Tag Archives: nationalism

Politicizing the Shop Window Tradition in Reykjavik

For Icelandic National Day, June 17, Icelanders gather in celebration., with speeches in town squares, national flag dresses for girls (or at least princess party dresses for the very young set), blow-up carnival rides, lots of coffee, and, as you can see from this photo taken in Reykjavik the day before, at least one politically-pointed unicorn..

Reykjavik’s shop windows: an informal national gallery with a point.

Not Elves Exactly

Hey, welcome to Alfaborg, the mystical city of the elves in Borgarfjörðar Estri. The Borg in the west, was the city of men. Here, completely across the country, live the elves, in their own Borg.

East

Except, until the twelfth century, there were no álfar, or elves. That was an idea imported from France, which was laid on folk experience of all the varied people who came to Iceland and made up its founding lines. This would have been home to the bergbúar, the rock dwellers.  East

Not dwarves, exactly. That is a different folk lineage, into which several lines were folded over time, under the effects of European modernization and a half millenium of the consolidation of folk tale into unified stories onto which national narratives could be written. What became known as elves, in a process of consolidation, also originally held the landvættir, or nature spirits. They lived on the land itself. So, this is likely a home of rock dwellers.

East

This too, most likely.East

And this.

East

And here?

South

Why, landvættir. And here. West

And here, a mixed population, perhaps. No doubt, a host of others who tagged along in the heads of people in the long boats. West

No doubt, a lot from Ireland. Experiences of what was later solidified, in the same nationalizing process, as nature. North

Luckily, there is more to history than the history of nationalism, and more to living on earth than the consolidation of diverse encounters and traditions with abstraction and consolidation.

North

We are still bodies on earth.North

We are still the earth dreaming.

Why No One is Arguing for a National Park in Fjaðrárgljúfur

This globally precious land in a country that claims to be an environmental leader is about to be sold for tourist developement. Perhaps this image shows why it is not being made into a national park instead, which would be the responsible, wise course to meet tourism and environmental goals together.
Note the catastrophic lava field that obliterated the original farms in modern memory, the excavator digging gravel out of the river, a forbidden practice in many countries but likely under government subsidy here, to enable farmers to stay on the land, and the farm up on the poorly-productive high country, away from that lava gick. This is a story of survival by harnessing energy to an austere, hierarchal system of political order. The fear is palpable, but the land…

… is palpable, too. Environmental laws mean nothing if this land is not protected from crass development. The soul of the nation is here. Development is inevitable, and in true Icelandic fashion, it will be industrial and in place, and it should be. Restraint, though, is also Icelandic, and it is sorely needed here.

This land, rich in spirit, is as fragile as Iceland. The response to the offer of sale of this land should be as robust as iceland, which means putting some teeth into environmental legislation. The alternative is to become a laughing stock. It’s not desirable, and it’s not necessary.

When a State is a Church

Iceland is a church. The church below in Mosfellsbær is, in the Icelandic context, not a place of worship. Not really. It is a bond with ancestors who declared their faith in directing interhuman relationships through a  symbol of death and rebirth: death of individual selves fighting each other as representatives of raw physical power, and rebirth as people coming together to create and then draw from a concentrated form of subtler powers, both human and inhuman. At best, Icelanders used this energy to battle  common foes; at worst, they used it to express raw power relationships between each other. For over 1,000 years, it has remained the state. Notice how few other buildings are involved, and how this church is not in the middle of a settlement but in the middle of nature. One comes to it.

How Iceland Became a Modern Country

Iceland entered modernity with a group of artists who did nothing more or less than express their pre-modern selves in modern forms.isle

Sker and Stampur (?), off Dyrhólaey

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Ásmundur Sveinsson’s “Music of the Ocean, Magnifier”

Icelanders did it themselves, with nothing but their rock in the ocean, in other words with everything that they had. Inspiring.

Cool Life in Reykjavik

In the global city, money is made and stuff is imported from the world. This stuff is often cheap, as a representation of Icelandic global economic clout, although it does represent wealth and connection.
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Often the process of Icelandization is to treat this adopted material with humour born of poverty. Jokes of this kind are serious business. They warm a cold world.

Nationalism in Iceland

A pretty pastoral scene in Hvaljördur, right?

p1400354Saubæjarkirkja

The barren hills are caused by the sheep that make a nation possible here. The birches in the churchyard would have been all over them 1100 years ago. More trees would be desirable, but lamb is already $35 a kilo. That’s a hard practical choice. The church is a symbol of many things, including the parliament of 999-1000 that made Christianity the country’s public religion (without denying private paganism), the loss of nationalism to the Norwegian Crown a half millennium ago, the power of land-owners to collect church tithes, and the cementing of Christian values (and at times oppression) in communities of itinerant labourers, almost serfs, in continual movement around the country. The forest behind the church is part of the late 19th century and early 20th century movement to re-settle the land and reclaim nationalism from Denmark. The long distance transmission line is part of the support network for the American aluminum plant behind me when I made this image. The reservoir that supplies these lines with power drowned some of Iceland’s most beautiful wilderness, yet, arguably, provides the funds that allow Iceland to remain independent. The green field crop represents the heavy industrialization of agriculture which enables a people, in love with the power of American urban values and who have left to land, to eat off the labour of 4500 people. The ditches across the field, for drainage, allow for increased yields for this industrialized agriculture. Everything you see here is a technology for survival. Everything is a carefully calculated choice. Nothing is frivolous. So, yes, if you call that pastoral, this is. Gunnar Gunnarsson would have said it was. I do, too.