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Avant-Garde - Finno-Swedish Photo-Novel

På Kanaanexpressen [On the Canaan Express Train].

Stockholm: Holger Schildt, 1929 (printed in Helsinki by F. Tilgmann). Octavo (19.5 × 16.5 cm). Original photo-illustrated wrappers; 231, [1] pp. Twelve black-and-white photographs, a few full-page. Light wear to spine extremities; discrete owner annotation in ink to title and ffep; else very good.

First edition of this key work of the Finno-Swedish literary avant-garde, which was chiefly represented by Hagar Olsson (1893-1978) and the poet Elmer Diktonius. Olsson's work was situated in the tradition of symbolism and expressionism, and urged a spiritual revolution in both the arts and social life. Her writing was marked by a high level of stylistic and formal innovation, such as irregular rhythm, experimental structures, grammatical fragmentation, and contrasting images. She was also an important conduit of futurist and modernist ideas, and a generally cosmopolitan and internationalist outlook, to Finland in the 1920s.

“One year after the publication of Andre Breton's novel Nadja the Finnish author Hagar Olsson published her novel In the Kanaan Express Train (1929), a caleidoscopical composition, which 'Knut Brynhildsvoll has called a photonovel.' (Holmstrom 105) Both novels are remarkable because they include photos in the running text. In her novel Hagar Olsson describes a couple of young people's journey in the night train express between Abo (Turku) and Helsingfors (Helsinki). The visual text consists of 14 photos, mainly of female faces and motifs from the technical acquisitions of modern life. (2) Among the photos there is a painting of the French cubist painter Marie Laurencin, visualizing a woman locked up in a bird cage. It is however striking that the photos are negatives. This may seem peculiar, but the author's idea is to establish a special interrelation between the verbal and the visual text. During the eastbound journey through the night the text serves as an instrument in the process of exposing the photos, releasing them from their imprisonment in a negative world of shadows and turning them into the bright light of a promissing tomorrow. Thus the novel has clear political intentions. The group of young people travelling through the night want to leave behind them the negative experiences of the Western civilisation heading for a political dawn located in the eastern areas of communist renewal.”

(Brynhildsvoll, Knut: “From Imitation to Construction: Steps toward Modernization in Nordic Literature,” in Forum for World Literature Studies 7:2 (2015), 230-245).

See also, for example, Gunilla Hermansson, "Hagar Olsson and the Soldier of Modernity" in A Cultural History of the Avant-Garde in the Nordic Countries 1925-1950.

The wrappers were designed by Olavi Paavolainen (1903-1964), the Finnish writer and journalist, who combined the image of the dandy with a keen interest in Futurism and Marinetti. The design incorporates photographs by Renger-Patzsch and Max Burchartz. The photographs reproduced within were by Eero Erkko, Walter Süssmann, Renger-Patzsch, Alban, and many others.

As of January 2021, KVK and OCLC show five copies in North America. Rare in the trade.

Book ID: 51201

Price: $1,500.00