Dinesen’s Reputation

As Dinesen’s life was complex, so is her work, with critics shifting from “admiration of her form to outrage at her portrayal of Africans” (Wolfson n. pag.). She began writing as a child; produced a body of work that includes novels, a memoir, short stories, and essays; and was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize (Donelson n. pag.). Accepting the prize for fiction in 1954, Ernest Hemingway protested “that it should have gone to Dinesen,” a sentiment shared by many major literary figures of the day (Walter n. pag.). She created a double textual system “unprecedented in even in Conrad or Nabokov” in which she “wrote virtually every fiction twice—first in English, then in her native Danish—to be published in different countries, often simultaneously” under different pen names and often modifying her tales substantially in translation (Aiken 2; Brantly 2). According to Susan Brantly in Understanding Isak Dinesen, the author is said to have memorized her tales verbatim for oral performance and also to have reworked her stories as many as fifty times, creating what became a complex web of allusions to world literature and art that unified her “entire oeuvre” (Brantly 2-4). Dinesen has been compared to modernist writers because of her use of symbols and her “search for aesthetic order,” yet she deplored self-conscious experiments with narrative disorder that sought to break tradition with the past (Brantly 4-5). Postmodern theory has provided important keys to understanding Dinesen’s art, especially her evasion of narrative authority and sense of play (Brantly 5-6). Susan Aiken argues that the author’s “radical discursive practices” presaged poststructuralist and feminist literary theories, and she calls for a revision in the standard reading of Dinesen as an apologist for Empire, patriarchy, racism, and aristocracy (7). Yet some postcolonial critics continue to see Dinesen, like Conrad, as “a writer in a white racist tradition who perpetuates a demeaning portrait of Africans” (Wolfson n. pag.). The “puzzles, labyrinths, three-dimensional spaces, and multilayered texts” of Dinesen’s tales parallel the puzzling paradoxes of the author’s life, and despite contemporary American readers’ lack of familiarity with her work, internationally she “will continue to hold a much debated yet firmly established seat at the table” (Brantly 1; Wolfson n. pag.). While poststructuralist feminist theory can be useful in illuminating Dinesen’s career, archetypical or Jungian theory proves valuable in analyzing “Babette’s Feast.”

Works Cited

Aiken, Susan. Isak Dinesen and the Engineering of Narrative. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1990. Print.

Brantly, Susan C. Understanding Isak Dinesen. Columbia: U of SC Press, 2002. Print.

Donelson, Linda G. “The Story of her Life.” Karen Blixen-Isak Dinesen Information Site. Coulsong, 2011. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. <http://www.karenblixen.com/#Story&gt;

Wolfson, Leah. “Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen.” Emory Department of English. Emory University,  1998. Web. <http://www.english.emory.edu/Bahri/Blixen.html&gt;




What I’ve Learned in Food and Lit: My Personal Passover/Easter/Ostara Feast

Spring Blues

I have no deep family lineage I can trace, no real culinary or religious tradition. Duly dyed Easter eggs (that somehow transmogrified into chilled legions of deviled eggs quivering on specially designed Tupperware holders) and an Armour canned ham (with the little metal key to open the tin sarcophagus) constitute my primary childhood Easter dinner memories. In adulthood, I have prepared spring meals creatively and sometimes slavishly for family members to express my desire to love and care for them, in my case an emotional rather than a cultural endeavor. I will soon be separated from my husband of twenty-nine years, and I am eating alone this week as I have allowed personal upheaval and intense academic demands to make a virtual recluse of me. Hence, my festive spring menu serves one alone, and I am inventing it from scratch.

As for religious food traditions at this holy time, I am a Unitarian Universalist and can personally claim only an inarticulated, mystical-rational link to Christianity, my vague cosmology rooted in the liberal, homogenized wisdom of all great religions and spiced up with some lightweight neo-pagan notions. This religious stance serves me well on Sundays in that it prevents my having to associate with the multitudes of moralizing evangelicals in my neighborhood. They seem like nice people sometimes, but they may be able to detect my hostility to their e’er-do-well belief that God sees homosexuality as an abomination (a sentiment they currently wish to have endorsed legislatively by the state of North Carolina), so I simply try to avoid them. I mean no disrespect to Jews, Christians, Wiccans, or American consumers in bastardizing their sacred food traditions for my spring feast. Currently, I must invent my own rituals the best I can.

My 2012 Menu for Generic Spring Holiday, Serves One

One Reese’s peanut butter chocolate egg, for the spirit of commercial consumerism that guides life in the United States. To be decorously nibbled throughout the day.

Sourdough bread, for continuity through disruption. Even if it seems that impending disruption and dislocation mean apocalyptic catastrophe (the end of all bread), sourdough starter can be made from scratch with simple ingredients and the proper environment for its generation. The bread will rise again, naturally.

Bitter herbs, for years of living without adequate emotional sustenance. A salad of arugula to be chewed slowly and a picture of rue as a placemat (to be ritually burned after the meal). Lemon vinaigrette.

A deviled egg, for the hope of renewal through double entendres.

Salmon en papillote, in gratitude for the mysteries of living: the life of the animal sacrificed so that I may live, the religious connotations of fish too wrapped up in paper (textual vehicle) to be deciphered. Perhaps Friday’s walking eye drawn on the outside of the package (Coetzee).

Red wine sipped delicately through a straw, so that I may heed the vampire in myself and others and recognize its camouflage behind polite conventions and practiced personas. That’s a little complicated; maybe I’ll just drink it from a decorative (16-ounce) Dixie cup.

Victorian lavender cookies with rosewater glaze, for necessary acts of resistance that heal but remain hidden. The lavender and its purifying properties are kept hidden underneath (sub rosa) the rose flavor.