Finished Knausgaard at 2:20 today.
It is compelling and incredibly moving. Incredibly? well, yes, at the moment I do think so. It weaves its web of power over you. The death of the father and the birth of the son's vocation as a writer. Simple as that and told with all the power inherent in the archetype---without however resorting to any of that kind of fancy lingo or large-type appeal.
Let's assume it is a great work and let's imagine Joyce and Beckett and Bernhard, maybe Proust, Pessoa and Sebald, and others in the company, being here to enjoy the party. Knausgaard creates the illusion of saying to them all----forget the schticks and tricks, forget your special style and angle, you should have just told the essence of the tale. But isn't that what all the writers say in hindsight to their predecessors? Students are already for sure writing dissertations on Knausgaard and analyzing the craft and skill and art with which he has invented his magical illusion of having just let the details unfold effortlessly from his keyboard.
It caused furor in Norway for having written so honestly about the drinking and squalor of his father and his grandmother. The worst sort of alcoholics living in their total filth. His father died at fifty-four if my calculations are accurate, when Karl Ove was thirty.
PAGE 329 in the FSG edition I began to mark passages using my own filiters of course. That's when K begins to talk more directly about his desire to write, to be a writer. Or if he did earlier in the book I took less notice. He must have, slightly at least, because he has written one novel by now, the one he wrote when he was in the creative writing program at the Academy and which got turned down by a publisher.
He is now twenty-four.
Lars Iyer likes to quote this Handke line--he tweeted it again recently and it works really well for Knausgaard: "Above all, it seems to me that the progress of literature consists of the gradual removal of all fictions. (Handke)"
When I was twenty-four I had a flash of insight: that this was in fact my life, this is exactly what it looked like and presumably always would. That one's studies, this fabled and much-talked about period in a life, on which one always looked back with pleasure, were for me no more than a series of dismal, lonely, and imperfect days. That I had not seen this before was due to the constant hope I carried around inside me, all the ridiculous dreams with which a twenty-four-year-old can be burdened, about women and love, about friends and happiness, about hidden talents and sudden breakthroughs. But when I was twenty-four I saw life as it was. And it was okay, I had my small pleasures too, it wasn't that, and I could endure any amount of loneliness and humiliation, I was a bottomless pit, just bring it on, there were days when I could think, I receive I am a well, I am the well of the failed, the wretched, the pitiful, the pathetic, the embarrassing, the cheerless, and the ignominious. Come on! Piss on me! Shit on me too if you want! I receive! I endure! I am endurance itself! I have never been in any doubt that this is what girls I have tried my luck with have seen in my eyes. Too much desire, too little hope.
"I leafed through Adorno, read some pages of Benjamin, sat bowed over Blanchot for a few days, had a look at Derrida . . . and learned nothing, understood nothing, but just having contact with them, having their books in the bookcase, led to a shifting of consciousness, just knowing they existed was an enrichment, and if they didn't furnish me with insights I became all the richer for intuitions and feelings." (330-331)
" . . . I, the king of approximation, . . .was after enrichment . . . . the shadow of these sentences that could evoke in me a vague desire to use the language with this particular mood on something real, on something living. Not on an argument, but on a lynx, for example, or on a blackbird or a cement mixer. For it was not the case that language cloaked reality in its moods, but vice versa, reality arose from them." (331)
". . . for thoughts, whatever good one can say about them, have a great weakness, namely, that they are dependent on a certain distance for effect. Everything inside that distance is subject to emotions. It was because of my emotions that I was starting to hold things back." (332)
". . . the crux was that he musn't notice, he musn't find out that I harbored such emotions, and the evasive looks in such circumstances, emerged to conceal feelings rather than show them, . . . ." (332)
"Now Espen was as dark and brooding as Hauge. They were poets, I thought, that is how they are. Compared to their heavy gloom I felt like a lightweight, a dilettante with no understanding of anything, just drifting across the surface, watching soccer, who recognized the names of a few philosophers and liked pop music of the simplest variety." (335)
" . . . the difference between us, which I did not want to be visible, / would become obvious. He would be the realistic, practical person; I would be the idealistic, emotion-driven one. . . . along with my tendency to cry all the time . . . ." (345-346)
" . . . because I wasn't invited to that kind of gathering. Why not, I had no idea. I didn't care anymore anyway. But there had been days when I had cared, days when I had been on the outside and had suffered. Now I was only on the outside." (377)
"One of the things Tonje liked best about me, I suspected, was that I was so fascinated by precisely that, by all the contexts and potential of various relationships, she wasn't used to that, she never speculated along those lines, so when I opened her eyes to what I saw she was always interested. I had this from my mother, right from the time I went to school I used to carry on long conversations with her about people we had met or known, what they had said, why they might have said it, where they came from, who their parents were, what kind of house they lived in, all woven into questions to do with politics, ethics, morality, psychology, and philosophy, and this conversation, which continued to this day, had given my gaze a direction, I always saw what happened between people and tried to explain it, and for a long / time I also believed I was good at reading others, but I was not, wherever I turned I only saw myself, but perhaps that was not what our conversations were about primarily, there was something else, they were about Mom and me, that was how we became close to each other, in language and reflection, that was where we were connected, and that was also where I sought a connection with Tonje. And it was good because she needed it in the same way that I needed her robust sensuousness." (385-386)
"I knew it wasn't true, but that was how it felt, and it was feeling that was leading me, . . . ." (394)
"Furthermore, my wild state always became worse for that reason, as my drunkenness was not brought to a halt by sleep or problems of coordination, but simply continued into the beyond, the primitive, and the void. I loved it, I loved the feeling, it was my favorite feeling, but it never led to anything good, and the day after, or days after, it was as closely associated with boundless excess as with stupidity, which I hated with a passion. But when I was in that state, the future did not exist, nor the past, only the moment and that was why I wanted to be in it so much, for my world, in all its unbearable banality, was radiant." (399)
"But that light, bantering tone of theirs, which Erling and Gunnar also shared had never been part of my nature, to put it mildly, . . . . I was / unable to dissemble, unable to play a role, and the scholarly earnestness I brought into the house was impossible to keep at arm's length in the long run . . . ." (419-420)
"I saw the rooftops in the residential area stretching down the road and remembered how I used to walk among them as a sixteen-year-old, bursting with emotions. When everything I saw, even a rusty, crooked rotary dryer in a back garden, even rotten apples on the ground beneath a tree, even a boat wrapped in a tarpaulin, with the wet bow protruding and the yellow, flattened grass beneath, was ablaze with beauty." (422)
"Death and gold. I turned them over in my hand, one by one, and they filled me with disquiet. I stood there and was frightened of death in the same way that I had been when I was a child. Not of dying myself but of the dead." (423)
"The day always came with more than mere light. However frayed your emotions, it was impossible to be wholly unaffected by the day's new beginnings." (437)
Knausgaard closes the book with a terrific passage that circles back to the opening meditation on death and gives us this great last line: "And death, which I have always regarded as the greatest dimension of life, dark, compelling, was no more than a pipe that springs a leak, a branch that cracks in the wind, a jacket that slips off a clothes hanger and falls to the floor." (441)