Friday, June 1, 2012
Hamsun, Hunger, and Hitler : An unholy trinity
First, a correction - as I finished Knut Hamsun's "Hunger" and read the two intro essays, by IB Singer and translator Robert Bly - learned that the novel was actually written in 1890 (the 1920 date that I cited in earlier posts was of its appearance in English, I think) - which actually makes Hunger more of a precursor than I'd thought - a glimpse into the soul of 20th century literature from the late 19th! In any case, the book remains very dark and odd right up to the end, when the unnamed narrator rebukes himself for so readily giving away money that he desperately needed - and goes to the street vendor, a woman who sells cakes on the sidewalk - and tries to reclaim the money he'd given her by making some absurd argument that it was an advance payment for her cakes, which he proceeds to grab and gobble up - throughout the novel he oscillates between bizarre and extreme in his generosity and then cruel and abusive - obvious some sort of bipolar disorder, right, maybe laced with a dash of OCD? I really have to disagree with most of the points that Singer and Bly make in their intros: even though the life of this narrator in some ways parallels the early years of Hamsun, it's absurd to think of him as a young writer - he's obviously not a talented writer in any way, but a delusional madman - it appears to me that the editor buys his occasional essays out of pure charity. In a way, he's an anti-Job: it's not that he's fallen so far and suffered so much, it's almost as if the way others treat him is a measure of their humanity, because he is so strange and alienated. Over the course of the novel, many treat him quite kindly - I doubt it would be the same today, not in America, anyway. I have been trying to see if there are signs of proto-Fascism in the novel, knowing that Hamsun became enamored of Hitler late in his life, but I can't honestly see that unless it's in the narrators contempt for the people of Christiana, who treat him with a lot of kindness and deference, for the most part. Singer, however, though he does describe Hamsun's support Hitler, is a complete apologist - arguing that Hamsun was old at the, that his talents were waning. No - there's no excuse, and Singer should know that as well as anyone. I believe in support for fellow writers, but there are limits.