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TRANSNATIONAL POLITICAL AND LITERARY ENCOUNTERS: THE IDEA OF AMERÍKA IN ICELANDIC FICTION, 1920–1990
Author ORCID Identifier
Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
Jón Karl Helgason
American Studies | Comparative Literature | Scandinavian Studies | Translation Studies
Informed by the transnational turn in American studies, this dissertation examines the idea of Ameríka as a fraught motif in Icelandic literature, shaped by geopolitical contact and encounter between the US and Iceland. Combining archival work with literary analysis, I begin by investigating Halldór Laxness's literary and political relationship with the US, and then turn to tracking the recurring image of Ameríka through his prewar fiction, focusing on the transatlantic threshold, a chronotopic motif that binds together hope and disillusionment. This symbol system collapses with the military occupation of Iceland during World War II, which I argue, prompts an unequivocal cultural shift in the perception and depiction of the United States as Laxness and other Icelandic writers voice resistance to the US military outpost during the Cold War through a locally inflected anti-Americanism expressed in literature. Through close readings of short stories and novels (many of which have yet to be translated into English) by postwar writers including Ásta Sigurðardóttir, Elías Mar, and Einar Kárason, I map a process whereby the idea of Ameríka—represented as an occupying force, the figure of the GI, or an unwelcome guest—becomes nevertheless, uncomfortably integrated into twentieth-century Icelandic fiction, while also revealing the aesthetic and political flexibility of Ameríka as a shape-shifting literary construct informed by politics and history.
Contributions to the field of American studies include a discussion of border politics during the 1920s through an analysis of ship manifests and national archives that document Laxness's detention at Ellis Island and deportation in 1922, scrutiny of declassified government archives that provide further proof that the US government monitored Laxness and Icelandic communists during the Cold War, and an examination of the anti-NATO movement in Iceland that intersects political and cultural concerns. This dissertation reveals a dialogical process whereby Icelandic writers actively reinvent and revise the idea of Ameríka to construct a new, but messier mythos of Icelandic national identity. In a culture in which literature is at the foundation of its very identity, this is not immaterial, and the story that emerges over the course of the twentieth century is a compelling one that decenters America, even as it grapples with it. This project fills a gap in the field of American studies, foregrounding an overlooked narrative of politically charged transnational cultural contact, illustrating the profound role that literary imagination plays not only in reflecting perceptions of the United States, but in constructing them.
Childers, Jodie, "TRANSNATIONAL POLITICAL AND LITERARY ENCOUNTERS: THE IDEA OF AMERÍKA IN ICELANDIC FICTION, 1920–1990" (2022). Doctoral Dissertations. 2465.