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Remembering Knut Hamsun:
August 4, 1859–February 19, 1952

383 words

Knut Hamsun was born Knut Pederson in Lom Norway on August 4, 1859. He died in Grimstad, Norway, on February 19, 1952. The author of more than 20 novels, plus poems, short stories, plays, and essays, Hamsun was one of the 20th century’s most influential writers. His rejection of both Romanticism and naturalism, his emphasis on outsiders and rebels, and his exploration of inner and sometimes extreme states of consciousness, made him a pioneer of literary modernism. He received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1920.

Indifferent to religion, Hamsun was most deeply influenced by Nietzsche, as well as by Dostoevsky and Strindberg. Hamsun rejected both communism and capitalism, emphasizing agrarian and ecological values. With the rise of National Socialism in Germany, he at last found a political movement that reflected his own worldview. After the Second World War, Hamsun, his wife Marie, and his son Arild (who had joined the Waffen SS) were imprisoned by the Norwegian government.

I wish to draw your attention to the following writings about Hamsun on this

Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil (1917) is his longest but most accessible novel; it won him the Nobel Prize. Hamsun’s breakthrough novel is Hunger (1890), which is one of the most unsettling books I have ever read — up there with Mishima’s best work. Other highly recommended shorter, early novels are Mysteries (1892) and Pan: From Lieutenant Thomas Glahn’s Papers (1894).

As a young man, Hamsun spent four years in the United States, which gave him an abiding distaste for Anglo-Saxon culture and capitalism — convictions that were hardened during the Second Boer War. See Knut Hamsun Remembers America: Essays and Stories, 1885–1949, ed. and trans. Richard Nelson Current (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003).

For a biography of Hamsun, I highly recommend Robert Ferguson, Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1987). I have not read Ingar Slettin Koloen’s Knut Hamsun: Dreamer & Dissenter (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), but it is supposed to be definitive. Finally, I highly recommend Swedish director Jan Troell’s 1996 biopic Hamsun, starring Max von Sydow as Hamsun.


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  1. rhondda
    Posted August 5, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    From what I have read on the internet, Hamsun’s rehabilitation in Norway consists of dismissing his fascism as an anomaly of a genius. A little touched as they say about those half mad, but a genius.
    I am reading Growth of the Soil, but the image of my maternal Norwegian grandparents keeps interrupting. They barely survived the depression on their farm, but then lost it to progress. There was something stoically tragic about them. They died before I was old enough to ask questions and my mother closed the book on their history.

    • Deviance
      Posted August 5, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      From what I have read on the internet, Hamsun’s rehabilitation in Norway consists of dismissing his fascism as an anomaly of a genius. A little touched as they say about those half mad, but a genius.

      Yes, this is the usual rationalization when someone is too famous to be ignored, and born too recently to use “he was a product of his time”. It was used on Bobby Fischer when he began to speak out about Jews.

      More rarely used, there are also the “senility” and “brain damage” rationalizations (the latter one being used by the American press in the famous Patton case).

      • Daniel Constantin
        Posted August 6, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        I absolutely hate the whole “he was a product of his time” excuse, especially because I see it so often. It’s ridiculous because you could apply that to just about anything; I could very well argue that Liberals are “products of their time.”

      • White Republican
        Posted August 6, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

        “I could very well argue that Liberals are ‘products of their time.'” Or waste products!

  2. Kullervo
    Posted August 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    What would be Mishima’s best work, I wonder?

    • NM
      Posted August 5, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea” is by far his best book, I think.

      I suppose the short story “Patriotism” also contains many themes that appeal to CC-readers.

  3. denikin
    Posted August 4, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I have to give this guy a read. ‘Growth of the Soil’ and ‘Pan’ sound interesting.

    I wonder what communist multicultural Norway thinks of him now. I bet the educational system there completely overlooks him.

  4. Faustus
    Posted August 4, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    I am very cognizant of those who would capitalize on a dead man’s estate, and your links are to amazon; if his family is not to receive these royalties (or if the opposition controls his estate), we can list resources to get his works online.

    Growth of the Soil was my first encounter, followed closely by Pan, and then Hunger. All of these works were/are superb, and every ethno-nationalist is encouraged to read the deep and powerful insights of this man of our shared legacy.

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