Lagerkvist, Pär (Vol. 13)
Lagerkvist, Pär 1891–1974
Lagerkvist was a Swedish poet, playwright, and novelist. Known as an expressionist in his early days, Lagerkvist is best known for his Barabbas, which was one of the first novels to deal with a biblical subject in a realistic manner. Known for his spare, haunting prose style, Lagerkvist won the 1951 Nobel Prize for Literature. (See also CLC, Vols. 7, 10, and Contemporary Authors, obituary, Vols. 49-52.)
"I constantly conduct a dialogue with myself," Pär Lagerkvist once said in a talk on his works, "one book answers the other".
Despite the constant varying of the answers, the dialogue is always concerned with the same thing, a search for the meaning of existence. Lagerkvist has experienced more intensely than most the central dilemma for twentieth-century man within the Christian sphere of influence: where can we find a foothold when we no longer believe in God?
The whole of Lagerkvist's creative work can be said to spring from a fundamentally divided experience of existence. We learn from the autobiographical description with the significant title "Gäst hos verkligheten" ("Guest of Reality") how the child and young man experienced two alternative worlds, the home, with the mother as its central support, and life outside. He himself stood apart from both, unable to commit himself fully to either.
His mother's world, illumined by Christian faith, represents meaningful coherence with a metaphysical superstructure and a firm system of values. Life implies a blind, biological, natural process in which man is merely an involuntary element with inescapable annihilation awaiting him. This is the meaning of the formula "things as they are" ("så som det är"), which recurs with minor variations throughout Lagerkvist's work, whereas the formula for his...
(The entire section is 3142 words.)
One of Lagerkvist's earlier books was called Angest, (Anguish) and it might be thought from this that he was influenced by Kierkegaard. On the contrary, his dominant influence was Left Socialism….
Anguish was published in 1916 and its emotional and moral subject is the profound anguish that overwhelmed the revolutionary Socialist movement with the betrayal of the Second International and the participation of the Socialist Partys in the capitalist war they had unanimously vowed to prevent. It wasn't just political disillusionment, as with Lenin, but an awakening to the duplicity in the heart of man. The War taught Lagerkvist the truth of the "Socratic Dilemma"—when faced with a choice between a greater ultimate good and a lesser immediate good almost all men will choose the latter, and furthermore, in the face of reason many men will choose positive evil. It took Hitler to teach these self evident truths to the liberal and radical intellectuals of the world, who then, once the smoke of the gas ovens had blown away, almost immediately forgot.
The irrational corruption of mankind can be made much easier to bear if one believes in God and Original Sin. Lagerkvist believed in neither. Early on he referred to himself as a deeply religious atheist. Now the only large number of deeply religious atheists in the world are Buddhists, so it is not surprising that Lagerkvist's poetry and most especially the poems...
(The entire section is 741 words.)