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Of course there are some starving people who don't have enough to eat or to sustain themselves, and this is a serious problem that should be addressed. But the statistics clearly indicate that the general population has never before had access to such plentiful food supplies and has never weighed so much. Deadly diseases and conditions are on the rise as more and more pounds are being steadily packed on our bodies. Obesity breeds illness. With each passing decade, it's becoming increasingly obvious that the majority of people are literally eating themselves to death. In our age of plenty and epidemic obesity, then, it's interesting to read a novel about a writer whose imagination is afflicted by malnourishment and starvation: Knut Hamsun's HUNGER. Initially published in Norway in 1890, HUNGER is the fictional memoir of an unnamed protagonist who tells the story of his perversely willful slide into starvation and physical selfabnegation. The protagonist is a youngish author who has a rather hard time getting his articles published. Apparently his pieces are a too arcane for the popular taste. When he does make a little cash for a piece that's accepted for publication or he manages to get money in some other way, he tends to give much of the money away, sometimes to strangers, even though he himself desperately needs it for lodging and food. It's as if he's driven to become a martyr to some unnecessary cause, not seeing to it that his own basic needs are met, all the while ranting on and on about his proposed grandiose writing projects. Alas, he never seems to be able to concentrate on these proposed projects long enough to finish any of them. He begins to have trouble even getting started to write at all. We only get vague snippets of information about our antihero protagonist. His background and family are a mystery. Being a writer, he's probably well educated or at least self-educated, but we don't know much about the specifics of his education, nor do we learn much about any of his past friendships. He's basically a loner who lives by himself in a series of transient rooms and boardinghouses. The bleak tone is set near the beginning of the novel, as the narrator tells us about his dilapidated room and the view out the window: "I leaned forward with my elbows on the windowsill and gazed at the sky. It promised to be a clear day. Autumn had arrived, that lovely, cool time of year when everything turns color and dies. The streets had already begun to get noisy, tempting me to go out. This empty room, where the floor rocked up and down at every step I took, was like a horrible, broken-down coffin...I didn't even have a comb anymore or a book to read when life became too dreary. All summer long I had haunted the cemeteries and Palace Park, where I would sit and prepare articles for the newspapers, column after column about all sorts of things--strange whimsies, moods, caprices of my restless brain. In my desperation I had often chosen the most far-fetched subjects, which cost me hours and hours of effort and were never accepted. When a piece was finished I began a fresh one, and I wasn't very often discouraged by the editor's no; I kept telling myself that, some day, I was bound to succeed. And indeed, when I was lucky and it turned out well, I would occasionally get five kroner for an afternoon's work."
probing examination of a creative consciousness under duress.Our narrator tries to get his writing career going. has a paradoxical quality of patient hysteria. his semiautobiographical novel is "an attempt to describe the strange. The novel is organized in four parts that keep returning to the lead character's failure to get his career going." The unnamed protagonist's frustrated yearnings and his subjugation of the need of his body for food seem to say something about our own isolation and our disconnection from understanding our own needs. is one of those marvelous examples of the perfect casting of a difficult-to-cast lead character. and his wafer-thin. it is his superb emotional mixture of disgruntledness and vulnerability that gives the performance its power over repeated viewings. And the searing pain of having one's work rejected is an unpleasant experience we've all been through at one time or another. The final image of the book is so wonderfully cinematic that it's baffling to me why the director/script-writer Henning Carlsen chose to ignore it. originally titled SULT. just as it's easy to overlook Hamsun's talent for making the other characters appear and disappear seamlessly in the narrative weave of the book. Still. (I should add that the supporting cast does a very good job as well--HUNGER is dominated by the lead character to such an extent that it's easy to overlook the subtle craftsmanship that goes into these supporting performances. relieved here and there by a bit of selfdeprecating. grouchy drollery and a weirdly erotic episode with a veiled woman. I suppose what attracts me to the book is what has attracted many others--the unflinching. brief as it is when compared to long novels. searchful. Hamsun's first and what many believe to be his best novel. HUNGER. as striking a new literary chord that would echo through the works of later authors. The 1966 Scandinavian movie version of HUNGER. peculiar life of the mind. Isaac Bashevis Singer proclaimed that "the whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun. So why should we care? Why has HUNGER attracted a small but enthusiastic following? It's a relentless diatribe of delusions and dreariness. most of us have had trouble at some time in our lives even just asking for help and taking care of ourselves. but slowly. But I think we shouldn't dismiss the notion that HUNGER is also very much in the company of works by certain literary authors of Hamsun's .) The script of the movie has less emphasis on the lead character's writing--and his many thwarted attempts at pursuing abandoned projects--than I would have liked to see. As Hamsun himself claimed. awkward. well-acted film that contains Per Oscarsson's riveting portrayal of a character that I thought would never come to life in a film treatment. almost skeletal body looks appropriately in urgent need of a meal. it's a beautifully shot. The actor Per Oscarsson reportedly starved himself. His writing is an essential element in the novel that gets a little lost in the condensed reshuffling of events in the movie version. rather like four variations on a theme. Aside from the physical preparation." And there does seems to be a degree of truth to this view. plodding. Knut Hamsun's bravura creation of the lead character of HUNGER is seen by some critics as heralding a new direction in the depiction of the archetypal antihero. And the ending of the movie seems rather abrupt. He also reportedly exhausted himself prior to shooting by taking long hikes. through a series of fits and starts. These commentators see HUNGER. stark. we watch his decline. Like the character. the mysteries of the nerves in a starving body.
among others. He was fined by the Norwegian courts for his Nazi associations and forced to give up most of his large fortune. especially Dostoyevsky. but I go to the tale itself for evidence before I trust what the teller says about it. In his old age. Hamsun was declared mentally impaired. he became associated with the Nazis and he made sympathetic comments about them. and Knut Hamsun would go on to publish twenty novels during his long career and life (he died in 1952. He won the Nobel Prize for his work in 1920 and was lauded as one of the great writers of his time. HUNGER was published in 1890.era. although he wrote a final memoir. which was published in 1949. There's even a classical dramatic arc of HUNGER's antihero that takes him into increasingly dire circumstances and alienation (Zola was a master of this kind of thing--he was particularly good at capturing the downward spirals of characters in impoverished circumstances). After World War II was over. Hamsun himself trumpeted his own originality. He died in poverty. Hamsun even had a meeting with Hitler in 1943 in which the Norwegian author did confront the Führer about the injustices being committed during the German Occupation of Norway (Hitler summarily told Hamsun to "shut up" and kicked him out of his study). as Germany was occupying Norway and committing the atrocities that are a chilling part of the historical record of World War II. at the age of 92). ON OVERGROWN PATHS. .
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