Sunday 22 November 2009
My Favourite Fascist Writer
Who is your favourite fascist writer? I quite like the work of the madly eccentric French novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline, particularly Journey to the End of the Night, but my absolute favourite really has to be Knut Hamsun, the great Norwegian writer and Nobel laureate. My, oh, my, how could one possibly like fascist writing? But that’s just the point: it’s not fascist writing; it’s a fascist writing and, yes, there is a huge difference between the two. Good writing and good art does not always need good people as creators.
I discovered Hamsun in my mid-teens, working my way through all of his early work with huge enthusiasm; books like Hunger, Pan, Victoria, and Mysteries, all written in a wonderful, taut and economical style, all deeply engaging at a level of simple emotion, full of mood and mystery. I moved on to his later work but found it a little too ponderous for my taste. I did not really like The Growth of the Soil overmuch, with its agrarian mysticism, but it was well enough thought of to win him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920.
So much for the artist; now let’s have a look at the man. I’ve been reading Knut Hamsun: Dreamer and Dissenter, a warts and all biography by Sletten Kollen. Hamsun wasn’t a good man; he was, rather, a thoroughly nasty human being, an obsessive, egotistical monster in the same way that Céline, or, say, Wagner was an obsessive, egotistical monster.
With people like this one gets the feeling that politics is really only of secondary concern, a way of expressing one’s peculiarities, and Hamsun had more peculiarities than most. He was a reactionary who hated the modern world; who hated and envied Henrik Ibsen as much as he loved and admired Adolf Hitler. He also hated the Anglo-Saxons, or, to express this in another way, he was an ass about AS. :-))
For Hamsun Hitler offered hope for the revival of Nordic culture. He was one of the few to welcome the German invasion of Norway in 1940, championing Vidkun Quisling, the traitor who headed a collaborationist government, and looking forward to the prospect of his country becoming part of Greater Germany. Even the end of the war brought no change of mood. He remained consistent in his support for Hitler, refusing to apologise for his past sympathies. Many of his fellow citizens were so outraged that they sent his books directly to the author as a mark of their displeasure. His local post office found it difficult to cope with the volume of the volumes!
Still, that’s the man and great art will always transcend the messenger. Hamsun is long dead and passions have died away It’s nice to know that the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his birth, which falls this year, is being widely celebrated across his native land.