Mark pointed me to this James Wood essay on Knut Hamsun. Despite an obvious effort to play down Hamsun’s allegiance to the Nazis, Wood suggests that Hamsun’s novels “belong to the classical comic tradition of Don Quixote and Confessions of Zeno. In this tradition, what is both funny and awful is the hero’s obvious delusion that he is in control of his own unpredictability — that he is, in short, free. The reader can see otherwise, that the hero is the victim of bottomless compulsions and drives. ”
During Knut Hamsun’s Nobel speech in 1920, what’s fascinating is that he describes a personal confusion that’s very close to the uncertainties experienced by his protagonists. He equates winning the prize to something close to science and apologizes for his “homespun” emotionalism.
Lars Frode Larsen notes that Hamsun constantly kvetched about being a writer. His wife, Marie, however, saw through this, noting in her memoirs that it was only way Knut could find his joy.
The nature of Hamsun’s truth hinges upon these fascinating dualities. The narrator’s struggle to find work as a writer while starving in Hunger. Hamsun’s perceived inability to express himself as a writer at the Nobel ceremony. And the idea of “free” pointed out by James Wood. Hamsun’s work has always appealed to me because it tries to filter several meanings out of one condition, and doesn’t always leave you with a concrete answer.
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