Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Th'Newt"

Knut Hamsun. Oh man. What can I say about Knut "Th'Newt" Hamsun? Closing in on nearly sixty years postmortem and he's probably still one of the most mind-pretzeling figures in literature to date. Hamsun walked a fine line between two strange worlds. On one hand he is hailed as a brilliant and beautiful author who believed in the mystical connection between man and nature, and understood the severe impact of industrialization on the human spirit. On the other he is an adulterer, a career racist, and Nazi sympathizer who once cited Hitler as "a warrior for mankind, and a prophet of the gospel of justice for all nations."

Ingar Sletten Kolloen's new biography of Hamsun, released early last month, explores the complex an convoluted career of this intriguing figure of a man. Who was hailed for his brilliance by Isaac Bashevis Singer as one of the major stems of twentieth century literature (ironic, no?). Who was declared a war criminal in his native Norway. Whose literary manifesto was largely drawn upon by Franz Kafka. Who was a scathing critic of American society, attacking the US as an uncultured bastion of ignorance (though maybe my penchant for, er, 'low humor,' i.e. referring him to him as "Th'Newt" isn't helping boost that reputation). Who made statements that offended nations, and who died in rags, unrepentant.

Knut Hamsun - Dreamer and Dissenter comes with the highest of Green Apple recommendations. Furthermore his novels Hunger and Pan have been faced out on both our 'staff picks' and literature shelves respectively for some time now. I also cannot fail to note that Pan specifically contains the most beautiful passage concerning the love between a man and a large boulder that I have ever read.

Hitler & Th'Newt - Berghof 1943

2 comments:

S. said...

I just read this. Hamsun wasn't a very pleasant person, but damn could he write.

CLARKclark said...

F'real. Norway's dick-dawg #1. Hopefully the bio will serve to remind people just how enormous the chasm between art & politics really is.