They are epistemological brawlers, always challenging meaning to a fight.
They are epistemological brawlers, always challenging meaning to a fight.They invent the scenes through which they move, and thus invent themselves afresh on every page.His father, an impoverished tailor and smallholder, had moved north to Hamarøy with the hope of starting again.
The writer who wrote the great books of the 1890s, the autodidact who won the Nobel Prize in 1920, and who, in the Twenties, was probably the world’s most admired living novelist, is now known mainly for being a Nazi, and for his painful trial in 1946 – the 86-year-old man, who had argued that Norwegians should surrender to the friendly invading Germans, essentially on trial for treason, now almost completely deaf, but bonily imperious, his huge smooth head tilted angrily towards his defence lawyer, Sigrid Stray, a woman who had been arrested by the Germans during the Occupation, and for whose release Hamsun the Nazi had agitated.
If his novels are not much read in English, it is probably less to do with his Nazism than with the difficulty of finding good translations, and perhaps also because the generation he influenced – Gide, Kafka, Musil, Lawrence, Bely – superseded him by smoothly manufacturing his inventions as if they were not inventions.
This was a sharp landscape, of mountains, valleys and brief flowers, one that he would describe often in his fiction, perhaps most beautifully in , which begins (in James Mc Farlane’s 1955 translation): ‘These last few days I have thought and thought of the Nordland summer’s endless day.’ Villages were tiny naked compounds of wooden huts and cabins, with a school and a church.
Dour and close, these communities were cold nets of righteousness; they existed for the entrapment and maintenance of propriety.
He took from Strindberg the idea that the soul is not a continuous wave but a storm of interruptions – something ‘patched together’, in Strindberg’s words.
In Hamsun, characters provoke apparently pointless encounters which they then disown or annul at whim.And in town, thinks Nagel bitterly, it was just burghers ‘eating and drinking to survive, filling their leisure with alcohol and politics, earning their living from laundry soap, metal combs and fish.And at night when there was thunder and lightning, they lay abed trembling and read Johann Arndt.’ (Arndt was the late 16th-century Lutheran pastor whose religious writings influenced Pietism.)Hamsun was born into poverty.What obstinacy and wickedness in an old man – I’ve never seen the likes of it. The old man looks frightened, and moves away as fast as his legs will take him, running with his small, geriatric steps.Knut Hamsun’s greatest novels – from which this is a typical scene – throttle reason.The young man is enjoying this; he froths his lies up into greater extravagances.He reminds the old man that Hippolati is something of an inventor, that he invented an electric prayer book.They never say: ‘I am fictional, I was created by Knut Hamsun.’ That would be redundant.On the contrary, their fictionality is very real to them, and very real to us: it is all they have.Their pathos is the pathos we feel for real humans, however madly assembled their selves seem to be.In particular, Hamsun extracts a pathos from his heroes’ obvious delusion that they are in control of their unpredictability. And thus it is that Hamsun, although he is virtually the inventor of a certain kind of modern fictionality, is also the great refiner of the stream of consciousness, that mode of writing that is in some ways the culmination of novelistic realism, of the novel’s traditional devotion to human beings, that represents the soul’s stutter. Some writers refuse to lay their heads peaceably on the pillow of literary history in order to give posterity good dreams.