Accepted Paper:

Upright and independent: sculpting modern men in early 20th century Iceland  


Valdimar Tr. Hafstein (University of Iceland)

Paper short abstract:

Traditional glíma wrestling offers a vantage point on the physical formation of modern subjects through the sculpting of upright, male bodies. Appropriating techniques that previously distinguished noble bodies, glíma helped to retool techniques of social distinction to mark strong, modern men.

Paper long abstract:

A traditional form of wrestling with medieval roots, Icelandic glíma offers a vantage point on the body techniques involved in the formation of modern national subjects. In the span of a few years at the dawn of the 20th century, customary jostling turned into a full-blown, organized sport, complete with clubs, rules, tournaments, uniforms, accessories, and trophies. It soon came to be known as Iceland's national sport.

On the basis of written and visual documents - pamphlets, rules, newspapers, memoirs, photographs and film footage - this presentation focuses on the physical discipline and "arts of using the human body" involved in forming the modern subject, with an eye on that subject's reflexive relationship to its own practices and their temporality.

I'm interested in particular in the stress on posture in glíma training, competitions, and visual representations of the masculine body, and in the democratization of techniques that had previously served across Europe as physical markers of noble bodies. In the first decades of the 20th century, one finds the notion of uprightness cropping up in a lot of different contexts: the straight back and the steady gaze. In previous centuries, a straight back and steady gaze was the prerogative of the European aristocracy, part of a social dynamic of pride and humility, in which aristocrats distinguished themselves through posture. In an egalitarian move, characteristic of the project of modernity in the 20th century, this mark of distinction became the mark of a strong, modern man.

Panel P17
Body, corporeality and configuration: the affective body in the vortex of culture, identity and communication