“Yes, that sounds horrible, doesn’t it? I must admit it does. But if you repeat it to yourself seven or eight times and think it over a little, it soon sounds better.” (Pan, Ch. 15, p. 60)
All too soon Ricardo de la Caravana de recuerdos, and I hope many, many others, will join me in a reading of and conversation about Knut Hamsun’s 1892 novel Mysteries. If it is like other Hamsun novels, some of that “conversation” will be closer to stunned silence and questions like “What is this?” It is not too late to scramble your plans and join in on a whim. It’s just a regular old novel, 338 pages, 23 chapters, no big deal, I hope.
Sometime around the end of October, more or less, one or more of us will write something, comments will follow, then more posts, and more comments, until interest in the whole idea slides into the abyss as if it never happened.
At the same time, which will be a good trick, Richard and I plan to read and write on Chilean poet Nicanor Parra’s legendary 1954 Poemas y Antipoemas, so join us for that as well, why don’t you? Some resources: the original text (pdf), a selection of English translations (click Anthology), and a 14,000 word essay on Antipoetry by Edith Grossman (click Essays). This year is, as with Tove Jansson and Romain Gary, Nicanor Parra’s centennial – but he is still alive, so we will wish him a happy 100th from afar.
So even though both of these ideas sound horrible, I admit, just repeat them to yourself seven or eight times until they sound better and then head to the library.
Meanwhile, I have been reading Hamsun’s subsequent novel, the 1894 Pan, which is, curiously, a book about the pleasures of hunting and fishing, much like William Henry Harrison’s Adventures in the Wilderness, except set in the northern forests of Norway rather than New York. The two books even share semi-Transcendentalist appreciations of natural beauty. The main difference is that Pan is narrated not by a married Boston pastor but rather a lust-crazed madman. I suppose the title of the book is a tipoff, since the narrator is or becomes an avatar of the ancient Greek god.
The core of the story is a love affair between the hunter and a local young woman. Hamsun does what writers rarely do successfully, or at all – he shows by a series of seemingly inconsequential encounters and gestures how the two people fall in love, and then at the same level of detail the tiny, awkward misunderstandings that turn the love into hate, the petty jealousies, imagined slights, statements that would normally be innocuous but in this precise context wound. The blossoming and collapse of the romance is quite insightful. I can imagine a similar novel, with a sane narrator, where that is the point of the book.
But that’s not Pan. I’ll write at least one more post about the crazy side of Hamsun’s novel.
I’m reading the 1956 James W. McFarlane translation.