March 8, 2011

IF IT'S ANY HELP...:

Canon vs. Creator: The writer dies, but the work can never escape. (Jessa Crispin, 3/04/11, Smart Set)

Say the name Knut Hamsun, on the other hand, and the first thing in your head is probably “Nazi.” Not Hunger. Not “brilliant Norwegian writer,” but “Nazi.” And while our reaction should be one of disgust, the fact that Hamsun was in his doddering old age showing signs of mental decline even before he went all rah-rah Hitler (he was 80 at the time Germany invaded Norway) — whereas Céline was an intelligent, mentally competent writer in the bloom of youth — it makes you wonder how arbitrary are these reactions. When Norway recently tried to honor its native son, the response was immediate and furious: How dare you, after what he’s done?

And yet Hunger, the syllabus-friendly novel about a writer starving in the late 19th century, is perhaps a greater achievement than Journey. With its psychological depth, its taut and lean structure, it’s almost impossible to believe the book is a 19th-century work. Hamsun manages to portray a man on the brink of starvation without a shred of pity. Above all, the narrator wishes to maintain a sense of dignity — and he sacrifices opportunities for food and housing with his stubborn pride. Hamsun obliges his character. Even when hunger turns his thoughts obsessive and unhinged, there’s a begrudging respect for a man who wants to earn his keep, even if every day he can’t, he becomes physically and emotionally weaker, making it harder and more unlikely he’ll be able to work his way out of it.


...his novel is wildly over-rated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 8, 2011 7:03 AM
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