Stockholm university

Helena BodinProfessor

About me

I am professor of Literary History at the Department of Culture and Aesthetics at Stockholm University.


My research concerns the functions of literature at boundaries, such as between languages, nations, arts and media. I have particularly studied modern literature's engagement with the Byzantine Orthodox Christian tradition, from the various perspectives of cultural semiotics (2011), intermedial studies (2013), and translation studies (2002), including aspects of multilingualism.

As a participant in the research programme World Literatures – Cosmopolitan and Vernacular Dynamics, I have been working on a subproject focussing on Constantinople (today's Istanbul) around 1900, when it was a multiethnic, multireligious, and multilingual city with a diversity of writing systems, being not only of aesthetic but also of political, ideological, religious and linguistic interest to writers.

Research networks: Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul (SRII), Diversity in Nordic Literature (DINO), and Nordic Byzantine Network (NBN).


Research projects


A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • Diplomater skriver om det tidiga 1900-talets Konstantinopel: Förmedling och fiktionalisering av (själv)biografiskt stoff

    2023. Helena Bodin. Med pennan i hand: Trehundra år av diplomaters berättelser, 165-187


    Konstantinopel, dagens Istanbul, är en stad som länge kännetecknats av att vara en plats för ekonomiska utbyten och politiska förhandlingar. Diplomatin delar i mångt och mycket skönlitteraturens kommunikativa och semiotiska villkor‚ dess grundläggande ”som om”-förhållande. Från dessa utgångspunkter undersöker artikeln några biografiskt, självbiografiskt och fiktivt inriktade texter från 1900-talets första decennier. Några av dem är de mycket lästa och spridda skildringarna av sultanen-och-självhärskaren Abdülhamid II, där skribenten bygger på att han personligen kommit makthavaren nära. De är skrivna av pseudonymerna Georges Dorys och Ali Nouri, som båda hamnade i onåd hos sultanen, samt av de svenska diplomaterna Fredrik Martin och Birger Mörner, båda verksamma vid svenska beskickningen i Konstantinopel. Därtill uppmärksammas den brittiske diplomaten och författaren Harold Nicolsons roman Sweet Waters (1921) och en av hans noveller ur Some People (1927), som båda utspelar sig i Konstantinopel och här diskuteras i termer av autobiografiktion, ett slags metafiktion på självbiografisk grund. Harold Nicolson var gift med Vita Sackville-West och tjänstgjorde i Konstantinopel under Balkankrigen 1912–1913.

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  • Modernist Writers and the Multilingual Print Culture of Constantinople

    2022. Helena Bodin. Parallax 28 (1), 28-42


    The productive challenges of the linguistic and cultural unknown provide a framework for this exploration of texts created or published between 1906 and 1915 on Constantinople by Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West, Joseph Conrad, Wyndham Lewis, and Vasily Kamensky, which engage with the multifarious expressions and stimuli of the imperial capital. The heterogeneity of narrative and cognitive strategies with which they convey their experiences connotes Constantinople as a contested object of desire of several national and supranational forces between East and West that defies the single, monolingual community, be it imagined or real. The multilingual and multiscriptal print culture of Constantinople, as well as the modernist writers’ literary and artistic imagination and their various translation and transcription practices, delineate what Bodin defines as heterolingualism, namely, linguistic – or literary – situations where communication in one language directed to other languages and produced in otherscripts forms the expected precondition.

    Read more about Modernist Writers and the Multilingual Print Culture of Constantinople
  • Narrating the crisis of Constantinople 1908–1922: A lost world in Greek, Armenian, Turkish and Russian

    2022. Helena Bodin. Literature and the Making of the World, 15-49


    Bodin explores a case of literary world-making which transgresses the languages of national literatures. She examines four novels by Theotokas in Greek, Yessayan in Armenian, Edib Adıvar in Turkish and Zdanevich in Russian. They are all set in Constantinople between 1908 and 1922, a period which meant a protracted political crisis for the then still multilingual, multi-ethnic and multireligious city. By positing Constantinople’s narrated site before the fall of the Ottoman Empire as a Bakhtinian chronotope of threshold, Bodin studies how time and space are fused with language and agency in the selected novels. Irrespective of the author’s ethnicity or the novel’s language, the analyses demonstrate that the novels deploy displaced narration, and that they recollect or reclaim a lost world. Thereby, the act of writing itself is challenged, questioned or interrupted. Together, these novels make a linguistically multifaceted contribution to world literature and crafts Constantinople as a literary world.

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  • ‘The clamour of Babel, in all the tongues of the Levant’: multivernacular and multiscriptal Constantinople around 1900 as a literary world

    2020. Helena Bodin. Textual Practice 34 (5), 783-802


    With a focus on the crafting of Constantinople as a literary world, this article considers how the city’s particularly rich and composite soundscape, linguascape and scriptworld around 1900 contributes to a vernacular poetics. Such a poetics, I suggest, could be described in terms of a heterolingual and multivernacular foregrounding of linguistic difference and asymmetry. Issues relating to the materiality of language and linguistic diversity, including the role of scripts, are explored in a selection of ten Western European travelogues and narratives set in Constantinople during the last period of the Ottoman era (1876–1922) and written in Italian (De Amicis), French (Loti), Danish (Jerichau-Baumann), Norwegian (Skram), and Swedish (Lindberg-Dovlette and Beyel). Proceeding from the soundscape via the linguascape to the scriptworld of the city, it is demonstrated how these ‘-scapes’ and worlds are established, rendered, thematised, transcribed, and inscribed as heterolingual, multivernacular and multiscriptal in Constantinople as a literary world. Different textual and paratextual strategies are identified and analysed with regard to their auditory, visual and material features. However, as a part of monoscriptal Western European literature using Roman script, this literary world becomes cosmopolitanised. In this case the vernacular poetics did not embrace the many scripts of Constantinople.

    Read more about ‘The clamour of Babel, in all the tongues of the Levant’
  • The Gunnar Ekelöf Room and the Poet’s Widow as Archivist and Author

    2022. Helena Bodin. Transforming Author Museums, 154-176


    The Gunnar Ekelöf Room is a reconstructed memorial museum of the late home of the Swedish modernist poet at the Sigtuna Foundation not far from Stockholm. While Gunnar Ekelöf’s original manuscripts are archived at Uppsala University Library, their copies are accessible in the duplicate so-called Home Archive, set up by his widow Ingrid Ekelöf and housed in the Gunnar Ekelöf Room, as is also the extensive correspondence between her and the literary critic Brita Wigforss. Guided by cultural memory studies and archival studies which regard archives and writers’ houses as texts and media, this chapter explores how the Home Archive through this correspondence recounts its own origin, thereby offering new aspects of the metonymic principles that generally guide archival work.

    Read more about The Gunnar Ekelöf Room and the Poet’s Widow as Archivist and Author
  • Nordic Literary Translingualism

    2022. Julie Hansen, Helena Bodin. The Routledge Handbook of Literary Translingualism, 165-176


    This chapter surveys the diverse landscape of literary translingualism in the Nordic region. A brief overview of contemporary language situations in the Nordic countries is followed by an examination of translingual aspects of the work of Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Edith Södergran, Karen Blixen, and Kjartan Fløgstad. The subsequent sections discuss trends in Nordic literary translingualism from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, focusing in particular on postcolonial contexts, minority literatures, and migration. The chapter concludes with a consideration of how works by Tomas Tranströmer, Caroline Bergvall, and Cia Rinne invite translingual readings.

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  • Flerspråkig litteratur och läsare i interaktion

    2020. Julia Tidigs, Helena Bodin. Edda. Nordisk tidsskrift for litteraturforskning 107 (3), 144-151


    Gästredaktörerna Julia Tidigs' och Helena Bodins introduktion till specialnumret "Flerspråkig litteratur och läsare i interaktion".

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  • "So let me remain a stranger": Multilingualism and Biscriptalism in the Works of Finland-Swedish Writer Tito Colliander

    2020. Helena Bodin. The Aesthetics and Politics of Linguistic Borders, 242-262


    This chapter examines the intriguing multimodal genre of "biscriptalism". It ties also into the role of the reader in the construction of literary multilingualism. The Finland-Swedish, polyglot writer Tito Colliander's memoirs show how Colliander embodied the three roles of author, translator and stranger in the Orthodox Christian diaspora, in both Finland and Estonia, ever since his decision to become a Russian-Orthodox Christian. The use of spoken Russian and Cyrillic script is analysed in order to discuss what these devices meant for Colliander's poetics and identity, also taking into account religion as an important parameter of diversity in the study of literary multilingualism and translingual life writing. It is demonstrated that the experience of translating, mediating and going in-between is crucial to Colliander's life and work: multilingualism and biscriptalism play decisive roles in his diaspora Orthodox Christian identity, but the reader is also invited to continue this task of the translator and to experience the in-betweenness of Colliander's stranger.

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  • "Dwelling Place and Palace": The Theotokos as a "Living City" in Byzantine Hymns, Icons and Liturgical Practice

    2022. Helena Bodin. Spatialities of Byzantine Culture from the Human Body to the Universe, 503-521


    In Byzantine hymnography, the Theotokos is represented not only as a Virgin and Mother. She is often imagined as a city, a Byzantine cityscape—possibly Constantinople—modelled on Jerusalem, the heavenly city. This chapter aims to present and discuss some examples from Byzantine hymnography and Orthodox liturgical practice, where the Theotokos is represented in spatial verbal images as a city with its architectural structures, or is praised as a “living city”, that is, enspirited or ensouled (Gr. empsychos). Its exploration is inspired by intermedial studies, where verbal and visual arts are understood as necessarily interacting and inseparably intertwined, and reflects recent research in which sacred space in Byzantium is regarded as participative. It is demonstrated that the Theotokos is represented as a city in Byzantine hymnography, while in liturgical practice she is at the same time praised by the city itself within the city. The praising of the Theotokos as a “living city” carries not only theological meanings but also activates Constantinople and other historical Mediterranean towns as enspirited in the minds and cultural memory of Orthodox Christians.

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  • Skriftens roll i skådespelet: Flerspråkighet och flerskriftlighet i Göran Tunströms Chang Eng

    2020. Helena Bodin. Edda. Nordisk tidsskrift for litteraturforskning 107 (3), 196-210


    Artikeln undersöker användningen av flerspråkighet och flerskriftlighet i bokutgåvan av Göran Tunströms drama Chang Eng. Ett skådespel (1987). Dramat tar upp det siamesiska tvillingparet Chang och Eng Bunker (1811–1874) och deras livshistoria, inklusive den freakshow (missfostercirkus) där de uppträdde. Med fokus på skådespelets användning av flerspråkighet (svenska, engelska, franska och thai) och flerskriftlighet (latinskt alfabet och thaiskrift) visas hur skriftens visuellt-spatiala modalitet och bokmediets materialitet gör läsningen av Chang Eng till ett skådespel som utspelar sig på boksidorna. Härvid är också den av dramats personer som kallas Romanen viktig. Kunskapen om Tunströms synsätt, presenterat i Under tiden (1993), att ord är skrift och att ord är kroppsliga leder fram till att en läsare som jag, som annars inte behärskar thai, kan läsa ut skådespelets avslutande ord i thaiskrift. Den heterografiska relationen mellan de båda skriftsystemen inom bokens materiella form speglar Changs och Engs sammanvuxna, enda kropp – Chang Eng.

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    "I Sank through the Centuries": Late Antiquity Inscribed in Göran Tunström's Novel The Thief

    2018. Helena Bodin. Reading Late Antiquity, 225-242


    A unique treasure has been kept in Uppsala University Library in Sweden since the 17th century: the Gothic Codex Argenteus. The aim of this chapter is to examine Göran Tunström's novel Tjuven (1986; The Thief) about a fictive theft of the codex, and its use of Late Antique writing techniques and texts, both real and fictive, from the perspective of cultural memory studies with a particular interest in media studies, guided by Astrid Erll's Memory in Culture (2011), based on semiotic models. The different functions of the codex, the novel and the library, respectively, are discussed as memory media. This is done in order to inquire into the identity of the thief and to demonstrate the importance of media for the plot. Late Antique writing techniques and intertexts, together with the role of the historian Procopius of Caesarea (early 6th century) in the novel are explored. The motif of writing on skin in The Thief, particularly the writing of history on female skin, is examined. By focusing on how Late Antiquity is inscribed in Tunström’s novel, it is demonstrated how the obsession with writing is vital for all these aspects of the mediation of cultural memory.

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  • Heterographics as a Literary Device: Auditory, Visual, and Cultural Features

    2018. Helena Bodin. Journal of World Literature 3 (2), 196-216


    Heterographics (“other lettering”) refers to the use of two scripts in one text or a translation of a text from one script to another. How might the occasional use of heterographics in literary texts highlight issues of cultural diversity? Drawing on intermedial theory and studies of literary multilingualism, literary translation, and pluriliteracies, this article examines various functions of heterographics in selected contemporary literary texts. Examples of embedded Greek, Chinese, Cyrillic, and Arabic script are analysed in works published in Swedish, French, and English between 2004 and 2015, selected because they thematise cultural diversity and linguistic boundaries. The conclusion is that heterographic devices emphasise the heteromediality of literary texts, thereby heightening readers’ awareness of the visual-spatial features of literary texts, as well as of the materiality of scripts. Heterographics influence readers’ experiences of cultural affinity or alterity, that is, of inclusion or exclusion, depending on their access to practices of pluriliteracies.

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  • "Weeping at the Grave Creates the Song: Alleluia": The Nachleben of Russian Orthodox Funeral Hymns in Modern Culture

    2023. Helena Bodin. Why We Sing: Music, Word, and Liturgy in Early Christianity, 531-550


    This chapter explores the reception within modern culture of Russian Orthodox Christian funeral ritual and its hymnography, grounded in early Byzantine traditions. The selected examples of modern literary and musical works span from the 1940s to the 1990s. They are produced in Russian (Anna Akhmatova; Boris Pasternak), Swedish and Finland Swedish (Vera Alexandrova; Hagar Olsson), Church Slavonic (Krzysztof Penderecki), and English (John Tavener). Through their references to Orthodox funeral hymns and practices, a religious and cultural heritage that was severely threatened and almost destroyed by the atheistic communist state of the Soviet Union was remebered and activated anew. Due to their transfer into a secular semiosphere, the funerary texts gained new meanings and functions according to the norms and values which set the standards for modern culture. 

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  • From Adam to Tsar' Kosmos: Cosmopolitanism in the Byzantine Tradition

    2021. Helena Bodin. Journal of Latin Cosmopolitanism and European Literatures (JOLCEL) 5, 28-51


    Setting out from the short dialogue in which the Cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, upon being asked “Where are you from?,” replied “I am a citizen of the world” (a cosmopolitan), the purpose of this article is to explore cosmopolitanism in Byzantine tradition, which surpasses the actual empire in both space and time and includes even later Orthodox Christian practices. This is done by considering its significance for literary world-making within the framework of languages used in Byzantine tradition, most importantly Greek. Textual examples from the first centuries AD, of importance for later discussions in Byzantium, present Adam, Moses and Christian believers as citizens of the world (cosmopolitans). In subsequent examples from the twelfth century, Orthodox Christian monks are instead called citizens of heaven (ouranopolitans), and the Constantinopolitan writer John Tzetzes records the many languages of the capital of the empire, which often has been described as a cosmopolitan city. Furthermore, examples of hymnography, homilies, and icons from the Orthodox Christian celebration of Pentecost are examined. The Pentecostal miracle offers a multilingual event which unites and enlightens kosmos in contrast to the confusion of tongues in Babel. As a whole, the article is inspired by discussions of cosmopolitanism as a travelling concept and as a controversial concept that encompasses both unity and plurality. It is proposed that cosmopolitanism in Byzantine tradition borders between homogenising (monolingual) and heterogenising (multilingual) modes.

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Show all publications by Helena Bodin at Stockholm University