Monday, April 27, 2015

Karl Ove Knausgaard's struggle to recall . . .

Karl Ove Knausgaard
Photo by André Loyning

I've read only excerpts from Karl Ove Knausgaard's writings, but I've been sufficiently opinionated to blog on him, twice. Today makes thrice. What's next, "fierce"? Then "vice"?

Anyway, the novelist Jeffrey Eugenides, reviewing Don Bartlett's English translation of My Struggle, Book 4, has some interesting things to say in "Karl Ove ­Knausgaard's 'My Struggle: Book 4'" (NYT, April 23, 2015) - and I sound remarkably like a man repeating myself, though I beg to differ, for I am repeating others' words - but anyway, here's what Eugenides said, starting off with a quote:
"The last time I was in New York," Karl Ove ­Knausgaard wrote recently in The New York Times Magazine, in his account of traveling through the ­United States [with his family], "a well-known American writer invited me for lunch. . . . I tried desperately to think of something to say. We had to have something in common, we were about the same age, did the same thing for a living, wrote novels, though his were of considerably higher quality than mine. But no, I couldn't come up with a single topic of ­conversation. . . . When we got back to Sweden, I received an email from him. He apologized for having invited me to lunch, he had realized he never should have done it and asked me not to reply to his email. At first I didn't understand what he meant. . . . Then I ­realized he must have taken my silence personally. He must have thought I didn't find it worth my time talking to him."

Knausgaard doesn't reveal the identity of the American writer he had lunch with. But I will: It was me. I may be the first reviewer of Knausgaards autobiographical works who has appeared in one of them. Therefore, I'm in a perfect position to judge how he uses the stuff of his life to fashion his stories. Ever since Knausgaard turned me into a minor character, I have an inside track on what he's doing.
This should be interesting. Let's see:
[B]ack to my lunch with the largely silent author of these books. There is nothing factually incorrect about Knausgaard's account. But, on reading it, I saw what he was doing. Knausgaard wanted to draw a distinction between Scandinavians and Americans when it comes to small talk. In fact, the reason we couldn't talk to each other had less to do with cultural differences than with the fact that we are both nervous people with self-esteem problems who were uncomfortable in each other's presence. That didn't fit into Knausgaard's argument at that point in the article, however; and so, like any professional writer, he used the part of the story that served his need.

That's exactly what he does in "My Struggle." Knausgaard's life is a grab bag of events and recollections, and he uses whatever is handy. He doesn't lie or make things up (so far as I know). But the ­selection process he subjects his memories to in order to fulfill the narrative demands of his writing rises to a level of considerable artifice. Other writers invent; Knausgaard remembers. His raw materials are more authentic (maybe), but the products they create no less artful.
And there it is, Knausgaard's literary method: not lying, just selective editing. If we can believe Eugenides . . .



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