Adam's Reviews > Hunger

Hunger by Knut Hamsun
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's review
Jan 14, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: 1800-s, prose

Starving artist is starving.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by kaelan (new)

kaelan this book is fucking sweet.

message 2: by Adam (last edited Jan 15, 2011 01:43PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Adam I don't hate it; I can understand its importance as a proto-Modernist text, etc. etc. but the prose is pretty clunky and a similar sort of thing has been done (many times) since and much better, to the point where Hunger seems cliched, tired, and just sort of okay in comparison. I have respect for the book and for Hamsun and wouldn't bother arguing with someone that it isn't good, but I personally don't give a shit about it. It doesn't matter to me. Modernism isn't my thing anyway, but this has none of the lasting relevance and power of a Ulysses or Sound and Fury.

message 3: by kaelan (new)

kaelan it was also written before james joyce even hit puberty.

Adam No shit, Sherlock. I'm aware of when it was written, and its importance as a transition point, etc. etc.

I never understood how being at the forefront of some sort of innovation affected people's ideas of the text's quality. That stuff is of academic importance, yes, but has nothing to do with evaluative practice as far as I'm concerned. That is exactly why I appreciate Hunger's importance, but just don't like it much.

I think Hunger is probably more fun to talk about than to actually read. Like, I just talked to someone yesterday about how it's interestingly obsessed with both fatalism (and, maybe, rejecting it) and with the urban. The former very 19th century, the latter very Modern period. The interesting thing is that few other canonical texts really do treat both these issues at an intersection, and that maybe this is because it was written at such a transitory point. I think a contemporary take on fatalism and the urban would be great, and I'm just waiting for someone more competent than myself to write it, or I might have to.

As I said earlier, I have no interest in arguing that Hunger isn't a worthy text and massively important, but I don't think that excuses its clunky prose (in the Egerton translation at least) and various other problems. It's mostly been done better, so on an evaluative level, I'd rather read that stuff. It's not like I don't think Hunger has any value, only that I don't think it's very good in a broad timeless sense.

message 5: by kaelan (new)

kaelan Gottlob Frege, the grandfather of of analytic phisophy, wrote that words cannot be taken out of the context in which they were written. I think this applies to novels. But I'm also drunk right now, which might affect my ability for reason.

message 6: by kaelan (new)

kaelan i also read the robert bly translation.

Adam a huge variety of contexts exist, and while the historical context may give us reason to appreciate Hunger here for its importance and innovation, it probably doesn't give us reason to deem it an aesthetic or qualitative triumph, or to say that it holds up in its own right after all these years. Those are other arguments to be made differently.

I have heard that the later translations are better. I'll give one a shot sometime.

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