Exhibiting formal characteristics of works published decades later, including the stream of consciousness technique, Knut Hamsun’s Hunger (1890) has long occupied a central position in genealogies of modernism. Its status in the modernist canon has, however, often meant disregarding the cultural and economic conditions of Hamsun’s Norway—one of Europe’s least developed nations in the nineteenth century.
This article reads Hamsun’s Hunger as a work that formalizes the conditions of modernization unique to the periphery and an instance of a “peripheral modernism.” By historicizing an experience of hunger common across the periphery in the late nineteenth century, this article demonstrates how Hamsun’s novel brings national and transnational economic conditions to bear on matters of literary form. It explores the cultural geography of the periphery as a site of modernism, its difference from modernisms of the industrial core, and the meaning of “transnationalism” for modernist studies today.
This article argues for the centrality of ideas of automatism within the political and aesthetic life of literary modernism. It reads Lawrence’s characteristic interest in the raptures of sexuality and corporality in relation to shifts in the nature of political life, in particular the function of material conditioning within the institutions of the nation-state. The rise of such political technologies, this article suggests, was an important precondition for Lawrence’s own emphasis on alternative categories of political life, most importantly the “primary cognition” of the body. His sense of political embodiment, this article suggests, placed him in fundamental accord with the work of vitalist philosophers Henri Bergson and Georges Sorel. Sorel’s notion of political myth, in particular, informs a reading of Lawrence’s late novel, The Plumed Serpent, which enacts a vitalist drama of political embodiment. Considered by Lawrence to be his best novel and reviled by critics since the 1930s, The Plumed Serpent's interest in vitalist embodiment enables a retrospective reading of Lawrence’s formal method, including the value of readerly affect in his attempts to counter the habituating forces of mass modernity.