Peter Høeg Interview: We Swim in Language


”The answers are inside us.”

We went to visit Danish author Peter Høeg, whose novel ‘Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow’ escalated him to global literary fame in the 1990’ies. “We live in an extremely outgoing and extrovert culture. It constantly presents us with experts and quick fixes. We are constantly pulled out of ourselves. And my feeling or certainty still is that it’s best if you offset that by looking inward.”

Even though Peter Høeg is recognized as one of Scandinavia’s most read and well-respected authors, he has lived a withdrawn existence rarely giving interviews about his life and biography at all.

When we went to visit him at the place, where he has spent the last decades of his life focusing on family and meditation, we met an extremely open, curios, welcoming and at the same time thoughtful person in the beginning of his 60ties. “There were three things that my life revolved around. The first was moving forward on this spiritual journey and continuing the mediation that had been going on for a long time. The second was to write books that arose within me. The third was to try to be something for my partner, children and friends. That is, to live a normal family life as attentively as I could.”

In this conversation Peter Høeg also reflects about his life-long fascination for literature and books. “I wrote and created stories at an early age. I still structure the world by means of stories. Throughout my childhood and youth, I remember that I could be absorbed in a book. Unlike other art forms, it’s something that only a novel can do. It can create a universe that you can live in for a week, if it’s long enough.”

Høeg tells about deciding to become an author and how he sees the art of writing. Creativity, he states, is to open the consciousness to the unknown. “The cost is that we have to leave our comfort zone every time. And you never find any peace.” He continues: “Some people say that authors write the same book again and again. It could be even worse. What if they wrote the same page again and again? It can make me nervous when I look inwards and realize how striking it is that I write the same themes again and again. So, I am a victim to the limitations of my personality.”

More sceptical Peter Høeg becomes when reflecting upon the author’s role within society. Just because somebody is good at telling stories, he might not have any specific knowledge to solve the overwhelming political issues of our time. “I am more sceptical of that. The road to change and making the world a better place doesn’t lead to influencing society but instead to make sure that every individual we meet becomes a better person.” Høeg concludes: “Art or literature has the potential to wake us up. It’s a little shock. Language is contact. Creativity is contact. And that something is about the possibilities in life.”

Peter Høeg was born in 1957 and grew up around Copenhagen. He studied literature and worked as a sailor, ballet dancer and actor before focusing on his career as a writer in the 1980’s. His first novel, A History of Danish Dreams, was published in 1988 and well received by critics who in Høeg discovered a new literary voice with an international potential. The novel was followed by Tales of Night in 1990 and ‘Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow’ in 1992 – a crime-story about the scientist Smilla Jaspersen who investigates the mysterious death of a small Greenlandic boy who lived in her housing complex in central Copenhagen. The book turned out an international bestseller and was adapted to film by Danish Oscar-winner Bille August five years later. In 1993, Høeg followed up with ‘Borderliners’ – a critical novel about the Danish school- and education system that the author experienced himself in the early 1960’s. The excerpts about time, that Høeg reads in this video, are taken from this book. After ‘The Woman and the Ape’ in 1996 there was a span of ten years before Høeg released ‘The Quiet Girl’ in 2006. Since then ‘The Elephant Keepers’ Children’ (2010), ‘The Susan Effect’ (2014) and ‘Through your eyes’ (2018) were published.

Peter Høeg was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner at the Vækstcentret – a training center for meditation – close to his home in Nørre Snede, Jutland in August 2020.

Camera: Klaus Elmer and David Schweiger
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2020

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