Georg Brandes between nations and narrations. Indtryck fra Polen from a new perspective
Georg Brandes (1842-1927), one of the most influential literary critics in the nineteenth century, was a welcome guest in many Western and Eastern European countries, where he gave lectures on literary topics supporting modern liberal ideas. The Danish scholar was a perceptive observer of foreign cultures and a collector of impressions, which he presented in the form of essayistic narratives. It is interesting to see how his mainly literature-based expectations and preconceptions concerning Eastern European nations intersected with the experiences he had during his travels. While travelling across the divided and colonized Kingdom of Poland – Congress Poland (or Russian Poland) and Galicia (the Austrian Partition) – Georg Brandes came into contact with many local communities spread over a large multi-ethnic territory. Brandes' idea of the Polish nation and the central value of national sovereignty, among other social values, was juxtaposed with the liquid and sometimes confusing reality of local discourses. Analysing Brandes' book Indtryk fra Polen (1888) and its contexts, I discuss the problematic status of the key concept of his discourse – the concept of "nation". The analysis focuses on three motifs connected to the three conceptualizations of nation and nationalism (the national independence movement, the nation as an emotional community, and the nation as a cultural resource) in order to show how they shape Brandes' narrative and how it is challenged by other narratives and discourses which, while often referring to the same motifs, promote a different understanding of "nation". Referring to post-structuralism and post-colonial studies, I show how local narratives in a multi-ethnic and multicultural society contest Brandes' rational liberal concept of nation and undermine his narrative.