"When the doll-game flips out": Anna Hallberg on the Gurlesque

by on Jun.27, 2013

Maria Margareta Österholm published a book called A Girl Laboratory in Selected Pieces a while back (we published this summary), in which she wrote about, among other things, the gurlesque. The book has had a huge impact on Swedish literary and cultural discussions, having been reviewed in all the major papers and on countless blogs. I was over in Stockholm a few weeks and participated in a panel with Maria Margareta and sometime Montevidayo contributor Aylin Bloch Boynukisa.

I thought I would just translate/link to some of these articles.

In her essay “In the Darkness of the Girl-Room Grows the Gurlesque” in Dagens Nyheter (something like the New York Times of Sweden), Anna Hallberg discusses Maria Margareta’s book, as well as Aylin (and the awesome press that publishes her, Dockhaveri) and another sometime Montevidayo-an, Sara Tuss Efrik, whose novel Mumieland was also recently published to a lot of acclaim. Hallberg writes (I’m just excerpting):

…The social rules stream in through doll games and doll cabinets. The representation and the roles. The imitation and copying. The National Encyclopedia writes: “Doll games have a pedagogical purpose. Through the games, the girl is taught her future role as mother and wife.”

But what happens when the doll-game flips out? When it takes over? If the roles it stages are pedagogical and sound, but grotesque , perverse and violent?

In Feminist theory this form of artistic expression is called the gurlesque.

The large number of dolls and doll games in contemporary Swedish literature may frighten some readers. The gurlesque aesthetics are both sugar-sweet and aggressive, volatile and clever. But most of all it’s full of power. An energy that makes the text dynamic and forces the reader to react. It creates the feeling of continental plates put in motion. The game rules change and a new order becomes possible. When Aylin Bloch Boynukisa writes in “The Girl Organ’s Genealogy”, “I change course with my porcelain eye/my blinking gigantic doll eye,” it’s a change of course I can believe in.

When I searched for Anna’s article, I found an interesting discussion (also in DN) of “Spring Breakers” and “Bling Ring”, “Disney Princesses Become Armed Rebels,”in which Kristoffer Ahlström refers to Aase Berg’s articles on the gurlesque, noting “The gurlesque woman is always threatening.”

There is a lot of interesting dynamics at play in this discussion. For me, it’s important that the Swedish authors didn’t just import and American canon of authors. Rather the word/concept gave them a way to discuss a whole host of young (mostly women) writers and poets, as well as a way to “recover” a lot of great writing from the 90s that was at that time dismissed as “anorexic literature.” Normally American poetry tends to export itself abroad in a more imperialistic fashion. Also, it’s interesting to me to see a literary culture that is still part of a kind of mass culture. So that the Swedish papers cannot simply ignore the phenomena – as most American tastemakers, journals and professors have done – but are forced to recon with it.

No comments for this entry yet...

Comments are closed.