The Swedish Model (on Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

Sat May 1, 2010

This text seems to concern itself at some level with a proposed determinative relationship between finance capitalism and male sadism. Within its fictive logic, the transition from industrialism to a speculative economy is timed more-or-less with the Gottfried Vanger’s death; but Wennstrom is his true son. Gottfried dies, as I remember, in 1966, which is close enough for government work to the dissolution of the Bretton Woods agreement. Wennstrom then begins his speculative career, while Martin labors under the repetition-compulsion of the old regime. His crimes, horrible though they are, become something of an atavistic rebellion against the transformative new order. He loses, except in the final desperation of being caught, any connection to the race insanity (Levitical parody) that motivated Gottfried’s violence.

Lisbeth Salander, then, is an immunological response. She couldn’t be other than an informatics savant with her mildly anachronistic punkism only a gesture toward origin. She’s an antibody, an undoer; and her heroism and magic powers reflect what I think is a weakness in the novel’s cultural imagination—rather than being an accident, she is something that the inherently benevolent Swedish social democratic state has created to defend itself. Harriet has returned to agriculture and yet still created a business empire with sound financials. She returns purified, to guard the new truth of Millennium.

I think a good deal more could be done with the psychodynamics of the book, along vaguely Jamesonian lines. As a more general reader, however, I couldn’t help but wonder why we had to know the square footage of every residence. And God help you, I suppose, if you ever have to spend time in a Swedish minimum security prison. And there also seems to be a fairly clear amount of compensation or reaction-formation in what seem to be Blomkvist’s masochist tendencies (his otherwise inexplicable affair with Headmistress Cecilia Vanger with her delicately hinted voraciousness of appetite, and Lisbeth’s mocking reference to Erika Berger’s BDSM background, etc.); I wouldn’t be at all surprised if critics had said this attempts to disguise what is essentially a text that exults in its depiction of violence against women, solemn statistical epigraphs and all. I’m not sure that’s fair, or even slyly intentional.

I haven’t said anything about this book’s curious popularity, yet that remains an important sociological problem. I scanned the several hundred reviews on Library Thing, for instance, and none of them seemed anything other than annoyed by the financial background, which I am assuming might be the unarticulated explanatory need it’s tapping. But that’s not a good explanation of book-buying trends, however fun it would be to think so. I also think that the English title is actually a better description of the book’s fundamental principle than the original.