Six Questions XV
EIRIK STORESUND (Brute Norse)
Interview conducted via email by Joseph S. Hopkins, August 2018
Norwegian academic, writer, and artist Eirik Storesund is perhaps best known for running the blog and podcast Brute Norse. Storesund explains during the first episode of the Brute Norse podcast that "the object of Brute Norse is to shine a different light on vikings and Norse culture and to bridge the gap between public and academia — though perhaps filtered through my personal love of all things that are strange and mysterious" (May 21, 2017; 1:49—2:04). The Brute Norse website details that the project began in 2014 "as an educational blog and Q&A service about Norse culture, called Tulen. As time passed it became evident that the concept would not stay in the box, as initially separate projects and aspects of my authorship began to spill over to the blog". Storesund today lives in New York City.
1. Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Karmøy, on the moody coast of southwest Norway.
2. Can you remember when you first encountered Norse mythology or, more generally, Germanic mythology? And what was the context?
It must have come from that first goddess figure a child learns to know: my mother. Isn't that how it always is? I remember peering out the window during a thunder storm and she told me about Thor and his ogre-smashing habits. More generally I had the privilege of growing up idyllically in a historically rich area dotted with ancient monuments, so the opportunity for storytelling and enchanted experiences often arose.
3. How would you describe your religious beliefs (or lack thereof)?
Apocryphal. I am baptized in the Gnostic Catholic Church, but I tend to think of myself as some sort of pagan. It is a paganism of many gods, many of which might be both dead, sleeping, blind, deaf and mute, nameless, unknown, or otherwise take ownership of the critique of paganism seen in, say, Catholicism. My gods are gardeners, poor kings, rich bums, longing, implicit and creative entities with perforated personalities, that do the perplexing things that gods do best, to the best of their limited abilities.
Whether or not “the gods” concretely exist outside of this idiosyncratic post-pagan Scandifuturist philosophy is not the most pressing issue, but if they do, it seems clear to me that there is some overarching cosmic principle even they are helpless to escape. For all intents and purposes they just set the ball rolling because they, in their creative dissatisfaction, felt the need to poke that primeval giant, and throw us into the crossfire. Great job. Conversely, there are many upward-kicking, trollish, chthonic entities. These potently impotent cosmological bottom-feeders couldn't bow to divine concerns even if they tried. Agents of a sardonic and unloving Mother Nature that would not mind if we all stepped off a cliff and died. I think both are integral to the human condition, and I completely understand where the latter is coming from.
It is fundamental to my worldview that the aforementioned gods are grasping at straws to retain control of their environment, drunk at the wheel and shrieking. The breaks were severed long ago. While we may admire and yearn to know them, we are similar to the gods by default in our synthetic, cultured ways. It is not desirable to pursue that divinity to its extremes, as before long we would be living in a transhumanist off-planet hellscape eating lab grown foie gras. Conversely, giving in to the Thursian mob is a one way ticket to anti-natalism, living in underpasses (bridge-trollism), or Russian roulette. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. My perception of all these beings relates to my perception of humanity, with all the ecological and technological implications that entails. Any way we organize ourselves, for better or worse, is ultimately an extension of this divine farce.
Taking cues from Norwegian folklore and its Christian folk-mysticism, I believe in mysteries and paradoxes, moods, sensations, and a lack of satisfactory answers. I adored my grandfather, who appeared to be some kind of pantheist cynic, who found the sacred in Apollonian art and music. For me on the other hand, there's been a continuous Dionysian and folkloric element to my spirituality since my mid teens.
At 16 years of age I got hold of my first Norwegian “black book” (a sort of grimoire) and began to sneak off to the crossroads on Thursday nights to see if I could bind the devil. In lack of a hoofed figure appearing in a puff of smoke, I assumed my half-hearted and idiotic attempt had failed (but then again, how do you tell?). It did however give me a taste for the morbid worldview of the folk magician. In maturity, the practical aspect of my spirituality mostly consisted of burning bonfires, making toasts, meditating in the fens, leaving coins in auspicious locations, and hanging out on burial mounds. Religions get a bad rap these days, but I have always loved conversing with religious people, theologians in particular, especially if they have a taste for the mystical. I only demand the same open-mindedness in return.
4. How would you describe your political beliefs (or lack thereof)?
A very political friend once said there seemed to be no political bone in my body, which sounds like a convenient cop out as far as anecdotes go, but there is a grain of truth to it: I think my worldview compels me to look at politics through the eyes of a contemplative observer and not an activist. But biting the bullet I will say that I consider centralization is one of many worldly ills and the bane of small communities. I think seats of political and financial power should be balanced by skin in the game, and an equal measure of accountability. I believe in individual autonomy, neighborliness, and the near total freedom of expression and ideas. I am suspicious of self-serving legislation and censorship. I believe in the right to take offense, but to demand satisfaction and excellency from yourself – not from others. I am concerned about soil conservation and passionate about the protection of ancient sites.
5. Do you have a formal academic background in Germanic studies? If not, where do you do your research on the topic?
A bachelor's degree in Nordic language and literature, and a master's in Old Norse philology, with archaeology, religious studies, and museology thrown in the blender. All taken at the University of Bergen, Norway. Like everybody in that field, I was at some point an extremely blue eyed and enthusiastic student aiming towards the glimmering hope of an academic career. The pendulum eventually swung in the opposite direction, to the point where I was certain that a traditional academic lifestyle would be my undoing. Once this dark night of the soul had passed there was nothing to take its place, and I was left insecure and angry about my place in the world. For a while the only thing that gave me satisfaction was the practically priestly role of a museum attendant and tour guide, which accounts for most of my work experience thus far in life.
While I wouldn't recommend such a path to anybody who values their happiness, my academic education has taught me many surprisingly versatile skills, and Bergen itself is full of brilliant people who left their mark on me forever.
6. How does Norse mythology and/or general Germanic mythology influence your creative output?
It's hard to know where to begin and where to end (and I should probably end sooner, rather than later). My old academic sensei Eldar Heide often said that what drew him to the field was the utter strangeness, or “alien point of view” of Norse mythology. I feel that this accurately captures how I feel too, academically, spiritually, creatively. It only seemed weirder the more I learned, and the more my naive preconceptions were challenged.
There is a surrealist, avant-garde component to all my work. Maybe that's just who I am, but I certainly found fuel for it in pre-Christian Norse aesthetics, poetry and mythology, which toys with our expectations in mind bending ways. Skaldic metaphors are particularly striking, as they make mutants their aesthetic ideal. Though Germanic Iron Age art takes many inspirations from the Graeco-Roman world, it pisses down the back of every Classical notion of naturalism, and does it well. I enjoy Wagnerian and other accultured kitsch depictions of Norseness mainly as a point of discussion, and see them as hallmarks of a pagan aesthetic that never reached maturity, and out of its hubris and lack of self-esteem failed to fully respect its sources. This “classicism” is seen even in early 20th century scholarship, which frequently aired the opinion that pre-Christian skaldic metaphors were a cacophonous pile of shit. Leave being Greek to the Greeks.
My curatorial debut, Coincidence of Opposites (2016), was a Norse art exhibit seemingly without Norse art, based partially on, but reasonably detached from my academic research. Every element was chosen to underline principles I found important in Norse mythology and Norse aesthetics, first and foremost the tension and synthesis of oppositional pairs, and the fine line between order and disorder. The main performance consisted of a mystery-cult like initiatory ritualization of the myth of the Mead of Poetry, in which the audience participated in making the divine elixir by chewing and spitting a ritually baked bread. Through the magic of smoke and mirrors I turned it into a beverage and then compelled them to drink what they seemed to have spat out minutes before, which was in fact a pleasant, heavily alcoholic punch. The real sludge was taken home, as the bread had been turned into fermentable sugar through the magic of amylase enzymes contained in their spit, I fermented it into a beer of approximately 4% ABV.
While I cannot honestly say that my worldview is possible to set apart from my work, I draw a line in the minefield between my own idiosyncratic philosophy, and the historical, source-critical world. I am often criticized as a reductionist, which is strange. Source-criticism is not the pin that pops the balloon, but the gas that floats the blimp. What sets me apart from politically motivated content creators is that I don't care about mustering around short term narratives. If a symbol is hollow, knock it down. Like a farmer's calendar with a 300 year cycle, my only dream is to make my own small contribution to a robust long term paradigm shift in terms of how we see the archaic world mirrored in ours, and I don't care if I don't live to see it. That's Scandifuturism.
Joseph S. Hopkins would like to thank Eirik Storesund for his participation.