Thoughts provoked by A MAN IN LOVE: VOLUME 2 OF MY STRUGGLE by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Fiction nauseates him. It is everywhere and multiplying at an inexorable rate. What Milan Kundera in The Art of the Novel called “graphomania” has snowballed into a planetary tidal wave and Mr. Knausgaard is sickened by it. He maintains that it is not only in the realm of publishing that fiction is mushrooming out of proportion, but cites film and television, the internet and even reportage and documentaries. If I have understood him correctly, what he means is that all of these forms have become subservient to an overriding and compulsive need to structure the work as a “narrative”. We narrate ourselves, we narrate events, and the narrative demands its own logic of dramatic exposition and dénouement. We have fictionalised ourselves so that our relationship with the world – and by extension, with life – has become fictional, in the sense of disconnected from reality. What is he to do? He is, after all, a writer, obedient to what Samuel Beckett so succinctly calls the hypothetical imperative. And thus his alternative is to try and regain reality.
“I wanted to get as close to my life as possible,” says the narrator of My Struggle.
Much has been written about Mr. Knausgaard’s daily preoccupation with changing diapers, shopping, cooking and pushing a buggy around with three children on the streets of Stockholm and Malmö. Some have gone so far as to (almost) accuse him of self- aggrandisement. But all of this detracts from his actual endeavour and achievement. So what does he achieve?
To begin with, this reader is of the opinion that Mr. Knausgaard actually does transcend any narrative imperative. His big book does not at any point suggest that it is driving towards a conclusion predestined by the omnipotent author. There is no future. There is neither rounding-off nor summing-up. In fact, reading him, one is thrown back time and again into the here-and-now, albeit a here-and-now that can – and does – contain memory, ruminations about memory and speculations as to what may come. But there is no sense of a future. In other words, there is no trace of an inner drive or momentum towards something.
And this is extraordinary. The sheer length and detail of apparently banal events leads one sooner or later to ask oneself, But where the f*** is this leading to? Only to realise: nowhere. And that is the point. It does not lead up to anywhere. This nowhere is neither a negation nor an absence. If anything, I dare say it is truth. Knausgaard is nothing if not honest. He succeeds triumphantly in escaping the force, the pressure of two solid centuries of the European novel that inherently contains a drive, a thrust towards a conclusion. In this, he can deservedly be compared to Musil, Proust, or Beckett. Reading Knausgaard becomes an exercise in being, an experience of the here-and-now. There is no future, there is no conclusion.
Consciousness is. And cannot know its own conclusion. The last nanosecond before death is still consciousness, therefore still life. Consciousness cannot know its own conclusion. Thus Beckett’s last volume of the trilogy comprising of Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable ends with “... you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on ...” which is no end but a continuation – of consciousness itself.
This is what Karl Ove Knausgaard really achieves, according to this reader. How we partake of it remains our choice.
“I wanted to get as close to my life as possible,” he says. Does he? The reader cannot be a judge of that. For, outside of the writer himself, who is to know? How can it be known? I, as reader, was made witness to a life. And for this reader, it did not matter if it was an accurate, or honest, description of the man Karl Ove Knausgaard, or of his life. That remains a matter for the author’s conscience, if at all. Jeanette Winterson in Art & Lies writes, “There is no autobiography. There is Art. And lies.” The experience of reading A Man In Love: My Struggle Volume2 brought this reader incredibly close to, and confronted him with, his own life. Is that not an ideal that Art aspires to?
(c) Kenneth Philip George, Berlin. June 17, 2014.