These thoughts were too big for me

The university was a new beginning. More than that, it was something to hold on to. The lectures were fixed points, as were the reading room and the books. No matter what happened, no matter how miserable I was, I could always go up to the reading room and find a place and sit there reading as long as I wanted to, nobody could object to that, nobody could think that was strange, after all that was the essence of university life. I bought a two-volume survey of world literature and ploughed through it author by author, from Homer to the sixties, tried to remember a line or two from each of them, what they wrote. I went to the lectures, Kittang on the poetry of antiquity, Buvik on the epics of antiquity, Linneberg on the drama of antiquity. Among all the names and years, some turbulent insights emerged. Odysseus who tricked the Cyclops by saying his name was ‘no one’. He lost himself but gained life. The song of the sirens. Those who heard it also lost themselves, were drawn towards them, did everything in their power to get close to them, and died. The sirens were both Eros and Thanatos, desire and death, the most desirable and the most dangerous. Orpheus, who sang so beautifully that all who heard it were spellbound and lost themselves, he who went down into the kingdom of death to bring back Eurydice, and who would have succeeded had he only not turned around and looked at her, but he did, and lost her forever. A French philosopher named Blanchot had written about it, and I read his essay about Orpheus, which said that art was a power that made the night open itself, but that it’s Eurydice he wants, and that she was the highest that art could achieve. Eurydice was the other night, wrote Blanchot.

These thoughts were too big for me, but I was drawn to them and tried to think them through, master them, make them mine, without succeeding, I saw them from the outside and knew that their full significance escaped me. Give the sacred back to the sacred? The night of the night? I recognised the main image, what appears and disappears in the same moment, or the simultaneous presence of one thing and another that negates the first, this was an image I’d seen in many contemporary poems, and I also got a special rush from the thoughts about the night, the other night and death, but as soon as I tried to think about them independently, in other words, step outside the form in which the thoughts were presented, it all got banal and stupid. It was like mountain climbing, you had to put your foot exactly here or there, had to grip exactly this or that with your hand, otherwise you either stayed in the same place or lost your grip and tumbled into the abyss.

The highest is what disappears when it is seen or understood. That was the core of the myth about Orpheus. But what does *that* mean?

When I sat in the reading room, which was old and oozed obscurity, and read Blanchot in the afternoon, a brand-new feeling arose in me, something I’d never felt before, an enormous overexcitement, as if I was very close to something exceptional, mixed with an equally enormous impatience, I *had* to get there, and the two feelings were so contradictory that I both wanted to stand up and run around shouting and sit quite still and read on. The strange thing was that I became so restless when I read something good which I understood and absorbed that I could hardly bear it. Often I got up and took a break, and as I walked through the corridors and up the stairs to the second floor of the canteen, my overexcitement and impatience mingled with the mocking mouth in my mind, the one that reminded me I was going to the canteen alone, and in this wild and inexplicable state of inner uproar, I bought a cup of coffee, sat down at a table and tried to look as calm as possible.

The will to acquire knowledge also had something panicky about it, in sudden and frightening insights I understood that actually I didn’t know anything, and that it was urgent, I didn’t have a second to lose. It was almost impossible to adapt this speed to the slowness that reading demanded.

— Knausgaard, My Struggle Vol. 5 (my tr.)

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