Knut Hamsun's Hunger: A Psychological Novel

In Knut Hamsun's Hunger, the narrator and protagonist roams the streets of Kristiania (Oslo) and searches for food and later lodging. A writer of questionable success, he submits his writings to a journal but rarely gets the story accepted. Without money, he often doesn't eat for days.

As we read the novel, we dwell into the mind occasionally delusion of a man trying to maintain his dignity in poverty. Though he had no food, he gives money to children and vagrants. And though he fancies a girl, he feels unworthy of her. His unstable state of mind reminds us of Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. And indeed, Hunger is as much a psychological novel as Dostoyevsky's classic work but it dwells into the unstable mind in greater details.

Kristiania (Oslo)

Through the novel, Hamsun comments on Oslo's coming of age and on civilization crossing into the twentieth century. The narrator's interactions with others reveal the alienation in a modern city. His plight and despair, and his suffering and struggles are those of modern men and women. In the end, he leaves Kristiania, a symbol of his escaping from the modern life.

Knut Hansum

Hunger is a powerful tale of the currents of history sweeping individuals off their grounds of existence and tossing them into an ocean of despair. Even now, more than a hundred years later, we confront similar challenges and the novel remains relevant. The question was and is: how shall we respond to such challenges?

Alan Watts’s The Way of Zen

In The Way of Zen, Alan Watts introduces us to Zen Buddhism and to some extend Taoism to the average John and Jane. The history and background of Zen and Taoism in part one helps us understand the cultural contexts behind these philosophies: how Taoism developed in China, how Buddhism spread to China and how Zen developed in China and spread to Japan.

Watts explains Zen, to the extend that it can be explained, so that we can understand it, to the extend we should try to understand it. Though Zen is a branch of Buddhism, it responds to the formal ritual of its progeny with spontaneous thoughts and actions. The emptiness and silence of Zen contrast with our hectic everyday life amid rush hour traffic. The preoccupation of the self as the one to think and feel and to act and improve, and the desire for enlightenment all hinder our spiritual walk.

I particularly like the section on Zen and the arts. Zen has influenced artwork and poetry in China and Japan. Through Zen, we realize the white spaces in the paintings and the silence within the koans are as important as the brush strokes and the words. And cha-no-yu, or the tea ceremony, is as much a spiritual experience as an aesthetic one.

Alan Watts

If you are curious about Zen, this is the book to start with. Zen 101 for beginners.