Rolf Sagen was born in 1940 in Vadheim, Norway. His first literary works appeared while he was studying Psychology at the University of Oslo. He concluded his studies in 1971 with a treatise on Social Psychology. For his debut work, the lyric collection ‘Dørklinker’ (1968; Engl: Door Knobs), he received the Tarjej Vesaas Prize for a first literary work. In 1976 he received the esteemed National Critics’ Prize for his novel: ‘Mørkets gjerninger’ (Engl: Deeds of Darkness).
Sagen’s literary work is as extensive as it is varied: it contains around thirty volumes of poetry and short prose, novels, children’s books and plays. His works are written in Nynorsk (New Norwegian), a language created after the independence from Denmark in the Nineteenth Century out of various – mostly West Norwegian – dialects, and which today exists juxtaposed to the Danish-oriented Bokmål (literally ‘Book Language’), as one of the two official written languages of Norway. Nyorsk is regarded as the language of rural areas, as the language of everyday, and indeed Sagen – using mostly prosaic language – does orientate himself by the life of the fjord coast. This leads, however, not to socially realistic scenarios, but rather to extensively crafted and impressively diverse texts. For example ‘Mørkets gjerninger’, Sagen’s best known work, which was made into a film in 1986, is a psychological study set against a backcloth of native scenery. With the story of the grammar school student Østein Brus and his first fear-laden sexual experiences, Sagen conveys, “how the individual can be affected by dark Western land culture.” Keen to experiment, Sagen demonstrates in books like ‘Kvengedal’ (1970), ‘Mercedesryttaren’ (1988; Engl: The Mercedes Driver) and ‘Alltid likt å lese om krigen’ (2003; Engl: Always Liked Reading about the War), how the border between documentary reports and poetic fiction is expunged – Sagen refers in this instance to “literary documents”. In this way he mixes together in ‘Alltid likt å lese om krigen’ elements of World War II and the happenings in the fjord city of Vaim, where Sagen himself had lived in his youth, as well as the inner dispute of a man, whose recollections are prompted by reading and writing.
Completely different alltogether is Sagen’s novel ‘Lyden av vatn’ (1990; Engl: The Sound of Water), which received much praise from the critics. It is one of his most puzzling, as well as lyrical prose texts. The Norwegian Coast is here transformed into a kafkaesque dreamscape, through which the narrator roams, searching for his own identity. “One of the most suggestive trips that has ever been depicted in Norwegian Prose”, wrote the newspaper ‘Aftenposten’.
Sagen lives in Bergen, where since 1985 he has managed the Skrivekunstakademi (of which he was a co-founder) and also teaches Creative Writing.
Translators: Alken Bruns; Gabriele Haefs
© international literature festival berlin