Björn Þór Vilhjálmsson: Writing at Degree Zero: Fossils, Cyborgs and Finitude in Himinninn yfir Þingvöllum
Steinar Bragi’s Himinninn yfir Þingvöllum, a collection of three novellas, is read in conjunction with Freud’s notion of the death drive in order to illustrate the aesthetic and philosophical complexities of the work. Each of the three novellas thematizes death through the desire for an ending, which is figuratively presented through narrative motifs such as necrophilia, the notion of species extinction, and apocalypse. Steinar Bragi, it is maintained, grapples with a Freudian problematic that involves a contradictory notion, often referred to as the “nirvana principle”, which places the goal of life as reaching the void anterior to existence. This, it would seem, rationalizes self-destructive behavior as being part of an inexorable movement toward stasis. By initially addressing this problematic in terms of the individual, then expanding the context until it encompasses a post-apocalyptic world, the three novellas form a coherent “story” that foregrounds urgent questions regarding man’s relationship to the environment, leaving the reader facing a final dilemma: what if the existential nullification that takes one beyond the pleasure principle, and is represented in Freud’s schema as the absence of all sensory stimuli, the zero degree of death, is the symbolic equivalent of man’s drive toward exhausting the world of its resources? Can we read current environmental practices as being under the sway of the death drive, fuelled by an unconscious desire for an end?
Keywords: Himinninn yfir Þingvöllum, Steinar Bragi, the death drive, Sigmund Freud, environmental criticism.