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Truth is selfless subjectivity
on 20 December 2001
Published in 1890, "Hunger" represents a breakthrough from traditional romantic European writing. Influenced by Dostoievsky and Nietszche, and anticipating Kafka, Joyce, and Camus, Hamsun creates a novel with intense personal (partially autobiographical) narration (using first and third person), developing on the theme of alienation and artistic obsession. It represents Hamsun's masterpiece in his first literary production stage, in which social/political issues are of no concern, only the individual and his stream of consciousness.
It is a plot less novel, the setting is Christiana (now Oslo), and the main character is a starving, homeless young journalist, with a mercurial personality. His reactions have no middle term, he moves from extreme joy to acute depression, from arrogance to humility, on the verge of irrationality. It clearly reflects the author's early poverty, his pathological passion with aesthetical beauty, and an enormous driving force to perfect his concept that "language must resound with all the harmonies of music." "Hunger" anticipates Freud and Jung in their understanding of human nature, and creates a new literally hero, the alienated mind.
Of Norwegian nationality, Knut Hmsun won the Nobel Price for Literature in 1920. In real life he was ostracized by his countrymen and the literary community as a result of his radical individualism, and political/social views. Yes, Hamsun was a convicted Nazi, friend of Hitler and Goebbels, an advocate of the "pure" race (Jews should be expelled from Europe, Blacks should be returned to Africa), and he applauded German invasion of Norway. Needless to say, when WWII was over, he dearly paid the price: Imprisonment, confiscation, and poverty. When he died at the age of 92 (1952) he showed no remorse and held firmly to his beliefs.
The question arises: to what extent can we separate art from the artist, creation from the creator? Maybe another Nobel Laureate, Isaac Bashevis Singer, himself a Jew, can answer this question for us when he states: "the whole school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun."