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The Creative Dialectic in Karen Blixen’s Essays

On Gender, Nazi Germany, and Colonial Desire

Best known for Out of Africa and Babette’s Feast, Karen Blixen—often writing under the name Isak Dinesen—was an iconic figure in Scandinavia and the Anglo-American world, celebrated as a literary star and a pundit in newspapers, radio, and lecture halls. Many of her topical pieces would later be published as essays, and in this book Marianne Stecher offers the first critical examination of them, exploring Blixen’s sagacious reflections on some of the twentieth century’s greatest challenges.
Stecher uncovers a “creative dialectic” in Blixen’s work, an interplay of complementary opposites that Blixen saw as fundamental to human life and artistic creativity. Whether exploring questions of gender and the status of the feminist movement in the middle of the twentieth century, the reign of National Socialism in Hitler’s Germany, or colonial race relations under British rule in East Africa, Blixen drew on a dialectical method to offer insightful, witty, and surprisingly progressive observations.
Including the first English translation of Blixen’s essay “Blacks and Whites in Africa,” this book is an essential companion to the works of this original thinker and writer. 

300 pages | 6 1/2 x 9 1/2 | © 2014

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

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“A very illuminating book which traces the pattern of the ‘creative dialectic’ into Karen Blixen’s essays on three significant currents of the twentieth century:  feminism, Nazism, and colonialism. This study elucidates Blixen’s originality in dealing with these precarious issues.”

Lasse Horne Kjældgaard, Danish Society of Language and Literature.

Table of Contents

Part One
On Feminism and Womanliness in “Oration at a Bonfire” and “The Blank Page”
     Blixen’s Feminism and Feminist Criticism
     Reading “Oration at a Bonfire”—Rethinking Feminism
     The Bonfire Oration in Dialogue with Ortega y Gasset
     Feminine Attire—Essence and Construction
     Blixen’s Entreaty to Postwar Feminists
     Women and History—From Gender to Existence
     Womanly Essence and “The Blank Page”
Part Two
On Nazism as a “One-Sexed Community” in “Letters from a Land at War”
     A Soldier’s Daughter and the Warrier Ethos
     Hitler’s Magnetism and Invitations to Germany
     Investigating the Original Typescripts
     Blixen Criticism, the Wivel Debate, and the Heretics
     “The Foreword”—The Narrative Strategy of Neutrality
     “An Old Hero in Bremen”—The Chivalrous Enemy
     “Great Undertakings in Berlin”—The New German Religion
     “Strength and Joy”—The Gospel of the Will to Power
     “The Stage”—Art or Propaganda
     Postwar Reflections—Two Kinds of Courage
Part Three
On Colonial Desire in “Blacks and Whites in Africa,” Out of Africa, and Shadows on the Grass
     Venerable Artifacts of the Colonial Past
     Ambivalence and Mimicry in Out of Africa and “Farah”
     Colonial Denmark, Postcolonial Criticism, and Blixen’s Legacy
     “Blacks and Whites in Africa”—Colonial Power as Illusion
      “Kitosch’s Story”—White Prestige
     “Farah”—Affectionate Paternalism in the Master/Slave Dialectic
     “Barua a Soldani”—Desire, Gift, and Sacrifice
Appendix: Karen Blixen, “Blacks and Whites in Africa” (1938)

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