by Deanne Stone, OLLI member
Ulf Olsson is a Swedish professor of literature whose interests in the arts cross many frontiers. A Strindberg scholar, he is equally at home discussing French avant-garde art, Thomas Pynchon, or the chamber music influences in Ravi Coltrane's latest album. And just this past month, he gave a paper at the Popular Culture Conference in Albuquerque on The Grateful Dead, now the subject of growing academic curiosity.
For the past few years, Professor Olsson has divided the academic year between UC Berkeley, where he is a visiting professor in the Comparative Literature Department, and Stockholm University, where he has been a faculty member since 1989. Having taught in the Senior University, a lifelong-learning program in Stockholm, he will be offering his first class at OLLI this spring.
"The Unlikely Marriage of Pop Culture and the Avant-Garde" will bring together Olsson's wide-ranging interests in art, music, and literature. "I'm interested in everything that stretches boundaries in the arts," he says. "I love looking for connections and asking questions about what was happening in a given culture that produced this form of art at this particular time, and where it is today." Professor Olsson invites OLLI members to join him in discovering artistic influences and intersections not evident on the surface and in seeing what fun it is to pursue this line of inquiry.
Professor Olsson's love of reading and intellectual exploration started at an early age. When his mother was urging him to go outside and play sports with his friends, he was happier staying home and reading. Like most Swedish students, he worked for a few years after graduating from high school before entering university. With the exception of a short stint working as a postman, he has spent his life as an academic.
Besides teaching at Berkeley, Professor Olsson has taught at the University of Illinois, Champaign. Teaching American college students required a bit of adjustment. Whereas Swedish students follow the same curriculum in the same sequence, students in an American classroom have different levels of knowledge, come from different departments, and have more diverse perspectives. In Sweden, he knows exactly what books his students have read; American students are less predictable. "It's more difficult pedagogically teaching here, but it's more interesting," he says.
While Professor Olsson's research has centered on modern Swedish literature, he has also ventured into such intriguing topics as exile, power, and madness in literature.Among his publications in Swedish are I'm Going Crazy: Strindberg, Madness and Science, The Speech Machine, a study of contemporary Swedish playwright Lars Noren, and Construction of a Body, essays on jazz and improvisation. His new book, Silence and Subject in Modern Literature: Spoken Violence, will be published in English this fall. In it, Ollson examines the work of authors ranging from Jane Austen to avant-garde Austrian novelist and playwright Peter Handke.