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"That's the point, to be in a place where you are not aware of yourself."
Karl Ove Knausgaard on Art and Loneliness
Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote a 6-volume selfie that a lot of us can’t stop reading. My Struggle he called it, looking inward and talking to himself for thousands of pages. Autumn, his new book, is a relief for him and us: It looks outward, in short pieces, letters to a new daughter before she was born, about Stubble Fields, Telephones, Wellington boots, chimneys, the painter Vincent Van Gogh. You name it, he’ll write it, a theme a day as in the college course we wish we’d taken.
In conversation it’s not one guy introspecting, it’s two guys groping for a connection, sitting in the back of my house in Boston for most of an hour in the storm season of 2017. What’s the difference, I’m asking, between his narcissism and President Trump’s?
We’re jumping from Russian novels to gene editing to the experience of loneliness, and I’m finding him wide open to engagement. He’s generous, transparent, in effect: innocent. Here’s an excerpt of the interview below:
Karl Ove Knausgaard: The books I’d been writing before were so introspective and so analytic and so self-analyzing. That’s very much about relations, very much about psychology, and it’s basically all about the interior life. And this book is the opposite. I’m looking at something outside of myself, and it is the things themselves that should be in the center, basically yes removed from myself. But from thing to me was to see what happens if you write, you know in your own style personally, about something objective that happens with an encyclopedia thought of the world, you know. Everything becomes, in the end, very personal anyway somehow. It’s impossible to remove yourself. You never think of quality of writing in an encyclopedic text, you know, in a dictionary. It’s just like it’s a matter of fact: this is the world. But what you discover when you write about it that’s just not true. The objective world just doesn’t exist. It’s all a relationship between me and the world and you and the world. There is nothing else.
Christopher Lydon: So why get out of yourself after so long inside? Was it for relief?
KOK: Yeah, very much a relief. It was joyful to write this book, and it wasn’t joyful to write My Struggle, as my previous book was called. But a joyful part is, you know, because I am writing about joyful things. I’m writing about being alive in this world, which is joyful. We do forget it all the time, but it is. And this book is mainly set in a garden and a house, and that’s it. That’s where the world is. I mean, even when there are hurricanes and, you know, climate change and all the wars and hunger and all of this, this is still true. It does exist.
Video: On Van Gogh and the Life of an Artist
Video by Zach Goldhammer. Illustrations by Susan Coyne.