Monika Zagar


On her book Knut Hamsun: The Dark Side of Literary Brilliance

Cover Interview of December 22, 2009


I would like my book to contribute to our understanding of the lives and texts of supporters of dictatorial regimes who unsettle our ethical, moral, and aesthetic judgments.  The ensuing unease often results in a convenient division between dirty politics and beautiful art.

The Dark Side of Literary Brilliance is a reminder of the simple fact that so-called great men and artists are not exempt from lending support to repressive ideologies; besides Hamsun, Ezra Pound, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, and Martin Heidegger leap to mind.  We, the readers, should not fall under their seductive spell, but rather should read them critically.  Even masterpieces need to be read in context with other texts, and canons revisited.  One can read Hamsun’s great literary works without realizing his agenda, his desire to reverse modernity and for society to reject liberal attitudes towards women and Others.  Yet to read Growth of the Soil or On Overgrown Paths knowing how Hamsun felt about these issues will yield a different assessment of those works than if one reads them uninformed.

I’d also like to encourage the readers to reflect on the fact that Nazism, even if it obviously operated on intimidation and fear, was supported by small daily decisions of ordinary citizens.  It was rooted in deep-seated convictions and traditions that the ideologues deftly exploited. These traditions include the power of the blood and nation, and the sanctity of motherhood and family.  Hamsun did not march dressed in a Nazi uniform or display anti-Semitic signs.  Yet he was in agreement with many broader premises of the National Socialist party. Other ideologies function in a similar way, and our resistance is crucial in defense of basic democratic rights.

© 2009 Monika Zagar