himself and his office are in the line of fire on the political level. Similarly, the tragedy that unfolded in an ordinary removal man’s family in the centre of Copenhagen has moved out into the torn shipping magnate and doctor’s family in the wealthy suburbs. In this lecture, we shall track the uncanny locations of The Killing, trying to put pieces from the puzzle together to see how they fit into the pattern of the Nordic Noir.

15.30 - 16.15

Bo Tao Michaëlis, cultural critic & journalist, Copenhagen

’Copenhagen after dark’

The American comedian, Danny Kaye, seduced the world with his film and song about wonderful Copenhagen into believing that the Danish capital was as nice and safe as nice and safe can be. Copenhagen, city of cosy and comfort, small town but swell town. But don’t forget that Copenhagen is the city of Søren Kierkegaard, not Walt Disney. Not all our mermaids are sweet and naive and not all our plain men are simpletons as in a fairy tale by H. C. Andersen. This is what it’s all about when I talk about my city and my capital as a place with more darkness than just night, more noir, the French word for fatale danger and sudden death.

16.15 - 17.00 Wrap-up Session and wine reception


Gunhild Agger is Professor at the Department of Culture and Global Studies, Aalborg University, Denmark. 2007-10 she was director of the collaborative, cross-disciplinary research programme Crime fiction and Crime journalism in Scandinavia (funded by the Danish Research Council for the Humanities), mapping and investigating the development of contemporary Scandinavian crime fiction and crime journalism on different media platforms. Her current research areas include history of media and genre, television drama, national and transnational film, bestsellers and blockbusters. Among her publications in the field of crime fiction and aesthetics are “Nordic Noir on Television – The Killing I-III”, in Cinéma &Cie (forthcoming 2013), “Emotion, gender and genre: Investigating The Killing” (Northern Lights 2011) and ‘Histoire et culture médiatique: le roman policier historique en Scandinavie’ (Études Germaniques 2010).

Svend Erik Larsen is Professor of Comparative Literature at Aarhus University and works at present as Leverhulme Visiting Professor at UCL. He serves on the board of the Danish National Research Foundation and in various international organisations. His list of publications comprises numerous books and articles on literature and cultural history.

Bo Tao Michaëlis received his master’s degree in comparative literature and classical culture from the University of Copenhagen, where he later taught. He is a cultural critic at the Danish Newspaper Politiken, and has written books on crime fiction, Raymond Chandler, and Ernest Hemingway; and papers about Dashiell Hammett, Paul Auster, and several other American writers. He is the editor of the book Copenhagen Noir, published in 2011 by Akashic Books.

Hugh Pyper is a native of Edinburgh and a former biology teacher. Now Professor of Biblical Interpretation at the University of Sheffield, he has a particular interest in the interaction between literary and critical theory and the biblical tradition. He has also published widely on Kierkegaard. His recent book The Joy of Kierkegaard (Sheffield: Equinox Press, 2011) collects a number of his studies of the role of biblical exegesis in the development of Kierkegaard’s thought.

Henriette Steiner, Research Associate at ETH Wohnforum – ETH CASE, ETH Zurich. She is educated in Copenhagen and Cambridge. Her research and publications cross disciplinary boundaries between architecture and the humanities, and her research interests concern the way the modern city has been represented and discussed, read and interpreted. Her forthcoming book, Golden Age Copenhagen – and the Coming into Being of a Modern City (Ashgate Publishing), discusses the development of Copenhagen in the Golden Age (1800-1850) as a significant moment in the formation of Copenhagen’s identity as a modern city.

Claire Thomson lectures in Nordic cinema at UCL Scandinavian Studies, where she is curently Head of Department. She is author of Thomas Vinterberg's FESTEN (Nordic Film Classics, University of Washington Press / Museum Tusculanum Press, July 2013) and has published widely on multisensory approaches to cinema, Carl Th. Dreyer, and the short film.