Knut Hamsun.
August 27, 2009 2:29 PM   Subscribe

Street Time for Hamsun. This month marks 150 years since the birth of the Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun, Nobel laureate in 1920. As well as the opening of a new centre dedicated to the man and his work, a whole range of events have been held in relation to this anniversary. It has also been the occasion for academic conferences, commemorative coins, tourism campaigns, and stamps. A writer of brilliance; a deeply problematic legacy. Previously on mefi.
posted by hydatius (24 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Am I the only person who thought Garrison Keillor made Knut Hamsun up? No?
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:36 PM on August 27, 2009

Norway: where all the women are impenitent, all the men are doleful, and all the children are above an abyss.
posted by Iridic at 2:52 PM on August 27, 2009

Never heard of Hamsun before this year. My 17-year-old nephew (works in a bookstore) loves him. I guess I need to check it out if I want to remain a hipster.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:57 PM on August 27, 2009

A great writer. As I said the last time we did Hamsun, his politics were shameful, but as an Ezra Pound fan I've long since learned to deal with that.
posted by languagehat at 3:05 PM on August 27, 2009

Which of his novels should I read first?
posted by Iridic at 3:09 PM on August 27, 2009

Which of his novels should I read first?

try Hunger
posted by jammy at 3:19 PM on August 27, 2009

Hunger is usually the best one to start with, but I've a soft spot for the two novellas Under the Autumn Star and On Muted Strings, usually published together in English as The Wanderer.
posted by hydatius at 3:23 PM on August 27, 2009

"Pan" and "Victoria" are pretty good too. He spent some time in America, and ultimately was not very impressed. He's a controversial figure, no doubt, but while he's made inexcusable and unforgivable political choices, it's not a simple case of being just a Nazi sympathizer.


This is neither here nor there, but if I were a superstitious person, I'd be looking to buy a lottery ticket just about now: just yesterday I got ahold of a Lester Young box set of 8 CDs from Verve, and today I see a post on Lester Young; then this morning, I was looking at a bittorrent site which has a prominent book section, and there I spotted a torrent of several Hamsun books... and here's a Hamsun post on metafilter. Which brings me to my point (finally): over the past year, I've observed an explosive growth of book and magazine bittorrenting... I hope the publishing industry is prepared, because as electronic readers from Amazon, Sony etc. spread, the publishing industry is going to get hit with a tidal wave, just as the music industry was.
posted by VikingSword at 3:59 PM on August 27, 2009

Tales of Love & Loss is good too.
posted by drowsy at 4:00 PM on August 27, 2009


What is WRONG with you people?!???

(although Hunger is probably the usual intro to his work)
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:32 PM on August 27, 2009

Exactly, Mysteries!

Yes, and don't miss Hunger.
posted by Wolof at 5:06 PM on August 27, 2009

When my future children come of age, I am going to lock them in a room with Growth of the Soil.
posted by lovejones at 5:09 PM on August 27, 2009

I liked the main article. Shit, Norwegians have been struggling with Hamsun and what it means to be a great writer, a national icon, and a Nazi since the end of the occupation, so it's not like any of this is new. Despite that, a couple of things struck me. One was that the 150th anniversary is clearly a big thing, and it's causing debate on the streets and in popular discourse in a major way, and it's heartening to have literature given any kind of mainstream focus, anywhere. The second thing was the passage that read: "...choosing to separate Hamsun's life and work would so clearly be a missed opportunity. The chairman of the Nobel Committee in 1920 praised Hamsun for the unresolved dialectic of his novels, a combination of "the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly." This is precisely what a Knut Hamsun's Street in Oslo would remind us of. Good writing can make us re-evaluate our thinking. Good writing by less-than-good people can make us re-evaluate how we re-evaluate our thinking." Clumsy writing maybe (having said that 'the unresolved dialectic' would have made a damn better post title than what I did type half-assedly) and a flag of convenience, but the solution to the sign's wording is thoughtful. Nowhere else has anybody like Hamsun. Yeah, sure, Pound has been mentioned, but he'd been out of the States thirty years when the war broke out, plus Imagism was never such a big hit back home in a populist way. The Brits have got Wodehouse, of course, but after the war he was able to just sort of bluster his way through the accusations. There's Heidegger and De Man I suppose, but they're different again, belonging to another arena. I don't know, it's just with Hamsun something unique, and something that goes so far beyond the bounds of 'when good artists are assholes' that it kind of forces you to take stock of what you think art is for, how it operates in the world, and what we think its relationship is to its creator; none of those things can be taken for granted in this case.
posted by hydatius at 6:17 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you like Dostoevsky, start with Hunger; otherwise Mysteries is probably better.
posted by kenko at 6:53 PM on August 27, 2009

Nowhere else has anybody like Hamsun.

posted by VikingSword at 7:46 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's a struggle (but a worthwhile one) to enjoy Hamsun's writing, while accepting the reality of his politics. I guess that's why sometimes I feel like a Knut, and sometimes I don't.
posted by ericbop at 7:46 PM on August 27, 2009

And ridding yourself of tuberculosis by lying on top of a moving train with your mouth open?

Very cool.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:08 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're right, VikingSword, you're quite right. I had forgotten about Céline. That is probably the most appropriate comparison.
posted by hydatius at 12:02 AM on August 28, 2009

There is already a street named after Knut Hamsun, in Narvik, Norway. Other streets in the area are named after other Norwegian writers, including Ibsen, Bjørnson and - almost ironically - Nordahl Grieg.

From the Wikipedia article:
On the night of 2-3 December 1943, Captain Grieg was attached to 460 Squadron, an Australian squadron based at Binbrook, as one of several observers for a raid on Berlin. Grieg joined the crew of a Lancaster Mk.III, serial number LM.316 and letter codes "AR-H2", captained by Flying Officer A.R. Mitchell, RAAF. (...) 460 Sqn. lost five aircraft that night and one of them was Lancaster LM.316. 37 airmen had been on board these aircraft and only eight survived being shot down, to spend the rest of the war in a POW camp. None of the eight survivors came from aircraft LM.316. (...) After the war, Grieg became a hero in Norway because of his resistance to the German occupation, both during the invasion itself and in the continuation of the fight in the forces in exile in Britain. Grieg is still popular in Norway today, especially his anti-fascist poetry.
posted by iviken at 1:45 AM on August 28, 2009

Has it already been 150 years since 1920? I need to get out more.
posted by bukharin at 2:53 AM on August 28, 2009

Eh, it's 150 years since he was born, on the 4th of August 1859. He was awarded the Nobel in 1920, 89 years ago, when he was 61. Were my commas screwy?
posted by hydatius at 3:58 AM on August 28, 2009

as an Ezra Pound fan I've long since learned to deal with that

slight derail, but i'd be interested to hear if you had any opinions on pound's translations of chinese poetry.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:41 PM on August 29, 2009

I think the best of them are the best translations (or, if you insist, versions or reimaginings of foreign poetry) that have been done in English. His ear was impeccable, and somehow the half-understood scraps of ancient poetry filtered through Fenollosa's notes of Japanese translations of the Chinese originals stimulated him more effectively than anything else (certainly more than his tedious youthful poems about Woman or his tedious and sometimes offensive mature poems about History). I'd trade half the contents of the Norton Anthology of Poetry for "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter."
posted by languagehat at 12:46 PM on August 29, 2009


*wanders over to Rexroth*
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:16 PM on August 29, 2009

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