Jensen, Carsten 1952–
Jensen, Carsten 1952–
PERSONAL: Born July 24, 1952. Education: University of Copenhagen, M.A.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Rosinante Publishers, P.O. Box 2252, Købmagergade 62, 1019 Copenhagen K, Denmark.
CAREER: Columnist and literary critic for Danish newspapers Politiken (Copenhagen) and Det Fri Aktuelt; editor of literary journal Fredag, 1985–90.
AWARDS, HONORS: Golden Laurels, Danish Booksellers, 1997, for Jeg har set verden begynde.
Folkelighed og utopi: brydninger i Hans Kirks forfatterskab (monograph; main title means "Populism and Utopia"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1981.
Sjœlen sidder i øjet: billeder og bagtanker (essays; title means "The Windows of the Soul"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1985.
På en mørkerœd klode (essays; title means "On a Planet Afraid of the Dark"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1986.
Souvenirs fra 80'erne (essays; title means "Souvenirs of the Eighties"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1988.
Kannibalernes nadver (novel; title means "Cannibal Communion"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1988.
Jorden i munden (novel), Samlerens Forlag (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1991, translated by Anne Born as Earth in the Mouth: A Story, Picador (London, England), 1994.
Af en astmatisk kritikers bekendelser (essays; title means "Confessions of an Asthmatic Critic"), Samlerens Forlag (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1992.
Forsømmelsernes bog (essays; title means "The Book of Omissions"), Samlerens Forlag (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1993.
Jeg har set verden begynde (travelogue), Rosinante Publishers (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1996, translated by Barbara Haveland as I Have Seen the World Begin: Travels through China, Cambodia, and Vietnam, Harvill Press (London, England), Harcourt (New York, NY), 2002.
Jeg har hørt et stjerneskud (travelogue; title means "I Have Heard a Falling Star"), Munksgaard/Rosinante Publishers (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1997.
År to og tre (essays; title means "Year Two and Three"), Rosinante Publishers (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1999.
Oprøret mod tyngdeloven (essays; title means "The Revolt against Gravity"), Rosinante Publishers (Copenhagen, Denmark), 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Carsten Jensen is a Danish newspaper critic, essayist, and novelist whose ongoing concerns have been with materialistic Western values and how modern life has broken down the connections among people. The 1980s, when Jensen first began publishing his essay collections, was a decade particularly branded by materialism. His Souvenirs fra 80'erne, which collects pieces previously published in newspapers, "features the cream of Jensen's writings," according to Birthe Haarder in LitteraturNet online. In this and other collections, such as Sjœlen sidder i øjet: billeder og bagtanker and På en mørkerœd klode, the author castigates what he considers to be spurious values in Western civilization and, related Haarder, "discusses the existential and moral necessity of taking a stand, of making a commitment—of fighting the unbearable lightness, and beguiling delusions, of being." Such themes are also carried into Jensen's novels and travel writings.
Jensen's first novel, Kannibalernes nadver, is a romantic comedy of sorts, but one with a disturbing ending. The characters in the book, featuring a wealthy Danish man and the dozen women he invites to his flat, are two-dimensional people whose preoccupation with sex and romance leave them incapable of finding any real meaning in their lives. Comparing the novel to Boccaccio's Decameron, World Literature Today critic Svend Birke Espegård wrote that, "like the plague-devastated Florence of 1348, the Copenhagen of 1988 seems to be sick; men and women spend much of the time in diverting one another with stories and sexual machinations."
Jensen followed Kannibalernes nadver with the novel Jorden i munden, which was later translated as Earth in the Mouth: A Story. Describing this second attempt as "the better of the two novels," Haarder explained that the theme is: "How do we define the beginning and the end, the truth and the falsehood in the life of a human being?" Jensen himself once described Jorden i munden as a mix of autobiography and fiction. It features a young man named Thomas who, still troubled by his mother's death when he was a child, travels to India in the hope of discovering himself. Instead, overwhelmed by the disease, poverty, and extreme culture differences he finds there, Thomas discovers opium, becomes ill, has his money stolen, and is sexually tempted by a hermaphrodite. Roger Clarke, writing in the London Observer, noted that Thomas clearly represents the spiritual and psychological ills of the West, but complimented Jensen for avoiding "all obvious cliché. Carsten Jensen has written a remarkably intense and troubling book on the way India affects the delicate and the empty."
Just as his fiction offers insights into the state of Western culture, Jensen's travel books are more than just reportage about distant and exotic places. Most notable of his travel writings is the award-winning Jeg har set verden begynde, which was later translated as I Have Seen the World Begin: Travels through China, Cambodia, and Vietnam. As Library Journal writer Janet Ross noted, the book "combines personal observations, interactions, historical perspectives, political analysis, and self-examination." Jensen visits all the places one would expect a politically aware tourist to see in Asia, from China's Tiananmen Square to the killing fields of Cambodia and a Buddhist monastery, describing them with "Zen-like simplicity … and non-judgmental views," according to June Sawyers in the Chicago Tribune. Although a Publishers Weekly critic felt that the author's "very Western political view … compromises his analogies," the reviewer praised the "luminous" language Jensen uses in describing the lands he sees. Booklist contributor David Pitt concluded that I Have Seen the World Begin "transcends its genre."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 15, 2002, David Pitt, review of I Have Seen the World Begin: Travels through China, Cambodia, and Vietnam, p. 986.
Chicago Tribune, May 19, 2002, June Sawyers, "The Resourceful Traveler," review of I Have Seen the World Begin, p. 18.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2002, review of I Have Seen the World Begin, p. 86.
Library Journal, March 1, 2002, Janet Ross, review of I Have Seen the World Begin, p. 129.
Observer (London, England), January 8, 1995, Roger Clarke, review of Earth in the Mouth: A Story, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, February 18, 2002, review of I Have Seen the World Begin, p. 89.
Spectator (London, England), January 27, 2001, Richard West, "Under Western Eyes," review of I Have Seen the World Begin, p. 54.
Times Literary Supplement, February 16, 2001, Lucretia Stewart, "Intimate Strangers," review of I Have Seen the World Begin, p. 30.
World Literature Today, spring, 1989, Svend Birke Espegård, review of Kannibalernes nadver, p. 315; winter, 1993, Svend Birke Espegård, review of Jorden i munden, pp. 190-191.
LitteraturNet, http://www.litteraturnet.dk/ (1999; May 13, 2005), Birthe Haarder, "Carsten Jensen."