In his chapter on Comparative Company Law in the Oxford Handbook on Comparative Law, Professor Klaus J. Hopt, in a plea for more internationalization and interdisciplinary research, concluded that “[w]hat is really important to know – at least in an internal market such as in the European Union, but also beyond in a globalized world – is not company law in the books, but how company law functions within the company, on the market and beyond the frontiers.” The volume on German and Nordic Perspectives on Company Law and Capital Markets Law edited by Holger Fleischer, Jesper Lau Hansen and Wolf-Georg Ringe is a convincing contribution to modern company law and capital markets law scholarship from these perspectives.
The Nordic countries are a special case in the global context. In a world dominated by economic criteria for all things they seem to disprove that ideology. Their economies run smoothly and are efficient, the living standards are high and yet they sustain a welfare state that provides for some of the most important needs of any citizen, such as the need for medical care in case of serious sickness, the need for education to enable the citizens to function as well informed citizens in democracies, as knowledgeable employees in their jobs and as well balanced human beings.
Aarhus University (AU) in Denmark publishes booklets on diverse topics under the rubric Reflections, written by experts, yet in a common language aiming for the general public to read. In 2014, two booklets in this series were translated into English, (1) Trust by G. T. Svendsen, Professor and trust expert at AU, and (2) Positive Psychology by Hans Henrik Knoop, Associate Professor at AU and President of the European Network for Positive Psychology. Continue reading G.T. Svendsen, Trust – Reflections 1 & H.H. Knoop, Positive Psychology – Reflections 2 (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2014)
The article proposes an analysis of the success of the restaurant Noma in Copenhagen. In order to achieve this goal, it focuses on the viewpoint of its chef, René Redzepi and analyses the new trending culinary movement known as New Nordic Cuisine. Behind the success of the restaurant Noma, a deep reconfiguration of the Northern European culinary culture can be recognized which is not limited to food but claims for a general turnover of the entire Scandinavian identity. The article enlightens a deep connection between the story of the fictional character Babette (protagonist of both the short novel and the movie “Babette’s Feast”) and the shift led by the New Nordic Cuisine’s movement over the identity of Northern Europe. Also, it shows how this new foundation represents a contemporary attempt of “reinvention” of the tradition, being built through aesthetic and semiotic tools turned into gastronomic actions.
The network has been established with financial support from NordForsk for four years, 2011-2014, and has initiated in the project period several scientific events. Many researchers and PhD candidates have participated in the activities, and the increasingly diversified realities in the Nordic context have been approached from various angles. Contributions have come from a wide range of disciplines in the social sciences, humanities and economics, and from network members as well as invited scholars. Continue reading A Presentation of IDIN
More Than Mythology – Narratives, Ritual Practices and Regional Distribution in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions, asks this relevant question regarding the old Nordic belief systems and religions in a publication comprising together a vast array of scholars of Pre-Christian Scandinavian cultures and a handful of views on the Sámi-Finnish tradition. The 286-page book opens new horizons in the understanding of the past and the present of the Northern part of Europe.
Central to the diverse papers are the overarching themes of narrative studies, the role of rituals and the discussion of regional difference and distribution, and perhaps secondly also religion as a communal practice. Price opens the book with an in-depth and conclusive view on “Mythic Acts”, stressing the need of assessing burials, rituals and other practices as series of “performances” sometimes spanning over decades in the same geographical place, such as the gravesites in the Oslo Fjord. He refers to such a process as the “theatre of death” where these “performances” have taken place. Furthermore, in his splendid essay, he makes the case for the need to combine archaeological data with ethnographical, anthropological and other textual sources. He makes a strong case for diversification of views regarding the pre-Christian Nordic context, given the reported 500,000 different grave- and other dug sites, stressing the need to avoid any “unified view”. Price also proceeds to provide the reader with an eyewitness’ account of a “Viking” funeral along the Volga River in Russia, through the text of Arab geographer and historian Ibn Fadlan – such a description remains a pivotal text on the topic, despite the possibilities of misinterpretation and culture-specific lenses that Fadlan’s testimony gives rise to. Again, the notion of performatory function of the rituals comes to the fore.
Jackson investigates the merits and limits of comparative philology. He positions the crucial difference of nomadic and settled communities of the “pre”-Indo-European peoples of the Steppes as a topic worth paying attention to in the linguistic context. One can almost see the vast expanse of the pre-historic Indo-European society from India to the West Fjords in Iceland, spanning continents, nations, cultures, over time and space. Jackson investigates the rituals of the past using key linguistic possibilities, employing such concepts as the “blót” qua shared cultural heritage. Dumezils’ notion of an “Indo-European” ideology is mentioned, but Jackson stresses that the “present now” of any belief system makes the unique characteristics of such systems.
DuBois makes an excursion into the diets and deities of the Scandinavians and the Sámi. This is a good overview of the differences between the settler-farmers of Scandinavia and the hunter-gatherers belonging to various Sámi Nations. He positions different animals as a source of cultural-religious similarity and difference between the two cultures – as a result the Nordic communities hold in reverence mostly domesticated animals, as opposed to the Sámi, who have preserved other worldviews centred on “wild” animals, even though the reindeer, as a semi-domesticated herd animal falls between these categories. Within the Scandinavian life-world, the role of sheep and goat is very interesting. Differences come to the surface with regard to fish and their cultural interpretations in the communities. Interestingly, some animals, such as horses, have a meaning for both peoples, but they are of a very different kind – to the Sámi the horse possesses a demonic association. DuBois discusses the notion of a “mythic lag” on community change – how some attachments from “prior” systems [hunter-gatherer] manifest “still” or persistently in the “more advanced” life stage of a people.
As he is the only author who, to a certain extent, discusses Sámi worldviews and compares them to the Scandinavians, his text requires some reflection. The article has merits. At the same time, it has serious flaws too, for the viewpoint is fixed upon the Finno-Ugric side. According to DuBois, “both Scandinavians and the Sámi differentiated themselves from each other through the religious imagery related directly to the species they chose to consume”. It is true that the Sámi stress their connection with fish and reindeer as opposed to domesticated animals, but there is a set of reasons for this. DuBois avoids stressing the Scandinavian and, since the 1800s, the Finnish colonisation of the Sámi across the region; meaning the hunter-gatherer-herder systems as opposed to invading and expanding farming settlers. It is reasonably safe to assume that already the early historical meetings [while trade was certainly also a part of them] between the farmers and the Sámi in various parts of the region led to land use conflicts, as the subsistence rounds of the hunters required large, stable old-growth territories, as opposed to the needs of the farmers to clear forests for farms. As several Sámi scholars and leaders, such as Elina Helander, Jelena Porsanger, Pauliina Feodoroff and others have done, the emphasis in the cultural discourses on reindeer and fish, and other “wild” foods and animals, are also mechanisms of resistance against invasion.
DuBois utilizes some photographs from Eastern Sápmi (or Finnmark) in Norway in his article. They should be seen in a critical light. Especially the famous “Grease Stone” of Mortensnes (p.81) receives special attention. Having worked in the villages and areas around the stone since 1996, I have another opinion. My Sámi friends indicate strongly that the stone is, in fact, a Scandinavian imposition on their landscapes – while other stones and other sites of Mortensnes are indeed of the Sámi world. DuBois utilizes little-known and well-established sources from the Sámi side, but the big change and sites of resistance are not expressed clearly enough.
Raudvere establishes religion as a mechanism to interpret local reality. Cosmic histories and transcendental realities of past community life are a text for the scholars but a lived reality for the people themselves. She utilizes Völuspá to explore ritual and meaning. Readers could have benefitted from a more thorough discussion on the various versions of Völuspá.
Nordberg presents a significant methodological paper on the study of Old Norse religion. Importantly, he stresses the need of geographical diversity and difference.A Map could have helped this article. Secondly, Nordberg importantly distinguishes between farms and coastal fishing villages, and stresses the shifts within religions in times of change. Some old colonial ghosts loom within the text with the references to “advanced religions” [of farming societies] – such terms having been deconstructed a long time ago to their proper place by postcolonial research.
Stark and Anttonen offer us the only views of the Finnish-Karelian tradition. They dwell little on the difference between the Scandinavian and the Sámi tradition; however Stark reminds us that “some elements of the Finnish folk practice…clearly have Finno-Ugric roots…[deriving from] Eurasian shamanism.” According to her, these constitute a “loosely structured ethno-theory for illness aetiology.” This is in line with the claims by Clive Tolley, who has not found evidence of shamanism in the Old Norse religion. Stark employs a strong feministic view on the recorded texts and identifies the year 1860 as a big change for the Nordic traditions and the complex cultural layers of religious imagery. Anttonen, by quoting at length the earliest Nordic folk tradition text by Agricola, investigates the influences and context of Finnish and Karelian deities in early times. He argues that no single coherent pagan system existed here and makes the case for the slow speed of religious change. Both texts are an important and distinct introduction to the Finnish tradition and its difference compared to the Sámi and Scandinavian ones. Stark’s conclusions could benefit a Finnish popular audience too.
Sundqvist investigates the sacral kinship and proposes a “religious ruler ideology” instead as a defining term. It would consist of relationships with the mythic world, its rituals, symbols and cultic organisation. He convincingly argues that there is a need of an all-inclusive rethink – and using empirical materials makes a strong case between the Swedish-Norwegian situation and the strongly independent Icelandic Commonwealth, leading to the conclusion that there was no uniform religious ruler ideology in the Nordic space.
Schjödt brings the far-reaching volume to its close by offering new aims and methodological discussions. Shortly stated, contemporary sources such as archaeology and the medieval sources, such as cultural texts of the time, need to go to together to widen the scope of studies on the Old Norse religion. Sagas and Eddas are to be viewed as a blend of skills of the author, oral traditions and influences of the time-space in which they were composed. Models, discourse analysis and comparative views will open the doors to new understandings. The hunt for the “original text” remains an enigma, even though, according to Schjödt, an Indo-European kernel of stories and myths existed – but, despite this and Dumezil, the “old” religion was not a coherent worldview, rather a “discursive space of diversity”.
Technically, this surprisingly good book could have benefitted from maps. Contemporary views of Norse religion, the role of Sigur Rós in Iceland and other followers would have enlightened the views expressed in the book too. A clear distinction between Karelian hunter-societies in the period 1600-1800 and the Sámi hunters, as opposed to the colonial impact of the farming societies of Scandinavia, would have made clearer the expanding nature of the Old Norse world. And lastly, what happened to the dragons?
And thus we come to a close of “More Than Mythology” – in the opening line I asked, borrowing from Schjödt, what kind of evidence is needed to propose convincing interpretations? The main problem with the critical study of religion is that it is often done by people that do not believe. Therefore the “materials” are seen as “texts” and interpretations abound, but yet the “source” is missing.
I am pondering this in the Karelian village of Selkie, one of the westernmost of our communities, where a hundred years ago Kalevala-style incantations and poems were collected by the scholars of that day. Snow has fallen on trees and our fishing season for open waters is at a close, boats are up and we eagerly await for the arrival of proper lake ice so that we can spread the nets under the ice again. As I reflected about the More Than Mythology, on the lake, the last of the migratory birds flew by on their way to the south – soon we will meet again, I said to them. And the realisation came to me – if we are to understand the views of our ancestors, we need to live in that nature, or remnants of that nature, that sustained them – that is the source. Then the scholar, removed from the yearly cycles of the European North with his analytical or even her feminist apparatus, can return to see that time and space are not a line, indeed many things remain, of the “old” and of the “new”, of the things the wind only whispers of, but which are already emerging.
It can be debated to what extent the book actually serves as a guide book as it does not offer the reader so much of an advice of where to go, what to see and when to do it. Rather the book offers an insight into what Rome is about. In line with this the book is light on text but rich in pictures, all of which show the city and its people from various angles. The visitor looking for information on where to eat, for example, given his or her preferred price range, would therefore probably be better off picking up a Lonely Planet guide. It is of course impossible in any single book to show Rome in its entirety. Indeed to expect such an achievement from any book is quite unfair.
It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the most interesting thing about Hundra procent Roma is in a way not what it tells you about Rome but rather the insight it offers into how the city appears to the visitor. A visitor from Scandinavia, to be more precise. Visiting Rome is ‘a dream for many people’. The Rome that appears in this book is sweet and relaxed. Roaming the crowded streets you can almost feel how the half-frozen northerner relaxes little by little and is transformed into a curious ‘flaneur’. Both the pictures and the text reflect very strongly the northern ideal about the relaxed south. Thus Rome is a city ‘filled with intensity, romance and feeling’ and the book invites the reader to ‘see, hear, smell, taste and feel the true Rome’.
So what then is Rome like in the eye of the visitor?
Rome is a sunny place with nice weather. Judging from the pictures in the book, it never rains in Rome and the weather in general seems to be very pleasant. None of the people are wearing warm clothes but neither do they seem to be uncomfortable due to the heat. Rome has almost no houses built since the end of the 19th century and most seem to be much older even. Those who want to explore modern Rome might find some houses dating from Mussolini’s time in the 1930’s or a few constructed for the 1960 Olympics.
In Rome you will either find streets and places which are crowded with people or which have no people or at least very few. The people in Rome seem to be either tourists, who are eagerly visiting the city’s many historical sites, or local people, who are either waiting for something or not in a hurry to get anywhere. Traffic does not seem to be a problem, though parking a car is a potential challenge and it is therefore advisable to drive either a very small car or a scooter.
In general, life in Rome is lived outside of houses. If people go inside it is only for a short time to air their bed sheets from an open window. Then they will have a meal in a restaurant and stroll about to look at things located inside historical buildings. People in Rome who are not tourists (i.e. are not standing and gazing at monuments or historical buildings) seem to be rather old and one is unlikely to meet many children.
This description might spell the true Rome to a visiting Scandinavian. At the same time it is probably a far cry from the true Rome of those who live there. The conclusion however is not that the former is in any way incorrect. Rather the two (and many others) co-exist. To suggest that a book is one hundred per cent Rome is obviously a step too far, but then who would buy a book with the title ‘half per cent Rome’?
Sometimes the reading suffers from Facos’ schematic approach, but that is the only way to master such a wide field of research material. Symbolism is possibly the only ‘modern’ movement that, even with a founder and a manifesto (Jean Moréas in 1886 published the Symbolist manifesto in the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro), did not create a well-defined, recognisable group of artists. Symbolism’s borders are so underdefined (do they exist at all?) that they could include an enormous amount of 19th– and 20th-century artists.
The book follows a chronological line of analysis, from a survey of the precursors of Symbolism to Symbolist currents in the 20th century. The history of the movement is revealed through a manifold collection of relevant facts, artists, literary works, music, philosophical reflections, technological innovations, in a constant dialogue with equally diverse cultural and social aspects, i.e. the actual contexts within which Symbolism developed. These aspects act like mirrors, each rendering a part of this multifaceted movement. Facos’ approach to Symbolism includes also modern categories of analysis, such as gender studies (she investigates the role of woman in Symbolist art, as a muse, a sphinx, an angel or a demon), as well as practical aspects, like the chapter devoted to the promotion of the artists through art fairs, journals, exhibitions, unions and brotherhoods. In other words, Facos provides an attempt to describe the history of the movement from the perspective of the artists too. I include below the cover of the book. It is a photograph, not a painting: Hypnos, by F. Holland Day, dated 1896. It reveals the author’s choice to explore Symbolism by means of an unconventional path.
As my scholarly interests are in mural painting and the revival of earlier techniques, I would have liked more space to be given to art mediums, for their symbolic and ideological meanings. Among the commendable qualities of the book, I wish to emphasise the broad geography of Symbolist art, which includes artists from less commonly studied countries such as Poland, the former Czech Republic, Scotland, Russia, and especially the Scandinavian countries. The bibliography is also quite extensive and genuinely international. In addition to the Italian authors quoted by Facos, I would like to remember the studies on Symbolist art by Luigi Carluccio, Maria Mimita Lamberti, Gianna Piantoni and Maria Teresa Benedetti. With her new book, Michelle Facos confirms herself one of the main scholars in 19th-century art, and among those who brought new life into the art history of Northern Europe, on a par with Patricia G. Berman for Norway and Denmark, and with Salma Sarajas-Korte, Marjatta Levanto and Riikka Stewen for Finland.