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IN FROM THE COLD: The Return of Knut Hamsun
December 19, 2005 7:18 AM   Subscribe

A young man comes to the city. He has no name, no home, no work: he has come to the city to write. He writes. Or, more exactly, he does not write. He starves to the point of death.
The city is Christiania (Oslo); the year is 1890. The young man wanders through the streets: the city is a labyrinth of hunger, and all his days are the same. He writes unsolicited articles for a local paper. He worries about his rent, his disintegrating clothes, the difficulty of finding his next meal. He suffers. He nearly goes mad. He is never more than one step from collapse.
Still, he writes.
In From the Cold: The Return of Knut Hamsun.
posted by matteo (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
from the "In From the Cold" link:
Isaac Bashevis Singer argued that “the whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun, just as Russian literature in the nineteenth century ‘came out of Gogol’s greatcoat.’ ”
In Scandinavia, though, Hamsun meant trouble.
posted by matteo at 7:20 AM on December 19, 2005


Both during and after the Second World War, many Norwegians would, had they had the power to do so, have exhorted Hamsun to return to the anonymity from which he had once emerged.

And many Norweigans would feel the same way today. A quisling is a quisling, no matter how well he writes.
posted by three blind mice at 7:31 AM on December 19, 2005


Hunger is one of my ten favourite books, like Crime and Punishment with laughs.
posted by johnny novak at 7:43 AM on December 19, 2005 [1 favorite]


Also worth reading is the essay on Hunger in Paul Auster's, Art of Hunger.
posted by johnny novak at 7:47 AM on December 19, 2005


johnny:

click on "Still, he writes"

posted by matteo at 7:55 AM on December 19, 2005


d'oh, I read the New Yorker piece but not the other links
posted by johnny novak at 8:04 AM on December 19, 2005


Isaac Bashevis Singer argued that “the whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun

This is interesting and I read Hunger as an indirect result of reading Bukowsky, who pointed back to Fante as an influence, who pointed back to Hamsun as an influence.
posted by poppo at 8:37 AM on December 19, 2005


I feel sheepish as I read through this post. I've never actually succeeded in opening up one of Hamsun's novels, though I firmly believe that one can admire and learn from writers with great failings. Perhaps this post will push me over the hump.

Does anyone know how trustworthy the account of Hamsun's conversation with Hitler is?
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 9:41 AM on December 19, 2005


Read Bly's translation; there are many out there.
posted by squirrel at 10:21 AM on December 19, 2005


Hunger is one of the best novels I ever read. Hamsun's politics were shameful, but (as an Ezra Pound fan) I've long since learned to deal with that. Great post, as usual.
posted by languagehat at 11:06 AM on December 19, 2005 [1 favorite]


I firmly believe that one can admire and learn from writers with great failings.

more than tangentially related:
How do we feel about the joyous conclusion to Meistersinger after seeing Goebbels leading repeated cries of "Sieg Heil" before Karl Bohm conducts Wagner’s comedy at the dedication of the Deutsches Opera? How do we respond to Knappertsbusch’s Parsifal after witnessing his Beethoven 9 from 1942 (or 1943) with all sorts of Nazi paraphernalia in the background?
-- Great Conductors of the Third Reich
posted by matteo at 11:13 AM on December 19, 2005


Thanks for these links. I've still to read Hamsun, but have been eyeing the edition of "On Overgrown Paths" from Green Integer.

The New Yorker article is good, but it makes me angry that while listing Hamsun books available in the US the author didn't mention the work done by Douglas Messereli, who, as the publisher of first Sun and Moon Books and now Green Integer Books has kept some of Hamsun's less popular works in print in America. Other stuff has been published by New Directions. What a perfect opportunity to give props to independent presses more concerned with quality than profit, wasted.
posted by OmieWise at 11:34 AM on December 19, 2005


That's so interesting about metafilter: there's you guys who read f.i. Hamsun.
Very interesting. Maybe I'll get one of these translations from when he was popular: the '30 s.

Oh, and for artists with dubious WWII ethics: Céline is another case in point.
posted by jouke at 12:23 PM on December 19, 2005


I've read a few of Hamsun's novels and stories as well as some of his letters, etc. I always had the sense that Hamsun's support of German culture and its turn to Nazism started at least in part as a reaction to British imperialism and Russian sovietism, as well as a tendency toward "great man" philosophy so common among many early Modernists. It doesn't excuse his actions, but for me at least it helps to contextualize his beliefs as an extension of a mind formed during and after World War One.

Also, the movie, Hamsun, is excellent. One of Max von Sydow's finest performances, even if he does speak Swedish throughout the film.
posted by ga$money at 1:28 PM on December 19, 2005


And by "helps," I mean helps me to comprehend, not to excuse, what he did during World War II.
posted by ga$money at 1:30 PM on December 19, 2005


One quick judge of a good bookstore, IMO, has always been how many Hamsun titles they have on the shelf. More than Hunger, Pan and Growth of the Soil = Excellent!
posted by ubi at 3:32 PM on December 19, 2005


ubi: and if *Mysteries* figures in the "more than" = doubleplus excellent!
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:43 PM on December 19, 2005


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