Hunger and Modern Writing
Daniel Rees
Hunger and Modern Writing

This book examines the relevance of hunger in the writing of Herman Melville, Franz Kafka, Knut Hamsun, and Richard Wright. It argues that hunger is an important theme not only for the selected works of these authors, but also for the way it is deeply involved with concepts of modernity and modernist literature and how it is bound up with a writer’s role in modern society. In my discussion I draw upon two contentious and complex views of hunger: the first is material, relating to the body as a physical entity that has a material existence in reality. Hunger in this sense is a physiological process that affects the body as a result of the need for food, the lack of which leads to discomfort, listlessness, and eventually death. The second view is that of hunger as an appetite of the mind, the kind of hunger for immaterial things that is normally associated with an individual’s desire for a new form of knowledge, sentiment, or a different way of perceiving the reality of the world. By means of this dualistic approach I address the ongoing discussion regarding the figure of the modern author, a creative individual who strives for independence of thought and action, yet is influenced by the same biological, cultural, and economic forces that shape the rest of society. By introducing the theme of hunger into this debate, I argue that the interaction between the artist’s immaterial, creative life of spontaneous thought and emotion and the way in which this inner life is rooted in the material world of the body offers an approach to the work of these canonical writers that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. The first of this book’s four chapters examines how Melville draws upon two aspects of hunger—appetite and absence—in his portrayal of the scriveners on Wall Street, and it supports the idea that Bartleby exhibits an artistic temperament. Chapter 2 explores the link between modernist art and the alienation of the individual in Kafka’s writing, and it examines how hunger is bound up with both the physical decline and the spiritual withdrawal of Kafka’s heroes, which culminate in their death from starvation. Chapter 3 demonstrates the significance of hunger for Hamsun’s narrator with regard to his self-destructive tendencies, and how his rejection of society and willingness to act against his own interests may be read as an expression of Hamsun adopting an anti-modern stance comparable to that of Dostoevsky’s. Chapter 4 discusses how, in Wright’s text, hunger is bound up with self- fashioning, an important theme in the narrative that is also relevant to an appreciation of the book as an intellectual autobiography. All four chapters discuss how perceptions and experiences of hunger may alter reality in the narrative and how hunger impacts and transforms the substance and conditions of the protagonists’ lives. The works of Melville, Kafka, Hamsun, and Wright can thus be directly linked with conflicting concepts of modernity and its consequences for the individual and the author, as well as with conflicting concepts of a hunger that can be read both as a symbol of a materialist, capitalist modernity and as a potential cure for its inherent ills of greed and indifference. This book examines the inconsistencies and contradictions in the selected authors’ conceptualization of hunger as both desire and absence of desire, or as both a creative and a destructive force, and argues how these contradictions relate to the broader conflicts relating to the writer’s role in modern society.

Dieses Buch widmet sich dem Themenkomplex Hunger in den Werken von Herman Melville, Franz Kafka, Knut Hamsun und Richard Wright. Es analysiert die Problematik von Hunger, Kunst, körperlichem sowie spirituellem Verlangen und basiert dabei auf zwei Prämissen, die dazu dienen, einen Einblick in das innere Leben des hungernden Individuums und Künstlers zu geben: In erster Linie ist Hunger ein körperliches Phänomen, er kann aber auch als ein geistiges und künstlerisches Konzept dienen, das die Erfahrung und Wahrnehmung des Menschen verändert und prägt – und mit ihm die Welt und die Art und Weise, wie diese wahrgenommen wird. So wird Hunger zu einem kulturellen und literarischen Phänomen, das nicht nur als Protest gegen dominante gesellschaftliche und politische Strukturen und Normen, sondern auch als eine Art der Befreiung von diesen verstanden werden kann. Das Ziel dieser Arbeit ist die Verbindung zwischen Hunger und Kunst in der modernen Literatur darzustellen und zu analysieren. Hunger wird dabei einerseits als ein Drang und Verlangen und anderseits als ein Fehlen interpretiert. Aus dieser Dualität entsteht ein Konflikt, der die problematische Beziehung zwischen Künstler und Gesellschaft widerspiegelt.

Daniel Rees studierte Amerikanistik und Allgemeine und Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft an der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München und promovierte im Jahr 2015. Sein Forschungsinteresse gilt der anglo-amerikanischen und der europäischen Literaturwissenschaft der Moderne.

I. Introduction
I.i Methodology and structure
II. Theoretical Overview of Hunger and Modern Writing
II.i Hunger and the body
II.ii The writer under conditions of modernity
Part 1: Herman Melville and Franz Kafka
1. “‘I would prefer not to’”: Absence and Appetite in Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener”
1.1 “Dollars damn me…”
1.2 The Wall Street lawyer
1.3 The mechanical scrivener
1.4 Visionary, artist, or madman?
2. Alienation and the Unknown Nourishment in Franz Kafka’s Die Verwandlung and “Ein Hungerkünstler”
2.1 Kafka’s modernism
2.2 Kafka’s Die Verwandlung
2.3 Kafka’s “Ein Hungerkünstler”
Part 2: Knut Hamsun and Richard Wright
3. Starvation and Self-Destructiveness in Knut Hamsun’s Hunger (Sult)
3.1 Hunger
3.2 Hunger and subjectivity
3.3 “Cheap happiness”
3.4 “Noble suffering”
4. Hunger and Self-Fashioning in Richard Wright’s Black Boy (American Hunger)
4.1 Wright’s naturalism
4.2 The grim, hostile stranger
4.3 Hunger, reading, and the self-made man
4.4 Wright’s American Hunger
Abbreviations and Works Cited
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