The life I lived wasn’t my own

I put the glass back on the table and stubbed out the cigarette. There was nothing left of all the feelings for the people I’d just spent several hours with. The whole lot of them could have burnt to death without my feeling anything for them. That was a constant in my life. When I was with other people I was bound to them, I felt an incredible intimacy and empathy, so much so that their wellbeing was always more important than my own. I subordinated myself almost to the point of self-effacement: I put whatever they might feel or think before my own thoughts and feelings based on some uncontrollable inner mechanism. But the moment I was alone the others meant nothing to me. It wasn’t because I didn’t like them or found them repugnant, on the contrary, I liked most of them and always found something valuable in the ones I didn’t like at first, some characteristic I could sympathise with or at least find interesting, something that could occupy my thoughts while I was with them. But the fact that I liked them wasn’t the same as being concerned about them. It was the social situation that bound me, not the people. Between those two perspectives there was nothing. There was the small and self-effacing and there was the large and distancing. And in between the two, well, that was where the everyday unfolded. Maybe that was why I had a hard time living in it. The everyday with its chores and routines was something I endured, not something I enjoyed, not something that gave me a sense of meaning or made me happy. It wasn’t a question of not wanting to wash the floor or change nappies, but of something more basic, namely that I didn’t experience the value of daily life but always longed to escape and always had. The life I lived wasn’t my own. I tried to make it mine, that was the struggle I was engaged in, because of course that was what I wanted, but I failed, the longing for something else completely hollowed out everything I did.

What was the problem?

– Knausgaard, My Struggle, Vol. 2 (my trans.)

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