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Hunger


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"He fasts. But not in the way a Christian would fast. He is not denying earthly life in anticipation of heavenly life; he is simply refusing to live the life he has been given...hunger, which opens the void, does not have the power to seal it up." --Paul Auster, from The Art of Hunger.

This book is a flat-out masterpiece, a novel of inwardness, narrated by a character who has found himself, on purpose or by chance, at the outskirts of society. He has come to the city to write, but cannot write. He starves because he cannot write, and cannot write because he is starving. In this edge there is solitude, the shadow of potential insanity, and the limits of physical hardships: coldness, hunger. There is also serenity and artistic clairvoyance.

The novel was written in 1890 and is drawn from ten years of Hamsun’s hardships living as a struggling writer, condensed and rearranged. It is an empty novel, empty in the sense that its plot, action, scenes, and characters are never materialized outside of the narrator’s head.

Most compelling is what Robert Bly calls in the afterword a calmness (really: indifference) towards both the social or moral ramifications of a man going hungry with no one to help him, and towards the hysterical impulses a body will have for physical needs. Further, the narrator has no interest in judging those “demonic impulses” right or wrong: what fundamentalists and disciples of de Sade have in common is an obsession with natural human (fleshly) impulses. The narrator sees them come and go and does something akin to befriending them, to observing them pass and refusing hysteria. He watches himself deteriorate and approach insanity with a sanguine affection. For this reason, Bly suggests that “the book then is morally at odds with a great deal of Western literature”. The narrator is nonetheless honest, and randomly gives away a sum of money which he comes upon by a clerk giving him too much change from a transaction. Yet other times he lies for no reason, creates fictions to separate himself from the world, usually to convince others that might help him that nothing is wrong. There is a conscious separation of these other impulses, impulses for sex or food, into some separate category, objectifying them and turning them (their denial) into art. Morality can have no place there.
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1 Comments

    Anonymous kyle 

    awesome review, i'm going to check it out this weekend if i get a chance



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  • Blake
  • Chicago, IL, United States

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