The Man Who Survived His Destiny
Harald Nielsen 1) 1879-1957
By Nina Bjoerneboe:
TO BE OR NOT TO BE
Whilst England is known as the place in the world, where haunting has survived the longest – there is hardly, even in our enlightened century, a house in England of respectable age, that does not house one or more ghosts – haunting has been officially abolished in Denmark among enlightened people.
Nevertheless there are now and then reports, also from Danish castles and manor houses and even from quite ordinary houses, of white ladies and grey men, that step out of the tapestries by midnight and wander about halls and hallways and slide through thick walls and then dissolve into nothingness.
These ghosts are extraordinary beings and do not fit into the system. Ghosts do not really exist. Overall ghosts can only be described by negatives.
This is not to say, that without further proof it is the concerned parties' own fault, that they are haunting houses after death as negative existences. The airy shadows, who are sliding around in the dark and spreading horror amongst the living are guilty and innocent ones amongst each other.
Already during their lifetime their fate was beyond the norms, out in the extreme, where only the few come: in the sphere of tragedy, crime, vice, pure passion, absolute innocence or total evil. That appears from the history of the ghosts, which in many cases is well know and well documented.
One example is Hamlets father. He was really a quite innocent victim of his evil fate. Showing himself to Hamlet after his death is to remind his fickle-minded son of his duty and purpose: to make accountable his fathers murderer, who had cowardly and underhandedly usurped the throne and the royal conjugal bed. William Shakespeare has the natural and relaxed relationship to ghosts of the English, and with exemplary pedagogical sense he has illustrated, how to make a ghost disappear. It is no use being afraid of it. Would the king's ghost have disappeared, if Hamlet had collapsed with fear at the sight of him? Or if Hamlet had started to exorcise him away? No, the royal ghost must haunt on, until the false king has
been brought down. Only then will there be a balance in the historic account and only then will Hamlet have peace of mind and his farther peace in his grave.
It is probably the same thing with many other ghosts on both sides of the North Sea: they are reminders of some account irregularity; a wrong, that has not been made right in time, a love, that was denied, an innocence, that was violated and never given redress – there are many unpleasant accounts in the complicated account of history, that have never been settled.
For people who want to avoid ghosts it is small consolation, that one can stay away from old houses and from the bastions of Kronborg, because ghosts appear in the most unexpected places. They can even show up in the columns of newspapers, even though that is a rarity.
During the winter of 1963, about one year after the death of Karen Blixen, Emil Frederiksen had a large article in Berlingske Tidende with an interpretation of the literature so far on our world famous baroness. Among other things he mentioned “Harald Nielsen's piercingly ungracious book” about her. As an avid reader of the reviews of Emil Frederiksen, I was conversant with his cryptic, ambivalent form of expression; even so, I was startled by his using a term as silly as “piercingly ungracious”. Later I realized, that these two words were the crack in the tapestry behind which a ghost had been walled in. Used by an expert about a book, which is within his field, the words “piercingly ungracious” hint at a painful dilemma.
I had never heard of an author named Harald Nielsen; but when a couple of weeks later I found the aforementioned book in the library I took it home with me, encouraged by Emil Frederiksens promising comment.
“Karen Blixen. A study in literary mysticism” was the title of it and it was published in 1956. Harald Nielsen's view of Karen Blixen was, quite correctly observed, not exactly gracious. But what surprised and excited me was: the book was written by an outstanding critic. Sharp, profound, trustworthy and remarkably stylistically gifted. With an alert intellect, carried by faithfulness to the overall conditions to which art is bound and which makes it flourish, Harald Nielsen turned the inside out on the linguistic feather and silk slough of Karen Blixen's author's personality and analysed, what it was that she “really” wrote and revealed that which her admirers termed wisdom was in reality “a series of self-aggrandizing statements, which were actually just so much proof that also pheasants belonged to the gallinaceous birds”. He did indeed not have much respect for her tales, under the glittering surface of which he glimpsed the empty enjoyment of sadistic and bizarre sexual caprices of a cynical voyeur. She was a barren experimenter, a kindred spirit to Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler,
and her prostrate admirers he compared to the naive spouse, who falls for that which is “elegant” without noticing “the depraved spirit hiding behind its well groomed exterior”.
Harald Nielsen was like no other author, and I reproached myself for not having noticed such a gifted and altogether different type of spirit before. But maybe he was still too young to have asserted himself in the public awareness – an assumption, which was nourished by the youthful freshness and resilience of his language and his bold, passionate demand for an ethical level of art. He must be a youthful version of the old- fashioned, but in no way extinct type, who “has swallowed a spoonful of the hydrochloric acid of the ideal claim and never recovered from it ”, as Jacob Paludan says about the ideal of his youth, Feodor Jansen. In any event it was well worth noticing, what Harald Nielsen would write, in future; for a brilliant career must inevitably result from his unusual abilities.
On a spring day, some time later, I had an errand in Farvergade in Copenhagen City and my eye caught the name Harald Nielsen in the window of a secondhand bookshop. I turned around and went back in order to read the title of the book. “Self Disclosure” was the title, and the subtitle “Literary Dissertations”. It was published in 1948 but there was no mention of any publishing firm. So he was not quite as young, then, as I had guessed. He possessed a past – even a dry and boring past judging from the title and subtitle, from the Spartan, almost self-effacing exterior and from the absence of any publisher. Probably a self absorbed, newly hatched candidate of the year '48, who had financed his own debut with notes and remarks for the edification of all the other candidates. But in spite of everything he was promising, as he had demonstrated later on, so one should at least spend a minimum of superficial interest on his preliminary stage...
In the dim light of the dusty bookstore I stated my errand and the man behind the desk handed me a copy of “Self Disclosure” accompanied by a slightly exaggerated bow. “That will be 2 crowns”, he said. “Only 2 crowns. Cheap, isn't it? I can get you many more of this gentleman's books and they are all cheap. Very cheap. You ought to consider it.”
There was an undercurrent in his words, which confused me, and at the same time he looked at me persistently with an expression of mockery or irony – or was it freemasonry?
I mumbled something, gave him the money and disappeared into the sunshine with my book, shaking my head.
On the way home on the train, I started to cut it; but hardly had I
separated the first pages, before the blood froze in my veins. Without yet having read a single sentence, I saw one specific word standing out in front of my eyes, the same word over and over, across the pages from cover to cover; it was sitting there like black, demonic stones fitted into the mosaic of the text and gave me a sense of inexplicable nausea – over myself, over the book, the author, the spring air, the presumptuous closeness of my fellow passengers, I didn't know over what.As a schoolchild in the forties I was shown the naughty parts of “Lady Chatterley's Lover” by a resolute schoolmate. Never since then had I had such a clear feeling of approaching a taboo as in this very moment, when for the first time in my life I saw the word Jew written and repeated endlessly without shame. After this word had been used as a sole argument for degradation, torture and extermination in our neighboring country it had disappeared almost completely from our language 2). A word which, every time it is mentioned, awakens images of the suffering and death of six million people, is not suited to be mentioned very often. But then, there was no need for this word any longer; a new generation had grown up, my generation, for whom such a distinguishing mark had no meaning – just like the young Herming 3) in “Inside the Walls” had wanted it for his children: “Neither Jews nor Christians. They shall be human beings.”
When I started reading the book, my misgivings were confirmed; the word Jew, which Harald Nielsen used with such inhibition, was not meant as a hallmark, but as a name for the enemy, as a sign of danger. What was more, the essays of which the book consisted, were all written during the years 1941-48. So it was not the golden light of the future, but the black shadows of the past that were cast over the name of Harald Nielsen. The promising youth had to be shoved into the cabinet of curiosities of lost illusions.
Even so his book could not awaken neither anger nor indignation in me, whom it hit, unexpectedly, with a delay of fifteen years .
His aim was solely to reveal the suspect fact, that Jews sought to conceal the differences between themselves and non-Jews, a differenc recognized by themselves, when the purpose was to clear the road to power for themselves and their fellows, and his sources were mainly Jewish writers, thus the title “Self Disclosure”.
He didn't mention any program for a “Final Solution” to this Jewish problem. Overall, his hateful attacks were devoid of motives for revenge, and his one-sidedness had none of the lack of originality of a propaganda pamphlet. Harald Nielsen was neither agitator nor tactician but was, to the marrow, an individualist and a truth-seeker.
Compared to the thoughts and actions of The Third Reich regarding The Jewish Question, the Anti-Semitism of Harald Nielsen rather conjured up
the image of a pig-headed man of honour from the past, who had fallen victim to his own monomania, than that of a “modern” race theorist.
“Self Disclosures” created in me, apart from the inevitable resentment, also a deep sensation of compassion. For in it spoke an indignant, desperate human being, from the bottom of his heart, and thereby it became a portrait of the man, even a part of life itself, which captured me. It gave a tragic glimpse of a disappointed man, who, out of a bitter conflict with the school of thought of Georg Brandes' characterized by rootlessness, freedom from all traditions and “no attachment to the mother country” and after a long life of fighting the untrustworthiness and shallowness of this Brandesianism, felt squeezed into a corner, not appreciated, isolated, silenced, held in contempt and hated. With obstinate energy he heaped one argument on top of the other in order to support his abysmal distrust of George Brandes and those who followed him – all of social liberalism ideology.
Thus started my acquaintance with an interesting ghost from the recent history of Denmark: the critic, thinker and poet Harald Nielsen, born 1879, deceased 1957. That the ghost did not frighten me was in the beginning due to the fact that it did not at all occur to me to perceive Harald Nielsen as a ghost. He seemed to me to be much too alive and present for that. Little by little did I find out, that it was not considered good form to have such an unprejudiced view of him.
Although Harald Nielsen is one of the strangest and most important characters i Danish literature, he is to-day know by very few people. Even fewer will acknowledge him.
If you mention his name to people, who know more than their classics, a strange silence will spread around you, as if you had committed an indiscretion by referring to the black sheep in the family. Most of his works have been removed from the libraries and placed in their basements or been transferred to a storehouse at the other end of town, and if you stumble upon his name in print on a rare occasion, it is consistently mentioned in a pale dependent clause. Silently, like a ghost, Harald Nielsen slides into place in one context or another, where an author has felt compelled to mention him in passing; quickly he disappears again. Did anyone notice? Hardly! He is so transparent, that he fades into the tapestry.
The official reason why Harald Nielsen leads this strange, shadowy life as the persona non grata of the printed word, is supposedly his writings during the German Occupation, where he broke the unwritten laws of patriotism – as Henning Fenger wrote in “Denmark During the Occupation”: “He was from then on a dead man in our public life”.
But what, then, is the reason, that Harald Nielsen, who had done nothing but express his politically wrong opinions at a time, when
silence would have suited him better, has not been granted any of the forgiveness, which has been granted other and more heavily incriminated “dead men” from back then and according to which a man is judged more by his good deeds than his bad ones?
Harald Nielsen has not been forgiven in spite of the fact that he was, in the words of Henning Fenger, one of our most considerable literary critics and guides of aestetics of the first third of our century, a respected man, also when his penetrating analysis concerned the domestic social and political conditions.
With merciless cruelty society has managed to effect and maintain the total, eternal condemnation of this unwanted member. As “dead man” he is a hundred times more non-existent than if he had just kicked the bucket, in a quiet, quite ordinary way.
It is not totally impossible to grasp why Harald Nielsens presence in Danish intellectual history is a precarious matter. With his level-headed discernment, his uncompromising courage and his dazzling ability to defend his viewpoints he is bound to be considered antisocial in an age like our own, which swear by compromises and solutions “in the middle”. Harald Nielsen's views were in direct contrast to a series of established truths; his role on many issues became that of the outspoken child in “The Emperor's New Clothes”, a role which rarely provides popularity with either the emperor or the participants in the slowly advancing procession.
He directed his sharpest and most untiring attacks against Georg Brandes, whom he denied any right to be a cultural mandarin. But Harald Nielsen also took the trimmings off of our other untouchable literary idols, scrutunized their hearts and souls and weighed their talents without respect for their personages, and accompanied by biting comments.
As a passionate supporter of the defence of the country, as an opponent of feminism and on many other issues he put himself in opposition to social liberalism; at the same time he occupied himself more profoundly and with more farsight than any of his contemporaries with the inner crisis of conservatism; in his indignant chastisement of the half-hearted, conservative bourgeoisie and in his mockery of the political right's lousy opportunism, he revealed the moral weakness that leads directly to the anticlimax of The conservative Peoples Party in the 1970'ies.
He developed a frigid relationship to the press as a sharp critic of its sensationalism and its lack of sincerity. His highbrow attitude is the foundation of an intense distaste for the leveling and obstinate, aggressive vulgarity which, in his opinion, is the extreme consequence of democracy and a forerunner of a dictatorship.
As social liberalism won politically and culturally, he
became more and more alone in his struggle against it and when WWII rolled around, he was half buried in the darkness of oblivion, which had stolen upon him all through the thirties.
During the war he opposed community singing, sabotage and other expressions of opinion towards the occupying power. That should not be mistaken for any sympathy for national socialism. Cool reservation towards it and is leader – he never went any further than that in either direction. But his booklets on the future of Europe, on the Jewish Question and on Denmark's correct attitude towards the occupying power, which he published during the war, must have appeared inappropriate in the given situation – to put it mildly – to his countrymen. Disliked as he already was in wide circles, he became an easy victim of the hateful feelings, which purged Denmark after the war and separated “the wicked ones” from “the good ones”, “the white ones” from “the black ones”. There was no room for nuances and reason, there was no sense of a man's personal acquisition of independent thoughts and opinions – and there hasn't been ever since. Harald Nielsen was and remained finished.
The first contemporary contribution to a positive estimate of Harald Nielsen came already a couple of years after his death; when Soeren Krarup made his debut in 1960 with the book “Harald Nielsen and His Time”. Even though Soeren Krarup's courageous effort in the name of intellectual liberty did not mean the beginning of a renaissance for “the dead man”, it had a great effect by preventing Harald Nielsen from being altogether forgotten. Many younger readers have found Harald Nielsen's authorship through Soeren Krarup's book.
This book makes an appraisal of the epoch, which starts with the breakthrough of Brandesianism in the 1870'ies and ends with the German occupation 1940-45. It is Krarup's conclusion, that Harald Nielsen and the resistance movement should have found each other in a “common showdown with social liberalism, since the resistance movement was the spontaneous “no” to the national defeatism, which had been the foreign policy of the Danish Social Liberal Party since the beginning of the century – a policy, which Harald Nielsen had struggled against with energy and talent most of his life. But Harald Nielsen condemned the resistance movement – and the resistance movement condemned Harald Nielsen. After the liberation in 1945 the former freedom fighters slid step by step into spineless opportunism and forgot, what it actually was, they had been fighting for and against. If they sought to remedy their failing memories, it was not through the authorship of Harald Nielsen.
Amongst literary historians there has not been much inclination to attempt a redress of Harald Nielsen. It should not be ignored, however, that several older scientists have honoured Harald Nielsen after his
death for his groundbreaking literary critical contribution. Such as Oluf Friis in “The Young Johannes V. Jensen” (1974) who underlines Harald Nielsen's peculiarly far-sighted recognition of Jensen's early novel “Einar Elkær” and gives him the credit for being “the first to have described a work by Johs. V. Jensen as an illuminated, aesthetic whole. Likewise F. J. Billeskov Jansen in Politiken's Danish Literary History, vol. 4: “From George Brandes to Johs. V. Jensen” (1977), where Harald Nielsen is in fact mentioned as a single chapter in the central part “Periodicals and Epoch Critique” and is recognized in the article as the critic and publisher of periodicals, who best understood the signs of his time.
But aside from such limited and peaceful contexts Harald Nielsen is also literally a very sensitive subject, which must be seen in relation to the fact, that a re-evaluation of Georg Brandes and The Modern Breakthrough has been long in coming. Historians and literati, researchers as well as teachers and textbook writers faithfully keep alive the myth of Georg Brandes as the Ansgar of the nineteenth century, who brought about The Modern Breakthrough and awoke the Danish people to a new reality – this ridiculous, small, sleepy provincial people at the edge of Europe, who slumbered gently with their heads in a romantic cloud and whose poetry was not about our lives but about our dreams – until the miracle-man Georg Brandes brought us the light and had J.P. Jacobsen, Holger Drachmann, Herman Bang, Henrik Pontoppidan and all the other geniuses blossom like flowers under a warm spring sky.
A dissident from the traditional subservience to the drawing room picture of the breakthrough of the official Denmark is professor Sven Hakon Rossel, University of Washington, Seattle, who during the summer of 1976 in USA's Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies published his view of The Modern Breakthrough. In Denmark his lecture was published as a double feature article in Berlingske Tidende on July 9-10, 1976 and already the title “Was 'The Modern Breakthrough' Modern?” and “Georg Brandes – Propagandistic Manipulator?” announced, that Rossel's view of the main character of the Breakthrough was a showdown with the doctrinaire myth.
With a respectlessness that breaks the tension Sven Hakon Rossel reveals the very foundations of the sensational program for breakthrough of Georg Brandes as a hoax: Denmark was not at all as provincial and given to romantic escape from reality as claimed by Georg Brandes, he asserts. Against Brandes' arrogant claim, that Danish literature is backward and unrealistic, Rossel shows the thousand year long realistic tradition in Danish literature and thinking and demonstrates with irrefutable evidence, that the subversive new thinking, which Georg Brandes
introduced in “Main Currents”(his famous work, ed.) had been quietly anticipated by a series of Danish poets and authors for several decades.
Sven Rossel relates honestly to Harald Nielsens spiteful criticism of Brandes with its striking revelations of the luminary plagiarism and his talent for copying. Rossel even recommends it to his listeners and readers to take in Harald Nielsens book on Brandes, “The Usurper”, as a useful antidote against excessive worship of Brandes .
Maybe it should not be a rare thing, that a young scientist points backwards towards one of his older colleagues and recommends him to his contemporaries, but it is a rare thing and Rossel's example should be mentioned with honour. That he has settled far from Denmark with his diverging views should not be counted in his disfavour; for some the exile is the true home of intellectual freedom.
Soeren Krarup's book and Sven Rossel's dissertation are signs that the judgement of Harald Nielsen by former generations and the rejection of his work is not likely to be upheld by posterity. From totally different backgrounds these two present-day authors reinstated Harald Nielsen in his rightful place in the historic context: Soeren Krarup with the main stress on his efforts in the struggle for Denmark's existence as an independent state and against defeatism and rootless individualism, Sven Hakon Rossel with the main stress on his stubborn attacks on Georg Brandes' scientific charlatanry and propagandistic self-worship.
But also outside the historic frame, which encircles the course of his life, Harald Nielsen is an important and considerable writer, and in the long run no taboo will be able to prevent him from being evaluated according to his worth in the timeless intellectual fellowship of Danish culture. He does not have the artistic form and élan of a Holberg, a Hans Christian Andersen or a Soeren Kierkegaard and there are many cinders in his work. He is a left-handed prophet or a poet without a lyre; but even so he is one of the genuine individualists, with whom we cannot dispense. Difficult to put into a formula, a spontaneous, deeply original thinker and harbinger of reality.
As a continuator and renewer of old, well-tried truths, he has a vital function in our time, where the personal judgement is weakened in its self-confidence by scientific and political theoreticians, who, using impressive words of foreign origin and statistics, present the philosopher's stone in ever new versions. In contrast to the dazzling theories and utopias Harald Nielsen's down-to-Earth wisdom is a useful and marketable philosophy for smaller households.
“The world begins everywhere and you can criticize it from the position of a sausage peg if only you can place the sausage peg in the right place in the context, if you can perceive it and its essence and correctly unravel its premises.”
Being able to do just that was his force and in the long line of his works he readily shares his know-how with the reader.
This book is written from the position of the aforementioned sausage peg. It has written itself so to speak with the works of Harald Nielsen as basis and foundation. His works are not just about the subject he decided to write about; they are also about himself. They are at once about his own fate and a series of comments on it.
The absence of a scientifically based work on Harald Nielsen's efforts and life based on materials from archives and other sources, which are hard to access and handle, is not remedied with the book, which is now published. Such a penetrating and extensive study of Harald Nielsen will have to await a researcher with qualifications and that measure of idealism, which is necessary to take on this task, which is insurmountable for a lay person.
During my work with the book I have encountered encouragement and helpfulness from many corners and I want to thank all the people, who have come to me with information and guidance and who have thus contributed to completing the task.
I give special thanks to the daughter of Harald Nielsen, the sculptor Bodil Nielsen. Through conversations with her and her husband, the now deceased sculptor Boerge Ishoey, I have received invaluable help. Furthermore the author Kirsten Bang, who has been a friend of the family for many years has shown exceptional interest and goodwill for my work and I owe her my sincerest thanks. I also thank Harald Nielsen's housekeeper, Mrs. Else Fols, who has helped shed light over the life of Harald Nielsen.
From the fund of Hoejre (Fund of 'the Right', ed.) I have received a scholarship to help with the publishing, for which I am very grateful.
Finally I wish to thank the author, incumbent Soeren Krarup, whose long and untiring stimulation has been the decisive incentive, not to say irritant, to the completion of the book.
Vanløse, August 31 1981
1) Harald Nielsen, a Danish literary critic and author (1879-1957) is mostly forgotten today, is hardly even mentioned today in Danish Encyclopedias (The only mention of him in the English language, known to me, is in 'A History of Danish Literature' by Sven H. Rossel, from 1992). Yet he is the number two most famous Danish 'Anti-Semite', number one being world-famous philosopher, Soeren Kierkegard, who only very recently was attacked publicly and posthumously for his 'Anti-Semitism' in a 'scholarly' tome by a known leftist, Danish philosopher, Peter Tudvad.
Due to his 'Anti-Semitism' no works by Harald Nielsen have been translated into English or any other foreign language, to my knowledge. No foreign publishers have taken an interest in him, even no Danish ones. He had to publish himself. He is undoubtedly one of the brightest Danish literary critics of all time, but was even politically incorrect before this term became common usage. He was very critical of such famous Danish authors as Georg Brandes and Karen Blixen, and since these were lauded too the skies by the Danish literary establishment, the corps of literary critics, academic circles and the press, he was shunned almost from the beginning of his career. However many works by him exist in Danish, and one day, when the literary Iron Curtain, created by Jewish supremacists, has been removed, his works will have to be translated for their educational qualities, their courageous and candid treatment of contemporay subjects, not least The Jewish Problem. Several chapters of his biography 'The Man Who Survived His Destiny' and several works by him - particularly those to do with the Jews - have been published, in Danish, in 'Dronten', the Danish original of 'The Dodo'. This article is the first chapter in the book 'The Man Who Survived His Destiny' by Nina Bjørneboe, published 1981, (k.e. Dec. 2010).
3) Jewish Author and playwight, Henri Nathansen's play 'Inside the Walls' about the Jewish girl Esther Levin who - against the wishes of her family - falls in love with her Gentile teacher, Joergen Herming.