Sunday, May 31, 2009

After he killed her dog

They walked for a couple of minutes without speaking. Touched, she bitterly regretted her harsh words. Maybe he was even right in what he said, what did she know? She couldn't help wondering whether this person hadn't seen more in a few weeks than she had in years.
They still didn't talk. He was again quite composed and toyed nonchalantly with his handkerchief. In a few minutes they would be in sight of the parsonage.
Then she said, "Is your hand very sore? May I see it?"
Whether she wanted to please him or really gave in to him for a moment, she said this in a sincere, almost emotional voice, meanwhile stopping.
Then his passion ran away with him. At this moment, when she was standing so close, her head leaning over his hand so that he could take in the fragrance of her hair and the nape of her neck, and without a word being said, his love reached the point of frenzy, of madness. He drew her close, first with one arm and then, when she resisted, with his other arm as well, pressing her long and fervently to his breast and almost lifting her off her feet. He felt her back yield, she was giving in. Heavy and delicious, she rested in his embrace, her eyes half veiled as she looked up at his. Then he spoke to her, telling her she was enchanting, and that she would be his one and only love till his dying day. One man had already given his life for her, and he would do the same, at the slightest hint, a word. Oh, how he loved her! And he repeated time and again, as he pressed her more and more tenderly to his breast, "I love you, I love you!"
She no longer made any resistance. Her head resting lightly on his left arm, he kissed her fervently, interrupted only, at brief intervals, by the most tender words. He had a distinct feeling that she clung to him of herself, and when he kissed her she closed her eyes even more.
“Meet me tomorrow by the tree, you remember the tree, the aspen. Meet me, I love you, Dagny! Will you meet me? Come whenever you like, come at seven."
She didn't make any reply to this but merely said, "Let me go now!"
And slowly she extricated herself from his arms.
She looked about her for a moment, her face assuming a more and more bewildered expression; finally a helpless spasm trembled at the corners of her mouth, and she went over to a stone by the roadside and sat down. She was crying.
He bent over her and spoke softly. This went on for a minute or two. Suddenly she jumps up, her fists clenched and her face white with rage, and, pressing her hands against her breast, she says furiously, "You're a mean person, God, how mean you are! Though you aren't likely to agree. Oh, how could you, how could you do it!"·
And she started crying again.
He tried once more to calm her down, but to no avail; they stood at that stone by the roadside for half an hour, unable to tear themselves away.
"You even want me to see you again," she said. "But I won't see you, I will never lay eyes on you again, you're a villain!"
He pleaded with her, threw himself down before her and kissed her dress; but she kept repeating he was a villain and that he had behaved wretchedly. What had he done to her? Go away, go! He couldn't walk her any farther, not one step!
And she headed for home. He still tried to go after her, but she waved her hand deprecatingly and said, "Stay away!"

Knut Hamsun, Mysteries, Penguin Classics,
translated by Sverre Lyngstad (from Chapter XIV)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

About primary causes and boredom

And you ask why I twisted and tormented myself so? Answer: because it was just too boring to sit there with folded arms, that’s why I’d get into such flourishes. Really, it was so. Observe yourselves more closely, gentlemen, and you'll understand that it is so. I made up adventures and devised a life for myself so as to live, at least somehow, a little. How many times it happened to me – well, say, for example, to feel offended, just so, for no reason, on purpose; and I'd know very well that I felt offended for no reason, that I was affecting it, but you can drive yourself so far that in the end, really, you do indeed get offended. Somehow all my life I've had an urge to pull such stunts, so that in the end I could no longer control myself. Another time, twice even, I decided to force myself to fall in love. And I did suffer, gentlemen, I assure you. Deep in one's soul it's hard to believe one is suffering, mockery is stirring there, but all the same I suffer, and in a real, honest-to-god way; I get jealous, lose my temper… And all that from boredom, gentlemen, all from boredom; crushed by inertia. For the direct, lawful, immediate fruit of consciousness is inertia - that is, a conscious sitting with folded arms. I've already mentioned this above. I repeat, I emphatically repeat: ingenuous people and active figures are all active simply because they are dull and narrow-minded. How to explain it? Here's how: as a consequence of their narrow-mindedness, they take the most immediate and secondary causes for the primary ones, and thus become convinced more quickly and easily than others that they have found an indisputable basis for their doings, and so they feel at ease; and that, after all, is the main thing. For in order to begin to act, one must first be completely at ease, so that no more doubts remain. Well, and how am I, for example, to set myself at ease? Where are the primary causes on which I can rest, where are my bases? Where am I going to get them? I exercise thinking, and, consequently, for me every primary cause immediately drags with it yet another, still more primary one, and so on ad infinitum. Such is precisely the essence of all consciousness and thought. So, once again it’s the laws of nature.

Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground, Alfred A. Knopf,
Everyman's Library, New York and London,translated from
the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

De la vie inconsciente de l'âme

Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) ainda foi contemporâneo de Eça de Queirós (1845-1900). Tenha-se em conta esse pormenor ao ler este texto (que data de 1890). Recorde-se que Mistérios, o segundo romance de Hamsun, foi publicado em 1892, isto é, trinta anos antes do Ulysses (1922) de James Joyce. A narração da corrente de consciência através do monólogo interior, que James Joyce, como se sabe, explorou superiormente, já Hamsun a utilizara de certo modo em grande parte nos seus dois primeiros romances que tiveram sucesso (A Fome, de 1890, e Mistérios, de 1892). Só que o extravagante e misterioso Johan Nilsen Nagel, o protagonista do romance Mistérios, em vez de se limitar a pensar desordenadamente por associação livre de ideias, vai dizendo o que lhe passa pela cabeça, encadeando os pensamentos uns nos outros segundo uma lógica que lhe é própria e que muitas vezes deixa perplexos aqueles que o ouvem. O facto de Hamsun necessitar de um interlocutor ou de interlocutores reais para Nagel estabelece uma diferença importante com o que faz James Joyce, que por se situar inteiramente no segredo da consciência das personagens utiizará mais livremente ainda a narrativa da corrente de consciência. A maneira como Nagel complica as suas relações com Dagny no romance de Hamsun e parece fazer tudo o que pode para as tornar impossíveis traz-nos por outro lado à memória o enigmático comportamento de José Matias no conto de Eça. E a ruptura das leis da causalidade consideradas normais no romance realista também aparenta Hamsun a Machado de Assis (1939-1908).

Il y a un vieux dicton qui dit: Il y a bien des choses cachées dans la nature. Pour les hommes de notre temps, nerveux, investigateurs et aux écoutes, la nature a de moins en moins de secrets cachés, l'un après l'autre, ils sont mis en observation ou reconnus. Chez des gens de plus en plus nombreux qui mènent une vie intellectuelle surmenée et, par là, ont un esprit délicat, il surgit souvent des réalités spirituelles de l'espèce la plus étrange. Il peut s'agir d'états de perception tout à fait inexplicables: un ravissement muet, sans cause; un souffle de souffrance psychique; le sentiment de se voir adresser la parole de loin, de l'air, de la mer; une attention cruelle, subtile qui vous amène à souffrir même du murmure d'atomes pressentis; un regard fixe, soudain, non naturel, dans des royaumes fermés qui s'ouvrent; le pressentiment d'un danger imminent au milieu d'un moment insouciant... le tout, des représentations qui ont la plus grande signification mais que des cerveaux grossiers et simples de petits marchands ne peuvent saisir. Elles sont souvent trop fugaces pour être attrapées et maintenues, elles durent une seconde, une minute, elles viennent et s'en vont comme des clignotants qui passent; mais elles ont déposé une empreinte, déclenché une perception avant de disparaître et ces mouvements de sensitive presque imperceptibles en l'âme peuvent faire surgir des pensées chez des individus congrûment réceptifs, des pensées qui, finalement, éclosent en résolutions et en actes le jour où la sensitive sort des pétales.
Et qu'arriverait-il si la littérature dans son ensemble se mettait à s'occuper un peu plus d'états d'âme que de fiançailles et de bals, de promenades à la campagne et d'événements malheureux en tant que tels? Alors, il faudrait très certainement renoncer à décrire des «types » - sur lesquels on a déjà écrit tous ensemble - des "caractères" - que l'on rencontre chaque jour au marché aux poissons. Et, en un sens, on perdrait peut-être une partie du public qui lit pour voir si le héros et l'héroïne s'épouseront. Mais il y aurait, en revanche, plus de cas individuels dans les livres et ceux-ci, en un sens, répondraient peut-être davantage à la vie mentale que mènent les hommes mûrs de ce temps présent. Nous avons pu expérimenter un peu de ces mouvements secrets qui se passent, inaperçus, en des lieux écartés de l'âme, le désordre incalculable des sensations, la délicate vie imaginative tenue sous la loupe, ces errances de la pensée et du sentiment en l’air, ces voyages sans pas, sans traces avec le cerveau et le cœur, d'étranges activités des nerfs, le murmure du sang, la prière des os, toute la vie inconsciente de l'âme. Et alors, il y se trouverait moins de livres pour faire de la psychologie extérieure bon marché qui jamais ne démêle un état, jamais ne plonge dans l'examen approfondi de l'âme.

Knut Hamsun, De la Vie Inconsciente de L’âme, Joseph K.,
1994, traduit du norvégien par Régis Boyer

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A poesia é...

A poesia é o brinquedo dos adolescentes. Deixaram de brincar com os automóveis e com as bonecas, começaram a brincar com as palavras. Era inevitável: para explicar o que se sente, para desbravar a selva imensa (e intensa !) de tudo o que acontece na cabeça e no corpo, para tornar mais claras (digamos...) as relações com os outros. Para escapar ao grau zero da existência e da realidade (e ao tédio).

Talvez brincar com as palavras (language-games) seja menos perigoso (e mais barato) do que brincar com os objectos (casas, mesas, ruas, sentimentos, emoções, pessoas, conceitos, etc.) a que as palavras se referem. Mas se se tem em conta absolutamente tudo o que acontece não é seguro que seja verdade.

As palavras têm sabores, cores, formas, usam-se como a roupa da última moda. A realidade (o corpo?) em si mesma (em si mesmo?) é sempre chata (insuficiente); mas as palavras (a roupa, o estilo, as ideias) podem mudar tudo, se forem convincentes. Viver "como poeta" é defraudar-se através da ilusão para escapar à fraude que a existência é.

É preciso mostrar e corrigir o que os outros pensam que é a realidade a partir do nosso ponto de vista - e cada um de nós é o centro do mundo ou é o mundo, por isso é natural querermos contrapor a nossa ordem à daqueles que se imaginam detentores da sabedoria e da verdade. Nunca vamos suficientemente longe, a nossa rebelião tem fronteiras logo ali, nós somos tímidos. Apesar disso receamos excessivamente ter desrespeitado o senso comum.

Deixei de ler jornais há muito tempo. Os jornalistas têm todos os dias muitas visões do mundo (e da poesia) a propor-nos. Mas quem é que eles pensam que são?

As pesssoas têm uma maneira curiosa de considerar a poesia: servem-se dela para se afastar da realidade, usam-na como uma droga que lhes permite inventar a realidade à sua maneira ou para se deleitarem imaginariamente nos aspectos da realidade que ou estão escondidos (layers, layers, layers... Heidegger...) ou escapam à lógica da experiência do senso-comum e das necessidades consideradas primárias.

Os outros são sempre, aos nossos olhos, um tanto ou quanto (ou muito?) cegos.

A poesia é uma forma de mundanidade (eu não disse de humanidade, disse de mundanidade!) como qualquer outra. Nem sequer, a maior parte das vezes, superior.

A poesia é tanta coisa. E não é nada.

No fim só nos resta o corpo e o corpo morre.

E os outros ficam cá a brincar com as palavras. Good luck!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A few stupid words...

By now they had entered the forest. They were walking so close to each other that their sleeves often touched, and the air was so calm that they could speak quite softly and still be heard. Now and then a bird twittered.
"How I've longed for you these last few days!" he said. "No, no, don't get frightened. What I'm going to say is next to nothing, and it won't gain me anything; I'm under no illusion, none at all, as far as that goes. Besides, maybe you won't even understand me, with that awkward beginning and my slips of the tongue, saying what I didn't mean to say...."
When he fell silent she said, "How strange you are today!"
With that she wanted to move on.
But again he stopped her. "Dear Miss Kielland, wait a moment! You must bear with me today! I'm afraid to talk, I fear you may interrupt me and say, 'Go away!' And yet I have thought this over during many wakeful hours."
Looking at him with growing surprise, she asked, "Where is this taking us?”
"Where is this taking us? Will you let me tell you in plain words? It takes us to where - to where I love you, Miss Kielland. Well, I really don't see why you should be so astonished; I'm made of flesh and blood, I met you and fell in love with you. That's not so very strange, is it? It's quite another matter that perhaps I shouldn't have confessed it to you."
"No, you shouldn't."
"It goes to show how far one can be driven. I have even slandered you, out of love for you. I've called you a flirt and tried to drag you down, just to console myself and make up for my loss, because I knew you were unattainable. This is the fifth time we've met; I did, after all, wait until the fifth time before giving myself away, though I could've done so the first time. Besides, it's my birthday today, I'm twenty-nine years old, and I've been singing and feeling happy ever since I opened my eyes this morning. I thought - well, it's ridiculous, of course, to dream up such tomfooleries, but I thought to myself, If you meet her today and make a clean breast of it, it may not hurt that, on top of everything, it is your birthday. If you let her know that, perhaps she will be more willing to forgive you, on account of the day it is. You're smiling? Sure, it's ridiculous, I know; but there's no help for it. I offer you my tribute just like everyone else."
"What a pity, then, that this should have happened to you today," she said. "You've been unlucky with your birthday this year. That's all I can say about that."
"Yes, of course.... God, what power you have! I can well understand how a man might be driven to any extremity for your sake. Even now, as you uttered those last words, which weren't so pleasant after all, even now your voice was like a song. I felt as though my heart were bursting into flower. How strange! Do you know, I've wandered about in front of your home at night, trying to catch a glimpse of you at a window; I've been on my knees here in the woods praying to God for you, although I don't believe in God very much. Do you see that aspen over there? I'm going to stop right here, because I've knelt under that aspen night after night, beside myself with despair, foolish and lost, simply because I couldn't get you out of my mind. From here I've said good night to you every evening, I've lain here asking the wind and the stars to bring you my greeting, and I believe you must’ve felt it in your sleep.”
“Why have you been telling me all this? Don't you know that I… "
"Oh sure, sure!" he cut in, exceedingly agitated. "I know what you were going to say: that you have belonged to someone else for a long time and that it's dishonorable of me to try to force myself on you now, afterward, when it's too late - how could I not know that? Why, then, have I told you all this? Well, to influence you, make an impression on you, get you to think it over. As God is my witness, I'm speaking the truth, I can do nothing else. I know you are engaged to be married, that you are in love with your young man, and that I cannot get anywhere with you. Still, I decided to try to influence you a little. I refused to give up hope. If you can imagine what it means to give all hope, then perhaps you'll understand me better. When I Just said now that I didn't expect to get anywhere, I was lying, of course. I only said it to set your mind at rest for the moment and to gain time, so you wouldn't become all too alarmed at once. Oh dear, did I say something wrong? I didn't mean to say that you gave me any hope, nor have I ever imagined I could cut anyone out. That never even occurred to me, alas. But in certain moments, when everything seemed hopeless, I have thought to myself: All right, she's engaged and she'll soon be leaving, goodbye; but she's not utterly lost to me yet, she has not already left, she's not married, or dead, so who knows? And if I gave it my all, perhaps there would still be time! You've become my constant thought, my obsession, I see you in everything and call every blue stream Dagny. I don't believe a single day has gone by during these past few weeks without my thinking about you. No matter at what hour I leave the hotel, as soon as I open the door and find myself on the steps, the hope shoots through my heart: maybe you'll meet her this time! And I look for you everywhere. It's quite beyond me, I just can't help it. I have now surrendered, I certainly didn't surrender without a fight, believe me. It's not a happy thought to know in your heart that your efforts have been sadly wasted and yet to be unable to refrain from making an effort; that's why one resists to the very end. But what if it doesn't do any good? When you spend a sleepless night sitting by the window in your room, you dream up all sorts of things! You have a book in your hand, but you don't read; you clench your teeth again and again and read three lines, then you can't anymore and close the book, shaking your head. Your heart is beating wildly, you softly whisper some sweet, secret words to yourself, calling a name and kissing it in your thoughts. The clock strikes two, four, six; then you decide to make an end of it and to seize the first chance you have to take the plunge and confess all.... If I might ask anything of you now, it would be not to talk. I love you, but don't talk, don't talk. Wait three minutes."
She had listened to him in utter dismay, without uttering a single word in reply. They still weren't moving.
"You must be crazy!" she said, shaking her head. And distressed and pale, with an icy glint in her blue eyes, she added, "You know I'm engaged, you remember and assume that, and yet…"
"Of course, I know! Could I forget that face and that uniform? After all, he's a handsome man, and it isn't that I find any fault with him; and yet I could wish him dead and gone. What's the use of saying to myself, as I've done a hundred times: there you won't get anywhere! Instead I try to avoid thinking about this impossibility, telling myself, Oh yes, I'll get somewhere all right, lots of things can happen, there's still hope.... And there is hope, isn't there?”
“No, no! Don't bring me to utter despair!" she cried. "What do you want me to do? What are you thinking of? Do you mean that I should... Good God, don't let's talk about it anymore. And now go! You've ruined everything with a few stupid words, you've even spoiled our talks, and now we won't be able to meet anymore, please. Why did you do it? Oh, if I'd only had an inkling of it! Well, you must forget about it, I beg you, for your own sake as well as mine. You know very well I can never be anything to you; I don't see how you could ever get that idea. So don't let us drag this out. You must go back to your rooms and try to resign yourself. Oh dear, truly sorry for you, but there's nothing else I can do."
"But does it have to be goodbye today? Am I seeing you for the last time? No, no, I say! I promise to keep cool, to talk about anything else you like, and never again about this; so shall we meet? When, that is, I've cooled off? Some day, perhaps, when you're fed up with all the others - as long as today isn't the very last time. You're shaking your head again - your lovely head, you're shaking it. How absurd everything is! ... What if you turned me down but said yes anyway, telling a lie to make me happy? It has turned into a sad day, you know, very sad, though this morning I was singing. Just one more time!"
"You shouldn't ask that of me, since I can't promise it. Besides, what would be the use? Just go now, please! Maybe we'll meet again, I don't know, but it's quite possible. No, go now, will you!" she exclaimed impatiently. "You'll be doing me real kindness," she added.
Pause. He stood staring at her, his breast heaving. Then he pulled himself together and bowed to her. Dropping his cap on the ground, he suddenly grabbed her hand, which she hadn't offered him, and squeezed it hard between both of his. When she gave a little cry, he let her go at once, distressed, showing real despair at having caused her pain. And when she left, he stood there following her with his eyes. A few more steps and she would be gone. His cheeks flushing, he bites his lips till the blood comes and wants to go, to turn his back on her in heartfelt anger. When all was said and done, he was still a man; it was all right, everything was all right, goodbye....
Suddenly she turned around and said, "And you mustn't go prowling around the parsonage at night. You really mustn't, I beg you! So it was you who made my doggie bark so furiously the past several nights. One night Papa was on the point of getting out of bed. You can't do that, do you hear! Anyway, I hope you won't get us both into trouble."
These words, no more. Still, at the sound of her voice his resentment was gone; he shook his head.
"And today is my birthday!" he said. With that he shielded his face with his arm and left. Watching him go, she hesitated a moment and then ran back to him. She seized his arm.
"I’m sorry, but that's the way it is, I cannot be anything for you. But maybe we'll meet again sometime, don't you think? Well, I have to go."
She turned on her heel and quickly marched off.

Knut Hamsun, Mysteries, Penguin Classics,
translated by Sverre Lyngstad
(from Chapter XI)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

John Cage on Japanese Poetry

Now giving lecture on Japanese poetry.
giving very old Japanese poem, very
¶ Oh
willow tree, // Why are
you so sad, willow tree?
// Maybe baby?

Now giving nineteenth-century
romantic Japanese poem:

Oh bird, sitting on willow
tree, // Why are you
so sad, bird? //
Maybe baby?

Now giving up-to-minute
twentieth-century Japanese poem, very modern:

Oh stream,
flowing past willow tree,
// Why are you so sad,
stream? // Baby?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Knut Hamsun: Mysteries and the Lecture Tour (1890-1893)

The three lectures he [Knut Hamsun ] had prepared were on Norwegian literature, on psychological literature, and on cult literature; and they were delivered on separate evenings at a cost of two kroner for the series, or one krone per lecture. Published for the first time in 1960, they amount to a wide-ranging development of the points first made in From The Unconscious Life of the Mind. In his opening remarks Hamsun warns his audience that he will be 'as aggressive and destructive as possible this evening, but I will also make an attempt to build something as well'. He asks them not to be too insulted by his demolishing and clearing work, his aim is only to make room for something for which at present there is no place – psychological literature. Throughout the three long lectures, of which the second is the most considerable, he returns again and again to this point. The lectures are fundamentally a plea for tolerance in literature, a warning against the stupefying effects of 'schools' of writing, a warning against the state of cliché into which writers of fiction seem to fall with such relief. His strongest criticism is reserved for the kind of clichéd psychology which he accuses all his contemporaries, older and younger, of practising. No one is praised in these talks - just as in his book on America, praise is not the idea. Not even the previously admired Zola survives the fanatic upsurge of self-conscious certainty that invests these lectures, a sense that Hamsun was speaking from a vision of how literature ought to be. All the heroes of antiquity, ancient and modern, are dismissed, including Shakespeare, Plato and Dante, for Hamsun maintained that the work produced by these authors had passed beyond the state of literature, and become in effect not books, but symbols, and the authors themselves no longer writers, but authorities. As the tour progressed, and word-of-mouth reports of these heresies spread through the Norwegian literary establishment, the adverse reactions began. More outrageous even than the attacks on dead writers were the attacks on the living, particularly Ibsen. According to Hamsun, no other writer had dedicated himself more thoroughly to the creation of 'types', characters with a simple, static psychology, beings who were wholly explicable in terms of Taine's theory of the 'dominant character trait' to be found in each person. He regarded Ibsen as a creator of devices, representing concepts and ideas, and not of real human beings. He also detested Ibsen's self-importance, which he found as ridiculous as his reputation for being 'difficult' and 'enigmatic'.

Ibsen's great contemporaries were also criticized, including Björnson, and all were found wanting; old men standing still, tramping the earth on a well-worn track, repeating themselves over and over again. He rejected completely their insistence that an art should be democratic, and address itself to social problems. He rejected, too, the notion of writers as the moral doctors of their society, and preached the gospel of total individuality, with authors dedicated to the creation of works which - if necessary – would only be comprehensible to a tiny proportion of the population. An author was for him a thoroughly subjective being, a pair of eyes, a heart, someone who created from passion, not a pseudo-rational pseudo-scientist creating characters after the latest scientific theories of human personality. 'I will make my hero laugh, where sensible people think he ought to cry', he proclaimed, 'and why? Because my hero is no character, no "type" who laughs and cries according to the theories of some School, but a complex, modern being.'

This was all, of course, a passionate justification of his own work: if Hunger was 'not a novel', then the concept of the novel must be shattered and re-defined in order to admit Hunger. In a passage which gives the key to Hamsun's subjective and instinct driven work from the 1890S he declared:

I will therefore have 'contradictions' in the inner man considered as quite natural phenomena, and I dream of a literature with characters in which their very lack of consistency is their basic characteristic - not the only, not the dominating characteristic; but central, decisive.

(…) Hamsun's strong views, and the provocative way he expressed them, polarized people: the feminists from the first scented a deadly enemy - and yet over half the audience at Hamsun's lectures were women. His sexual charm was visible and powerful. Arne Garborg, soon to become an enemy, described him as 'a handsome man, dangerous for all women, interesting and striking', and when he wrote to Bolette Larsen in Bergen to ask how many conquests Hamsun had made there, 'God, he conquered them all,' Bolette replied, 'all the women, all of them were at his feet.' Not the least of his charms was openly on display in the lecture hall, a voice of great manly beauty which all who met him, men and women alike, commented on. Yet probably the most striking polarisations were into 'old' and 'young', and 'famous' and 'unknown': with great courage, Hamsun was affronting a whole establishment of old men with big reputations. Even lesser lights, middle-aged local successes like Amalie Skram, Christian Krohg and Hans Jaeger who might have provided useful moral support were cheerfully alienated by remarks to the effect that they were 'not real writers at all'. Those who really loved what Hamsun was doing were in the main powerless unknown writers much younger than himself, like Peter Egge and Arne Dybfest. But those who had been pleased to patronise an interesting, self-educated farm-boy, men like Björnson, the newspaper editor Ola Thommessen, and the Brandes brothers, found their protégé's breathtaking, arrogance and impudence a wholly unacceptable departure from the script, and were already separately planning their reactions.

Hamsun took a break in the summer, and for three months stayed in a hotel in Sarpsborg and worked hard on his new novel. Then he steeled himself in preparation for the climax of the tour in Christiania in October, at the famous Hals Brothers Auditorium, where he spoke on the 7th, 9th and 12th. With considerable cheek he had personally invited Ibsen to attend, and Ibsen, curious, no doubt, to find out what all the fuss was about, came to all three lectures, sitting prominently and magisterially in the first row, in company with Edvard and Nina Grieg. Fridtjof Nansen was there too. The house was full every night; the lectures had become social 'musts', and Hamsun, although visibly nervous, delivered the same implacable mixture of heresy, paradox and passion as he had done so many nights before in the course of the year. But the establishment was ready for him now, and the Christiania press turned on the new hero.


Hamsun's naïve courage had very quickly led him from the beaten tracks, and out into the wilderness. He was not choosing the easy way up. In fact, he could not, because he did not know the easy way. But if the establishment thought that a few thick ears might put him in his place, they had a great deal yet to learn. A young writer friend, Hans Aanrud, met him in Christiania around this time, and was at once struck by Hamsun's combative response. As they walked the streets of the city together late one night Hamsun talked a great deal about his career so far, how influential liberal people had patronized him after Hunger, and had tried to nurse him along, and give him good advice. Now when he had shown that he did not wish to be nursed along, did not wish to take well-meant advice, these same people had turned on him. 'They think they can break me', he told Aanrud, 'But when I am finished with the book I am writing now, they won't be able to get me any lower than on my knees.'

'The book I am writing now' was Mysteries, the second in the quartet of masterpieces Hamsun was to produce in the 1890s. More even than Hunger it is probably the book he had been dreaming of writing all along, the 'autobiography' of which he had spoken so often to friends in America. His son Tore confirms that it is as close to unadulterated self-portraiture as Hamsun ever came in fiction. An unpublished manuscript in Hamsun's hand in the library of the University of Oslo, dated 1894, contains his own description of Mysteries. The objective tone of the writing suggests that it was intended for promotional purposes, perhaps for inclusion in the catalogue of his German publisher Albert Langen:

The hero of Mysteries is a poseur, a pathological phenomenon who is part madman and part genius, pursued through 516 pages, never once out of sight. Every hour of his day is described. Hr Hamsun has both verbally and in writing attacked 'character' psychology ... He presents Nagel therefore as a split and divided person, bursting with contradictions, full of inconsistencies.... There are twenty characters in the book, but nineteen of them are there only to cast light on the poseur Nagel. The plot of Mysteries revolves round Nagel's love for Dagny, the daughter of a priest, a refined and educated flirt who ensnares him through her beauty. Disappointed in his love for this woman, torn apart by a sense that life is meaningless and banal, he goes mad, has visions, and loses all contact with life. He ends by drowning himself in the sea.

On every single page of this thick book Hamsun has tried to amass and compress meaning. But the book cannot be described in précis; it consists of subtleties.


Mysteries is an extraordinary novel. More than any comparable work of the last hundred years, perhaps more even than Joyce's Ulysses, It gives us a sensation of being actually and physically close to another consciousness; close enough to hear it whirring and ticking to register sudden explosions of light within it, and consuming surges of darkness and obscurity. There is a powerful naturalness about the novel, a careering inevitability, tremendous technical and psychological subtlety and withal a sense that the whole thing is in fact a dazzling and half-conscious act of literary Improvisation. Literature has no genuine equivalent to the primitive painter, but in the force with which Hamsun writes in the eerily successful ineptness with which he wields the third person in what is essentially a first-person story, one is reminded sometimes of a great primitive painter like Rousseau, imposing a vision on the world in defiance of all the known laws of technique out of a divine conviction that this is how it is. What upset Hamsun most about the criticism was that his critics made the simple equation Nagel=Hamsun, and accepted the weird foolery and mental games and double bluffs as simply showing-off. The extravagance of his ambition in trying to display consciousness itself as the hero of his novel, and the thrilling nature of the results, went completely over their heads.

Robert Ferguson, Enigma, The Life of Knut Hamsum,
Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, New York, 1987

Kirsten Flagstad: Solveigs Sang (Peer Gynt)

Kanske vil der gå både Vinter og Vår,
og næste Sommer med, og det hele År,
men engang vil du komme, det ved jeg vist,
og jeg skal nok vente, for det lovte jeg sidst.
Podem passar o Inverno e a Primavera,
e o próximo Verão, e até o ano inteiro,
mas um dia tu voltarás, disso estou seguro,
e hei-de esperar por ti, como te prometi.

(tradução JC)

Santa Barbara Fire May 2009

Thursday, May 07, 2009


Shadow (Ben Grossens)

Os livros duram o tempo que demora consumi-los e às ideias e processos que lhes deram origem. Muitos livros, porém, nem sequer podem ser de alguma utilidade para o consumidor: o que eles dizem e a maneira que têm de o dizer já foi consumido há muito tempo e tais livros são a prova de que os seus autores não leram o bastante e são, aos olhos imaginados de Deus, que leu todos os livros, ignorantes - estão portanto atrasados ou desactualizados. Os grandes livros (e os textos que contam, em geral) são aqueles de que é difícil libertar-se porque cada vez que os lemos continuam a incomodar-nos, a questionar-nos, a surpreender-nos, a abrir-nos caminhos no entendimento e desentendimento da nossa complexa realidade. Evidentemente, cada um de nós tem a sua ignorância pessoal, de modo que não há regras absolutas válidas para todas as pessoas ao mesmo tempo neste domínio. Os livros é como o amor: a cada um segundo as suas necessidades, apetência, educação, sensibilidade, inteligência e competência; uns gastam-se logo, outros gastam-se depressa, outros demoram a gastar-se. E depois há os - raros... - que nunca se gastam.

Monday, May 04, 2009

I surrender dear

Not quite like other people

On the way back Nagel found himself walking beside Dagny Kielland. He had made no effort to bring this about, it happened quite by chance; nor did Miss Kielland do anything to forestall it. She had just said how much she was looking forward to tomorrow evening, because it was always so pleasant and relaxed at the doctor's; they were such excellent people, and they knew how to make their guests enjoy themselves. At that point Nagel blurted out in a low voice, "May I hope, Miss Kielland, that you've forgiven me that awful piece of folly in the woods a while ago?"
He spoke eagerly, almost in a whisper, and she was forced to answer him.
"Oh yes," she said. "I now have a better understanding of your conduct that evening. You don't seem to be quite like other people."
"Thank you!" he whispered, "Oh, I thank you as I've never thanked anyone in my whole life! And why am I not like other people? I want you to know, Miss Kielland, that I've made an effort all evening to soften that first impression you must have received of me. I didn't say a word that wasn't meant for you. What do you say to that? Remember, I had offended you terribly and I had to do something. I confess I've been in a rather unusual state of mind all day, but I've made myself appear a good deal worse than I really am, and most of the time I've been playing a rather underhanded game. You see, it 'was important to me to make you think that I really was a bit unpredictable, that I committed bizarre transgressions in general; I hoped to make you pardon me more easily that way. This was also why I intruded with my dreams at the wrong time and place - well, I even crudely exposed myself concerning a violin case, voluntarily exposing my foolishness, which I wasn't obliged to do."
"Pardon me! “ she broke in abruptly, "but why are you telling me all this, spoiling everything?"
"No, I'm not spoiling anything. If I tell you I really gave in to a momentary malicious impulse when I ran after you in the woods that time, you will understand. It was only a sudden desire to scare you, because you ran away. Well, I didn't know you then, of course. And if I now tell you that I'm just like other people, you will understand that too. This evening I made myself a laughingstock and astonished everyone by a most eccentric behavior, simply in order to soothe you sufficiently to make you at least listen to me when I came and explained myself. This I have achieved. You have listened to me and understood everything."
"No, frankly, I have to confess I don't quite understand you. But let be, I certainly won't start brooding over that."
"No, of course not; why should you trouble your head about that! But don't you agree, this party tomorrow night was decided on because you all regarded me as an odd fellow who could be expected to dream up quite a few antics, wasn't it? Maybe I'll disappoint you, maybe I'll just hem an haw, maybe I won't even come, God knows."
"Oh, but of course you must come!"
"Must I?" he said, looking at her.
She let that pass. They were still walking side by side.
They had reached the Parsonage Road. Miss Kielland stopped, burst out laughing and said, "Who would ever believe it!" And she shook her head.
She began to wait for the rest of the party, which had fallen behind. He wanted to ask her if he could walk her home; he was about to risk it, when she suddenly turned away from him and called to the teacher, "Come on, will you!" And she eagerly waved her hand to hurry him on.

Knut Hamsun, Mysteries, Penguin Classics, translated
by Sverre Lyngstad (from chapter VI)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

About language and thinking

If I give someone the order "fetch me a red flower from that meadow", how is he to know what sort of flower to bring, as I have only given him a word? (...) Now you might ask: do we interpret the words before we obey the order? And in some cases you will find that you do something which might be called interpreting before obeying, in some cases not. (...) We are tempted to think that the action of language consists in two parts: an inorganic part, the handling of signs, and an organic part, which we may call understanding these signs, meaning them, interpreting them, thinking.

Wittgenstein, The Blue Book

Saturday, May 02, 2009

John Cage about students

One day down at
Black Mountain College,
David Tudor
was eating his lunch.

A student came over to
his table and began asking him questions.

David Tudor
went on eating his

kept on asking questions.

David Tudor looked at him and said,

“If you don’t know,

why do you ask?”