A Collection of Essays by Peter Wessel Zapffe

Farewell Norway

By Peter Wessel Zapffe

This is a funny interview full of mockery that Zapffe conducts with himself – or rather, with his alter ego, Jørgen, the old man of the mountain. The latter is sad to see his land fall to ruins. In this piece from 1958, Zapffe makes no secret of his bleak view of the future, though often cloaking it with comic relief.

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Parting with Gausta

By Peter Wessel Zapffe

According to Sigmund Kvaløy Setreng, “Parting with Gausta” is one of the most evocative postings in favor of preserving wild, undisturbed nature that he has ever come across. Gausta is an iconic Norwegian mountain that, for Zapffe, was desecrated through the construction of roads and towers. In this elegy, written in 1969, he shows both his disdain for compromise and love for the pristine and the free.

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The Last Messiah

By Peter Wessel Zapffe

This essay from 1933, arguably one of the best Zapffe has written, formed the basis for the dissertation that he defended in 1941 (with the title Om det tragiske, “On the Tragic”). Zapffe presents his thoughts on what he considers “the error of human existence.” He believed that existential angst was the result of humans’ overly evolved intellect. Ironically, in Zapffe’s view, man’s survival is possible by a more or less conscious suppression of this surplus of consciousness. In The Last Messiah, Zapffe elaborates on the four suppression or defense mechanisms that human nature disposes of: isolation, anchoring, diversion, and sublimation.

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Stetind

By Peter Wessel Zapffe

In several essays and stories Zapffe speaks subtly and humorously of his experiences in nature. In this short text from 1937, he describes the mountain Stetind, in northern Norway. This is the region of Norway in which Zapffe grew up. Stetind is for him a giant, titan, majesty and horn of hell: “an anvil upon which the gods can hammer.”

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The Road

By Peter Wessel Zapffe

With his poetic pen, Zapffe describes a path here that gently winds its way past roots and rocks. This small track into the hills slowly transforms into a dirt road, fringed with wild flowers. As such, it continues to maintain its organic relations with its surroundings. However, in the course of time, with all the economic development and “progress” that would come along this road, the landscape changes irrevocably. A somewhat prophetic text on the transformation of rural Norway, written in 1952.

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Arne Naess

Peter Wessel Zapffe (1899–1990)
Photo: From Archive of Peter Wessel Zapffe, National Library of Norway