Review : Hunger by Knut Hamsun

Categories 3 Literature

This intense portrayal of a destitute writer suffering extreme hunger evokes empathy for the human condition of destitution, and demonstrates the psychosomatic reality that our mentality depends crucially on our physicality.

Hunger is a physical condition, but it drives mental intensity and anguish. It accentuates some mental functions and capabilities. Pain has a similar psychosomatic effect. Our rationalities are therefore not as objective or absolute as Enlightenment thought pretends. But human society is neither understanding of the connection between behaviour and condition, nor compassionate to the person.

It’s very strange that with this literary realisation, Hamsun became and remained a Nazi. Did his own writing not evoke empathy for destitute people within himself? Was his portrait of a society which excluded unfortunate people in fact prescriptive? Or was `Hunger’ a technical intellectual exercise rather than a novel with moral intent? Canongate has not addressed these issues in publishing Hamsun.

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