Murder and Self-constrained Modernity: Metaphysical Re-openings in Crime Fiction

Bidragets oversatte titel: Mord og selvinskrænket modernitet: Metafysiske genåbninger i krimifiktion

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The relation between modernity and metaphysics has been re-opened in recent Scandinavian crime fiction. Several examples – among others – lets religious discussions seep into crime fictions’ universe of rationality. The Swedish author Arne Dahl’s novels De största vatten (Many Waters, 2002) and Dödsmässa (Requiem, 2004) bear its Christian references in the titles. The novels by Norwegian author Gunnar Staalesen Som i et speil (As If in a Mirror, 2002) and Ansikt til Ansikt (Face to Face) makes a specific allusion to the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians and applies its meaning to the plots of the novels. Staalesen’s earlier novel Falne engler (Fallen Angels, 1988) deals more in depth with modern, Christian religion. The Danish author Henning Mortensen takes in his so-called Sondrup Trilogy (2005-2007) these tendencies very seriously in three novels that explicitly related crime fiction with metaphysical assumptions. These trends are as well in evidence in the writings of the Swedish author Henning Mankell where he opens up discussions of inapproachable violence – a certain type of violence that he designates ‘the Swedish uneasiness’ – especially the brief short story “Sprickan” (“The Fracture”, 1999) deals with an unexplainable metaphysical horror. This short story employs a certain tragic sensibility to the narrative which no longer is a stranger to crime fiction. Arne Dahl utilizes Aeschylus’ The Oresteia which goes for two episodes of the Danish TV-series Rejseholdet (Unit One, 2002) – a series that applies metaphysical sensibilities to the act of investigation through the character La Cour. Henning Mankell claims that he is first of all inspired by the Greek tragedies. Additionally, Lars von Trier’s feature film The Element of Crime (1984) approaches the criminal investigation from the point of view of tragedy. A well-known suggestion – from e.g. the theories of Friedrich Nietzsche and George Steiner – is that tragedy deals with metaphysical horrors. And the above mentioned examples are but some of the existing cases in question. These are but a pivotal excerpt of a corpus of recent Scandinavian crime fiction – including Gretelise Holm, Anette Broberg Knudsen, Stieg Larsson, Håkan Nesser, etc. – that deals with metaphysics and religious questions. The question is, then, why we see this particular interest in metaphysics in crime fiction. The Finish theologian Risto Saarinen proposes that crime fiction in general deals with a secular theodicy that explains crime fiction’s interest in social problems, but this does not explain the interest in metaphysics. Quite on the contrary it explains secular ideas of social problems in an analogy with the question of theodicy. In this paper I will approach an explanation from the point of view of what the Danish philosopher Hans Jørgen Schanz calls the self-constrained modernity: Modernity has come to realize – he explicates – that it cannot provide complete explanations of reality and, thus, it becomes self-constrained. This, says Schanz, re-opens modernity’s interest in metaphysics. In saying so, the sensibilities of crime fiction seem to reflect this re-opening. Nevertheless, it is as well an important question what happens to metaphysics – in Arne Dahl’s crime fiction we meet a type of metaphysics and religiousness that, as well, has become self-constrained. The meeting ground between modernity and religion is, then, a metaphysics of uncertainty.
Bidragets oversatte titelMord og selvinskrænket modernitet: Metafysiske genåbninger i krimifiktion
Publikationsdato30 sep. 2010
Antal sider11
StatusUdgivet - 30 sep. 2010
BegivenhedEmotion, Crime and Media - Århus, Danmark
Varighed: 29 sep. 20101 okt. 2010


KonferenceEmotion, Crime and Media


  • Krimi
  • modernitet
  • metafysik
  • religion