Novel: A Forum on Fiction
Wientzen, Timothy. "The Aesthetics of Hunger: Knut Hamsun, Modernism, and Starvation's Global Frame." Novel 48.2 (2015): 208-223.
Exhibiting formal characteristics of works published decades later, Knut Hamsun's Hunger (1890) has long occupied a central position in genealogies of modernism. Its status in the modernist canon, however, has often come at the cost of disregarding the cultural and economic conditions of Hamsun's Norway, which was one of Europe's least developed nations in the nineteenth century. Where critics have tended to treat the hunger that drives Hamsun's novel in terms of the desires and affects of metropolitan modernity, this article instead reads starvation as a transnational historical phenomenon, one that informed wide swaths of the global periphery in the late nineteenth century. In Hunger, Hamsun invoked a history of economic development that endowed the starving body with transnational political significance. Restaging the naturalist novel's own approach to hunger, Hunger reflects the transnational reconfiguration of economic forms, which depended centrally on the leveraging of bodily needs of entire populations for productive ends. In Hamsun's novel, the body stands as a primary site upon which the transformation of macroeconomic structures are made legible as well as an object of political struggle. In making this argument, this article restores the historically specific quality of starvation to readings of modernism and places Hamsun within a history of hunger that informed the formal projects of successive generations of novelists.
Modernism, Knut Hamsun, hunger, starvation, the body