Category Archives: World War II

How Icelandic Writing Fell out of Fashion in the Age of the Volkswagen

So, what happens to best-selling author Gunnar Gunnarsson’s public after his archetypal stories of Icelanders living in a raw, Nordic landscape …

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… fall out of fashion in the new, post-war Germany that is partly an American colony and partly a Soviet one …

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The Social Unity Party of Germany Grows into a New Kind of Party

Well, that’s what they thought back in the 1950s.

… looking to the future because the past is probably a pile of bricks out in the street?

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Downtown Berlin in the Early 1950s: a Cold War Battleground

With Baltic Gemany lost, there’s not really much interest in looking to the North anymore.

This is the era of re-imagining Germany on a European cultural, rather than a nordic cultural foundation (Well, in the West, at any rate,) and especially not on the military or racial foundation of the 1930s and 1940s.

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500 Years of the Gutenberg Bible

Stamp from the New Post-War State of the German Communities (West Germany)

This is the era of sausage stands springing up in the ruins.

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Bratwürst Stand, 1952

Women start to take charge of things, after the men messed up big time.

This is the era of the canoe on top of the Volkswagen and the first communist cardboard car.

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The Height of Modernity

What you get for reading too many Westerns. Especially after trying to drive to Smolensk in much the same get-up (The Volkswagens of the early 1940s were kitted out as amphibious assault vehicles … i.e. jeeps!)

This is the 1950s. Here’s what Gunnar’s readers are snapping up at kiosks little different from that sausage stand above.

jackkellyFBI Agent Jack Kelly: There is No Mercy

Hilgendorff: Millions Have Already Read Him

Herman Hilgendorff (Actually, H.C. Müller or Kurt Müller) wrote nearly 1000 books (!!!): most of them Westerns, FBI crime novels and British spy novels. (Long before the World War II Agent Ian Fleming spoofed the genre with his James Bond pulp novels.) Müller was one of the few crime novelists not banned by the Third Reich. And what is in these books that drew the Germans to them, and away from Gunnar’s more thoughtful, physical and eternal visions? This alternate book title (a cheap 60 cent edition) ought to show you …

44033835Jack Kelly, FBI Agent, at the Controls of the Robot that is Trying to Shoot Him

Does the robot look like a man? 100% Only Jack Kelly can tell the difference.

And who has constructed these robots? Why, a so-called Mr. Carefree, who promises to remove pain and suffering from people’s lives, for cash, in a process which usually involves underhanded death and destruction to someone else, a man who remains hidden and unknown, because he fronts even himself as a robot. And who is he? A hateful man. A theatrical agent from the 1930s. Yeah, this guy, you got it:

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Joseph Goebbels, Third Reich Propaganda Minister

Any film made in the Third Reich was cleared by him.

Any book published in the Third Reich was published by Goebbels. Here’s one of those books:

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Advent in the Highlands, by Gunnar Gunnarsson

This is the edition approved by Joseph Goebbels.

Here is “Mr. Carefree” with with one of his robots.

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Ah, But Which is the Robot and Which is the Real Mr. Carefree?

And then there’s the artist who sculpted the robots. Is he the German everyman? Is he a resurrected Jew, freed from the camps? Is he this man?

220px-Gunnar_GunnarssonNo, that’s just Gunnar, living on in a Europe that had left its own images for ones from Asia and America. Meanwhile, HIlgendorff continued to rewrite the Nazi period in his pulp novels, under the concealment of  the popular images of a new, non-European age. It’s fascinating to watch modern Europe birthing itself in the darned things. Oh, and who is Jack Kelly, really? Aha, look again:

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I bet he loved sausages.

 

 

Creative Space in Iceland

I started this blog a year ago, talking about tuns. Here’s the result of a year exploring them or just wandering through them (under the observant eyes of ravens.)

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You Are Never Alone in Iceland, Hengifossá

(Well, unless you’re always looking for humans for company. In that case, it might be best to stay in Reykjavik.)

Today, I’d like to illustrate an observation that it’s not people who are creative, but space. Ah, you might ask, what is a tun that it might lead to an observation like that?

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Icelandic Horse Scratching Its Head

A tun is something that you can observe (and take part in) everywhere in Iceland (and in the North). Here’s a tun in Denmark (the former colonizing power, grrr):

010Half-Timbered Danish Farmhouse

Den Fynske Landsby, Fyn, Danmark. The working courtyard in front follows the ancient Norse (and thereafter Icelandic) architectural model of a tun, an open air working room between buildings. 

A tun is a building without walls or roof, where the money-making activity of the farm took place, and where the manure (the dung, a variant of the word “tun”) was stored, which could be spread on the fields to create future wealth. It is the source of economy.

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Horse-drawn Wealth Spreader Waiting for Re-use

Hedge fund version 1.0.

The tun usually connected to the track to the next farm, or out to the world of trade. Here’s a variant on a tun, from East Iceland…

landhusLandhus Farm Barn, Fljótsðalur

In this case, the tun is the road itself. It’s the architectural space (within the landscape rather than the farmyard) that carries forth the energy of the tun.

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Icelandic Highway 1 in March, Mývatnssveit

Park your car here on the way back home from work. 

The word “tun” is the German for “to do”. The English word is “doing.” 

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A nice triad!

It is a place of energy that creates the economy and trade and activity of a country (or a farm), or lets it efficiently take place. It is the place where the future is created. Without it, the activities of humans would not be as organized as it is, nor could it be efficiently packed up and exported from the farm (or the country.) Iceland, of course, is a sophisticated modern country, so we can expect this source of energy to take many forms today. Here are a few:

Parking Strip.

streetArt Project in Downtown Reykjavik

The pattern of tun-in-the-pasture is reversed to pasture-in-the-tun. (The tun is Reykjavik.) This pasture, though, is in the shape of a disused turf house. Clever stuff!

Movie theatre.

theatreThe Reykjavik Movie Theatre is Also a Place of Exchange.

Note that this is a re-purposed building. In other words, not only is the movie theatre a contemporary tun, but the building acts as one as well.

Church.

church2Vik Church, South Iceland

 A very useful tun for work with souls. In this case, the houses of the village take the place of the buildings of a farmyard.

Forest.

treehouseSummerhouse in Kirkjubærjarklaustur

The trees are part of a nation building program of the Icelandic government. They represent not only shelter and beauty, but future money in the bank. In this sense, they operate as a dung heap in a tun. The land itself has been separated from itself into a special tun space here. Here’s something different…

Youth.

truckA Movable Tun

This tun represents a combined cognitive, social and bodily space. It moves around and around through Reykjavik, invading people’s dreams and re-shaping them into effervescent images of mineral water. Not into the dance scene? No problem…

Farm.
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Icelandic Farmstead. 

Note the elf house in the foreground. It’s good to live close to your neighbours.

From the perspective of a capital economy, this capital has depreciated to the point of needing to be replaced with a new depreciation sequence paid for with interest. In a tun-based economy, the expense of taking wealth from the land in order to build structures upon it is a debt that will be erased only when the creative (tun-ish) potential given from the land and embodied in the building and the tractor are mined dry and these materials (dung-wise) rot back into the earth. They are, in other words, a fertilizer. You don’t paint fertilizer. You also don’t throw it away. Want something more adventuresome? Iceland has that too.

Glacier.
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Svinafellsjokul, Skaftafell National Park

A glacier is part of the common wealth of a country, that which belongs to all of the people and brings water and energy to all. It’s not just the people, either. It also brings energy to the land itself. Here, you can see what that looks like, on the other side of the glaciers.

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Strutfoss

Aka glacier turning into light. Very good for the soul.

A glacier can attract tourists (and mine them for wealth), provide healthy recreation for the people (an idea of nature, imported from coal-smoke-choked industrial England), provide habit for fish …

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The Laugarfljót, with a view to Snæfells

These are both tun spaces. The mountain generates snow, which generates water. The lake collects the water, to provide habitat for fish. By concentrating energy in this way, mountain and lake make it available for human harvest. (Not that this is their plan.)

Unfortunately, capital-intensive economic systems can mess with that and simplify the idea of a tun almost to unrecognizability, like this:

P1390140 This is propaganda in the service of art.

Or art in the service of propaganda. Or a statue in the middle of a hydroelectric dam outflow channel that has diverted the water from Snæfells into the wrong fjord. Something like that. Here, here’s another look: P1390165 See that? The ship steams upriver, loaded with generic manufactured goods, towards the economy created by turning Snæfells’ life-giving properties into cash, that can pay for electric toasters and Swedish toilet paper. It never, of course, arrives. Here’s it’s goal…P1390138

The Heart of the Mountain

The statue was erected on the notion of eternal wealth, just before the economic collapse made the whole notion questionable. Here’s a construction site (abandoned) in Reykjavik, based upon the economic version of this dam …

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OK, So Maybe Not Such a Great Idea After All

If you get too abstract with your tun, you run the risk of running out of manure. Good to know.

Ah, perhaps you’re tired of farms by now? Well, here you go, way up in the north…

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A Sea-Going Tun Space

Powered by human energy (doing). Any fish brought into the boat (the tun) are instantly converted into wealth. Well, as long as your arms are strong and the weather holds.

This particular moveable tun has been sitting on the shore for a long time, but the principle still holds. When you start powering that boat with diesel, then a good chunk of the fish you bring in are not wealth, but payment for an operating debt, and, if you bought the boat on credit, a capital debt as well. If you’re not careful, the whole thing becomes a debt. Instead of organizing the wealth of your labour on the sea (very wet common space) for delivery to social space, the tun organizes social relationships for delivery to you. You have, in other words, lost your tun (doing.) Here’s a solution:

Garden.

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The Akureyri Botanical Garden

This garden is planted in Iceland’s northern capital to see what plants will grow in a cold, northern climate. The concentration is on decorative plants. That is part of Icelandic nationalism, a way of dunging the country so that it brings forth wealth (in the sense of a tun economy, organized around human relationships to common space (land and water, mostly), beauty and fecundity are both forms of wealth.) So is this:

School.

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Hotel Edda, Akureyri

In the summer, the richly-endowed residential high schools of Iceland are converted into hotels, serving travellers. This doing (tun) allows for them to be sheltered and fed without capital-intensive infrastructure on the land, that would not turn a profit (dung) and would be a drain on the community (a kind of field.) In other words, without the Hotel Edda concept, travel in Iceland would be greatly reduced. That is pure tun! In the winter, the schools are tuns of a different kind, gathering Icelandic youth together for their common education. It would be best, however, not to think of these multi-use spaces as either schools or hotels, but as a space which allows for and serves both relationships to the land. See? Pure tun! Similarly…

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N1 Gas Station in Blondüos

In sparcely-populated Iceland, a gas station is like a city in itself (Icelandic Staður, German Stadt [city] or Staat [country], English State, and in land terms a Stead, as in a farmstead. Here it’s a gas stead.) Everyone stops (where else?). Everyone eats (hamburgers, chicken, pizza and hot dogs, the national dishes of Iceland, and for the lucky soul a liquorice ice cream bar [available only in Iceland] if you root around long enough in the freezer.) The places so interrupt the roads in a tun-ish kind of way that even the police stop here. Rather than waiting at the side of the road trying to nab people of interest, they just hang out at the N1 and interrogate people while they’re filling up with gas.

Here’s a somewhat more esoteric tun from Kirkjubærjarklaustur:

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A Window on the Tun …

… is part of the function of the tun, even when it’s a bit wonky from a stone cast up by a weed eater or, perhaps (judging from the repaired state of the wall) earthquake.

Similarly, a piece of propaganda-art (or is it art-propaganda?) in downtown Reykjavik provides an anchor point for tourists wandering down to the waterfront (very tun-ish, that)…

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Leif the Lucky’s Aluminum Ship, with Modern Adventurers

If I was crossing the North Atlantic in a longboat, I’d want it to be a made out of aluminum, too.

… while reminding the Reykjavikers that the money that built their glittering waterfront…

City.

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Reykjavik: Iceland’s Tun

It interacts with other national tuns to create the worldwide tun network.

… came from the aluminum smelter (and glacial-melt electricity) across the mountain in Whale Fjord.

Smelter.

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Aluminum Smelter with World War II Airstrip (aka bird sanctuary), Hvalfjörður

Leif’s ship points straight this way. This is a capital tun. That it needs space (Iceland) is rather incidental. It might have been British Columbia. Oh, wait, they’ve dammed rivers and diverted them through tunnels and extirpated salmon for an aluminum smelter in British Columbia, too! Like tuns, capital is everywhere. Sometimes it flows right through a tun and obliterates it.

Here’s Reykjavik’s most interesting tun, right on the waterfront …

Harpa.harpa

Harpa

The Reykjavik opera house and performance centre. It also houses a CD shop, a cafe, exhibition space, practice space for dancers, fashion shows and classical, folk and rock concerts. In other words, it provides a space for the concentration of cultural activity of all kinds in sufficient quantity and quality that it can be delivered to the people, the country, and the world. It’s also a beautiful piece of architecture that captures the sun light and casts it in coloured rectangles on the concrete plaza at its base, like sketchings made out of chalk. Tun all the way.

Not all tuns are so complex. Here’s one of the most basic (and powerful) of them all…

Graveyard.

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Right Between Church and House

Note the road that comes directly to it. The tithes that came to a church accrued to the landowner who had built the tun space for the people and were, as such, a major form of wealth for Icelandic farms. The byproduct was the dead, who were planted in the tun — a kind of social dung, fertilizing the future (Heaven) or the present (built as it is on human memory, the more the memory the richer the present.)

In this conception of wealth, capital (and money) aren’t exactly the goal, but a product of the tun space. The carefully-bounded space below, on the other hand, added to the tun space…

Field.

field Stallions at Skriðuklaustur

Without the line that bounds this field, there would be no inputs to a tun space. It would only be a potential space. Never underestimate a line, in Iceland or anywhere else.

Here, this image may illustrate that more dramatically. Here we are at Myvatn…

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Volcanic Slag, fenced and dunged = Field = Horse 

Simple math.

If we lift the camera just a teensy bit, we get some perspective…

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Volcanic Slag + Capital + Cleverness = Geothermal Power

Our horse is behind the rock.

You see how that works? The land has potential. It has a form of potential energy. The application of a particular technological approach towards defining it as space allows for different forms of energy to come out of it. A line gives us a field, gives us a horse. It will be brought into a tun, where this elementary relationship is retained. Capital gives use  geothermal power station. It will be brought into a city, where it’s own elementary relationships are retained. In the first case, the earth is full of life and living relationships. In the second, humans are separated from the earth, which is a field of energy, that can be harvested. The interrelationship between these two ways of being is complex, but at all times the elementary principle remains: creativity comes from the space that is outlined by technology; the outcomes are predetermined. In other words, we who are humans are not separate from technology and cannot just direct it to our will. All we can hope for is to create spaces, which create energy flows that lead to where we wish to go, but we should be very clear as to where they might lead. Here’s a kind of tun that got its start in Iceland over a thousand years ago:

Thing.

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The Thing Place in Þingvællir

The world’s first parliament convened on this spot at the confluence of the walking trails of Iceland in the year 930. All the people came and collectively decided their social arrangements, then followed the trails back to their home farms. This is the tun of tuns.

On the principal that space creates function and energy is latent in the land, some tuns are geographical spaces. Like this…

Fjord.

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Arnarfjörður, from Hrafnseyrie

This was the view that Jon Sigurdson, father of Icelandic independence, took in as a child.

Here’s a slightly altered version:

Harbour.

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Stikkishólmur Harbour

Here’s an example of a common Icelandic tun: a ruin of a lost farm.  The people of Reykjavik come from places like this that were no longer tenable in a capital-fueled society. They do, however, remain.

Ruin.

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Ruined Farmhouse near Arnarstapi

The mistake should not be made, despite the astute and chilling observations of Iceland’s Nobel Laureate, Halldór Laxness, that such buildings were a betrayal of the debt of humans to their land, as they were too capital intensive and not constructed within the flow of seasons and fate. Instead, it’s better to think of them as graveyards and memory artefacts, that continue to bind people to the land, although only in potential, and offer the chance of return. The energy that was squandered (as Laxness saw it) on these buildings, remains in them, as it also remains in the land, and can be mined again. Only in the sense of capital is it lost.

Well, there are many other forms of doings in Iceland. Cataloguing them won’t add to that appreciably. But perhaps this image might sum it up:

Bridge.

bridgeLike the string that defines a field and allows for concentrated activity, a bridge is another technology both similar to a tun and connected to its energy. It allows for improved delivery of material to the tun, without the contamination of important water sources with the mud generated by foot traffic. In this case, perhaps not so well, but, hey, I used this bridge on my way to the Dwarf Church in Seyðisfjörður, and it did its thing. Oh, and as for bridges, here’s one…

Golf Course.

golfSlowly, a people who have lost their connection to tun space are refinding it, in the golf course surrounding a church which was set up next to an elf city in the lava fields south of Reykjavik. Humans are like horses in a field. They really can’t wander that far.

The View from Canada

This is a post from my Okanagan, Canada blog. It shows some of the lessons I have drawn from my recent stay in East Iceland, and explores what Gunnar Gunnarsson meant by poverty and wealth.

P1530046Harold and Gunnar

Sharing a last windy debate in the East.

What passes for environmentally sound practices today are deep reflections of an economic system, but they’re not green, and they’re not going to ensure either the survival of the earth or of our children. Right now, the City of Vernon, British Columbia is debating whether to keep spraying treated sewage water over indigenous grasslands, golf courses and soccer fields in infilled wetlands or to just pour it into Okanagan Lake. The issue is cost. The reason for that is that “land” and “water” are considered “raw materials”, which are “capital” in an economic system that mines the earth’s creative potential, without ever replenishing it. What I learned in Iceland over the last two months is that “land” and “water” are not raw materials, and creative potential is the only potential there is. An economic system that is complacent about wasting that potential has no future. The one green option in Vernon, to rebuild the grasslands so that the water is moved by the sun and gravity again, at reduced cost and leading eventually to no cost at all, or true wealth, is not part of the debate, although it should be leading it. Here, let me show you. Below is an image of Okanagan Landing, taken this morning, looking Southwest from the Bella Vista Hills.

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Now, let me show you the image again in an annotated version, so you can see clearly the story it tells.

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A Story of a Lost Environment

The indigenous grassland in the foreground has retained at least some of its capacity to move and store water and to process it into food. The vineyard to the right has mined this environment for three raw materials: “sun”, “land” and “water”, in order to increase the sale prices of the houses on the subdivision above them. The water in the lake is fossil water, left over from the melting of the glaciers 10,000 years ago. It regulates the climate, and ensures that life can live on the hills. It is not for use. The infilled wetlands and the lost grasslands above them are irrigated with water removed from the system that feeds the lake through its forests, grasslands and wetlands. It costs millions of dollars to do, against the millions of dollars of free profit from the land that the earth would otherwise have provided. What’s more, almost all of this earth has been alienated from public use, for now and forever in the future. Now, let me show you a different economic model. This one’s from Iceland.

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Just one of the Kazillion Un-named Waterfalls in Iceland, Suðurdalur

Now, take a look at the annotated version below, to see the story this piece of earth tells.

annotatedturf

This was once home. Although the over-grazing induced by poverty led to the depletion of the original birch forests here, the Icelandic system of retaining the creative capital of the environment has allowed for reforestation, without impacting future creative uses of the land, including such public uses as tourism or recreation. Future wealth has been created. What wealth was there in the past has been retained. This isn’t always quite what it seems. Here’s what that waterfall above looks like from the current road below …

junkEvery bit of wealth that has been removed from the cycle of this piece of earth, in the form of capitalized equipment of one form or another, has been used until it is out-dated, in the fashion of such products, and then is banked, so that the creative potential within it can continue to benefit the farm. It was never the product that was important, but what went into the product. The shape of a piece of metal is more valuable than the metal itself. Here’s that reservoir of creativity again, this time with my little rented Yaris. Someday, it will retire to a farmyard like this — where it will be no less valuable than it is today, ready for its creative energy to be mined for new purposes.
lotsajunk

None of this is junk. In a fully capitalized system, such as the one in Vernon, this material would be melted down and recapitalized as new material, and all of the human ingenuity it contains would be lost, as would the original investment, which came from sheep grazing these hills. As such, the above image is actually an image of environmental sustainability and green thinking. So is this…

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Ruined Farm, Reyðarfjörður, Iceland

Notice that the old turf-wall system has been incorporated into the new Post-World-War II system of using discarded American military materials. Ingenuity is something that Icelanders are loathe to waste, and which Canadians discard readily because in Canada’s economic system that ingenuity and the creative potential of the land it draws upon has long ago been mined, capitalized, and replaced. That all costs money. Not only that, it costs earth. I’m not romanticizing here. I mean, there are ruins in Iceland. For example, here’s a ruined turf house in Reyðarfjörður…

turfhouse And here’s the ruin of the post-War concrete house it was replaced with …

window Like the turf house, it was not built to last, because it was not removed from a natural process. It spent no creative energy. It only gave it form for a time. The thinking that went into the construction of this house utilized old scraps, such as the iron bar that used to tie the wall together above this window that looked out from the kitchen, next to the stove.P1440496

Over and over and over, the Icelandic writer Gunnar Gunnarsson pointed out that poverty is the greatest wealth. Those are the words of a man whose mother died of poverty when he was eight and who had so little economic wealth when he was young that it wasn’t a part of life at all. What then did Gunnar mean? Among other things, he meant this:

ropeBeach Wrack, Reyðarfjörður, Iceland

To any man who lived on what he could scrounge from land or sea, this rope would have been great wealth. It is now garbage, because it has no capital potential and thus, in a capitalized system cannot be exchanged for wealth. The seaweed that would have once fed the man’s sheep, is also now waste upon the shore — although it is as fully wealth as it was once in the past, and perhaps will be some day again. Gunnar meant more than that, though. He also meant this:

wallhouseMultiple Generations 

Stock buildings (foreground), fence, turf house, and boat shed by the water … this was Gunnar’s Iceland: a country where wealth that came from human creative energy meeting the creative energy of the land was built up over time. Its products (wool, lambs, children and so forth), were created directly out of this energy. In other words, they were creative products, not the physical ones that capitalization demands. As such, they could be sold without diminishing the land’s capacity to provide more creative energy — something impossible in a capitalized system, in which the wealth follows them, extracted continually from the earth, which is compensated only with money that can only be spent on products that lie outside of the land’s cycles and which must be continually replaced, generation by generation. This is what the Vernon model has done by removing water from the earth’s own economy and placing it in a technical framework, which must nonetheless be paid for by the land. These price includes a social cost, as real as any other economic input. Not only is the transformation of water into a utility economically unviable in the long term, but it costs this:

iceClose up of the Water Fall I Showed You Above, Suðurdalur

Without beauty and mystery, there is only enslavement and poverty. Let me put that another way: once the creative potential of earth has been spent, it loses all beauty and mystery and ceases to be earth. It becomes a product, and the people who live upon it become products as well. In the economic system in Vernon, British Columbia, every piece of earth gets removed at a certain point in history and “developed” — usually into subdivisions, and is no longer a part of the earth’s economy. Building that economy, however, is the goal of environmental sustainability. As the Icelandic model shows, it can be done in a couple ways, at least: one is to maintain an economy built on creative physical energy rather than on capitalization; another, perhaps more practical in our present age, is maintain that creative physical energy within the products already paid for and developed, such as this:

silhouetteHorse-Drawn Manure Spreader, Skriðuklaustur, Iceland

This piece of antiquated machinery represents the lives of hundreds of sheep and many men and women and horses who lived and worked here. It also represents the energy of its designers and creators, and of the men who mined the ore and the others that smelted it into the iron that made it, and the others that shipped it here. Withdrawals can be made from this bank of energy in the form of useful pieces of fabricated steel, which represent the social and creative energy that went into them, and which can be recombined into articles of new cleverness, not new machines, per se. Withdrawals can also be made more directly on the social capital of this machine, by turning it into art, or history, or tourism, or a deep sense of belonging, or respect, or a connection with one’s ancestors. That is what it is to be a human on this earth and of this earth. It is not a world of things. It is not a world of raw materials. It is a world of creative potentials, in which the economy is creation. The earth keeps giving us chances. It’s time to run with some of them. Here’s one…

yellowNot Green but Yellow and Blue

The photo doesn’t show it, but that’s a wild bee with a neon blue abdomen, on a dandelion growing in an overflow beach parking lot near Okanagan Lake. The bee lives on wild land, while domesticated bees are dying out. The dandelion has colonized land that humans have thrown away from their capital plans. It has, in other words, brought creation to it, and holds within it the potential for several new industrial ventures, which will enrich the creative potential of the land in the same way that the flower has by growing here, rather than than making withdrawals from it that it never intends to repay. Well, the earth is telling us that it is time to repay our debts. It doesn’t want our money. It wants us to create within its own economy. Rebuilding the earth would be a use of economic capital that would show a tremendous return on investment. Here, for instance:

sask3 Saskatoons in Full Flower

Another industry in potential. These lush, fruiting bushes live on free water.

… and here …

P1590753

Remains of Indigenous Gardens, Bella Vista

Yet more industry in potential.

And what are our politicians talking about? Sewage and money.

Gunnar Gunnarsson Secret Agent: the Transcripts

In 1940, the writer Gunnarsson went to Germany on a book tour, for which, among other things, he has been called a Nazi. I’ve been giving you photography that will be the heart of the book I’m writing about him, but there is a point at which his story as a man of the land clashes with the affairs of the world, and it was here, in the moment just before this photograph was taken …

gunnar_hittir_hitler_1a_lille_1172715

Iceland-Danish Author Gunnar Leaving his March 1940 Meeting with Hitler 3 Weeks Before the  Invasion of Denmark and Norway Source: http://fornleifur.blog.is/blog/fornleifur/entry/1257968/

From left, Hinrich Lohse, Gauleiter of Schleswig-Holstein, Head of the Nazified Nordic League Literary and Film Club of Lübeck, of which Gunnar was a member and under whose auspices he was on this tour (Lohse was soon to become Kommissar of the Baltic States as well), a hidden man in civilian clothes, Gunnar, two SS Officers (likely Werner Best, later the Nazi administrator of Denmark, and Otto Baum, later head of the Das Reich Division of the Waffen SS), and an SS guard.

What was said inside that building that could make Gunnar so upset? I have been working on this for a few days now. Here’s my theory: in 1928, Gunnar went on a cruise to Atlantis (Ireland, Madeira, Teneriffe, Lisbon, Morocco, Seville, Mallorcca) along with, I believe, this soon-to-be-prominent Nazi-era photographer and photographic pioneer …

frerk

Frerk’s 1928 Book About a Cruise to Madeira, Tenerife, Lisbon, Morocco, Seville, Mallorcca…

There’s a big story about the Atlantis idea, but let’s just say that it was a huge fad at the time in many circles, including Nazi ones, that the continent of Atlantis (and its ‘advanced spiritual civilization’) had sunk into the mid-Atlantic in a volcanic explosion, leaving only the islands and cities mentioned above, plus Iceland. This isn’t that story. It is, however, the story of Gunnar’s decision to become a spy, without mentioning it to anyone, and to do so by writing cables back to Denmark that used literary language that could easily double as criticisms of the Third Reich’s racial policy. I believe that  Herman Wirth, one of the architects of that policy, may have been on the cruise, and I believe it was that voyage that the “non-existent” Luftwaffe installed and tested a prototype ship-launched fighter plane, disguised as a mail-delivery plane. At any rate, read Gunnar:

 “It’s good for one’s health to get off the ship. From the cool of the ship and the shadows of the quay, one rises on smooth, wave-beaten steps of stone into the deafening sunshine. The humming of the sun and the murmuring of the sea boil together in one’s head; one becomes dizzy. Out of the boiling light, a pair of heavy palms suddenly cut themselves; there they stand, with their blank green, sharply drawn against a blinding white wall.”

Gunnar, Islands in a Great Big Sea, 1936 (originally published in Copenhagen’s Politikken, 1928)

Sure, it could just be the words of a man on a romantic cruise with a woman who was not his wife, enchanted with the landscape, in love, and catching a glimpse of exotic green trees in a stunning landscape, not the need to escape from the odd, racist environment of the ship’s dining room conversation, or the security personnel in plain clothes (or not). Still, the book doesn’t really read like that, and his next books, Vikivaki (1932) and “The Good Shepherd” (1936) read as parables, which can be read anyway you want, depending on your prejudices. “The Good Shepherd” certainly was. It was used as propaganda by the Germans, the British and the Americans, and then at the close of the war was among the books that suddenly read as secret condemnations of the Nazis, published from within the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. At any rate, more on that story later. There is a third text, even less widely distributed, and that’s the speech Gunnar gave in 44 Third Reich Cities before meeting Hitler, whose support of Gunnar’s books [albeit as propaganda material for a Scandinavian annexation] had made Gunnar very rich. I believe this speech, called “Our Land”, was a correction to the message in “The Good Shepherd”, and was intended to correct the propaganda aims to which that book had been put despite Gunnar’s efforts to keep it as a message of peace extended to all men, regardless of their politics. A passage from this text is just below. When you read it, remember that Gunnar’s friend from the pre-Nazi Nordic League, Fritz Höger, who had wanted to be the Reich’s leading architect and redesign its buildings along North German (ie Danish) lines, had lost out to Albert Speer, who was responsible for the monumental, kitschy architecture that came to represent the Reich (including the building in the image above). Here goes:

“What is necessary is to open the eyes of Icelandic youth to Icelandic nature and its beauty. Not as if they don’t see it; but do they know what they see? Have our youth been lead to understand clearly for themselves, what goes well within our Icelandic landscape and what less so? At the very least one sees no sign of it in the newest of Icelandic buildings and the way people carry on through the country and even, at times, in the villages themselves. It pains one to see the way the land is mishandled and alienated through tastelessness, through kitsch, which will lead only to a a weight on the people themselves and bring disrepute to our land and our people. It is far better to view the inner life of people in the way it views itself, without outside direction, than to do so with words and discipline. To see the right path from these roots is more important than one might think from a distance. And, at any rate, one sacrifices little if one holds to taste and good manners. And if it ever should be time to talk of sacrifice, our land has already earned it completely, and our joy at its beauty will never be complete, so long as these things are not put into an order that no longer give any cause for rebuke.”

I believe that Hitler heard that exactly as he was meant to, behind his tiny desk in its huge room like a concert hall in the Chancery in Berlin, where he usually greeted heads of state. He would have heard this…

“What is necessary is to open the eyes of German youth to German nature and its beauty. Not as if they don’t see it; but do they know what they see? Have your youth been lead to understand clearly for themselves, what goes well within their German landscape and what less so? At the very least one sees no sign of it in the newest of German buildings, built by that idiot Speer, with his head in Italian clouds, and the way people carry on through the country and even, at times, in the villages themselves. It pains one to see the way the land is mishandled and alienated through tastelessness, through kitsch, which will lead only to a weight on the people themselves and bring disrepute to our land and your people. It is far better to view the inner life of people in the way it views itself, without outside direction, than to do so with words and discipline. To see the right path from these roots is more important than one might think from a distance. And, at any rate, one sacrifices little if one holds to taste and good manners. And if it ever should be time to talk of sacrifice, your land has already earned it completely, and Höger’s and my joy at its beauty will never be complete, so long as these things are not put into an order that no longer give any cause for rebuke.”

After all, both Gunnar and Hitler shared a believe in the identity of Iceland and Germany as Nordic states united in brotherhood — they just understood that differently. Here’s Gunnar a little later in the speech (Remember, at this time the British and the Americans hadn’t invaded Iceland and there were no appreciable building projects of any kind, but there were in Germany)…

Few lands that can call themselves populated are so little touched by the traces of time. Here it’s not, as it is in richer territories, buildings and the works of man that make a land appear all-powerful. On the contrary. In the past, the houses stood so simply and artlessly in the land that they were hardly to be reckoned as houses, and human habitation snuggled into the landscape and passed well with it. In recent times, a massive change has stepped in to this relationship, and sadly not for the best. It is sad to see how foreign so many of the new houses appear above their home meadows and how ugly and gauche they clash with the Icelandic valleys, among its rivers and against the strata of its mountains. Regrettably, out of tastelessness, which they are also anchored within, springs only decline and bad fortune.

Again, neither of these two men were stupid (That Hitler was evil is another matter), they shared a symbolic language, and I believe that what Hitler heard went much like this:

Few lands that can call themselves populated are so little touched by the traces of time as Germany. Here it’s not, as it is in France and Italy, buildings and the works of men [the Nazi Party] that make a land appear all-powerful. On the contrary. In the past, the houses stood so simply and artlessly in the land that they were hardly to be reckoned as houses, and human habitation snuggled into the landscape and passed well with it. In recent times, a massive change has stepped in to this relationship, and sadly not for the best. It is sad to see how foreign so many of Speer’s Greek palaces and your new Autobahn bridges appear above their home meadows and how ugly and gauche they clash with the German valleys, among its rivers and against the strata of its mountains. Regrettably, out of tastelessness, which they are also anchored within, springs only decline and complete and utter defeat and destruction.

In both of these speeches, a tiny change, well within the compass of the title “Our Land” and Gunnar’s relationship with the audience to which he was speaking, bring out an amazing subtext. Gunnar’s 1930 novel “The Black Cliffs” demonstrate that he had the depth of writing skill and the depth of psychological understanding to attempt to pull this off. Can any of this be proven? No, hardly. It does, however, make absolute sense. If it is in any way true, however, Gunnar’s reputation as a early-to-mid-twentieth century writer needs to be reassessed. If this is what Hitler got out of those speeches, the conversation inside that building, of which Gunnar never mentioned a word, would not have gone well. Any other writer who had tried to use his authority as a writer (and none were more famous or sold better or were more beloved than Gunnar) to trump Hitler’s had wound up in Buchenwald, even Ernst Wiechert, whose Baltic folktale novels were very similar to Gunnar’s nordic  ones. If such a half-veiled threat had been made, and was accepted bluntly and openly rather than as the psychological suggestion I think it was intended as, Gunnar’s expression would have been understandable, especially given the company he has on those steps. Here is that photo again:

gunnargrimaceGunnar Gunnarsson: A Man Trying to Broker Peace?

 

A Vision for Writers from a Sculptor

There is a line that makes a story. It’s the path any person can walk along to get from one place to another, or the one my dog used to always find in the weeds, because the edges of the gravel are where everything happens, or maybe it’s just because it’s just where someone has passed by. This is a problem that doesn’t even bother sheep.

P1420751

Sheep Tracks, Hengifossá Canyon

If you leave enough tracks they don’t make a trail. They make a net. A net’s a great thing, but if you catch the world with one, what then? Where are you going to drag your catch? 

Maybe it’s not so hard. Maybe sometimes writers just need to be dragged out of their words and given a new pasture to run in.

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Icelandic Writer Staying Close to Home at Feeding Time

Or maybe not. Maybe it depends. A couple days ago the sculptor Ken Blackburn asked me to go out and make a line in Iceland. Everything in the world, he said, starts with a line. So, I made a line. I liked this idea. I could feel what the very beginning of something looked like, and not a story already made which I stub my toe against, which is usually the case. Gunnar’s story (whose house I haunt here) is certainly like that. And would you just look at what found me in its first moment, as I set it into the world …

littlelinecloserA Line of Volcanic Stones

In this case, the edge is in the midst of the ice. It leads from itself to itself, and quivers there, while the ice could just as well extend to the edges of the universe. Maybe it does. Maybe it’s only humans who say, “Look! There’s an edge to this stuff.”

Imagine what a story would look like if it were written like that. The beginning and end would lie side to side, cuddling up close in the centre, and all the rest of the story would stretch out in folds of sheets and kicked off blankets to the sides. You might have to pick up the book, and read it any way you wanted. The edge would always find you. Maybe I didn’t stub my toe against Gunnar’s story. Maybe, as a man largely of the 20th century (so far), I was always in it and by walking far enough stubbed into the line that was always there — maybe at the centre, maybe way off to the side … who’s to know in a spherical world? But you see, that’s a writer thinking. What did Ken say? Make a circle, he said. A sculpture, he said, is just a line, too. A circle! Aha!

P1430091Well, Sort of a Circle

And, this right on the sight of that original line, too, which looked like this when I showed up today …

P1430070

Gone!

A most unwriterly art form. Writers are always thinking about making a mark that stays. This one, though, is gone … it’s finished. 

Still, a circle, eh. A story that was a circle and not a line, that might have a swan feather in its belly, that might at any time be blown off by the wind … what a book that would make: a book that would mean anything at all, depending on who you are. But wait… I know some books like that. They were the books that Gunnar wrote in the 1930s, especially his “Advent in the Highlands.”

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Advent in the Highlands

The Approved by the 1936 German Propaganda Ministry Version

Don’t jump to straight lines. That book, that Gunnar wrote to promote peace, was used to send German boys to Czechoslovakia, but 4 years later it was used to generate an American desire to go to war, in this edition:

0A36.3L

Advent for Americans

A message of peace for both sides — that circle was Gunnar’s intention. That it was used for other purposes was not. 

So, circles. I thought, well, what if a circle is not alone? What then? So I tried to find out …

P1430110

Two Circles

 Well, that felt good, you know. Look how they turn the space between them into a … well, not a line exactly, but a space that could be a line, or anything… a space of possibility. Not a No-Man’s Land, but an All-Man’s Land. So, I wanted to see how far this would go…

P1430114Three Circles!

Now there’s a line and no line, and the middle circle is within the position of possibility.

What would a story put together like that look like? It wouldn’t be a story, for one thing, so much as a bunch of stones and ice on a beach that the writer and readers could all walk around in together and stub their toes against … but would that be a bad thing? Is that what Gunnar was missing? A third circle? I mean, his stories were all about this…

iceringThe Shore of Life

It separates the island from the sea, or the colony from the colonizer, in Iceland’s case, and is deadly and life giving at the same time. Death and life are inseparable in Gunnar’s world. He does not means this as an easy sentiment.

But what if in all his haste to tell a story, to try to save Iceland from colonization and other invasion, through the admittedly ridiculous medium of words, he missed this?

P1430151They Float on Light!

Maybe novels and their traditional structures were the net that caught Gunnar. Maybe that’s an important lesson in literary form, learned from sculpture. I think it is.

Gunnar Gunnarsson and the Nazis

“Nazi” — the word means so many things that it is close to meaningless, and that’s a problem, because the real Nazis were a group of vicious, dangerous thugs with an ideology that continues to attract a disturbing number of people worldwide. Nazism should be strenuously guarded against, because its outcome is misery and chaos. So, let’s use it accurately, as the first line of defence against its resurgence and the first act of understanding the complexity and diversity of what went on in Germany during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, and what is still going on around the world. To set the record straight, Gunnar used this sheepfold …

fold

to sort sheep as part of communal activity. In contrast, Nazis used this pen …

p1140486Nazi Zoo at Buchenwald

… to stage bear fights, as a lesson to new guards about the need to have no squeamishness about violence against Russian prisoners and communists, who, after all, were “Russian bears” and “beasts” were known in Nazi ideology to be politically self destructive, and used the electrified fences of the camp (right beside the zoo and visible in the upper left of the image) to herd people and spiritually and physically destroy them. Today I am writing an essay about the complicated relationship between Gunnar and the Nazis, but, ultimately it is as simple as the difference between these two types of fences and the uses to which they were put.

 

Colonial House Building 101, an Icelandic Novel

Gunnar Gunnarsson, Novelist and boy from the colonies, left Denmark (the colonial heartland) in 1939 to build a farm on Iceland (the colony) that would provide in a physical form the cultural direction of his novels. His friend the North German architect Fritz Höger, who volunteered to design Gunnar’s farmstead, had in mind something like this …

010Half-Timbered Danish Farmhouse

Den Fynske Landsby, Fyn, Danmark. The working courtyard in front follows the ancient Norse (and thereafter Icelandic) architectural model of a tun, an open air working room between buildings. Gunnar’s farmstead was to have a large an open tun between buildings, which was abandoned when the additional buildings were never constructed.

A German architect building a Danish-style building on Scandinavian soil for a man who lived his life between the German and Danish worlds would be a way of making peace with the Prussian takeover of Schleswig Holstein (Höger’s area of Germany) from the Danes. It was, of course, the time of an ascendent Nazi Germany, so the idea of a country house built by a German architect would contain some notions of German country houses, and in this case, a Tyrolian one (dominant at the time, with the annexation of Hitler’s Austria fresh in everyone’s minds, and all) …

Telfs, Untermarkt strasse, Tirol, AustriaTelfs, Austria

Note the balcony. It provides a commanding viewpoint. A central part of Höger’s design was to build a large terrace in a roman or Italian extension of this model. An absolutely key part of German culture is that Germans like to live outside. Their terraces are their summer homes. It’s not quite like that for Canadians, like myself, or Icelanders, who lives in countries a bit less amenable to lounging around in the cold. Still, what was done was done. What Gunnar had in mind was a totally different idea of living outside, much like this …

landhusLandhus Farm Barn, Fljótsðalur

This is a variation on the icelandic version of the previous two architectural methods: build the house out of the materials of the earth itself; your whole life is lived within and on the land. In such a situation, a terrace is rather redundant. Gunnar was committed to the idea of human habitation fitting into the land as if it were not even there, or as if it were an extension of it, like this…

housepointThe Foundation Walls of a Former Turf House

Overlooking the Lagarfljót

What he got is more like that than other houses in Iceland …

snugGunnar’s House Seen from Down the Hill

True to Gunnar’s vision, it changes colour with the seasons. True to Fritz’s, it is made out of cemented, rather than stacked stones. Fritz had in mind cut, square blocks of good German rock. There is no such rock in Iceland. The local boys settled on round stones from the river. Score: Germany 1; Iceland 1. A draw.

Thing is, Gunnar’s whole idea was that architecture, and especially how it fit into a landscape, determined the soul of a people and their ways of thinking. He was dead set against putting non-Icelandic architecture within Iceland, as it would, he felt, damage the people and their ability to survive. Now, one reason his farming venture failed is that there was war (started by his readers, the Germans), and a resulting invasion of Iceland by the British and the Americans, who paid so well for labourers to build their infrastructure that there were no surplus young men to care for animals like this …

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Icelandic Ewe Demonstrating Ancestral House Roof Clambering Technique on a Hay Bale

Go, girl!

… and in this way the war ripped out the economic underpinning of Gunnar’s farm. What’s more, the rough and ready construction methods the young men learned on the American and British bases had a kind of effect that eventually led to this…

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Definitely Not Gunnar-Approved Architecture

Thrown together for reasons of utility and nothing else. That is what farms look like throughout Iceland. There doesn’t appear to be the money on many to build anything better and, besides, it works. This kind of raw utilitarianism would not have appealed to Gunnar, and he would have feared that it would have led to sloppiness. He might have seen this, for example, as a consequence …

stuffSheep Pigging Out on a Haybale

But what Gunnar did not foresee was a permanent divorce of Icelanders from their land. A tiny fraction of the original rural population now has to grow more sheep, cows and horses than ever before … something has to give. The solution has been German, rather than Icelandic, industrial farming methods, capitalized on American industrial farming models. Has all this led to the wealth and security Gunnar was trying to create with his tun-based farmstead that would bring German agricultural models to the land and separate Iceland from colonial overlordship by teaching farmers how to get more wealth from their land, and keep it rather than giving it away to colonial capital managers?

0307-Iceland2_full_600Not quite yet. There’s more than one way to lose your sovereignity. Perhaps the process of decolonization is not complete and something can still be learned from Gunnar’s attempt. Heck, it could have been him holding that protest sign. Perhaps Gunnar’s time has come.