Perhaps the foremost characteristic of our age, what sets it apart from all others before it, is that the sheer volume of images of the world—not just the world of the past, but also, and perhaps especially, that of the present, the world of which we are a part—is so massive. Any event, anywhere on the planet—an earthquake, a plane crash, an act of terrorism—will be available for us to view only moments later, in on-the-scene images we see and consider as we go about our day-to-day lives, stuck in our tailbacks of traffic, as we make our coffee, visit the bathroom, wash our clothes, prepare our meals, set our tables.
All my adult life I have kept a distance from other people, it has been my way of coping, because I become so incredibly close to others in my thoughts and feelings of course, they only have to look away dismissively for a storm to break inside me.
Author Karl Ove Knausgaard — known for his six-volume
autobiographical series, My Struggle
— has embarked on a brand new multi-part project. Autumn, the first in a four-part quartet, is a collection of texts,
each focused on a single subject.
In these short studies, Knausgaard considers a wide variety
of tangible and intangible topics — apples, wasps, silence, jellyfish, toilets,
He tells NPR, “It is easier to write about the concrete
world — and especially things that are not much written about — because then
there is just the joy in describing it. … The challenge when it comes to more
abstract parts of the world — like forgiveness — is that it’s so easy to just
repeat something, or stay close to the conventional way of looking at it.”
We use systems to keep the wolf from the door, I thought. And systems are nothing but vast complexes of notions and concepts. Everything that helps us lose sight of the petty, pathetic and meaningless parts of our own selves. That is the wolf. The awkward, twisted or stupid part of the soul, the grudges and the envy, the hopelessness and the darkness, the childish joy and the unmanageable desire. The wolf is the part of human nature that the systems have no room for, the aspect of reality that our ideas, the firmament that the brain vaults above our lives, cannot fathom. The wolf is the truth.
“[T]he whole house was filled with the sound of [a] guitar,
and a strange congruence evolved between my feelings and these sounds, as
though they were me, as though that was the real me. I had written
some lyrics about this, it had actually been meant as a song, but since no tune
came to mind, I called it a poem when I later wrote it in my diary: _I distort
my soul’s feedback
I play my heart bare
I look at you and think:
We’re at one in my loneliness
We’re at one in my loneliness
You and me
You and me, my love.”
Karl Ove Knausgaard, from My Struggle, Vol. 1, trans. Don
Bartlett (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013)
“Three siblings, a mother and a father, that’s us. That’s your family. I mention it first because it’s what matters most. Good or bad, warm or cold, strict or indulgent, it doesn’t matter, this is the most important thing, these are the relationships through which you will come to view your world, and which will shape your understanding of almost everything, directly or indirectly, both in the form of resistance and of support.”
so deeply immersed in the world that they don’t distinguish between it and their own selves
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, excerpt from “Letter to an Unborn Daughter, August 28.” Opening story in his new book titled “Autumn” (Penguin Press, August 22, 2017)
Big feature in the Times magazine this weekend about Russian lit! by knausgaard, if you’re into that.
My whole view of Russia was based on myths and romantic imagery. What kind of hubris made me believe that I would be capable of saying something about the real Russia after a nine-day trip through one tiny corner of this vast country?
It was like describing a bucket of water in order to say something about the ocean.
To turn 40 is to realize that one’s limitations will last one’s whole life through, but also to know that all the time, whether one likes it or not, and whether one is aware of it or not, new layers are being added to one’s character, a type of knowledge and insight that isn’t directed towards the future, towards what will come to pass or one day be accomplished, but towards the here and now, in the things you do every day, in what you think about them and what you understand of them.
I loved it, I loved the feeling, it was my favorite feeling, but it never led to anything good, and the day after or the 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 of its unbearable banality, was radiant.
I have always had a great need for solitude. I require huge swathes of loneliness and when I do not have it, which has been the case for the last five years, my frustration can sometimes become almost panicked, or aggressive. And when what has kept me going for the whole of my adult life, the ambition to write something exceptional one day, is threatened in this way my one thought, which gnaws at me like a rat, is that I have to escape.