Open Conference Systems, NorLit 2011

Font Size: 
Palimpsest, Memory and Agency in Faroese Memory Politics - National Stereotypes in the Canonization of a Faroese National Hero
Kim Simonsen

Last modified: 2011-07-15


In this paper I will analyse the politics of memory in relation to the canonization of the writer and captain Nólsoyar Páll as a Cultural Saints in the Faroe Islands. Combining approaches from cultural nationalism studies, memory studies and imagology, we will investigate the use of cultural saints. I will argue, that narratives of heroes recycle earlier forms of remembrance and images as in the palimpsest seen through monuments and places of memory.

Nólsoyar Páll’s most famous poem is the Bird Ballad from 1807, where Danish governments officials were pictured as birds of prey, while he himself was the Oystercatcher fighting for the Faroese. Later the Oystercatcher became the national bird of the Faroe Islands.

If we begin with memory a palimpsest is a manuscript page from a scroll or book that has been scraped off and used again. The palimpsest is a figure of both destruction and of creation. The term can be used to tie together complex forms of public memory as for example literary canonization (Jan Assmann). Huyssens (2003) driving metaphor is the palimpsest. Astrid Erll and Ann Rigney see literature as a medium of remembrance, and images of the past as well. It is my claim with the national hero Nólsoyar Páll, that other media overtake the story in as a palimpsest in itself. In this way narratives recycle earlier forms of remembrance and can be seen as ‘relay stations’ in the circulation of memories.


Imagology is the study of literary representations of national character. Combined with the study of memory, we will analyse, how literary stereotypes emerge and how they are determined by historical and ideological circumstances as literary and discursive conventions (Leerssen) as we see in the creation of an early national stereotype with the “Bird Ballad” by Nólsoyar Páll.

In the paper I will put Nólsoyar Páll in play in relation to memory and imagology and cultural nationalism. I intend to show - looking at the construction of national heroes, with the palimpsest figure - that national heroes follow ancient paths of early memory. Cultural Saints and cultural nationalism in the long 19th Century has shown striking analogies to a palimpsest on how “national” artists and heroes were canonized and celebrated. Here we see, that the canonization of religious saints and cultural saints show some of the same patterns of confessing, martyrdom, fighting for ideas, enlightening, educating and cultivating the memory. 



Memory politics, imagology, cultural nationalism, canon, memory, Faroese liteature, 19th century cultural saints

Full Text: Paper NorLit 2011