This talk will seek to come to grips with the concept of “literary culture”, both in general and as it pertains to Icelandic literature specifically, or, rather, to literature in or from the realm of Icelandic culture. The hesitation in the preceding sentence bespeaks one of the problems involved. What belongs in the category of Icelandic literature? This is an important question in a country where literature (oral and written) has been the dominant form of artistic and cultural expression for more than a millennium. Starting with a glance at recent works of Icelandic literary history, the discussion will touch on historical reaches of the term “literature”, on national canonization, world literature, and “distant reading”. The focus will then move toward issues of documentation, the role of grassroots activities, as well as hybrid and cross-cultural mobility (including translation), and the ways in which these elements have figured in an ongoing encyclopedic project seeking to work out the parameters of Icelandic literary culture.
Astradur Eysteinsson is professor of comparative literature (since 1994) and former dean of humanities (2008-2015) at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik – and currently a visiting professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. He has worked mainly in the areas of literary and cultural theory, modernist studies, and translation studies, and is a practicing translator.