Sunday, October 25, 2009

Los Angeles Times article on Knut Hamsun

Today's Times:,0,5345383.story

Fascinating and a bit disconcerting....I wonder how much of what you enjoy about an author is affected by what you know of his personality off the pages?  Does knowing that a favorite author was a Nazi sympathizer change things?  It has to, to some extent.  That Hamsun sent his Nobel Prize for Literature to Goebbels in tribute?  Ick.

"Here, one imagines, {Zcaron}agar is pointing not to Kolloen, who doesn't shy away from Hamsun's most dangerous impulses, but to the type of critic who has sought to pry the accomplishments of "Hunger" from the moral failings of its creator. The same impulse can be found in recent writings on Ezra Pound and Louis-Ferdinand Celine: a separation undertaken not necessarily in the name of postmodernism -- the "reclaiming" of the text -- but simply because it makes it easier on the reader. Such a strategy belies the challenges of any of these writers: to see them whole, their lives and work as part of the same continuum, which makes for an uncomfortably complicated moral and aesthetic response.

In this way, "The Dark Side of Literary Brilliance" and "Dreamer and Dissenter" are daring, frightening books. What if instead of attempting to separate Hamsun's politics and his art, Kolloen and {Zcaron}agar seem to be hinting, we took it for granted that the two were inextricably intertwined -- that one would never have been possible without the other? Where would we be then?"

I'd never really thought of this before. I really don't think I would have enjoyed Hunger as much if I had known this information before.  Much less Growth of the Soil, a favorite of mine, in view of what I know now.  It definitely changes things.  But do I have to dismiss them completely?

An author's personal life obviously affects what they write, but is it necessary to be examined in concert with their work?  If someone wants to read Hemingway, should they have to review a biography first?  Of course not, because their personal feelings might bias them against accepting the work as is.  Does an author need to even divulge their personal views?  Do they have to be that open or are they allowed a degree of privacy?  Obviously Hamsun was public in his viewpoints, so considering what he said and did is open to discussion, but is it vital to understanding the actual writing?  I don't think so...if it's fiction.  If it was his personal bio I'd be unlikely to pick it up, but as long as it's a 'story' I don't have a problem with reading his words.

If I read of an author who liked to stomp kittens or shoot at birds, yes, I'd avoid them for sure.  But could they still tell a story?  Their writing has to be separate from their lives, because who knows what people really are?  Should have an author have to manipulate their personal information to avoid exposure for what might be deemed unappealing by whatever demographic they appeal to? It reminds me of the James Frey disaster on Oprah...his story appealed to so many until it was discovered to be fictional rather than autobiographical.   He would likely have found success with a fictional offering.  The fact he was a confessed liar changed it all, but should it have?  It was an interesting read regardless.

It seems timely that today's paper addressed the Hamsun issue as well as more of the Roman Polanski drama.  Is he less of a visionary director because of his personal life and all the nasty allegations?  To me it's easy to separate the two aspects of his personal and professional life.  Do I like him?  No.  Should he be punished? Absolutely.  Does that make his work trash?  I don't think so.  I'll never pay for a biography but I may just rent The Pianist

X is currently reading a collection of Oscar Wilde, a compilation of most of his work and a biography and interviews all in one.  He's learned that Wilde was in many ways a jerk:  selfish and arrogant among other things.  But in spite of all that, the short stories are amazingly funny and spot-on in reality.  His personal life explains much of it, but is not necessary to enjoy the stories themselves.  X keeps trying to juxtapose the differences, but why?  Why not accept it as is?

What about an author whose personal life is public before they write?  Would anyone take a Paris Hilton novel seriously?  Not a chance.  But does that mean an unknown author who just appeared out of nowhere is somehow more legitimate or more morally acceptable (until proven otherwise)?

I think I'll use a pseudonym if I ever get published.  I'll make up a really pretty name (Rainn?) and photoshop my picture for the blurb to look intelligent and approachable (and thin and pretty!), and maybe even make up a really happy biography ("lives with her thirteen cats"). 

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