Thursday, December 18, 2014

the chief ingredient of this composite? Scorn.

Defending himself, he suggests he is too porous but imperfectly porous even, not everything getting through: penetrable, enstormed, deaf, "I'm deaf, and have to speak at random," though others are not leaky; a woman is "charming," a dog is "yellow," just one adjective each is enough for that summary, a solid nice adjective, so, not everything is indistinct and hard to understand, a teenager in the United States was wrong not to care when her mother sold the family home. "She should have laid her cheek against that wall and never gone away from it." What is he reflecting on here, besides a fact of his time overseas?

Language, that is to say, does not issue from reflection but is an inherent element within the activity of reflection itself; it is an integral part of the body of reflection.

-- wrote Geoffrey Hill in the essay Poetry and Value. There's a contrast between the helplessness that Hamsun describes and the control that he asserts. Something between those two states is unstated. The words "Shipwrecked sailors lie quiet as dead goats | in a winding sheet of sponges," occur to me, from Sally Purcell's translation of Nikos Gatsos's work of 1943, Amorgos -- the feel of smothering, I think, is where that goes (there's a beautiful poem) -- and then -- I try to remember if Hamsun's characters ever have those moments of revelation that fix an impression by attaching it to some memory or influence from the past, those moments of conclusion, like the one that Henry Miller described in a letter to Anaïs Nin, dated July, 1933, when he told her that "a whore sitting in this cafe" had "a composite" resemblance to his mother, his first wife, and his second wife. "What should I say was the chief ingredient of this composite? Scorn." So he is able to summarise three women from three different periods of time; he reaches a kind of fastening. "I see the three of them by their nostrils, that telltale dilation."

Hamsun would have been angry if anyone had tried to enclose him in the way Miller has enclosed the three women. There is nothing in Overgrown Paths that makes the author more scornful than one doctor in an asylum who pretends to know about him. "This was probably his way of showing his staff how infinitely deep his investigation of me went, almost back to the womb." A bully, this psychiatrist Langfeldt. "He knew that the staff would remain silent." This is what you are like when you want people to think that you absolutely know things. "[A]ll the modern knowledge he has picked up from textbooks" is not as intrinsically right as the author's humble confusion, good confusion, as Nagel's confusion is good and ultimately harmless; as the narrator in Hunger harms no-one but himself. "An intentional helplessness, an infection from the Bible"

He [Langfeldt] is so secure in his knowledge. But that is not the same as being secure in the old knowledge: nothing can be known for certain!

(Yet, yet, Hamsun will psychoanalyse him: "Professor Langfeldt knows in his heart that he is not very well suited for delving into and fiddling with the intimacies of someone else's marriage.")


  1. I am ready for your recommendation: With which Hamsun title should I begin? Hunger? Pan? Something else?

    Note: I have ceased "publication" at Beyond Eastrod, and I have moved my blogging offenses to Crimes and Detectives, Inc. If you have an interest in crime fiction, perhaps you will stop by CDI now and then.

    In the meantime, all the best from America's Redneck Riviera, where the Bible Belt is firmly buckled and the oysters are almost always fresh and delicious.

    1. I read my last crime novel so long ago that I'd be lying if I said I had a decent interest in them. Peter Temple's Broken Shore is what it was, and I read it for the language.

      As for Hamsun, I'd suggest Hunger because it's simultaneously his most enigmatic and least diffuse work, although, caveat, I haven't read everything he wrote.

  2. Is this the saddest book ever written? The more you show from it, the sadder it seems. "knows in his heart" - ugly, but pitiful.

    1. He phrases himself so as to deflect pity but if anyone approached him with the kind of comprehension that he asks them to have then how could they not find him pitiful? I'm old, he says, I can't hear, my eyesight is failing, nobody understands how I felt when I wrote my articles, nobody understands that it made sense then; and the modern world doesn't suit me. Then someone tries to ask questions and he bristles; he wants to be forgiven without being understood, he wants to be left alone. But he's jaunty too: "Some die in the [old age] home, we have plenty of old people to choose from here; some disappear but others take their places, and it has no effect upon those who remain, which is as it should be." Then you get this exclamation: "So what do I want, why am I so contrary?"