"Soiled in Pink": Mia Österlund on Österholm and the Gurlesque

by on Jun.28, 2013

I thought I would include an excerpt from another in the long line of articles that came out earlier this year about the Gurlesque in Sweden, generated to a large extent by Maria Margareta Österholm’s book about the figure of the Girl in modern Swedish-language literature, as well as a new generation of fantastic authors (including Montevidayo’s Aylin Bloch Boynukisa and Sara Tuss Efrik).

This is from Mia Österlund’s essay “Soiled by Pink – About the Girl in Literature” published in Lysmasken, which is a really awesome Finland-Swedish journal.


It’s about short skirts and lipstick mouths that speak back, it’s about pink, glitter and dolls as feminist literary strategy. About the mad woman in the attic, in the girl room, close to you. It’s about how we read femininity in literature. A model of reading. Where girls can be monsters. And at the same time overwhelmingly pink. It contains a number of view of femininity.

Österholm turns the gaze back to the Swedish-language literature of the 1990s and 00s. Monika Fagerholm’s DIVA (1999) is the hub and offers the central reading tool: the doll laboratory, which is where girlhood can be made and tested. The Swedish language literature is full of girls who wrestle with the demand to be Real Girls. The aesthetic is gurlesque, with an exaggerated femininity (militantly pink), burlesque, grotesque, monstrous. Österholm shows that lying, disgust and cuteness can grow side by side.

The term gurlesque was coined by Arielle Greenberg and Laura (sic.) Glenum to describe an aspect of contemporary American poetry. But the gurlesque also involves Swedish language writers like Monika Fagerholm, Mare Kandre, Inger Edelfeldt, Maria Hede och Pirkko Lindberg. That Lindberg gets a new interpretation is refreshing; her latest novel, Hotel Homesickness, is a brick of 600 pages that shows a galopping girlhood intertwined with Finland’s recent history. Österholm also points to authors who are currently depicting queer girlhoods right now: Sara Stridsberg, Sanne Näsling, Aaase Berg and Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo. Literary criticism and literary science has been lacking tools to deal with the pink-fluffy girlhood with fangs. It was viewed as being smeary, gross, provocative. Queer.

The Gurlesque is an aesthetic that doesn’t comply with dominant collective fictions about femininity and respectability. It is literature that makes a spectacle of itself. In Sanne Näsling’s young adult novel Give up immediately or die (2011) it’s about ritually painting seven layers of lipstick around one’s girl-mouth. In The Dream Department: Additions to the Sexual Theory (2006, Valerie Solanas says: “I consider wearing lipstick a political act.” The gurlesque exaggerates, misunderstands girlhood. It creates assemblages of femininity, feminism, disgust and cuteness. It’s a little like fatso-manifestos, where the fat hangs over the edge of the pants in protest. We have learned to read fat as embarrassing, but what if we read it as a protest? The gurlesque aesthetic picks up on the visual and sensual aspects of literature. Girls move around with other girls, flank girls, and their task is to figure out each other’s contours. Girls give a damn in moderation. Of course they provoke. But they are also over-conforming, laying in bed, passive, where the moderation is exaggerrated in a queer way. They perform a cultural rejection of heterosexuality, oh heavens, with the help of the female grotesque.

Anyway this is a really good article, so if you can read Swedish, or want to translate it in some way, head over and read it.

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