Monday, October 5, 2009

Knut Hamsun

For ten or fifteen minutes of my early life I attended a college where I studied, among other things, Scandinavian Philosophy. No shit. So this one caught my eye and jarred my memory. Hamsun may have been a fine writer but he was a scumbag of a human being - enough of a scumbag that he been filed under slime in the library and you've never heard of him. Unless you happened to attend an obscure midwestern Norwegian college. Now we have to ask ourselves the question. Can we separate the person from his works? Can we appreciate what he did rather than what he was? In this case, apparently not. He went over the line.

Knut Hamsun may lack name recognition in the English-speaking world, but the admiration of his contemporaries suggests the stature he once enjoyed. “The whole modern school of fiction in the 20th century stems from Hamsun, just as Russian literature in the 19th century ‘came out of Gogol’s greatcoat,’ ” declared Isaac Bashevis Singer. To Henry Miller, Hamsun was “the Dickens of my generation.” Hamsun received the world’s greatest literary honor in 1920. Summing up the modernist literary consensus, Thomas Mann issued a characteristically lapidary pronouncement: “Never has the Nobel Prize been awarded to one worthier of it.more

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I read a couple of Hamsun novels on my own in college. As I look at it now Hamsun's work was rather Faulknerish. I didn't see that at the time of course. As for separating the author from his work, I offer this: Faulkner was known for the occasional black out drunk. And his daughter sensing one coming asked him to hold off until after her birthday. He replied, "Who remembers Shakespeare's daughter?" Dex

Margadant said...

But I don't recall Faulkner stopping by the Berghof for drinks. As far as separation from one's life's work goes, by his own efforts Hamsun has left poor old Faulkner in the dust, lapping that southern gentleman at least twice and is well out of the stadium.