Gunnar’s Warning to the Germans

Look at the riddle Gunnar Gunnarsson told the Germans in 1940, just a few weeks before the invasion of Denmark and Norway and the resulting invasion of Iceland by the British and then the Americans:

It is far better for a man to recognize true inner human nature without touching it than through the words and behaviours people dress it in. Such a view into truth is far more vital than casual thought would have it. And certainly it’s no great sacrifice to hold to good taste and respect in all things. And since the talk is about sacrifice, our land has at least fully earned that, and our joy at its beauty will never be complete until these issues are ordered in such a way that gives no more ground for reprimand.

The text it is from a speech called “Our Land.” It can be read many ways. Here’s one:

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Turf Sheepfold, Reyðarfjörður

Here’s another, referencing each sentence of the passage quoted above to the argument Gunnar built up in the pages preceding it:

1. It is far better for a man to recognize true inner human nature without touching it than through the words and behaviours people dress it in.

Translation: Iceland has no history, except nature. Elsewhere (Germany included), nature is interpreted through the habits and clothing of people — in other words, through the changeability of time. In Iceland, however, nature is naked, and so are people: they are dressed in nothing, except each other. They do not exist in time — only in place. When one builds a bridge in Iceland (it is an example that Gunnar uses), one has to build it out of Iceland and not out of imported ideas, which sit within foreign customs and gardens rather than within nature itself, no matter how successful they were in other places. In Iceland, they won’t work. The land is not forgiving of any departure from its forms.

P1190151

Workers’ Housing, Aluminum Smelter, Reyðarfjörður

Gunnar would not have liked this.

2.  Such a view into truth is far more vital than such casual thought would have it.

Translation: Truth is untouched nature. It can be approached (and dismissed) casually, but it is not in itself dismissable. Nature is not the contemporary idea of “all things green”, nor the idea of “landscape art”, nor the notion of a goddess of nature called Natura. It is God: wordless, idea-less, unrepresentable and uncontainable. God is Iceland is Nature — or they would be, except God and Iceland and Nature have no names, and no words or ideas can be given to them, only drawn from them.

P1010427Streambed Near Njardhvik

3. And certainly it’s no great sacrifice to hold to good taste and respect in all things.

Translation: Just as with the sacrifice of Christ, good taste and respect (based on an underlying devotion to God) are not sacrifices but a practical good in their own right. Life flows in patterns. On earth (that is to say on “Our Land”), one lives within them. Land is this shore of life, which other people call a planet, and which yet others call countries. “Our Land” is a changeable idea. It really means, “Who we are.” That’s not a modern idea.

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Ryolite Streambed Near Njardhvik

4. And since the talk is about sacrifice, our land has at least fully earned that, and our joy at its beauty will never be complete until these issues are ordered in such a way that gives no more ground for reprimand.

Translation: Iceland has earned the sacrifice of human desire to its eternal forms; all those wishing to speak of sacrifice must learn to do so in a way consistent with the forms of the shore, in the way water finds its path through the grasses yet still moves with great power. Societies can be repurposed. Land cannot. Any attempts to do so will destroy the society of humans on earth. The joy of Icelanders at the beauty of those forms will not be complete until human temporal constructions are ordered in a way no longer out of touch with the streambeds of nature. The bonds between humans and God — a bond called “Our Land” — must be respected, not with words or ideas or customs, but with bodies and with rock. Only the people of a place can build there. All else will fail.bird

Ptarmigan Waiting for Me to Go Away

It’s a remarkable thing to say, especially to a country in the throes of praise for the sacrifice of thousands of its young men in capturing Poland to provide, in the language of the times, land for nordic people, especially when Finland is falling and talk of Scandinavia’s strategic importance is in the air. Invasion plans have already been drawn up, by both the British and the Germans. It’s an especially remarkable thing from a man like Gunnar, who spent decades advocating for a pan-Scandinavian state and who earned his income writing Scandinavian books for a German audience enamoured with the idea of becoming Scandinavian rather than Mediterranean. It’s an especially pointed statement to a Germany that has just united with Italy, on the Mediterranean, especially when Italy, Norway and Iceland are the three poles of the world given in Gunnar’s speech. Did I say ‘speech’? I meant sermon.

christ

Two Security Systems Hard at Work and Ready to Embrace You. Strandakirkja

Choose the one that works for you.

Next: Gunnarsson as a Lutheran.

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