Feminist thought and the NSU: processual approaches

In the preface to the 1974 edition of Kvindesituation & kvindebevægelse under kapitalismen (GMT), the editors clearly communicate their thinking as a still unfinished, processual experience. Although this focus is not without influence from the Marxist rhetoric and historiography that structure their discussion, it still reflects an intellectual practice that is not yet established, one that is continually and carefully searching and checking whether the ice will hold its next step:

«Bearbeidelsen af vore erfaringer går gennem forsøget på at forstå hvordan vi selv og andre kvinder er placeret i det kapitalistiske samfunds samlede sammenhæng, hvad disse placeringer indebærer, hvilke muligheder for indsigt i den samlede sammenhæng, de giver – og hvilke indsigter, der er nødvendige for at komme videre i retning af målet: et samfund uden systematisk indbygget undertrykkelse af kvinder og (indeholdt heri) af mennesker i det hele taget.
Det er afgørende at spørgsmålene stilles rigtigt, og de fleste af artiklerne befinder sig i den fase, hvor netop dette er problemet. For de allerfleste af bogens forfattere er arbeide i stil med disse artikler en slags ‘anden fase’ – eller snarere: overgangsfase efter en ‘første fase’ hvor den umiddelbare bevidstgørelse om vores egen situation var den altdominerende. I denne ‘første fase’ – der forløb over atskillige år – skærpede vi gennem snak i kvindebevægelsens sludregrupper, bo- og arbejdsfællesskaber, aktioner osv. vores sanser for den undertrykkelse, vi blev udsat for, for hvordan den havde præget os, og – snævert forbundet hermed – hvordan vi selv var med til at viderebringe og fastholde dens former. Den ‘overgangsfase’ som denne bog repræsenterer for os, er først og fremmest karakteristisk ved forsøgene på at nå bagom de sammenhænge, som vi umiddelbart kan opleve og forholde os til, – til at få dem – og dermed os selv – placeret i den rette samfundsmæssige sammenhæng; for at vi skal få mulighed for ikke bare at slå fra os, men også ramme rigtigt når vi slår.» (p. 5-6)

This temporary approach is also reflected in the allegedly large differences between the 1973 and 1974 versions of the publications. When outlining its own history, the preface of the latter states:

«Til trods for eventuelle ‘skovture’ afspejler bogen her en ret så kraftig teoretisk udvikling på kort tid.
Den er en revision af en tidligere artikelsamling: ‘Kvindeundertrykkelsens specifikke karakter under kapitalismen’, udgivet af Nordisk Sommeruniversitet i januar 1973, og revisionen afspejler denne udvikling: ikke ret mange af artiklerne er gengangere fra den tidligere artikelsamling. ‘Kvindeundertrykkelsens specifikke karakter under kapitalismen’ var det første produkt af det samarbejde mellom kvinder fra kvindebevægelserne i alle de nordiske lande, som startede på NSUs sommersession i Finland 1971. Året efter blev det en studiekreds om kvindeproblemer i NSU-regi, indledt med et seminar i Tilsvildeleje, Danmark, hvortil teoretisk interesserede og -arbejdende kvinder fra de nordiske landes kvindebevægelser blev sammenkaldt. Oplæggene til seminaret blev samlet i ‘Kvindeundertrykkelsens specifikke… osv.’, men de 1500 expl. som artikelsamlingen blev trykt i var udsolgt i løpet af 1/2 år. NSUs skriftseries redaktion gav os da i opgave at lave ny revideret udgave, men i løbet af arbejdet med revisionen måtte vi konstatere, at det allermeste av det, vi dengang havde tænkt, i mellemtiden var blevet udviklet til helt andre problemstillinger, selv om der faktisk kun er gået 1-1 1/2 år.» (ibid. s. 8)

The young feminist movements in Scandinavia share their processual approach with NSU as an institution. The parts of NSU’s archive that I got access to, did not contain many complete texts whatsoever. The material was dominated by a multitude of temporary and preliminary records: schedules, drafts, notes, newspaper cuttings, informal notes or minutes from lectures or discussions. This probably reflects NSU as an environment for developing new  ideas, a description that in my own experience is still valid and valuable. 

At the same time, it fascinates me how the strong processual consciousness and attention of the women behind the above publication initially produced a book whose 1500 copies sold out, and which, in a revised edition, advanced to a larger publishing house, a second edition and a more extensive distribution, proved by the fact that it is still available through secondhand bookshops.

By Hild Borchgrevink, 01 October 2019. More info at https://futureechoes.hildborchgrevink.no

Ethics and jurisdiction of archiving, formats of quarrel

Two days after I ordered the material donated to Kvindehistorisk samling, I received an email telling that my request to view the material was declined, but that I could fill out an application to view it. I reckoned that since the material came from an individual archive creator, it was not cleared for Tracing the Spirit together with the general NSU archive. I applied, and it got accepted.

In the cardboard boxes sent from Viborg to Copenhagen I for example found lists of all the participants in the study circle on women and capitalism with contact information (dating from the 1970s and probably invalid today). It still made the difference between consciously published, edited and intentionally complete material like the publications in the NSU writing series, and all the processual documents produced in and around NSU sessions, very apparent.

In the administrative material in the Sessions package of the general NSU archive, there were also some outright quarreling in writing about budgets, travel refunds or people who had promised to chair a study circle but failed to show up to a session. I was fascinated by the format of quarrel (fax and telegrams). But if I had been part of these discussions some 40 years ago, I would also have been grateful that there are regulations limiting public distribution of small, old and situational bursts of anger on paper.

By Hild Borchgrevink, 29 August 2019. More info at https://futureechoes.hildborchgrevink.no

Arnfred & Syberg (red.): Kvindeundertrykkelsens specifikke karakter under kapitalismen (NSU Skriftserie 1973)

I initially imagined the writers in Future Echoes to respond to texts and materials from the archives of NSU written by women on any subject. However few of the complete texts I found in NSU’s archive, were edited or written by women. 

The parts of NSU’s archive that I got access to, did not contain many complete texts whatsoever. I was also able to search a selection only (more about the somewhat complex access to it here). The material consisted of a multitude of preliminary records: schedules, calls, drafts, notes, newspaper cuttings, informal notes or minutes from lectures or discussions. This probably reflects NSU as an environment for developing new thought, a description that in my own experience is still valid and valuable. 

But my impression of a general lack of female authors was strengthened by one of the publications I did find through the Danish National Library’s department in Viborg: Kvindeundertrykkelsens specifikke karakter under kapitalismen, edited by ph.d. candidate Signe Arnfred and student of literature Karen Syberg, at the time affiliated to the universities of Roskilde and Copenhagen respectively. Its content is divided in five sections named Family, Labour market, Classes, Sexuality and Culture, preceded by a short chapter on methodology and containing writings on these subjects by around 15 female scholars. It was published in NSU’s series of writings, January 1973. Its first 1500 copies allegedly sold out.

Like much social science, parts of this book appear dated in a contemporary environment. I propose it to the writers in Future Echoes as an inspirational springboard for sharing related thoughts and texts.

By Hild Borchgrevink, 14 August 2019. More info at https://futureechoes.hildborchgrevink.no

Cardboard, databases, numbers, words

The very start of Future Echoes reminded me that how an archive is organised, strongly influences and delimits how I can approach it. Initially, NSU’s archive material itself reflects (and once produced) how NSU organised its work. When such material is admitted into a public archive, the archive institution imposes organising principles on it that might have little to do with the nature of material itself. 

The complexity of the interrelations of these layers appear already when the digital database of the Danish National Archives, Daisy, responds to my search “Nordisk sommeruniversitet” with two separate archive creators

Initially I am thrilled, as the first refers to a «Kvindehistorisk samling» (Collection of female history) and a NSU study circle from 1972-73 about the role of the family in a capitalist society (as many academic environments in Scandinavia in this period, NSU had several explicitly Marxist fractions). The material in question was donated to Kvindehistorisk samling by an individual NSU participant independently of the rest of the NSU archive, hence the two entries. A further complication is that the material is located in Viborg in Jylland, some 300 km northwest of Copenhagen. 

The second entry, labelled «Nordisk Sommeruniversitet», reveals 13 archive series loosely distinguished by type of material and year(s) of origin. The type categories are a blurry mix of NSU’s own (board, study circles, sessions) and archival metalanguage such as»Emnespecifikke sager» (say, subject-specific issues). Each of the 13 series contain packages. 

I later realise that «package» refers to the brown cardboard boxes in which material is archived. Packages can be ordered by email and will subsequently be made available for physical browsing in a reading room at an archive of the reader’s choice. To confirm the order of a package can take up to 2 weeks. 

My idea for Future Echoes springs from that as a participant of NSU, I know that study circles of NSU have been, and still are, important to the development of academic and artistic feminist thought. I live neither in Copenhagen nor Viborg. I was planning to work in the reading room of the Danish National Archives in Copenhagen for some days on my way home to Oslo from arranging a writing workshop in Berlin. Apart from the package in Viborg, which other packages may contain material relevant to Future Echoes?

I turn to the Sessions series in the database, hoping for a chronological overview of NSU’s summer and winter gatherings. The database is organised per year. However not all years, and thus not all sessions, are visible. Upon arrival in Copenhagen I discover how the physical archiving constrains the digital in a fascinating and intuitively unnecessary way: The years and sessions visible in the database are decided by the size of the archival content and the volume capacity of the brown cardboard boxes. Whenever a cardboard box contains material dating from more than two separate NSU sessions, only the first and last year/session have been entered in the database.

Maybe the Study Circles series is a better bet? In real life, the Study Circles are the hearts of NSU, they are where exchange and work happens. I’m hoping for more info on the study circle from 1972-73 referred to in Kvindehistorisk samling, to decide whether I should order it from, alternatively travel to, Viborg. But there, the digital information has dissolved into years and numbers only.

I end up filling out order forms based on the serendipital strains of information I can draw from Daisy: The material from Kvindehistorisk samling, «Emnespecifikke sager», the Sessions package and some info about the Study Circles.

Hild Borchgrevink, 14 August 2019. More info at https://futureechoes.hildborchgrevink.no

Introducing: Project 6

Hild Borchgrevink will initiate a chain of letters between female contemporary Nordic writers. The writers will be invited to respond to selected texts and materials from the archives of NSU written by women. These contemporary responses to historical material aim to performatively explore relations between feministic traditions of NSU and the situation of women in the Nordic countries today. The project aims to include as many Nordic languages as possible.

Follow Hild as she explores source- and response-texts until they are presented in a final publication.

Photo by Diego Marín on @Unsplash