Category Archives: Knausgaard

Conceit

I knew that to be human was to be inadequate, to fail, to never be good enough. Everywhere weaknesses, everywhere flaws, which often hardened into self-righteousness. If there was one consistent character trait I saw in people, it was self-righteousness, conceit, smugness. Humility, that word that everyone in the public sphere was always tossing off, was something hardly anyone knew the meaning of anymore.

— Knausgaard, My Struggle, Vol. 6 (my tr.)

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Something was sucked out of me

When I was with her, it was as though something was sucked out of me. The dark got brighter, the stunted straighter, and the strange thing was that it didn’t come from the outside, it wasn’t that she lit up the dark, no, it was something that happened in me, because I saw myself with her eyes and not just my own, and in her eyes there wasn’t anything wrong with me, on the contrary. That was how the balance changed. When I was with Gunvor, I no longer wanted to do harm to myself.

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

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.)

So what was I doing here?

I sat down by the brick fireplace outside the cottage and lit a cigarette. It might have been eleven or maybe half past eleven. The mountainside looked as it must have done when my grandmother worked here in the thirties and forties. Well, everything looked more or less how it must have looked back then. But still, everything was different. It was August 1988, I was a product of the eighties, contemporary with Duran Duran and The Cure, not with the violin and accordion music that my grandfather had heard that time when he and his friend lumbered up here to woo my grandmother and her sister in the twilight. I didn’t belong here, I felt it in my whole body. It didn’t help that I knew that the forest was actually a forest of the eighties and that the mountains were actually mountains of the eighties.

So what was I doing here?

I wanted to write. But I couldn’t, because I was alone, alone to the depths of my soul.

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

Why is all this not enough?

I started just writing it as it was: the truth, no artifice, no cleverness. Reality.

*

I developed a new kind of language almost, of the banality of the everyday. I could write about anything.

*

I thought this was only interesting for me. I was ashamed even to show it to my editor.

*

As a person, I’m polite – I want to please. One of the reasons for that is my father; he had that grip on me. For 40 years I’d lived that tension between my inner and outer selves. Suddenly now the point was not to please, it was to speak the truth. To write reality.

*

I wrote this in a kind of autistic mood. Just me and my computer in a room, by myself. It never occurred to me that it might cause problems – I was just telling the truth, wasn’t I? But I was also being very naive. I sent a copy to everyone involved before the first volume was published, and then I discovered how difficult this was going to be. It was like hell.

*

I said it was true, they said I was lying.

*

[His second wife said] ‘Do it, just don’t make me boring. Use my name.’ Then when the manuscript was done she read it, on a long train journey to Stockholm. She called once to say it was OK. Then she called again and said our life together could never be romantic ever again; this was all so frank. Then she called a third time, and cried.

You know, in every couple there are things you don’t talk about, and I did. So it was very difficult. But we are adapting. We are still together.

*

If I had known then what I know now, then no, definitely no, I wouldn’t dare. But I’m glad I did. And I couldn’t have done it any other way. I will never do anything like this again, though, for sure. I have given away my soul, in a way.

*

Do you think your literature is worth your uncle, or whoever? Is literature more important than hurting people? You can’t argue that. You can’t say it. It’s impossible. But you can write about yourself and about your father. That’s my defence in all this. I did this with a pure heart. He brought me to life, he did these things to me … Danger, it seems to me, is in action, what people do, not in telling, what they say. As long as this isn’t a hate project; as long as I am trying to tell things how they really are.

*

The real danger is in writing about more recent times. I also wrote about my mother, you know, but much less. Because she is still alive. I couldn’t go there.

*

I get the rewards; the people I wrote about get the hurt.

*

The thing is, I was there, turning 40. I had a beautiful wife, three beautiful kids, I loved them all. But still I wasn’t truly happy. It’s not necessarily the curse of the writer, this. But maybe it’s the curse of the writer to be aware of it, to ask: why is all this, all I’ve got, not enough? That’s really what I’m searching for, in this whole thing, an answer to that question. My intention, throughout, has been to write literature.

— Knausgaard, interview

I’m no longer an author

That sentence was the only thing I knew, all the way, [throughout] those 3,600 pages. I wanted the book to end with that sentence, and I wanted to be in a mental state where I could say that and mean that: ‘I’m no longer an author’. Because this is also a book about wanting to be a literary writer, having ambition to be a writer, it’s about literature and life and where they mix, and the problem for me in my life is that I don’t think I live my life as I should. I live it in literature, I live it in reading, and I want that to end.

— Knausgaard, interview

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.)