Thursday, June 3, 2010

Knut Hamsun - Notes on William Cane's "Write Like the Masters"

Chapter 5 - KNUT HAMSUN

Hamsun’s writing characteristics:
· Nonconventional theory of the novel
· Multidimensional, life-life characters
· Stream of consciousness through dream sequences

I know no one who writes better than (Hamsun) about passion – the sting of physical desire, the fear of rejection, the tragicomedy of courtship.” - Critic Edmund White
- Hamsun believed the conventional novel produced a flawed portrayal of human life. He sought and mastered a new approach to fiction with nonlinear progression, Dostoevskian emotional content, internal monologue that shifts eloquently between several time periods and dream sequences that reveal the insides of his characters’ minds. “Mysteries” is perhaps the best telltale of Hamsun’s style.

- Hamsun claimed none of his characters could be pinned down to a “dominant trait.” Instead, they are flexible and unpredictable, like Dostoevsky’s characters. He showed them acting out of character as well, which effectively made them more evolved and realistic:

Nagel in ‘Mysteries’ is a boaster and a braggart, a shy man and an impetuous lover, a fool and a genius. He is a bully to a judge, a friend to a downtrodden midget, and a mystery to his neighbors. He is a man with a secret, alternately depressed and manic...and finally a suicide.” (p. 53)

- Hamsun shifted from the traditional linear plot development by creating a seamless transition between past and present in his characters’ minds, giving an intimate look at the actual processes of the human mind under the power of deep emotion, humiliation and memory. Rather than his characters’ pasts and presents foxtrotting around each other politely, they grind together with bewildering psychological power.

Hamsun exaggerated reality, departed from it in dreams and then returned to normal time. The main character in “Victoria,” Johannes, overhears an insult uttered by his rival, the Lieutenant, who is engaged to Victoria, the woman Johannes loves. Johannes’s thoughts of three time periods merge into one fluid stream of consciousness as he ponders Victoria’s kiss in the distant past, the Lieutenant’s insult he had overheard in the recent past and the Lieutenant and Victoria in present time walking together in the park without him:

One day she had kissed him, once upon a time, one summer. It was so long ago, God knows if it was even true. How was it, weren’t they sitting on a bench? They talked together for a long time, and when they left he came so close to her that he touched her arm. Then, in front of an entrance, she kissed him. I love you! she said. ... By now they had walked past, perhaps they were sitting in the pavilion. The Lieutenant would give him a smack on the ear, he said. He heard it quite clearly, he wasn’t asleep; but he didn’t get up and step forward either. An officer’s hand, he said. Oh, well, it didn’t matter.” (p. 54-55)

To plunge deeper into his characters’ mind, Hamsun used dream or hallucinatory sequences, such as in Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Hamsun employed this technique on the last pages of “Mysteries” in such a way that the reader doesn’t realize it is a dream sequence until the dream sequence is over. A cheekier example of this is demonstrated in Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint.”

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