Knut Hamsun, Hunger (1890)

Knut Hamsun, Hunger (1890) 243p.

I read this book as a literary heritage leading via Strindberg’s Inferno and Alone, Andre Breton’s Nadja, to Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, placed in a context of thought of Nietzsche and Stirner’s The Ego and His Own, and this line of autobiographical fiction is the zenith of the 19th century’s romantic hero turned inward genius, which is one of my favorite genres. But Hunger certainly stands out for its early expression of this type. Where Miller rejects society, the antagonist of Hunger is rejected. The same type of character can be seen in Beckett’s First Love, but never as original and authentic as in Hamsun.

There’s a foreword of Paul Auster in the edition I read from 1970. Auster later wrote Brooklyn Follies in which the antagonist seeks an escape from the anxieties of bourgeois life, ending in Hotel X, but Auster’s escape is a false dreamy rejection of a middle class product to escape his own boredom, Hunger’s rejection is driven by bitterness and pride by experience, and the torture of an artist who is spit out by that middle class, that Auster returns to. There’s nothing soothing about Hunger, but instead is resigned to the artist’s last resort, one self, and the hunger to write.

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