Søren Frank

April - September 2011
Søren Frank studied Comparative Literature at the University of Southern Denmark and achieved his PhD in Comparative Literature in 2006. He became a lecturer in 2002, and works as an Assistant Research Professor at the University of Southern Denmark since 2007. Sören Frank is the initiator and coordinator of „Gyldendal Lectures of Excellence“ and has been a visiting scholar at Stanford University, USA, in 2005 and 2008.

Fields of research

The novel in the 19th, 20th, and 21st century; theory of the novel; literature and migration; maritime literature and culture; Salman Rushdie, Günter Grass, Milan Kundera; aesthetics of football (soccer).

IKKM Research Project

"Maritime Modernity”

Traditional defining topoi of modernity as outlined by critics such as Marx, Benjamin, and Foucault have been the nation-state, the home, the colony, the city, and the factory. However, if not exactly the causes behind these “effects”, the sea and the ship have played a crucial, but often neglected role in the processes of modernity. In many ways, the terra infirma of the sea is the opposite to the terra firma of the abovementioned topoi, and even though the ship can be compared to a floating factory, as is explicitly done in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, the Whale (1951), life onboard the ship is often opposed to life in the factory. Whereas the latter is characterized by monotonous and manual labour, by fixed hierarchies, profit, and by an increasing split between the worker and the work, life onboard the ship is determined by both routinely work and work defined through contingent demands, by extremely hierarchical as well as potentially democratic structures, by survival more than profit, and by the union between the seaman and his work.

My project will seek to examine the alternative modernities present in maritime literature and culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in writers such as Fenimore Cooper, Frederick Marryat, Eugène Sue, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Jonas Lie, Holger Drachmann, Joseph Conrad, Aksel Sandemose, Nordahl Grieg, Jens Bjørneboe, Amitav Ghosh, and Carsten Jensen. A fundamental shift occurs during the nineteenth century when the steamship takes over from the sailship. Here, sea life becomes mechanistic and routinized, the “natural” synchronicity or convergence between man, ship, nature is transformed into pure machine, and work onboard the ship tends to become more like in the factory. However, it is characteristic of many of the abovementioned writers that even though they write in a period when steam has replaced sail, they also write about the sailing era. Hence, much maritime literature is nostalgic as it looks back upon a more heroic and innocent time, the time before steamships and straight lines across the oceans. In the larger context and history of globalization, the shift between sail and steam is significant. If globalization can be characterized as the increasing independence of local physical spaces and the elimination of our body from multiple dimensions of our everyday experience—exemplified for example by the emergence of the railroad networks in the early 1800s and the computer technology emerging in the late twentieth century—the era of sail still represents a time when the human body and spatial friction played a significant part in human existence. In that sense, maritime literature from Melville and Conrad to contemporary writers such as Ghosh and Jensen can be viewed as compensations for what we humans have lost in disenchantment, that is, a bodily existence in real physical and local spaces. As to body, maritime literature portrays ship life as a deeply satisfying and honorable work on the one hand, but also as a violent and brutal environment on the other. As to space, life on the ocean is both depicted as a genuinely gratifying dimension of human existence and as a life threatening enterprise. Maritime literature is paradoxical—but so is modernity.