Saturday, November 29, 2014

of disorder

Nagel and the equivalent characters in Hamsun's other books are “like escaped convicts” writes Woods. I agree so where is the crime?

(Not even what but where?)

Time is after them, police officer Time (they keep trying to evade Time. Nagel stays in bed when he should be up; it's petty), but Isak in Growth is contented at all points of time.

In them all you have a kind of Romantic self-ness: very emotional; they would rather be emotional than comfortable. Not to burn with a hard gemlike, etcetera, but to flutter, or, in Isak's case, to be a Norwegian brand of immovable potato. That secret immobility seems to be the evidence of self-ness in so many books, as I keep noting and noting, even in Joyce, Ulysses flying around the core Bloom, until the unstated question in so much of literature becomes, how much inconsistency will it take to destabilise a person's self-ness; and then there is Clarissa in Clarissa, whose will is an annihilating bomb, but I am not referring to anyone's will, only to the phenomenon that so many writers seem to detect at the heart of everything else in a person; and which may only be, hark, the tentative definition that A.R. Ammons once gave of poetry: "a linguistic correction of disorder" (A Note on Incongruence, 1966).

(I am not sure that the phenomenon is there in Clarissa. I don't think so. I believe that the characters, as they are described, have aspects, the despairing aspect for instance, or the friend aspect, and then will, but not the detached central obduration that I believe I can see depicted by implication in, eg, Hamsun, or by statement in Peake, the isolate apartness that is assumed to exist, no character really isolated in Clarissa but linked constantly with letters so that they are always spoken about: Samuel Richardson not assuming that Clarissa has it, nor assuming that she doesn't have it, but the idea not occurring to him anywhere; the whole notion absent from that book, though do the letters themselves, the mental picture of letters, does that make me think of aspects, aspects, turned towards the reader's face like a set of pages?)

Friday, November 21, 2014

how false, how little authentic

At first this was a comment at Séamus Duggan's Vapour Trails blog but it disappeared when I hit publish or post or whatever that button says and therefore I am going to try to reconstruct it here; or think back on it, more likely, since that was several days ago. I had already been saying something about the childishness of Nagel in Mysteries, the naivete of his attention-getting performances (“performance” from Scott G.F. Bailey in those same comments); the kidlike haphazard cunning that he has, how he would rather confound people with lies than cultivate his reputation steadily and slowly with his violining adult skill: “he switched to a weighty, powerful pathos, a fortissimo passage with the force of a fanfare.”

Musicianship means attainment in ordinary forward-progressing chronological time. He feels disassociated; he assures his audience that the disassociation is part of his own feeling, and the reader is asked to wonder what sincerity means when he says, “If you only knew how false, how little authentic it was! But I made it look very authentic, didn't I?”

Conclude that this disassociation is not meant to be casual, helpless, or simply “a result of” some condition apart from him -- urbanisation, the industrial age, "the modern spirit of Norway" (which Hamsun hates in Look Back on Happiness (1912)) -- since he is working to uphold it with his words and actions.

Not "hapless," as Woods says, unless it is a willed haplessness.

He refuses to be known as a violinist. Instead he wants to live inside a state of being not-known, and committing himself to the, you could even say the word job, of embodying the not-known thing, which, in the work of Arthur Machen (who lived around the same time, born in 1863 and dying in 1947, Hamsun living a little longer, from 1859 to 1952) -- was often a woman or a part-woman transported by uncanny magic into a protoplasmic state of existence. See: The Great God Pan, The Shining Pyramid, The White People, and carry over into the prosaic multisex theatricals of The Three Imposters.

Now that I've mentioned Machen I want to decide that Nagel strives to uphold himself as a protoplasm; nobody knows what he is; and he puts effort into his bad disguises that are typically penetrable, but the penetration is always confusing and never revealing. Nagel keeps the potential for conclusions to himself.

The conclusion of Hamsun's protoplasm is the same as the conclusions of Machen's.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

built in one

I'm going to begin this post with a list of other people who have been writing about Hamsun -- so --

- Séamus at Vapour Trails
- Jean at Howling Frog Books
- Tom at Wuthering Expectations
- Richard at Caravana de recuerdos
- Scott G.F. Bailey at Six Words for a Hat

“A storm of interruptions,” in Wood's description of Hamsun, is also a storm of truncations. What is being truncated? Not the book. A book is never truncated or interrupted. Every mystery is a truncation and the solution at the end is a shot at de-truncation in retrospect. From now on I'm going to have it in my head that Mysteries is called Truncations, or else Interruptus. The seasonal rolling-round chronology described by Hamsun in Growth of the Soil isn't able to be truncated: you can't clip half the winter months out of a year.

Hamsun loves the natural world* but his stories do not behave like nature, like bees or flowers. They behave in an opposite way, and the people in these stories, by virtue of being people, are forced to move around and speak (turning this over in my head after a response to Richard in the comments) -- they are not permitted to be treelike, which, I think, would solve all of their problems, poor muddled lambkins, why not dole out a pat and a hand of grass from the godlike clouds, unless we're enjoying their angst -- see -- for example -- Isak in Growth, that trunkish man, “enormous, with a torso that seems built in one to the knees. A certain pomp and splendour about him; his equator was astounding” (tr. W.W. Worster) -- how elemental he is, and how satisfied, "a worker," and he always acts like one; he is not the narrator in the Wanderer books, who has run away from another life in the city, of some kind.

Is he a philosopher? asks the narrative voice on the first page, is he a criminal? but on the second page the author lets you know that the question doesn't matter. Isak is what he is. He is what he appears to be. “Only a worker, and a hardy one.”

In Mysteries you can spend the whole book asking, "What is this person, who is this man?" but in Growth you are answered and answered: "A tiller of the ground, body and soul; a worker on the land without respite." "Isak could not work a mine, being a farmer and a clearer of forest land." "A broad-shouldered man, well filled out, nothing astral about him at all." He is solid and whole, says the author. Even historically, he is intact. "A ghost risen out of the past to point the future, a man from the earliest days of cultivation, a settler in the wilds, nine hundred years old, and, withal, a man of the day." (Meanwhile the narrator in Hunger is shuddering on the spot. Is he a man of now or then, or only of the moment in which he makes his decisions?)

Hamsun's proactive blocking in fact echoes or mimics the tactics of his own characters. Nagel is still present, but he is the author. You thought I wrote about men who wander? Here is a man who absolutely does not. You thought you knew who I was -- ha --

The book itself, though, comes with the sense of truncation or lacuna; the mining company barges in with its equipment as if it's about to dominate the local naïfs (this set-up has been brewing for a while, with Hamsun dropping hints) but the showdown never happens, the company peters out and wanders off, the farmer keeps going as he must … it's very strange. You think: shouldn't something have happened there?

Nagel and his violin case are figures in a similar trick.

It's people, in Hamsun's books, who are the avatars of truncation. The tremors in Pan begin to spread when Edvarda comes to visit the narrator in his hut at the edge of the forest and afterwards “a breath of something strange met me; it was as though I were no longer alone there.”

From then on people are always popping their heads in. It's like Flinders Street Station in that hut.

* Many examples. Here's one: "I walked through the forest, I was moved to tears of rapture, I kept saying, Dear God, to be here again!" (Under the Autumn Star, tr. Oliver and Gunnvor Stallybrass). Another: "I thank God for every heather flower I have seen; they have been like tiny roses on my path and I weep for love of them" (Pan, tr. James W. McFarlane).

Saturday, November 1, 2014

not a continuous wave but a storm of interruptions

James Wood, discussing Hamsun in the LRB, compares the behaviour of the protagonists of Hunger, Mysteries and Pan to that of “escaped convicts, these heroes erase their tracks as they proceed, and this seems to be hapless rather than willed: they carry no continuous memory of what they have said or done from scene to scene.” The self is “patched together,” Wood writes, quoting Strindberg, but the word he uses is “soul.” “[Hamsun] took from Strindberg the idea that the soul is not a continuous wave but a storm of interruptions.” Where does Woolf's work fall in that continuum, I wonder, but more pressingly I ask myself why Wood should describe the acts of these characters as the behaviour or experience of souls rather than selves, unless he is thinking of Strindberg's title-in-translation, Growth of a Soul (1914).

 (Myself, if I tried to imagine a soul, I would describe it as a supernature that does not act, it is not decisive and changeful or impressed: it is, as Gormenghast castle essentially is, regardless of its damaged walls, the snow around it, the sun in summer, or other eventualities.)

“Hamsun’s novels of this period, and in particular Hunger, are deliberate perversions of the Christian system of reward and punishment, confession and absolution, pride and humility,” writes Wood, who was raised in an Evangelical household, like Ruskin; his one work of fiction is called The Book Against God (2003), and he sees religion, souls, souls, but I, thinking about Hamsun some more, I see houses; and the narrator of Hunger (1890) is unhoused, the protagonist of Mysteries (1892) has to pay to house himself for a while in a rented room (where he stays in bed during the day and roams around at night but more on that later); and the one in Pan (1894) has troubles with his housing because it doesn't belong to him; then you have the author's dream-travel memoir (1903), you have Knud Pedersen roaming the Norwegian backwoods in the Wanderer books (1906, 1909, 1912); you have this restlessness.

Homes are likes twigs in a stream: they touch and snag the characters, they do not keep them still; even the miller's son who remains in love throughout Victoria (1898) (which makes him unusually steady for Hamsun since the reader always knows what he wants) -- even he will shift from the country to the city and back again several times as if locations make him itch.

By the time Hamsun writes Growth of the Soil in 1917 (why is the translated title so similar to the Strindberg?) the transcendent spirit that represents all of the main characters in his novels is ready to try a different tack. It goes out on the first page into the wilderness and finds a place for a house. “He nods, to say that he has found himself a place to stay and live: ay, he will stay here and live” (tr. W.W. Worster).

But he is still stubborn and not-sensible -- the sensible citizens only come along after he has shown them that it is possible to live here -- the not-sensible protagonists in the earlier books who will do this or that because a whim has told them which way to go are still in the soil-man who stays in one spot, for if he decides to move a rock now then he will move it, and he doesn't know why he feels compelled to say one thing or another; his memory is scaled to seasons rather than humans; it is instinctive feeling rather than thought, and he has no particular background, like the others -- is he an escaped criminal? wonders the narrative voice on page one -- “or a philosopher, maybe, in search of peace”? -- the author suspecting that the reader expects a character to have a chronological background and likewise chronological thoughts -- but refusing to let them have those things, no, they'll have something else.