“I will call Knausgaard’s kind of writing ‘itemisation’. We have, in postmodernity, given up on the attempt to ‘estrange’ our daily life and see it in new, poetic or nightmarish, ways; we have given up the analysis of it in terms of the commodity form, in a situation in which everything by now is a commodity; we have abandoned the quest for new languages to describe the stream of the self-same or new psychologies to diagnose its distressingly unoriginal reactions and psychic events. All that is left is to itemise them, to list the items that come by.”
“There was something extraordinary about the experience of reading My Struggle. I was absorbed. Transfixed. I identified. I suffered. I struggled alongside Karl Ove. But why did I find this particular novel so mesmerizing? The story of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s life is hardly full of unusual events. The teenage Karl Ove drinks too much. He has trouble becoming a writer, let alone a good writer. He hides his feelings, tastes and opinions. His shyness thwarts his early attempts to connect with women. Over the years he marries and divorces, then marries again and has three children. When he is thirty, his estranged father dies. He looks at paintings. He writes. He wonders what writing is, and why he is the way he is. The ordinariness of his daily existence is breathtaking.”
The Guardian has posted extracts from Karl Ove Knausgaard‘s recent book, Autumn, a collection of essays that examine everyday objects and experiences. The Norwegian writer is best known for his multi-volume autobiographical work, My Struggle, which was praised for its bracing honesty and its almost compulsively readable prose. Autumn, which is addressed to Knausgaard’s unborn daughter, is intended as the first part of a seasonal quartet. Here, the author speculates on how children perceive the world around them:
“What makes life worth living?
No child asks itself that question. To children life is self-evident. Life goes without saying: whether it is good or bad makes no difference. This is because children don’t see the world, don’t observe the world, don’t contemplate the world, but are so deeply immersed in the world that they don’t distinguish between it and their own selves. Not until that happens, until a distance appears between what they are and what the world is, does the question arise: what makes life worth living?”
— Karl Ove Knausgaard, Autumn (trans. Ingvild Burkey)
Restlessness. I finished reading Stephen King‘s Cell last week, and have had difficulty picking up (or concentrating on) anything since. I have works by Marguerite Duras, Robert Seethaler, and a very promising biography of Vincent Van Gogh all waiting in the wings, but none have quite made it onto the bedside table.
Instead, I have been enjoying a number of shorter pieces. Among them, John Banville‘s rather glowing review of Reiner Stach‘s Kafka: The Early Years translated by Shelley Frisch(despite being the first in a three-volume series, it was published last) • The Economist has also published a review of Kafka: The Early Years • Paul Binding on Karl Ove Knausgaard • The Rise of Dystopian Fiction • The 1910s-1920s artwork ofWilliam Faulkner • And a new study suggests that immersing oneself in art, music, and nature might increase one’s life expectancy (life expectancy aside, it sounds like a good way to live as far as I’m concerned)
A call for papers for a panel at the upcoming ACLA conference in Utrecht, July 2017
This sounds interesting. Tom Chadwick has been in touch about something he is organizing for next year’s ACLA conference at Universiteit Utrecht in the Netherlands. He and co-organizer Pieter Vermeulen are putting together a panel exploring the relationship between contemporary literature and the archive, and they want to hear from you!(more…)
The Norwegian author discusses the 20th century Irish modernist in the New York Times
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Its genesis was long and tortuous — Joyce began writing his novel in 1904 — and the road to its canonisation as one of the seminal works of Western literature was not short either: The reviews spoke of the author’s “cloacal obsession” and “the slime of foul sewers,” comments that seem strange today, insofar as it is the subjective aspect of the book, the struggle that goes on inside the mind of its young protagonist, that perhaps stands out to us now as its most striking feature. What appeared at the time to be unprecedented about the novel seems more mundane to us today, whereas what then came across as mundane now seems unprecedented. Joyce’s novel remains vital, in contrast to almost all other novels published in 1916, because he forcefully strived toward an idiosyncratic form of expression, a language intrinsic to the story he wanted to tell, about the young protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, and his formative years in Dublin, in which uniqueness was the very point and the question of what constitutes the individual was the issue posed.
Scott Esposito (The Paris Review) talks to Don Bartlett about translating Knausgaard’s multi-volume memoir, My Struggle, into English
When did you first encounter My Struggle?
I went to a panel discussion in London with three Norwegian writers, led by someone I knew was clued up on Norwegian literature. Afterward, I talked to Karl Ove and asked him what he was working on. He said he had just written five—I think it was five—novels. I asked him what about. He said, with a laugh, Myself.
What were your impressions of his work up to that point?
I had read one of his novels, his second—it’s called A Time for Everything in English—and had been very impressed. He had made biblical tales a riveting read. The second part of A Time for Everything is interesting even though it is hard to see what the connection is with the first part. Knausgaard can write about anything and keep you interested, even when you think what he is describing is bizarre. I like the fluency of his writing, the shape of the sentences, the intensity. His concentration is such that you don’t doubt he knows where he’s going. (more…)
The New Yorker weighs in on the Norwegian author’s mass appeal
Once you have begun reading the books in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume autobiographical novel, “My Struggle,” it is difficult to stop talking about them. In the author’s native Norway, where around one in nine people have purchased copies, some employers have had to impose Knausgaard-free days in the workplace. In the U.S., where the third volume of the book was released last week, fiction writers like Rivka Galchen, Sheila Heti, and Ben Lerner have reviewed his books rapturously, and Zadie Smith has likened them to crack. On this week’s Out Loud, Sasha Weiss, the literary editor of newyorker.com, discusses Knausgaard’s work with the magazine’s deputy fiction editor, Cressida Leyshon, and archives editor, Joshua Rothman, who reviewed volume three for Page-Turner. (A short story adapted from the book was published in the magazine in February.) (more…)