This paper explores intersections of nature and culture, fiction and non-fiction in Kerstin Ekman’s writing, focusing on the Vargskinnet trilogy (1999-2003) and the Herrarna i skogen essays (2007) and on the interactions between Swedish and Sami cultures and the natural environment. Ekman, who has earned an honorary doctorate from Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet (SLU, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) constantly presents her readers with the Swedish landscape, particularly the expansive bogs and forests of northern Sweden, while the threat of deforestation and environmental destruction looms constantly on the horizon. The peculiar (säregen) forest culture Ekman depicts in the introduction to Herrarna i skogen, a culture based on human conquest of the forest, gives Ekman “vargklon i hjärtat” (9). Ekman’s character Risten uses that same expression in Guds barmhärtighet (1999), and this repetition serves as the point of departure for this investigation.
Ekman’s portrayal of human and nonhuman interaction with nature and the effects of cultural and technological advancements on the environment problematize the (im)possibility of a harmonious relationship between man and nature in the modern world, and these issues are most present in Herrarna i skogen and Vargskinnet. Theoretical materials influencing this argument will begin with Lawrence Buell’s elaboration of the reciprocity between nature and culture and the defining of “environment” as not only the “natural” but the “human-built.” In the Vargskinnet trilogy, Ekman appeals to the Sami lifestyle in particular as emblematic of an “eco-friendly” lifestyle, and this study will, in part, discuss the underlying assumptions of anachronistic primitivism in this connection along with addressing the distinctions made between Sami and Swedish interaction with nature. I will present, as it appears in Ekman’s writing, the appeal to witnessing on behalf of a silenced nature, incorporating foundational theories of witness literature and testimony by Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, and Mieke Bal.
This paper will also briefly reference Ekman’s novels Rövarna i Skuleskogen, Hunden, and Urminnes tecken, all of which rely on nonhuman protagonists and perspectives, with the argument that Ekman questions traditional anthropocentric perspectives by placing non-human beings at the center of the novels. The inclusion of nonhuman protagonists, while also challenging our perception of what is possible in an overwhelmingly anthropocentric world, presents a value system in which every life is of equal value and nature and the nonhuman assumes an active subject-position. I will address the claim of place as an inhabited space using the concept from Næss’ Deep Ecology of equality among all entities in an ecosphere, which allows for inhabitation of and attachment of cultural meaning to a natural space (creating a “place”) by nonhuman entities.
Submit an update or correction to this abstract.