"I love desolate landscapes."
February 25, 2015 9:19 AM   Subscribe

My Saga, Part 1 By Karl Ove Knausgaard [New York Times] Following the trail of the first Europeans to set foot in America, the first of two parts. Previously. Previously.

The second half of “My Saga” will appear online on March 11, 2015.
posted by Fizz (29 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
oy, the bastard's good-looking too. Talk about God giving with both exhaustively described hands.
posted by Think_Long at 9:34 AM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Steady now :)

Dude looks like he walked off the set of The Thing.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 9:42 AM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

this essay should have been titled: "America, where I'm still not a Viking."
posted by ennui.bz at 9:46 AM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

The decision to center the whole thing on the Viking shtick really does seem strangely undermotivated. Surely there are better American junkets an editor could suggest for Knausgaard specifically (I don't know, Nascar? Vegas?), rather than just being all generic-Scandinavian-stereotype about it.
posted by RogerB at 10:05 AM on February 25, 2015

Fun fact: when the Puritans got together to form the Massachusetts colony, they did so in East Anglia. They were almost all born there, and at the time, the people of East Anglia were still called Jutes.

As a Bostonian, I think a lot can be explained by NE's connection to Jutland, that part of Scandinavia that the other Scans say is morose. That's where he should be touring.
posted by ocschwar at 10:17 AM on February 25, 2015

One of my favorite books about the U.S. is Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” which among many other things is also a kind of road novel . . . Humbert’s gaze is European, deeply sophisticated, cultivated and ancient, but also perverted and sick . . . “Lolita” came out one year after another road novel, Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” . . . It would be hard to imagine two more dissimilar fictional landscapes. . . . Kerouac describes it from the inside, with no distance . . . a young, restless, hungry, open soul. . . . Now, both Nabokov’s book and Kerouac’s were . . . part of this country’s history. But the conflict between life and the imitation of life, and the impossible desire for authenticity, was still being explored in American literature . . .

Yeah, nice try, but still: no thanks.
posted by Herodios at 10:37 AM on February 25, 2015

I was on a plane flying from London to Toronto. I was running a temperature, and after battling my way through all the lines and security checks at Heathrow that morning with an aching body, I wished I could keep flying.
When we learned about Viking exploration in school, I never imagined that it had actually happened; not even when we went to see the authentic Viking ships in the museum in Oslo in ninth grade.
I use top-up cards because no Swedish phone company will let me open an account, I have too many late payments on my credit report. Nor will any bank lend me money to buy a house or a car. I have to pay everything in cash.
I got dressed, stepped out onto the terrace and had a cigarette. When I came back in, I went to the toilet. I hadn’t gone since I arrived in America,* so the result was significant. I wiped myself thoroughly, then flushed.
I wrapped a plastic bag around my arm and stuck my hand into the icy water that was welling up from the bowl.

How much bad luck could one person have?

tl;dr Dude writes a very lightly edited piece about fucking up his way to Canada, fucks up a toilet, then inflicts himself on the U.S.

* He takes the shit in Canada. Hilarity ensues.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:40 AM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Just reached the end of the piece.

Karl Ove Knausgaard is the author of the six-volume autobiographical novel “My Struggle.”

You know who else wrote a long-winded book with that title?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:46 AM on February 25, 2015

Knausgaardwin's Law is vindicated once again!
posted by RogerB at 10:47 AM on February 25, 2015 [10 favorites]

Acquired taste, like him or don't like him, I'll still take Knausgaard over any crap by Jonathan Franzen any day of the week.
posted by blucevalo at 10:53 AM on February 25, 2015 [6 favorites]

Book 4's translation comes out in a few months. Get on your library's hold list people, I'm number 13!
posted by Think_Long at 10:56 AM on February 25, 2015

Knausgaardwin's Law is vindicated once again!



After once getting about a third of the way through Freedom, I have absolutely zero quarrel with anyone who wants to talk smack about Franzen. Particularly given that I paid for hardcover copy of that thing.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:00 AM on February 25, 2015

You know who else wrote a long-winded book with that title?

The original Norwegian title of Knausgård's work is Min Kamp, in case you think he missed that fact.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:10 AM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

The original Norwegian title of Knausgård's work is Min Kamp, in case you think he missed that fact.

I know. That's why my initial reaction was "oh no you didn't." My mistake was reading the NYT piece as straight exposition rather than a self-referential pisstake.

I take comfort in knowing all the other Knausgård threads started out exactly the same way.

*Adjusts tie. Clears throat*

Carry on, then.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:21 AM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

I sent what I had written to my Norwegian editor, and he replied a few hours later saying that the description was “a little stiff,” which in his vocabulary was equivalent to saying it was a disaster. I lay down in bed and read about the Vikings while my chest filled with despair.

I think I am in love.
posted by Mogur at 11:38 AM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

I like his writing
I envy him his hair
posted by From Bklyn at 12:10 PM on February 25, 2015

Jesus, now I'm going to have to read My Struggle. I've been wilfully ignorant due association, the last time I was goaded by positive public opinion to undertake a translation of a wildly popular Scandinavian novel I'd have prefered assembling Ikea furniture instead.

Stupid tattoos of dragons.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:42 PM on February 25, 2015

My Snuggle
posted by srboisvert at 4:32 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Before I embark on My Struggle, having just finished the article, do you mutter to yourself while reading the book "Jesus, what an idiot", after every second page like you do while reading the article?
posted by Keith Talent at 5:01 PM on February 25, 2015

do you mutter to yourself while reading the book "Jesus, what an idiot", after every second page

Yes. On the other pages you mutter "Christ, what a genius."
posted by RogerB at 5:02 PM on February 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

I kind of forgot that I was reading Part I of My Struggle about six months ago. This is making me want to pick it back up. Karl Ove Knausgaard's main talent seems to be in evoking, in an intimate if exhaustive way, what it is like to be Karl Ove Knausgaard.
posted by no mind at 6:17 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

On the one hand, I'm kind of impressed that one guy's detailed narcissism and Hitleresque book title is a hit. On the other hand, I totally glazed over trying to read excerpts today.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:38 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm about halfway through the second book, and this is a good reminder to pick it up again. Knausgaard (I sort of want to call him Karl Ove, because the books are really that intimate) is incredibly effective in long form -- you just sort of subsume yourself in the minute details he's recording, and then you blink and look up and it's 100 pages later and you've learned what the guy did as a child and it's two hours later and you're not sure what hit you.

I mean, I definitely did the "Jesus what an idiot" thing, because young Karl Ove is a moron. I was a moron at that age too; it's a thing. But the rest of the time, when you realize what you're reading, that's when you're muttering about what a genius he is.
posted by kalimac at 8:27 AM on February 27, 2015

The Guardian has a long-read piece on Karl Ove Knausgaard:
"The answer lies not in Knausgaard’s depth of revelation so much as the intensity of focus he brings to the subject of his life. He seems to punch a hole in the wall between the writer and reader, breaking through to a form of micro-realism and emotional authenticity that makes other novels seem contrived, “made up”, irrelevant. As Smith put it: “You live his life with him. You don’t simply ‘identify’ with the character, effectively you ‘become’ them.”

Whether he’s writing about his adult alienation at a toddler’s birthday party or the memory of trying to get hold of alcohol as a teenager on New Year’s Eve, Knausgaard is prepared to go into extraordinary sensuous detail that can last 50 pages or more."
posted by Fizz at 6:40 AM on March 1, 2015

The second half of My Saga is now up on the NY Times website.

I had missed the first part, but was completely sucked into this second and concluding half.
posted by Atreides at 9:58 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

The pull quote on the NYT's front page is just great:

"I was supposed to use this trip to grasp something essential about the U.S., perceive something with my foreign gaze that Americans couldn’t see for themselves. Instead, I saw nothing. I experienced nothing."

Impossible to take seriously. Reminds me of Nihilist Arby's.
posted by crazy with stars at 12:33 PM on March 11, 2015

"Jesus, what an idiot"

Appropriately enough Part II of the saga literally includes the text "Oh, Jesus, was I an idiot."

Impossible to take seriously.

While the first half was certainly a little on the goofy side, I thought this second part was a pretty fucking beautiful piece of writing. But whatever, de gustibus, I guess. If mordant self-deprecation isn't your bag then it is indeed advisable to avoid Knausgaard entirely.
posted by RogerB at 2:47 PM on March 11, 2015

One thing I enjoyed about it was simply the observations without necessarily the judgment. One paragraph addresses the presence of tvs everywhere, but hardly anyone watching them. It could have real fast descended into a scornful criticism about fat Americans sitting on couches watching tv or something to that ilk, but it's just remains a comment, and any opinion is subtly laced through the words, such as a very nice person pointing something out and waiting for you to make the connection.

In counter to the "nothing" quote, there's also:
I loved it not only because I had finally seen something in the United States that Humbert and Lolita could have seen — a fabulous entry for Nabokov’s catalog of American monuments, wonders and reconstructions — but also because it struck me that the image of reality that this particular reconstruction presented was, in a curious way, absolutely true.

It was liberating to see how small and insignificant each separate part of this history was, compared with our notions about its grandness. It felt liberating, because that is what the world is really like, full of insignificant trifles that we use to blunder on as best we can, one by one, whether we happen to be 19th-century immigrants building a log cabin in some forest glade, cold and miserable, longing to sit motionless for a few hours in front of the fire; or a local museum director in a Norwegian children’s sweater; or a crafty Swede, carving runes into a stone and burying it in a field in an attempt to change world history. Or for that matter, an inept Norwegian writer who has spent 10 days on assignment in the U.S. without discovering anything, apart from this.
posted by Atreides at 4:06 PM on March 11, 2015

Well, moderation didn't like my assessment of the first part of this -- text -- and I still don't find it particularly impressive overall. However I did find a small pony* buried in the writer's second room-full:
[At his] childhood home . . . there was no sign indicating that Bob Dylan grew up here, nor was there a statue of him.

That seemed appropriate . . . there was nothing about Bob Dylan to remind one of a statue, nothing about his music or his role had become rigid or clearly defined, no final form enclosed him. In fact, it was as if he weren’t really a person at all, but had somehow dissolved into his music. His old songs were constantly in motion, and the new songs emerged from the same stream. As he traveled around, permanently on tour, you couldn’t tell what came from him and what belonged to the American song tradition; he was just playing the music.

On The Basement Tapes you can hear how he discovers this mode for the first time, how he begins to live in the music . . . all demands for perfection and completion, for flawlessness, have been suspended . . .

All writers, artists and musicians know the feeling: when you disappear into what you are doing, lose yourself in it and are no longer aware that you exist, while at the same time the feeling of existing is profound and total and what you make is never better. Work created in this state really shouldn’t be published in the artist’s name, because it has been created precisely by the artist’s nonpersonal, nonindividual, selfless side.

Bob Dylan is the master of the selfless self, the king of the not-one’s-one, a deeply paradoxical figure who lived and breathed the music of this deeply paradoxical country.
Got to admit, that's pretty good.

* Paragraph breaks added for online clarity.
posted by Herodios at 9:40 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

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