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Ivar Lo-Johansson on the author and his task

Ivar Lo-Johansson
Ivar Lo-Johansson, 1939. Photo: Gunnar Lundh / Nordic Museum (CC BY-NC-ND)

Is the author's task merely to amuse the masses? Not if you asked Ivar Lo-Johansson (1901-1990).

Ivar Lo-Johansson was born in 1901 on the Ådala farm in Ösmo parish, Södermanland, and during the 1930s became one of the most noted and read the proletarian authors, i.e. a writer with a working-class background who was also often self-taught.

Among the great working-class writers are names like Vilhelm Moberg, Fabian Månsson, Sara Lidman, Eyvind Johnson, Moa Martisson, Alfred Kämpe, Jan Fridegård, Fredrik Ström, and others. They were writers who used the power of words to bring about change, sometimes simply by describing the reality they themselves had experienced.

Language is not an end in itself. It is the tool with which a writer should accomplish something. To write poetry, to create literature, means to take a stand. A writer should commit himself.

Ivar-Lo Johansson, Being a Writer, Days and Daily Work (1975)

Ivar belongs to the statar school, which is a term for the working-class writers who, in the 1930s, depicted in their novels states and the living conditions of agricultural workers. Among his best-known works are Goodnight Earth (1933), Statarna (1936-37) and The land workers (1941). The unfree state system had begun to decline in the 1930s, but Ivar's writing and agitation are thought to have contributed to its eventual abolition in 1945.

ca 1910: Statare. Dairy cows and farmhands at the barn. Julita farm, Södermanland. Nordic Museum NMA.0040766

The purpose of a righteous writer, according to Ivar, is to revolt against the injustices of his time. That is where the commitment must lie, whether the oppression is against oneself or someone else.

He can, of course, be engaged in many ways, depending on the contradictions between himself and his time and the world he lives in. He may feel called upon to do so on behalf of others or on behalf of all humanity, but almost always it is a matter of protest against oppression in the world to which he belongs. If the oppression does not concern him directly, it may concern a class of people, a group, a society, when he must revolt against the oppressors. [...] The tasks of a writer's writing may change from time to time, but the purpose is almost always the same, that of revolt.

Ivar-Lo Johansson, Being a Writer, Days and Daily Work (1975)

How then does such a revolt begin? Well, by using language to open the eyes of the oppressed. We have to put into words the injustices that people suffer, what oppression means, what is at risk. Lo-Johansson writes:

It is his duty to use language, his tool, to open people's eyes, so that they will understand the oppression, its meaning, its danger. He must teach others to recognise themselves in their oppression, something they might not otherwise have thought of doing themselves.

To give a voice to the people who had none, that's what the workers' writers did. Of course, our time is not without its injustices either, and just as in the early 20th century, there are people and groups without a voice in our time. People who are waiting for their writer or journalist. People waiting for their revolt.

”De som har ordet i sin makt måste kämpa emot dem som har makten”, skrev Vilhelm Moberg, och Lo-Johansson skulle nog vara benägen att hålla med:

Författaren är en arbetare i sin egen tid. Pennan är det lättaste av alla verktyg, men med den kan uträttas de svåraste ting. Att använda den till något som är bra är vad han är skyldig sitt språk och sitt land.

Ivar-Lo Johansson, Att vara författare, Dagar och dagsverken (1975)

Ivar Lo-Johanssons syn på författarens uppgift rimmar med synen Vilhelm Moberg ger uttryck för 1959:

Det finns en art av författarskap, som utgör en form av reaktion mot författarens omgivning, emot trycket från den värld han lever i, en reaktion mot missförhållanden och konventioner i samhället – i sista hand alltså mot de maktägande. Jag betraktar denna diktning som ett hälsosamt svidande salt, som bidrar till att bevara samhällskroppen mot förruttnelse.

Vilhelm Moberg, Författarna och samhällskritiken, Clarté nr 2 1959

Vilka orättvisor en författare av vår tid borde ta sikte på vet jag inte om Lo-Johansson hade någon åsikt om mot slutet av sitt liv, men för Vilhelm Moberg var däremot det stora ämnet givet:

I ett land där människan håller på att klämmas sönder mellan partier, organisationer och grupper har denna diktning sitt stora ämne givet: Motsättningarna medborgaren-staten, individen-kollektivet. De som har ordet i sin makt måste kämpa emot dem som har makten – för att travestera Strindberg – författarna i första hand måste gå ut i strid för rätten att vara avvikande. […] I det oscariska Sverige riktade sig diktarna mot en liten privilegierad klass. Nu är Makten snart något anonymt, ett kollektiv som inte är gripbart. Trycket från detta kollektiv mot den enskilda människan kommer, tror jag, att tvinga fram en ny litteratur.

Vilhelm Moberg, Författarna och samhällskritiken, Clarté nr 2 1959

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1 thoughts on “Ivar Lo-Johansson om författaren och hans uppgift

  1. Anette Tamm says:

    Superbly well written! So important and I have shared on FB. Working as a publisher with start-up publishing house and our responsibility is to fight against Goliath for the written words with meaning - best regards Anette Tamm

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