Review: A Man in Love (My Struggle 2) by Karl Ove Knausgaard

A Man in Love (My Struggle 2)

Knausgaard calls his work a “novel”. A novel of all things? The majority of it may be called so by the majority, but for me it is not to be. I did not feel his grimy heart on my sweaty palms to be reading, of all, just a novel in the end. A novel of all things? He is not supposed to be a man equal to others, as he is already much more bringing out his life in the open. His money, others' money, all the money can’t bring him down to a plane of equality with others. “…it levels all differences, and if your character and your fate are entities that can be shaped, money is the most natural shaper, and this gives rise to the fascinating phenomenon whereby crowds assert their individuality and originality by shopping in an identical way…”. No it is not, Knausgaard. You got it wrong here. We after all live in pockets of similarities amongst bundles of cloth of inequalities. We are happy to vote for a democratic party, but sheepishly snail-along in un-democratic and dictatorial organizations for just a paycheck. We stupidly over-blow the trumpet of an all-encompassing plane of neutrality, but fjords of discontent and differences puncture it at times many. His own mother’s brother, Kjartan, is a communist. We all like to live in our shells, protected by our Armies – Army is democratic?, educated by being paid for by our parents – are our parents democratic?, education of all things is only a de-equalizer. This division of class is what Marx wrote about and still holds true and will always be such. How could our comforts be comforts if not for the discomfort of others'? How could our happiness be happiness if not for the unhappiness of others'? How could our fame be fame if not for others' non-existence? How could our knowledge be knowledge if not for others' ignorance? How could we be ourselves if not for the others? The others don’t just exist out of our spherical ball of self, but they define us. They make us. They break us. They are not us, but they are us.

Us ≠ They = Us

A revealing portion of the book is when he and his friends admit all of them have been failures in their lives. Every life is all but a compilation of dents and scratches, but we just want to talk, write, fancy, listen, dance, sing, praise, smile about is how good it is, how successful it has been, how wonderful it will be, how fantastic the experiences have been – bullshit. He, of course, what else would you expect him to do, dissects moments at the precise moments: “debilitating gaze of routine”; is inept as always – “small talk is one of the infinite number of talents I haven’t mastered”; funny – “children are like dogs, they always find their own in crowds”; self-observant “while we waited for him I stood by the door talking to Linda inside, unpleasantly conscious of the fact that everyone could hear what I said and of my own helplessness”; calm – “when I was asked a question, or asked a question myself, it was as if the words had to be dynamited out”; dissecting again – “rails of routine” – routine really catches him all the time.

He has moved out on his first wife, Tonje, and attends a writer’s workshop where he falls in love with Linda, who rejects her but later somehow they get together. And they have three kids. But again, Knausgaard being Knausgaard, there are quadrillion events in between. His uneven narratives spiked by sub-narratives and spiced by sub-sub-narratives are unmatched. They dissolve your presence and make you go swirling around in the drink of his words, till you hit the bottom and gain a sense of un-hazed thinking, till you start swirling up again. Reading newspapers for him is like emptying a bag of rubbish over your head – how could he write precisely how we feel about newspapers nowadays. How could he? And how could not anybody else? Or me trying here to create a piece of art but missing it? He finally does touch upon the meaninglessness of life, which he shied away from in A Death in The Family – “what was man on this earth other than an insect among other insects, a life form among other life forms, which might just as well take the form of algae in a lake or fungi on the forest floor, roe in a fish’s stomach, rats in a nest or a cluster of mussels on a reef? Why should we do one thing rather than another when there was no goal anyway, nor any direction in life, apart from to huddle together, live and then die?”. Brilliant, but not deep enough. Yet. He tries unraveling it again, “because meaning is not something we are given but which we give”.

The Grand-father of Sub-Sub-Narrative

He made love again to Linda. But I couldn’t recall him mentioning the first time it happened. He gets slapped by her in their marriage when he suggests holding things back. His infatuation, love all having disappeared in the busy-ness of, yes, routine. He keeps no partitions between us and his life. Partitions anyways give us a false sense of privacy, when all that is between us and the next-door-ones is a mere five inches. He has analysed it well. As expected from him. What’s the difference between the inside and the outside? It is only a partition of hypocrisy. Is that which is right outside my eye the outside? Is it separated from my inside? His study of his accrual self never fails to amaze you, “any disagreements had proceeded according to my method, which was irony, sarcasm, unfriendliness, sulking and silence”. “I had no problem being alone, being alone was not only an option for me, it was also an enticement, whereas she feared being alone more than anything”. But he is self-contradictory as well, writing about Linda and himself, “An exhibitionist, as I had been, and equally happy to hide”. You were never an exhibitionist, Knausgaard, you always hid in front of people, in muted silence, drowning in boredom. He is, it becomes trite to say this by now, exceedingly surmising, “all other art forms depict something else, music is the only one which is something in itself, it is absolutely incomparable”. How could he write “when I was outdoors, walking, like now, what I saw gave me nothing. Snow was snow, trees were trees. It was only when I saw a picture of snow or of trees that they were endowed with meaning” when all I could do was wonder at why Theodoros Angelopoulos could move my emotions like no one else. He was unfaithful to Tonje and that year was the most difficult for him. “Relationships were there to eradicate individuality”. He talks of Free Will, not explicitly, “unpredictability had vanished and you could go from nursery to school to university and into working life as if it were a tunnel, convinced that your choices had been made of your own free will, while in reality you had been sieved through like grains of sand right from your very first school day”. Life in schools and colleges is all about solving problems, finding solutions, cracking mysteries and knowing the unknown. Death in office is only about doing things which need to be done because someone wants them to be done because something inconsequential will be achieved out of it because some outcome has been fixed to it because some minor depressed financial number has been dictated as its prize because Capitalism dominated Communism because Communism dominated meaning because meaning dominated meaninglessness. He con-volutes and unhinges, often, “getting things to run smoothly, working to achieve a lack of resistance, this is the antithesis of art’s essence, is the antithesis of wisdom, which is based on restricting or being restricted”.

He ends with his mother recalling how she had met his father and how that sudden expression of emotion made him feel uncomfortable. This one too has come to an end. His life of love, and his lack of love for life. But a book, of his or of anyone else, can never be your friend. The friendship of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge espoused the cause of Romanticism, freeing their age of corny expression and shackles of Renaissance. Bosom friends they must have been, but Coleridge’s opium addiction did cast an aspersion of their worthiness together. They influenced each other, and in turn orchestrated a new movement for English Literature. When Knausgaard came out with his My Struggle series, his family and relatives couldn’t stop baulking from his reprehensive work. They were exposed, blamed and analyzed in elegiac details. For them to read his work was to come face to face with an enemy within. What friends could they be then with a book? Virginia Woolf had her family stooges play vivid roles in her novels, while Jane Austen read aloud her work in progress to hers. Churchill’s Nobel-winning six volume account of the Second World War couldn’t have been an easy read for the fallen Nazis. What friends could they ever be then with a book? John Giley could never ever walk past a well bound rare volume without making it his own. His riposte against the publishers reminds one of the French Revolution, when cake was to fend for their loved ones than bread. Giley’s knack for being invisible amongst the bookshelves didn’t earn him much admiration. The invention of the Parisian boy Hugo Cabret wouldn’t have been quite an invention but for the hand drawn designs of Automata by his father. His coming of age under the tutelage of Georges Méliès reminded us of what envy and passions a book could rouse. The People of the Book could stand aloof from the rest on basis of written word, and claim an overarching bond to forge ahead a united humanity and yet slash each other’s throats on an orthodox interpretation of written word not too different from the one which unified them. One can never escape the sarcasm in Paul Bede Johnson’s Intellectuals, for if he were one he wouldn’t jump in the sludge to which his subjects were pushed into. A book when seen can never make you feel nothing about it; either you will slurp at its cover or detest its author. A book when read always changes you, the reader, and also itself as you would never hold it in your hands the way you did it the first time. Your anticipations having been silenced, you would either pick it up time and again to regurgitate the ties or dispose it off by the kilo, orphaning it while it is still alive. A thoughtful reader can either be a vassal to a book when totally smitten or a master of it when angered. Never, alas, just an impartial, nonjudgmental friend.

His essays are anti-essays. His paragraphs anti-paragraphs. He writes with no purpose at hand, but keeps on writing. One conversation between Geir and him is so long and protracted that I felt like reading every single word of it. But I didn’t. As I slither between his lines, I can’t remember what he wrote in original in the last few pages. I can’t recollect anything of significance. My memory is not any more about touching the original, but it is a memory of memory about the original. A memory unto itself.

I read Knausgaard. I become Knausgaard. He was inside me before I read him.

? = I

Hence, I (Knausgaard) = Knausgaard

Any more and I would commit a literary suicide (Enlarged Version)


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