Monthly Archives

December 2015

The memory of atmospheric smell

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My PhD student Anette Stenslund has made me aware of atmospheric smell as an important dimension in our relation to the world.

@stenslund (

In her dissertation, which she defended last week, Anette discusses smell in the hospital in terms of ‘atmosphere’ — i.e. not as a perception of specific olfactory stimuli, but as a phenomenological apprehension of situated smell.

Anette’s work is important for understanding the synaesthetic qualities of museum exhibitions (a topic I will return to later). But the notion of atmospheric smell could also add an interesting dimension to autobiographical studies of the individuals’ memory of the past. Here’s an example from my own life-history.

18 years old (autumn 1965)

When I matriculated at Stockholm University 50 years ago, I chose chemistry as my first subject. The chemistry programme began with a month-long intensive propaedeutic course, where you should learn basic stoichiometry and the whole periodic table by heart. It was a kind of rite of passage that sorted out the less devoted students and gave the rest of us license to enter the holy laboratories — inorganic chemistry and physical chemistry in the autumn, and organic chemistry in the spring.

What I remember best from my year of chemistry studies is the social life and the feeling of being in the lab. We were around 12 students in each lab group, having an intense social life together. We met at 8am for breakfast and gossip in the canteen before the morning lectures began, and then spent 6-8 hours together in the lab, two and two at each bench. We often had dinner together, comparing lab notes, before going home to write the daily lab reports and read the textbooks (and getting 6-7 hours of sleep before the next hard day). It felt more like a voluntary boot camp than a school.

Chemistry taught me that science is about abstract concepts, experiments and precise observations. We spent months learning to weigh substances, calibrate pipettes and calculate errors of measurement. There was also some heavy theory (I remember struggling hard with thermodynamics and quantum chemistry). But what lingers most strongly in my memory is that it was an intensely sensuous study (today, maybe it’s all learnt in front of the computer screen?).

All the senses were involved. I vividly remember the beautiful colours of some of the (mostly organic) stuffs we produced and the click-click-click sounds of the Geiger counter. Almost everything we did involved manipulating something, including instruments, hands-on.

And above it all hovered the smell. I remember it as if all substances we used and produced smelled of something. Ammonia, hydrochloric acid, nitrous gases, bromine, hydrogen sulphide, and a whole array of carboxylic acids, ethers, aldehydes and ketones — a constant bombardement with specific smells, many of them pleasant, and sometimes dangerous, some foul, but nonetheless often harmless, at least in small concentrations.

The lasting impression in my memory of the year 1965-66 is not the specific smells of specific substances, however. What I remember best is the unspecific smell atmosphere of the laboratories — ranging from a vague sense of bakelite and vacuum tubes in the physical chemistry room to the heavily odorous organic chemistry lab, which not even the most efficient fume hoods could remove and which impregnated the lab coats as well.

That experience has followed me throughout life. Whenever I see an image of a organic chemistry lab, I can easily recollect its unspecific odorous atmosphere — which is almost as ‘tangible’ as the visual impression of the room.

220px-PerfumeSuskindWould it be possible to write a smell memoir? Something akin to the fictional scent biography of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille that Patrick Süskind created in Das Parfum, but not fictional and not focused on specific odours: more in the form of an autobiographical report of one’s own life in terms of the different kinds smell atmospheres one has encountered throughout life. Would it be too monotonous? Too emasculated? Too vague and too short? All these probably. But it would nevertheless be an interesting exercise to use that kind of analytic perspective on one’s own life as a complement to other and richer analytic perspectives.

Under all circumstances it would be interesting to develop the notion of the atmospheric qualities of memory further. Any tips about literature or ideas how to proceed?

Note: The smell in the chemistry lab has been discussed by others; for example, David Lowe has written about the smell in contemporary organic chemistry labs, and historical aspects of smell in the chemistry laboratory has been studied by the Uppsala historian of science Anders Lundgren. But to my best knowledge, the notion of atmospheric smell as a dimension of our memory of the past has not been treated (whereas memories of specific smells are of course a commonplace topic, not least due to Marcel Proust’s famous Madeleine cake experience and its impact on subsequent generations of scholars).

The earliest memories — the act is lost in oblivion, but the metaphor remains

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One of the earliest memories from my childhood in Stockholm is not about things I did or the outer world I encountered, but about a metaphorical image I associate with my evening prayer — “Gud som haver barnen kär” (God, who holds the children dear):

Gud som haver barnen kär,
se till mig som liten är.
Vart jag mig i världen vänder
står min lycka i Guds händer.
Lyckan kommer, lyckan går,
den Gud älskar, lyckan får.

(God who holds the children dear,  care for me who is so small. Wherever I go in the world, my happiness lies in the hand of God. Happiness comes, happiness goes, those whom God loves will be happy.)

Every word of this very popular Swedish childrens prayer is forever imprinted in my mind; probably because I seem to have said it every evening, from early childhood up to the age of nine, and maybe even later (“Thomas and I alone at home. He went to bed reasonably early and we read God Who Holds the Children Dear”, wrote my grandfather in his diary in March 1956).

But I don’t have any memories whatsoever of saying the prayer. I don’t remember actually saying the words, or the social situation, or the time and place.

What I do remember, however, when I repeat these words today, is the image that went through my mind 60-65 years ago when I said the prayer.

Not our iron - but it could have been.

Not our iron – but it could have been.

When I say the penultimate line “Lyckan kommer, lyckan går” (Happiness comes, happiness goes) today, I still remember having the inner image of an iron moving forth and back on an ironing board: Iron comes, iron goes.


(an anonymous German woman)

I probably didn’t understand what the word ‘lycka’ (happiness) meant. But ‘coming’ and ‘going’ were both familiar words; and ironing was an everyday household chore (for the women in our family) in the early 1950s, and was an easily available and appropriate metaphor for how something could ‘come’ and ‘go’.

I guess children often use physical metaphors when trying to conceptualise abstract concepts, when having books read to them, or hearing songs or prayers. But what interests me in this case is the memory aspects — namely, that it is the metaphorical image evoked by saying the prayer that has remained in my mind until this very day, whereas the memory of the actual, situated everynight act of praying seems to be lost in time.

Originally posted on Facebook (1 November 2015), this post generated comments from Inge-Bert Täljedal, Kenneth Caneva and Signe Hegelund:

Inge-Bert Täljedal: Interesting. The account of your childhood memory with its focus on the verbal and non-verbal symbolic representations of “come” and “go” sounds pretty Freudian to me. Perhaps a good and efficient working with anxiety linked to separation?
Inge-Bert Täljedal: […]By the way, I think your translation of the children’s prayer was a bit in error. Although, admittedly, the Swedish text is ambiguous, it would be blasmephous to insinuate that God does not love all children. So, instead of “those whom God loves” it should probably be “those who love God”… By the way, probably because of this language ambiguity some families used another last line of the prayer: “Gud förbliver Fader vår” (“God remains our Father.) For some reason I guess that your version was popular in so-called “free” or “dissenter” church circles, while the verision mentioned here was more popular in Church of Sweden circles. But I am not sure. At any rate, you must not teach children that some children are not loved.
Thomas Söderqvist: This is a really difficult one, Inge-Bert. I’ve been thinking a lot about this prayer. Shall the phrase “Den Gud älskar lyckan får” be understood as “De barn som älskar Gud blir lyckliga” (kids who love God will be happy) or as “De barn som Gud älskar blir lyckliga” (kids whom God loves will be happy). The second option is terrible: there may be some children that God doesn’t love for one reason or the other; and am I one of those? But the first option is terrible too: you have to *achieve* happiness of God in order to be happy; those of us who cannot pull ourselves together to love God will thus be doomed. What a terrible prayer to indoctrine a 3-4 year old with. No wonder I was thinking of ironing instead. What do my religious friends Lisbet, Jes and Signe say to this dilemma? (And by the way, my anxiety was set in motion before I wrote about the ‘come-go’ motif.)
Inge-Bert Täljedal: Well, I agree that this classic children’s prayer is questionable even from a Christian point of view, because it invites overly neurotic brooding. If, for the sake of argument, one wants to defend it against the accusation of being outright heretic, first of all the second interpretation (whom God loves) must be ruled out as insinuating that God does not love all children. Moreover, the first one should not be interpreted as meaning that loving God is a prerequisite for happiness. Rather it is a pious assertion that those who love God (but not necessarily only they) become happy, which, however, is also a questionable thing to say to a child. I mean, what is “happiness” and what does it, in a child’s vocabulary and fantasy, mean to “love God”? So, on all interpretations this prayer is questionable, but worse on some than on others. Even from a Christian perspective, that is.
Kenneth L. Caneva: Yes, interesting. Whether your explanation is accurate I’m not qualified to say. That you forgot the events themselves is, to me, unfathomable.
Thomas Söderqvist: Well, I don’t think I have actually produced an explanation yet – I’ve only described a phenomenon waiting for its explanation.
Signe Hegelund: Memoria er jo den 4 af de såkaldet ” fem forarbejdningsfaser” eller PARTES i den klassiske retorik. Et af de hjælpemidler der anvendes er netop at forbinde det sproglige med noget visuelt. Hos os er det jo ofte lidt større tekstmængder det drejer sig om – og en noget kortere indøvelsesfase – og derfor har det at anbringe informationerne i en specifik rækkefølge i et kendt “landskab” været hyppigt brugt. I den moderne Sherlock Holmes bruger både Sherlock selv og skurken Magnusson forøvrigt den teknik. Så: du har brugt den metode der tilsyneladende ligger lige for når man skal lære at memorere informationer.
Thomas Söderqvist: Interessant. Bortset fra at jeg som 3-5-årig nok ikke hade brug for at memorere teksten. Bønteksten sad der nok alligevel, på samme måde som mine børn i tidlig alder kunne gengive Halfdan Rasmussens rim ordret uden at forstå særligt meget af indholdet. Så med respekt for at det er interessant i en retorik-sammenhæng, så jeg tror faktisk ikke det var tale om en ubevidst mnemoteknik. Jeg tror snarere det var tale om en tilfældig association mellem “lykken kommer/går” og “strygjernet kommer/går” — det som behøver forklares er hvorfor kun metaforen lever i min hukommelse, og ikke bedesituationen.
Signe Hegelund: Hvorfor det? Hvordan husker børn? Jeg tror ikke at retorikken udvikler mnemoteknikken – jeg tror den imiterer og forfiner en “Naturlig mnemoteknik” – som er den børn også tyr til helt af sig selv. Vi har vel alle brug for at memorere- spørgsmålet er vel HVORDAN vi reelt gør det. Vi gør det også ved hjælp af det sproglige: rim, rytme osv.
Signe Hegelund: Da jeg jo først lærer svensk af min stedmor – som bestemt ikke er kristen – har jeg ikke lært denne bøn som barn. Vi BØR lære vores børn at de ER elskede og at vi som gode protestanter ikke tror på at det er noget man kan gøre sig fortjent til. Gud elsker dig! Og Gud er ikke en købmand som man slår en handel af med… Gud elsker mennesket og Kristus har sonet dine synder – så du har ikke nogen grund til at skjule dig for Gud. Men nu er vi igen i fuld gang med forkyndelse på FB… Og som retoriker må jeg sige: Det egner mediet sig moderat godt til.

(image credits: and Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F001163-0012 / Unterberg, Rolf / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

I can’t recall a single meal

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Högbergsgatan 11 (credit:

Högbergsgatan 11 (credit:

I vividly remember the house on Högbergsgatan on Södermalm in Stockholm, where I lived on the ground floor with my mother, grandmother and grandfather during the first decade of my life, 60-70 years ago.

I remember the physical features of the house, and also the four-room apartment we lived in. I recall the outline and ambience of the rooms, the hallway, the bathroom, and the kitchen. And I still remember the distribution of light and shades throughout the apartment at different times of the day.

But I remember very little about the family members and our daily activities. And I can’t recall a single meal!

I must have had around 7,000 breakfasts, dinners and Sunday lunches in that apartment. I clearly remember where the sideboard stood, and the shape and colour of the dinner table! But not a single meal has survived in my memory. Not a single one!

Summer 1951 (4 years old) titled "Gröt är bra att ha i magen innan man börjar dagen".

Summer 1951 (4 years old) titled “Gröt är bra att ha i magen innan man börjar dagen”.

There is photographic evidence that I had meals :-). But only in two photos, and none of them in our apartment in Stockholm. One (on the left) is of me with a plate of porridge, probably outside my grandparents’ summer house in Bergshamra, some 50 km north of Stockholm. I was 4½ years old when it was taken.

In the other photo, taken in 1954 when I was 7 years old, I’m having breakfast with my grandmother on the porch.

Breakfast on the porch. Summer of 1954.

“Sunny breakfast” on the porch. Summer of 1954.

(Seeing these two photos today suddenly makes me remember one small thing though: I often (or always?) had graham flour porridge, and sometimes cornflakes, with milk for breakfast. But I still don’t remember the ambience of the meals.)

I have read somewhere that we tend to forget the mundane activites of our earlier life. Dressing, undressing, brushing one’s teeth, eating porridge and potatoes are such everyday events. They are the fundament of our lives, and yet they easily get lost in time.

So maybe it’s quite natural that I don’t remember any of the ~7,000 meals I had during the first decade of my life. But it’s also sad that such an important aspect of life has disappeared altogether from my memory. Instead of having to remember the day when I found out I was a mistake.


Writing memoir for publication or for the desk drawer?

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Around 1950, ~3 years old.

Around 1950, ~3 years old.

I have not yet made up my mind as to whether I shall 1) restrict myself to the process of writing about my own life, interspersed with observations about memoir writing (using myself as the empirical case), or 2) also write a full memoir.

The first choice has been my priority so far. I’ve immersed myself in the archive and the process of memoir writing. And I have taken every opportunity to interrupt my readings and note-taking with reflections on what is going on in my mind in the process.

The alternative — writing a full memoir or autobiography —also has its attraction, however, and it feels like a kind of mental abortion to reject this option out of hand.

What has so far dissuaded me from thinking seriously in terms of a full memoir, I think, is the spectre of going public, of having to share private and intimate details about my life. There are too many things in life I still feel ashamed of.

desk drawerBut I am beginning to realise that I don’t really need to go public even if I should decide to write a full memoir text. Because I can also choose to write for the desk drawer (or rather the harddisk).

Is this really a realistic option for a person like me, who have lived my whole life in writing for the public domain?

The American writer and scholar William Zinsser (best known for his bestseller On Writing Well, 1976; free pdf here) have some interesting thoughts about this.

zinsser-memoirIn a 2006 essay in The American Scholar, Zinsser pointed out that there are many good reasons for writing memoirs “that have nothing to do with being published”:

“Writing is a powerful search mechanism, and one of its satisfactions is that it allows you to come to terms with your life narrative. It also allows you to work through some of life’s hardest knocks—loss, grief, illness, addiction, disappointment, failure—and to find understanding and solace.”

And added that memoir writing can be “an act of healing”.

Zinsser’s point is that you can actually get full personal satisfaction from writing for the desk drawer. It’s of course okay to write for the public, but there are so many positive side-effects of writing privately, that one does not even have to contemplate the public alternative.

Still, the idea of writing only for private use is pretty anathematic for an intellectual like me, who have spent my whole life writing for publication. Private writing is something amateurs do.

For us intellectuals, there is something taboo-ish about writing for the desk drawer. We are heavily socialised into writing in the public domain, we are supposed to publish our manuscripts as books with academic or trade publishers, or as articles and essays in publicly available journals and magazines. Our works should not only be of the highest possible quality, but preferrably also have as wide a circulation as possible. The worst fate befalling an intellectual is to be unread by others. The quality of his/her works is secondary to their circulation and citation. It’s all about visibility and impact. That’s our destiny.

So for today’s intellectuals, writing for the desk drawer equals self-annihilation as an intellectual. And maybe it is exactly therefore that the idea of writing a memoir only for private consumption is so titillating. Rejecting the publication imperative is probably the strongest critical statement one can make about one’s social status.

Moral and emotional self-spanking

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(in Swedish, see approx. engelsk flagga translation here)

Ägnade en stor del av september-oktober 2015 åt moralisk och känslomässig själv-spanking på högsta nivå. Läste mer än 40 år gamla brevväxlingar, dagboksanteckningar, manusutkast m.m. från mina tio år som politisk aktivist och samhällsanalytiker på 1970-talet. Det var nästan mer deprimerande än att läsa breven från de förlista parförhållandena.

Published on Facebook (25 September 2015) this post generated the following comments:

Troels Degn Johansson: Haha! Men godt at se, at du er kommet igennem fornægtelsen/”denial”
Carsten Sestoft: Uha da! Men hvori består egentlig det deprimerende?
Thomas Söderqvist: For at citere Poeten: “And thus the native hue of resolution, Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought”.
Carsten Sestoft: Er ikke sikker på at jeg forstår – “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so”?
Thomas Söderqvist: Jo, det jag menar är att jag var full av energi och beslutsamhet och gåpåanda och vilja att förändra världen i allmänhet och RUC i synnerhet, och skapa ny intressant kunskap om det ena och det andra och det tredje — allt detta hade jag (lyckligt?) glömt men nu grävs det hela upp ur minnet igen och blir underkastat min livserfarenhet och kritiska blick — och så blir jag en smula deprimerad.

Money in the archive

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4x500 kronorMy document archive is not only a source for long forgotten thoughts and events. It’s also turned out to be a source for unexpected wealth. When I opened a thin notebook titled ‘Notater 16/3 1976 – 3/4 1976’ I found these four bank notes from 1972. Unfortunately it happened only once.

This post was also published on Facebook (5 October 2015) and generated a few comments (see approx. engelsk flagga translation here)

Jakob Seerup: Ærgerligt, at det ikke var en god flaske rødvin. Den ville i det mindste være blevet mere værd i mellemtiden. Det må være dagens quiz: Hvor mange procent har inflationen spist af Thomas’ tusindlap siden 1976?
Lars Jørgensen: Jeg vil gerne overtage nogle af dine gamle hæfter ubeset..
Kenn Tarbensen: 2.500 kr. i 1976 svarer til 10.700 kr. i dag…!
Torsten Schlichtkrull: og omvendt svarer 1.000 kr i 2014 til 272 kr. i 1976
Thomas Söderqvist: Nå, men så har jeg jo alligevel ca 750 kroner tilbage.
Kenn Tarbensen: Det undrer mig, at du har glemt så mange penge…? Du må have været ret rig i 1970’erne?
Goran Dahl: Jag hittade några gamla svenska femkronorssedlar för ca ett år sedan. Tror inte att de går att växla in. Dessutom fann jag en sedel som min farfar gav mig – tio miljoner tyska Mark. Tyvärr från mitten av 1920-talet.
Thomas Söderqvist: Rik som ett troll tydligen jag var, Kenn, men rik som ett troll jag inte längre är. Jag var nybliven lektor vid RUC, nyskild med ett litet weekendbarn och med en dyr lägenhet i det nyuppförda Hyldespjældet. De 2500 kr svarade ungefär till 5 månaders hyra! Eller 8 månaders barnbidrag. Eller en månadslön efter skatt. Jag har ingen aning om hur detta avsevärda belopp hamnade i häftet. Och jag tror inte jag var medlem av någon haschliga eller illegal spelklubb.
Kenn Tarbensen: Måske har en eller anden lagt pengene i notesbogen for at hjælpe dig? Desværre åbnede du den så først igen i dag. Havde du mange gæster i april 1976?
Thomas Söderqvist: Nej, det er et mysterium.

I was a mistake

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s 2Here are the first photographs of me. I’m “not more than a few weeks old”. Somewhat blurred, out of focus. Like my life.

Vintern 1947-2I was a mistake. My mother was a shy young woman, only 23 years old when giving birth for the first and only time, in December 1946.

During the first decade of my life, we lived with her parents in Stockholm. Gradually I realised that I had a father somewhere. At some point I also learned about the family secret — that they were not divorced, but that I was born out of wedlock, and that she had formally married and divorced a friend to acquire a married woman’s surname.

Around the age of 15, being alone at home one day and sneaking around in her belongings, I found a small calendar book from 1946 in the back of a drawer. I remember opening it with some trepidation, feverishly browsing the entries nine months before my birth, and finding a mid-March note: “Party at the Academic Association” — she was a lab technician in training at the University of Lund in southern Sweden, and apparently liked hanging out with the students — and then the next day: “God, what have I done!”.

I still remember the shock, holding the diary in my hands, feeling a bit guilty for having sneaked in her private papers — and saying loud to myself over and over again: “That’s me, that’s me! What have you done? I’m a mistake!”

I don’t think I ever mentioned my breach of privacy, and I’m sure we never spoke about the entry. It was something I kept to myself, and I have never forgotten the feeling that afternoon of being a mistake. I think that was the moment when I lost my innocence.

I don’t blame her for anything. She was young and lonely, far away from home, probably didn’t know much about prevention. In those days, having a child out of wedlock was a family scandal, so I don’t blame her for keeping the diary entry to herself. (The diary was not among the few belongings left after she died in 2014.)

But it hurts nonetheless. Both to think about it and to write about it. And I feel slightly embarassed about sharing it like this.

One aim of this project is to explore the experience of sharing such memories with others in the public domain. Why is it embarassing? And what does the embarassment tell me about myself and my understanding of privacy? And most importantly, does it help making the painful memory fade away? Is this kind of public sharing of painful memories a way towards healing?

Dreaming about Jacques Ellul

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From my diary, Wednesday 22 July, 1981:

“It’s early morning. I’m about to wake up, when I feel someone is standing by, or hanging above, the bed. I cannot see the face or shape. Then he (or she) is dissolved in a kind of weak explosion and disappears to the sound of a very loud voice screaming: ‘Jacques Ellul, Jacques Ellul’. I’m very upset.”

Says the Wikipedia article on Ellul:

“Jacques Ellul was a French philosopher, law professor, sociologist, lay theologian, and Christian anarchist. Ellul was a longtime Professor of History and the Sociology of Institutions on the Faculty of Law and Economic Sciences at the University of Bordeaux. A prolific writer, he authored 58 books and more than a thousand articles over his lifetime, many of which discussed propaganda, the impact of technology on society, and the interaction between religion and politics. The dominant theme of his work proved to be the threat to human freedom and religion created by modern technology. Among his most influential books are The Technological Society and Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes.”

Considered by many a philosopher, Ellul was by training a sociologist who approached the question of technology and human action from a dialectical viewpoint. His constant concern was the emergence of a technological tyranny over humanity. As a philosopher and theologian, he further explored the religiosity of the technological society.

Also published on Facebook (3 Nov 2015), this post elicited the following conversation with  Anders Dræby (in Danish):

Thomas Söderqvist: Anders Dræby: du som er psykoanalytisk interesseret, har du nogen kommentar til min post om Jacques Ellul igår?
Anders Dræby: Nu ved jeg ikke, hvilken betydning Jacques Ellul har for dig. Men der er jo noget særligt knyttet til selve opvågningsøjeblikket, som også Ludwig Binwanger har skrevet om, der hvor man bevæger sig fra den ene eksistensdimension til den anden. Ifølge Binswanger vågner man i selv samme øjeblik som man går fra at være givet af drømmens univers til selv at blive handlende. Kunne være at Jacques Ellul har noget med handling/handlingslammelse at gøre, som har relation til dit øvrige liv på det tidspunkt?”
Thomas Söderqvist: Intressant!! Oops, ja, jeg var snøret ind i et komplekst net af netop handling og handlingslammelse på det tidspunkt!
Thomas Söderqvist: Anders, I had been interested in Jacques Ellul for a year or so, and had read two of his articles the night before. I thought Ellul was maybe a way of synthesizing Marx and Weber.
Thomas Söderqvist: And he is interesting. As the Wikipedia article says, “Considered by many a philosopher, Ellul was by training a sociologist who approached the question of technology and human action from a dialectical viewpoint. His constant concern was the emergence of a technological tyranny over humanity. As a philosopher and theologian, he further explored the religiosity of the technological society.”
Anders Dræby: det teknologiske tyrranni, det er jo også i sig selv en slags lammelse, det er vel ikke så underligt, hvis det har sat nogle frustrationer i gang. For at lave en sammenligning. Da jeg var barn så jeg kong Salomons miner, hvor en gruppe mennesker bliver spærret inde i disse miner, og det havde jeg mareridt om i lang tid. En oplevelse af indespærrethed, der satte sig i mine drømme
Thomas Söderqvist: Jeg sad fast i en intellektuel saks: på den ene side følte jeg at jeg havde gennemskuet intelligentsians mediebaserede vej mot samfundshegemoni, på den anden side var /(og er jeg stadigvæk) en del af samme elite.
Anders Dræby: åhh, det giver jo god mening. Så derfor måtte Jacques Ellul opløse sig til stor frustration
Thomas Söderqvist: Tak for de gode synspunkter. Hvor i Binswangers forfatterskab kan jeg finde det der om opvågningsøjeblikket?
Anders Dræby: Traum und Existenz
Thomas Söderqvist: 1000 sider? Har du mon en mere præcis side- (eller i hvert fald kapitel-)henvisning?
Anders Dræby: det er en artikel og ikke an lang tekst. den findes også oversat til engelsk med forord af Michel Foucault
Thomas Söderqvist: Tak! Much appreciated!
Anders Dræby: Den tyske artikel er i Ludwig Binswanger (1994). Ausgewählte Werke, band 3, Assanger Verlag
Thomas Söderqvist: Fint, det burde KB kunne klare! Endnu en gang tak for din kommentar – det lyder spot-on.
Anders Dræby: men værd at have Foucaults forord med

Counter-factual autobiography

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“Who has not played the great game of counter-factual autobiography?” (Simon Barnes, Ten Million Aliens, 2014)

What would my life have looked like if I hadn’t taken up a vacancy job at Roskilde University in 1973? And what if I had stayed in my first marriage? What would have become of me if I had remained in Sweden? A middle-level left-leaning bureaucrat in the environmental administration?

Should we take counter-factual autobiography seriously? Well, as methodological individualists suggest, history and society is made up by the actions of countless individuals. Thus counter-factual history — a respectable branch of history these days — could be said to have its foundations in counter-factual (auto)biography.

Anyone who disagrees?

Also published on Facebook, 10 October 2015, this post generated several interesting comments:

Carsten Sestoft Jean-Jacques Rosat writes in his ‘Chroniques orwelliennes’ that Orwell’s novels could be read as a kind a projections of what his life would have been if he had stayed in the colonies (Burmeses Days), had tried to become an uncompromising poet (Keep thSee More

Thomas Söderqvist “I suppose all choices in life create their own imaginary unchosen counterparts, a kind of existential phantom pain”. That’s good, especially “existential phantom pain” – an excellent imagery!

Thomas Söderqvist There is actually at least one scholarly article on it.…/10.1080/01440351003747576…

Inge-Bert Täljedal Wille Fischer, my much respected teacher of History in school, taught us that counterfactual history may well be discussed, however only after midnight and a Scotch in hand. I tend to like this kind of compromise… smile emoticon

Thomas Söderqvist But that was more than half a century ago, Inge-Bert. Tines have changed. Acclaimed 20C historian Richard J. Evans has written a very interesting book on the topic, apparently without a glass of Scotch in his hand.…/2012202.article

Inge-Bert Täljedal Right you are. Counterfactuality has been in vogue for some time. However, although I have read and reflected upon Kripke’s famous Naming and Necessity (which makes ample use of counterfactuality, “other worlds”) I cannot help sometimes to vaguely doubt the soundness of the very concept. We do, of course,use it in science (conceivable alternative outcomes of experiments) and everyday life, but in those situations we carve out only a small piece of space-time reality and play the game that we can alter something in that piece and yet be able to put it back, as it were, in the totality of the world. I sometimes lean too much toward determinsim not to feel that that might not only be physically but, indeed, logically impossible. Maybe there is only one consistent description of the world in its totality?l

Thomas Söderqvist I think Richard Evans doesn’t fully understand the importance of taking alternative standpoints and explanations as a way of sharpening our awareness of the decisions and trajectory that we actually took. It’s a bit like psychotherapy: the reason you go into the negative feelings in a therapy session is not to stay forever in the darkness of the past, but the exorcise the daemons so that you can make your actual life better.

Jørgen Stabenfelt Thomas
Richard J. Evans er sin bog “Counterfactuals in History meget kritisk over for den nye genre.
Jeg vil iøvrigt anbefale hans “In Defence of History”.

Thomas Söderqvist Ja, det ved jeg godt, han er. Min pointe er, at når Evans skriver en hel bog om emnet, så er det netop fordi det er en anerkendt genre.

Thomas Söderqvist … og hans _Defence of History_ er ganske udmærket. En rigtig klassiker inden for anti-post-etc.-historiografin.

Jørgen Stabenfelt Jeg glemte et øjeblik, at du er en en polyhistor.

Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis That’s funny. I was doing a bit of it myself. I’m very glad I made the decisions that I made.

Ethical considerations

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With my mother. Stockholm, 1947.

With my mother. Stockholm, 1947.

As I explain elsewhere, this is a study of the genre of autobiography / memoir. It is not an autobiography or a memoir as such, and thus there is no need to name a lot of other people that I have met throughout my life.

As a rule, if I need to illustrate my arguments with reference to individuals whom I have engaged with privately during my life I will therefore anonymise them. I can mention them by initial letters (L, K, A, etc.), or by cover names, but I will make every effort to make certain they cannot be identified.

There are three  obvious exceptions to this rule. I will reserve the right to mention 1) the few persons who cannot be anonymised (like my mother), 2) individuals who have explicitly given their permission to be named, and 3) people whose specific relation with me can be easily found in the public domain, for example, those I have engaged with in public discussions.

Are these reasonable ethical measures for a genre investigation of this kind? Or have I forgotten something?

(I am also adding this post as a page)