On Mysteries, Part 4

26 November 2018 Comments Off on On Mysteries, Part 4


This is the final installment in a four-part series on Knut Hamsun’s novel “Mysteries.” The first part, which explains the plot and Nagel’s stance on life and death, the second part, which details Nagel’s relations to God and women, and the third part, which concerns his poeticisms and mystic experiences, can be found online at bilnews.bilkent.edu.tr/opinions.

Always talking about himself, about the secretive delightful inner qualities of the world, Nagel is intertwined with victory and morality, and he is a paragon of defeat. In one of many conversations with the self about great men, a recurrent theme, he identifies the species as “he who has brought us the basic values, and that is, after all, the greatest gift to the human race. The man of influence, the wielder of supreme power, the mighty one who turns the switch that revolutionizes the world.” He admits quickly that this man is Christ out of all the examples he throws out and does not say at all that it is also him in a very different age, an age in which he does not disturb values but makes them. It is impossible to quite express how every one of his words is him and how deeply they are not, that he violates himself, contradicts himself, but that he only does so superficially, he does so to the eye but not the heart, and stays true to the most vital part of who he is, which is that he believes, and he wants, and he burns himself out to get what he needs, which is the oyster’s flesh of all the beauty that has existed and that will ever exist. Perhaps we don’t know if he really saved a life or if he’s really rich or if he really loves Martha Gude, and perhaps we don’t understand how women slip on and over the page, and his visions and dramas are obscure and mystical, but then he has already asked us what truth is. He has already admitted that it is only the undertone’s passion that matters, that his humiliation in pursuit of newness is completely tangential, perhaps doesn’t even exist; he will always be doing something because that is how he lives. That is how he will die. Nagel is a hero of our time. He is an incorrigible fraud. The mystery isn’t whether what he’s saying is true as much as whether it is right, whether anything is as it should be and how he could make it be, because he is a stranger, an interferer, he is insurmountable simply by virtue of his edible love. And the love might be real or not real, but what only matters is the great lick it gives our protagonist, our symbol, a white fly in the Norwegian sea; Nagel is the prowler of the world and a very sick man. He is weak enough to fall ill by what he sees, to be petty, yellowed, mean-spirited, to harshly and malignantly tread over other people’s lives, and then to fold over like a crushed flower and beg mercy from passersby. It’s extraordinary that he is the focus of every weakness and of none. His fractured thoughts and long monologues, his music, are all as if he is eating and spitting out things he sees; Nagel is a poet and a very good one, and like all good poets he is a sham. He is also completely mad. We are treated to Nagel’s mysteries, which are the world’s mysteries, which are ours, and which we can glimpse only by a shoulder of a sign of a moonfaced gnome come to visit us in the night. He profanes his loves and humbles himself in penitence with his whole body heaving with the guilty pain of having been crude. He engages in long sessions of fantasy in which he is convinced that he will achieve the greatest and most elevated state of love after death. Indeed, it is that we know all we know because of all the little deaths he continues to die.

Nagel is nothing, and because he is nothing he is everything. Nagel is against anyone and anything he might see, he is in love with all of them, a living abstraction, someone no one will ever know, not even the reader, who is never privy to the inner recesses of his soul. His final scene is freeing and neutral and understandable, as he rushes to the water to for the last time be saved. “Someone is calling,” he murmurs. Perhaps it is the mad little dwarf of his shrunken past and the guttural “Come!” that has led him to so much that is so holy. “There are so many strange things between heaven and earth, beautiful, inexplicable things, presentiments that can’t be explained, terrors that make your blood freeze.” Nagel is one of them and is the pursuer of all of them, loving it all, loving and hating life just as he does Dagny, his egg of light, as he cries to himself, “I only wish that I could forever hear your name, hear it spoken by all men and beasts, by every mountain and every star. I wish I were deaf to every sound except your name ringing in my ears day and night for the rest of my life.” How alive he is as he is dying, and how indifferent and callous and fanatical and reckless as he lives – Nagel is the biggest conundrum of an adult life and the only truth to ever be found on the human earth: There can only ever be more mysteries.