Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Sprach- und literaturwissenschaftliche Fakultät - Nordeuropa-Institut



Changing Concepts of Nature in Literature and Film

German-Scandinavian Workshop at the Department for Northern European Studies
28 – 30 January 2020

Nordeuropa-Institut – Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
The workshop is funded by the Henrik-Steffens-professorship.




Human beings are embedded in physical environments, and human culture develops in interrelationship with what we used to call nature. Nevertheless, in our own presence new technical possibilities offer entirely new dimensions in which culture can exceed and transform formerly given natural boundaries. At the same time, there is a strong insight in the risks of this process which might completely change the conditions of life and established notions of the relation between humans and the non-human environment, of what is “cultural” and what is “natural”.

The ongoing changes have already now reached such an extent that the notion is gaining widespread acceptance that the planet has entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. It seems that the Holocene, the epoch under whose relatively stable environmental and climatic conditions agriculture and all human civilizations have developed, has been ended through human activity. At the same time there are substantial doubts about the assumption that humans can rationally manage and control the complexity of life.

The reality of the Anthropocene thus confronts human beings with new difficulties in their practical handling of natural and non-human challenges, whose solution will determine what (human) life on this planet will look like in the future. However, the Anthropocene itself is a strong narrative, which provides a certain perspective on the relationship between human beings and nature. It shows, that human self-perception is deeply entangled with our perception and thinking of nature, and that this self-perception influences how we act in this world. Thinking about nature is thus always thinking about human beings, too, which does have practical, anthropological, and philosophical impacts at the same time. This makes it such an extraordinary, widespread and exciting field of research.


Literature, film, and other forms of cultural expression play today an important role in addressing the controversies and paradoxes connected to the human-nature relationships. They negotiate, invent, and transform those relationships, which is shown, for example, by the prominence of the subject of climatic change in literature.

This is an international phenomenon, yet it may be especially marked in the Nordic countries. Norway, for example, has the world’s first organization of writers committed to climate action, Forfatternes klimaaksjon.

Climatic and environmental change has become a very frequent motif in contemporary Nordic literature, with works such as Maja Lunde’s Bienes historie (which focuses on species extinction) and the TV-series Okkupert (based on a scenario of climate catastrophe) having become international successes.

In this workshop we will ask how ideas of both human and non-human nature are interrelated and changing, and how literary and cinematic texts and genres contribute to the re-negotiation of established notions of nature and the relation between humans and the environment. The focus will be both on contemporary works and on how new concepts such as the Anthropocene and the material turn in literary and cultural studies retrospectively change our understanding – even of older works.


All lectures of the workshop are public.

Lunches, dinner and evening programme are only for invited participants of the workshop.


Tuesday, 28th January 2020

Room 3.134 (Nordeuropa-Institut)

Grafik: 1. Etage - Dorotheenstraße 24, 10117 Berlin


Keynote-Lecture – Henrik-Steffens-Vorlesung



Reinhard Hennig
Associate Professor, Department of Nordic and Media Studies – Universitetet i Agder

Writing the Anthropocene: Contemporary Norwegian Literature and the Global Environmental Crisis

Global environmental and climatic change is now occurring on such a great scale that the planet can even be said to have entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. The implication that humanity has become a geological force has sparked controversial debate in both the sciences and the humanities. In literary studies, an obvious question is how literature can help us imagine and understand the Anthropocene, and perhaps even equip us to live better with its problematic consequences.

Norway is not only the first country in the world to boast an organization of environmentally committed writers: in much contemporary Norwegian literature there is also a significant trend to address environmental issues. This lecture will discuss the various ways in which the Anthropocene enters recent texts from Norway, and ask whether attempts to imagine humanity’s geological agency also call for literary innovation.


 Wednesday, 29th January 2020

Room 3.246 (Nordeuropa-Institut)



Registration and welcome

Session 1: Interconnectedness

Moderation: Marie-Theres Federhofer


Hanna Eglinger
Professor of Comparative Literature and Scandinavian Studies – Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

Invading Anthropocentrism: Scandinavian Poetics of Eco-Parasitism

In his conception of parasitism, the French philosopher Michel Serres formulates an epistemology of the parasite that functions as a fundamental concept of social relations, encompassing a biological and an anthropological dimension, as well as relating to the theory of communication. While traditional literary and cultural studies have been largely concerned with the concept of "parasitus sapiens" 1 and the capacity of humans to be social parasites,2 a new trend becomes apparent in literature and film of the late twentieth and twenty-first century, in which, increasingly, biological parasites are invading the human body. This paper focuses on literary figurations of biological and ecological parasites that blur the boundaries of human bodies, identities, and agencies, and question the idea of human exceptionality, suggesting a posthuman and ecocritical perspective that goes beyond anthropocentrism.

In this presentation I will explore both the aesthetic and the epistemological surplus values of parasitism in Scandinavian literature and film, especially in Swedish TV series Jordskott (2015), using Michel Serres’ concept of the parasite as a foundation. To what extent does parasitism subvert a reductionist and anthropocentric perception of nature? Could it be a new and productive way of conceiving the relations between parasite and host, human being and environment, under the “basic premise [of] inter-relatedness?”3

[1] Michel Serres: Der Parasit, S. 157.

[2] See f. ex. Enzensberger, Ulrich: Parasiten. Ein Sachbuch, Frankfurt am Main 2001, Gullestad: Herman Melville and the Fruits of Parasitism, Bergen 2013.

[3] Neil Evernden: “Beyond Ecology: Self, Place, and the Pathetic Fallacy”, in: Glotfelty/Fromm (Hg.): The Ecocriticism Reader, Athens/GA 1996, S. 92–104.



Marte Hagen
MA-student – Universitetet i Oslo

Interweaving of self and world in Nils-Aslak Valkeapää's "The Sun, My Father”

The idea of a fundamental separation between humans and nature and between the self and others, has deep roots in European history. This notion of separation has obscured the understanding of the world as an interconnected system, where no part exists outside of or isolated from the whole. Norwegian deep ecologist Arne Næss (1912-2009) is among several thinkers and philosophers who have pointed out that the current ecological crisis is in part founded on an inability to grasp this interconnectedness. In the poetry of Sami artist, musician and writer Nils-Aslak Valkeapää (1943-2001), there is a striking embodiment of an interwoven worldview. The term interwoven lends itself more aptly to Valkeapää's poetry. Whereas interconnected mainly conveys connections between entities, a weave is a whole made up of individual threads, and weaving is an act, a process and a craft. In the following analysis of Valkeapää's The Sun, My Father (1997 [ Beaivi, áhčážan, 1988]), concepts central to the deep ecology of Arne Næss, mainly the ecological self and the place-person, are employed in order to unearth central aspects of this interwovenness. In addition, indigenous poetics provide insight into the ways in which the interwovenness is conveyed, and how the poems are imbued with a performative, interweaving power.


Dörte Linke
PhD-student – Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Interconnectedness: reflections on Donna Haraway s "Staying with the trouble" and Josephine Klougart s novel "Om mørke"

The idea of interconnectedness is fundamental for ecological thought and theory, trying to establish a new, more sustainable and less hierarchical relationship between human beings and their natural environment. However, how we perceive nature and the images of nature we invent, says more about human self-perception than about nature as such. Images of nature tell us, what human beings think about themselves and their place in this world. In this presentation I will take interconnectedness as an idea and the net as an absolute metaphor of our time as a starting point. To think of human beings as relational in a new and radical way offers new possibilities for anthropological thinking but as well new challenges, as theories of posthumanism, for example Rosi Braidotti, show. I will ask, what it can mean for human beings to be interconnected with and embedded in nature. How can this entanglement and relation be thought? I will discuss works by Donna Haraway and Josefine Klougart to show the different ideas of interconnectedness and humanness they develop.




Coffee break

Session 2: The Ecological Self – Rethinking the Human

Moderation: Reinhard Hennig


Kathrin Mengis
BA-student – Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Exploring the relationship between humans and the environment in contemporary travel literature by the example of Tomas Espedals "Gå. Eller kunsten å leve et vilt og poetisk liv"

Traveling. Setting out on foot, out onto the open road, passing through wilderness and town. A trip can be filled with tough experiences - whether in towns and cities or in rural areas. However, in a lot of travel literature, there is a somehow romanticized concept of nature to be a more clean and innocent place. In Espedals novel, everything is generated by places, or by paths. The analyse of this book offers reflections on how the divide between human being and the environment is in a constant state of flux. Tomas Espendals travel descriptions establish a notion of what is seen as “cultural” and what is seen as “natural”. The book is filled with observations and reflections of nature and the human between the normative civilized life and the life of a traveler on the open road. Based on the thesis that the perception and thinking of nature constitute the identity of the human being, my analysis focuses on the notions of nature. Equally important is everything that lies hidden in the description of nature during the journey, what it tells about the notion of human, how it has the ability to characterize and position people. The figure undergoes an identity search that is also linked to social expectations in its historical period. The protagonist experiences civilian fatigue but is also not seeking a rural idyll. Looking at the controversies and paradoxes in the relationship between human and nature that are developed in the fiction creates new understandings for the anthropological conceptions of the present.


Henning Howlid Wærp
Professor of Literary Studies – UiT – Norges arktiske universitet

Grensen mellom natursansning og imaginasjon i Knut Hamsuns roman "Victoria" (1898)

Hamsuns roman "Victoria" er et trekantdrama mellom møllerens sønn Johannes, Victoria på godset, og «byherren» og offiseren Otto. Det er samtidig en roman om Johannes´ utvikling som forfatter. Jeg vil i foredraget undersøke forholdet mellom Johannes som en skarp iakttager av foreteelser i naturen – med lukt og synsinntrykk, lyd og taktile fornemmelser – og hans imaginasjonskraft, hans drømmer og visjoner. Hvilke har forrang i hans utvikling som forfatter, sansning eller bildeskaping? Eller hvordan er vekselvirkningen her? Og videre: hvordan definerer naturkontakten Johannes som person i forhold til rivalen Otto. – Min hypotese er at Johannes utvikler et «økologisk selv», og at romanen med utbytte kan leses i forhold til moderne økokritikk.




Only for invited participants of the workshop.

Session 3: Narrating Nature – New Perspectives

Moderation: Dörte Linke


Beatrice M. G. Reed
Phd.-stipendiat – Universitetet i Oslo and Lecturer – Høgskulen i Volda

Hva gjør en forteller økosentrisk?

Den skandinaviske litteraturen er full av fortellinger som tematiserer forholdet mellom natur og menneske. Det gjelder ikke bare tekster skrevet de siste tiårene. Vender man seg mot de to siste hundreårenes litteratur med økokritiske briller, utkrystalliserer det seg en linje fra 1800-tallets romantiske bondefortellinger og naturmystikk, via mellomkrigstidens primitivistiske vending mot jorden og 70-tallets gryende miljøbevissthet, frem mot 2000-tallets cli-fi og økopoesi. Å nærme seg den naturvendte skjønnlitteraturen som en litterær tradisjon åpner for en rekke diakrone tilnærmingsmåter. Man kan forfølge ett motiv og undersøke dets funksjon og status i ulike perioder, ta for seg utvikling innenfor en naturlitterær subsjanger, eller undersøke hvordan idéhistoriske eller politiske skifter bidrar til at synet på naturen forandres. En alternativ inngang er å ta tak i et formgrep eller konvensjon. Denne inngangen ønsker jeg å prøve ut i dette innlegget ved å se nærmere på fortelleren eller fortellersetemmen i tre naturvendte Norrlandsromaner skrevet med 30-40 års mellomrom: Stina Aronsons Hitom himlen (1946), Kerstin Ekmans Hunden (1986), Mikael Niemis Koka bjørn (2017). Felles for alle disse romanene er at den nordsvenske naturen står helt sentralt. Hvordan posisjonerer fortellerne seg i forhold til denne naturen og hva kommuniserer dette til leserne?


Philipp Wagner
PhD-student and Lecturer – Universität Wien

Memorizing the Anthropocene: Siri Ranva Hjelm Jacobsen’s "Havbrevene" (2018)

The idea of the Anthropocene challenges literature to narrate time in new ways. Part of this challenge is to make timescales imaginable, which are impossible to experience by human beings. In my presentation, I will analyze Siri Ranva Hjelm Jacobsens Havbrevene (2018) against the background of Rosi Braidottis notion of a posthuman memory as an example for literary engagements with the Anthropocene. Havbrevene is an epistolary novel comprising letters written by the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Ocean. The letters reveal the Oceans ongoing plan for the future to sink the continents with the help of anthropogenic climate change and thereby (re)create the environmental conditions of a past, when the oceans were one single body of water. My aim is to show, how Havbrevene succeeds to tell a story about an ‘unimaginable’ timescale, which extends over millions of years, by withholding information about the narrated time.




Guided Tour: Futurium Berlin & Dinner

Only for invited participants of the workshop.


 Thursday, 30th January 2020

Room 3.246 (Nordeuropa-Institut)

Session 4: Nature and Cultural Identity

Moderation: Dörte Linke


Katie Ritson
Senior Editor & Lecturer in Environmental Humanities – Rachel Carson Center, LMU München

A Platform for Growth: The Imagination of North Sea Oil

My talk will explore the way in which oil has seeped into the literary imagination in Norway. The discovery of oil on the Ekofisk oilfield in the North Sea in 1969 played its part in the large-scale transformation of Norwegian economy and society in the latter part of the twentieth century, but oil itself and the processes involved in its extraction have remained peripheral to the lives of those not directly connected with the industry, and were only made manifest for most Norwegians in increased wealth and an influx of consumer goods. Literary texts, including genre fiction, films, and poetry, have provided a way for oil to be made manifest in the cultural imagination: aesthetic engagement with the work on oil rigs and with the economic boom have been both reflections of the way oil has been perceived and the way the oil industry has shaped Norwegian culture and attitudes. This specifically Norwegian inflection of petroculture is important in Environmental Humanities and Energy Humanities research that is trying to understand the implications of human entanglements with fossil fuels as we negotiate the new territories of the Anthropocene.


Anna Christina Harms
BA-student – Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

How nature shapes a cultural image: An internal and external view on the culture of the Sámi

Nomadic, in sync with nature and full of pagan beliefs: The cultural image of the Sámi is far too often portrayed with stereotypes. This is where this presentation sets in. It will discuss the ways literature creates and conveys cultural images. And in this case the cultural image of the Sámi.

For that matter, the discussion will be based on two books. “Tundra, Sumpf und Birkenduft. Leben mit den Samen in Lappland.“ by the Swiss author H. U. Schwaar and „Zeichen der Zerstörung“ (original title “Juokse nyt naalin poika”) from the Sámi author Kirsti Paltto, both written in the 1990ties.

The presentation revolves around two questions. 1) How is nature used as a literary device to create and convey the cultural image? 2) What kind of perspective and point of view is used? Both authors constantly shift between an internal and external point of view when it comes to the cultural image of the Sámi: Kirsti Paltto is Sámi and writes her literature in Sami. As a Sámi, she views the Sami culture from an internal point of view, but becomes an external viewer when she places the story of her book into the 1940ties, a time period she hasn’t lived in. And on the other side, we find Hans U. Schwaar who grew up outside of the Sami culture but identifies himself strongly with the Sámi and writes about his life alongside the Sámi in Näkkäla, Finland.


Coffee break


Stefanie Schenke
BA-student – Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Performing Nature and Nation

In relation to its total population, Iceland produces a significant number of – even internationally – successful music artists. The indie music scene, in particular, is large, so indie is rather considered mainstream in Iceland. The well-known formation named Sigur Rós and singer Björk are often regarded as a musical flagship export product and have strongly influenced the image of Icelandic music abroad. What they carry out into the world together with the mere sound of their music is the artistically presented idea of Icelandic nature, which also seems to play a significant role in the image and appearance of both acts. But is this something typically icelandic? As part of the culture, how do music and its performers in Iceland and other countries deal with their nature and thus perhaps part of their national identity? Addressing these questions, this presentation is intended to shed light on the importance of nature in popular music and thus its role in the consciousness of a cultural community through musical and related visual examples.


Pauline Kwast
BA-student – Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

A novel about Iceland

Andri Snær Magnason’s LoveStar (2002) is a novel about a global company that slowly but surely takes over people’s lives, loves and deaths. In this ever-growing imperium with its heart in the north of Iceland, two lovers try to save their relationship.

The novel plays with being both a part of Iceland’s rich literary history and a work of science fiction, a genre that has next to no tradition in the country and typically lacks a geographical placement. LoveStar, though, is extremely tied to the island and its landscapes – both literary and in nature. They are treated with a certain playfulness and irony, well-known Icelandic places and canonic tropes are being referenced, twisted and exaggerated. This presentation is focusing on how the symbiosis between Icelandic literature and nature is framed, reiterated and reinvented in Andri Snær’s novel, but also, how this relationship has been and can be crucial for protecting the Icelandic nature.




Only for invited participants of the workshop.

Session 5: Climatic Changes in Fiction and Photography

Moderation: Marie-Theres Federhofer


Sissel Furuseth
Professor of Nordic Literature – Universitetet i Oslo

Nordic Contemporary Fiction Grieving the Loss of Snow

For thousands of years, winter and snow have been crucial for Nordic identity. As the lyrical voice in Guri Sørumgård Botheim’s poetry debut Heime mellom istidene (At home between the ice ages, 2016) proclaims: “e vart født i en vinter/ e bur i en vinter/ frosten brer se/ gjønnom slektsledd” (“I was born in a winter/ I live in a winter/ the frost spreads/ through generations”). The verses describe how mountain farmers have been surviving in mid-Norway for generations, not only despite of the cold climate, but even thanks to it. Today, we are facing a different challenge. How does the natural born skier and ice(wo)man react when s/he cannot take snow and ice for granted anymore? In my paper I will address this question by showing some examples of how Nordic contemporary fiction portrays humans’ emotional reactions to the loss of winter. In Scandinavian cli-fi novels as different as Charlotte Weitze’s Den afskyelige (The abominable, 2016) and Christian Valeur’s Steffen tar sin del av ansvaret (Steffen takes his share of the responsibility, 2009) the young protagonists are well aware of the problem that snow is a scarce resource about to disappear. Grief, guilt and confusion seem to be interrelated emotions when being faced with this fact.


Maike Teubner
PhD-student – Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

Nordic Photography in times of the Anthropocene. Mette Tronvoll’s series "Svalbard" (2014)

The Norwegian photographer Mette Tronvoll (*1965) is internationally known for her portrait series from different parts of the world. So far, little research has been carried out concerning her series Svalbard which Tronvoll set up in 2014 after two years of extensive research. This series of twenty large-size colour photographs comprises both portraits of people who live and work at the small settlement Ny Ålesund and pictures of the landscape. These landscape views vary between sublime depictions of icebergs and formal abstraction.

With Svalbard, Tronvoll chose a place which is significantly connected with climatic change and human exploration as well as exploitation of uninhabited territories and non-human resources. First a base for whaling, Ny Ålesund became a prominent starting point for expeditions to the polar region in the 1920s. Until 1962 coal mining was the major economic sector, today it is a key location for international scientific research about natural phenomena such as aurora borealis as well as environmental change. 1 Furthermore, by hosting the Global Seed Vault Svalbard is intertwined with future perspectives in a profoundly existential way. This article will deal with the question how the relationship between nature and human beings is addressed in Tronvoll’s series Svalbard.


Final discussion and prospects

Location plan


► Hotel Albrechtshof
Albrechtstraße 8
10117 Berlin


Dorotheenstraße 24
10117 Berlin

► Room 3.134
► Room 3.246

► 11 min (800 m) via Georgenstraße


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