BOOK REVIEW The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo And Philosophy: Everything Is Fire
The characters of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, created by the late Swedish journalist and author Stieg Larsson in his best-selling Millennium Trilogy and brought to life on screen in three hit Swedish films, are ripe for analysis, and this collection of essays should appeal to readers who want to delve deeper into the fictional psyches and backgrounds of the troubled hacker and the crusading journalist who formed an unlikely duo intent on exposing and punishing injustice and corruption.
With David Fincher’s eagerly anticipated Hollywood remake of Swedish thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo released in cinemas on 26th December 2011, the publication of this collection of philosophical essays is well timed to tap into renewed interest in Stieg Larsson’s much loved characters. The book is divided into five parts; each one focussing on a key aspect of what made Larsson’s books and the subsequent films so popular with readers and viewers.
Broadly speaking, the essays address issues relating to Salander’s identity and education; Blomkvist’s appeal to women and his character’s roots in Swedish investigative journalism; the background and writing style of Stieg Larsson; the rise of hacking in the information age; and notions of punishment and revenge. Although rooted in philosophy and media studies, the essays are all written in an accessible style that means The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo And Philosophy is not just intended for an academic audience…
One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the background information it gives about Stieg Larsson himself. Larsson’s work as an investigative journalist who abhorred violence against women, racism and xenophobia is well documented, but less well known is his similarly vociferous opposition to pseudoscience and irrationality. In Sven Ove Hansson’s revealing essay ‘The Philosopher Who Knew Stieg Larsson: A Brief Memoir’, Larsson is quoted from a journal in which he rails against the popularity of astrology among supposedly educated people. Writing about a university educated woman who asked him what his star sign is when he encountered her in a cafe in Stockholm, Larsson pulls no punches in stating that “it is difficult to find an excuse why almost 500 years of enlightenment and scientific progress have failed so completely to leave any impression on her worldview.” This no-nonsense approach is often echoed in the characters of both Blomkvist and Salander, although the character of Blomkvist is obviously the one more closely identified with Larsson, the leftwing journalist.
No matter how brutal and traumatic her past experiences have been, Salander’s use of violence is never senseless or random.
Salander, however, is arguably the more intriguing and complex of the two characters, and it is the essays that focus on her character that will probably cause the most debate. Salander is clearly a highly intelligent, unconventional woman with a remarkable gift for hacking, but she is also capable of extreme violence. Kim Surkan’s essay ‘The Girl Who Turned The Tables: A Queer Reading Of Lisbeth Salander’ looks at a variety of responses to Salander, beginning with the undeniable assertion that she “is anything but a stereotypical crime fiction victim.” Surkan ventures into murkier territory when questioning feminist and queer readings of Salander – a difficult undertaking given Salander’s own ambivalence towards such labels and her refusal to be pinned down to any one fixed identity.
As Surkan acknowledges, Salander is bisexual and rejects notions of conventional femininity, but as the series progresses, she alters her appearance in a number of ways, including by removing piercings, growing her hair and having breast augmentation surgery. On the surface, this may seem as though Salander is making herself more ‘normal’, but perhaps what she is doing is rejecting being ‘normal’ by changing from one appearance to one another, and refusing to accept that the way she looks is the way she is. It could even be argued that by removing tattoos and piercings, she is becoming less ‘normal’ in the sense of abandoning a fashionable image that seems to define her.
Less contentious, although more annoyingly named, is Aryn Martin and Mary Simms’s essay ‘Labeling Lisbeth: Sti(e)gma and Spoiled Identity’, in which the authors look at how labels of mental illness “come to stand in for and eclipse the person.” Citing Erving Goffman’s books Stigma and Asylum, Martin and Simms show how many institutionalised people are caught in a trap in which any response can be deemed to be proof of their illness and danger to society. Salander’s experiences of being unjustly institutionalised and labelled as mentally ill clearly had a profound effect on her, and Martin and Simms posit the theory, based on Goffman’s writings, that the coping mechanisms of “withdrawal and intransigence become lifelong hallmarks of Lisbeth’s posture in the world.”
No matter how brutal and traumatic her past experiences have been, Salander’s use of violence is never senseless or random, but, instead, is all about revenge that is carefully considered and planned. In the final part of the book, ‘75,000 Volts Of Vengeance Can’t Be Wrong, Can It?’, three different essayists consider the ethical quandary surrounding Salander’s punishment of the people who have wronged her. Is there a difference between punishment and revenge, and is Salander justified in doing what she does? It is perhaps at this point of the book that the average reader may lose interest. After all, how many viewers who watched Salander exacting revenge on the sadistic Nils Bjurman after he brutally raped her will really want to ponder what the likes of Aristotle and Kant had to say about revenge and morality? Most viewers would simply have been cheering her on, silently or not, as she tattooed “I am a sadistic pig, a pervert and a rapist” on his body.
Stieg Larsson’s characters Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist will continue to captivate audiences, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo And Philosophy will only add fuel to the fire of their enduring legacy.
Release date: 10th November 2011 / Author: Eric Bronson / Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
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