Q. Does anything happen in these books?
November 23, 2018 5:51 AM   Subscribe

 
Appropriately enough, meta questions:

1) How and why would a European choose to title a book Min Kamp? What is the title of the German translation?

2) How and why do you write a meandering long-form review of said book without addressing the fact that it’s named Min Kamp and wondering what the title of the German translation is?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:34 AM on November 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


He does discuss it briefly, as the eponymous predecessor, when he discusses the Hitler essay. Presumably he thinks it's already been covered by earlier reviews and it's not the focus of this one.
posted by felix grundy at 7:02 AM on November 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


TMNL, exactly. I did a double take when I saw the Norwegian title mentioned in passing, without comment.
posted by medusa at 7:03 AM on November 23, 2018


Knausgaardwin's Law
posted by Pendragon at 7:03 AM on November 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


the truly most frequently asked question is: do I have to read this, is it any good?

The answer both parts of the question is: No.

You have to think of it in terms of what economists call opportunity costs. In other words, what else could you have been reading or doing in the time that you spent reading My Struggle? (An appropriate question because of the extraordinary time investment required to read the series.)

The popularity of the series should be seen in the light of mimetic desire, with everyone wanting to read the books that everyone else seems to be reading, talking about and finding merit in. You should be able to satisfy this desire by reading the first volume. The subsequent books do not add value. They are no more entertaining or enlightening that the first.

Consider what economists call the opportunity costs of reading Knausgaard. That is, ask yourself, what else you could be reading or doing with the time instead of reading My Struggle and its long train of boxcars.

I would ask you, have you read post-Anna Karenina Tolstoy (especially Resurrection)? The Diaries and book reviews of Virginia Woolf? Early Peter DeVries? The non-Sherlock Holmes works of Arthur Conan Doyle (especially the pirate stories)?

Have you read A Tour of the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, and Boswell's London diaries? Have you read Stoner and John Williams' other two books? Have you read pre-Lolita Nabokov (especially King, Queen, Knave)? Have you read Pickwick Papers, the Aubery-Maturin novels, Gregory Rabassa-translated South American novels beyond 100 Years of Solitude, the novels of Jim Tully, early Gore Vidal -- Edward St. Aubyn, for heaven's sake, or any of the hundreds of truly excellent and well-written novels that have been published in the years since My Struggle was released?

I would suggest that time spent reading almost anything (with the exception of science fiction, fantasy, and celebrity autobiographies -- almost) would be time better more enrichingly spent than reading Knausgaard.

Finally, and most damningly, Knausgaard's books have so far failed even to provoke interesting criticism, challenging even Fredric Jameson (the linked essay) to find something penetrating, amusing or insightful to say about them (he doesn't).
posted by Modest House at 7:04 AM on November 23, 2018 [22 favorites]


There was a lot of discussion about the title when the first book was released and this is a review of the sixth book, so for LRB readers, there's nothing more to say about the title that wasn't already said years ago.

Personally, I think he was being an edgelord asshole, ymmv.

I've only read the first book, and none of the reviews of subsequent volumes have convinced me that reading them would be a good use of my time.
posted by betweenthebars at 7:11 AM on November 23, 2018 [6 favorites]


I am struggling with this book. I’m halfway through the essay on Celan, and I’ve had to put it down. I’ll decide if I like it last year.

I read each of the first 5 books in a few days, and they truly are some of the best books I’ve ever read. I love them immensely. When people ask if they should read them though, if you didn’t live the first one, don’t bother.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 7:21 AM on November 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


Finally, and most damningly, Knausgaard's books have so far failed even to provoke interesting criticism, challenging even Fredric Jameson (the linked essay) to find something penetrating, amusing or insightful to say about them (he doesn't).

I think that's kind of the striking achievement -- if that's the term (and it's not) -- that Jameson's review calls attention to: this is the novel everyone has heard of, that many people read in order to be readers of it, that critics find themselves compelled to discuss, but that no one finds anything of value in. And yet they keep discussing it! It's not entertaining, illuminating, challenging, or even, really, controversial or provocative after all, given that its controversy-baiting title is so blatantly obvious in its apparent intent that it sort of comes out the other side, and the excruciatingly mundane contents mean that even the potential drama of the uncle's lawsuit is, as Jameson notes, sort of tediously inevitable, a break of any tension, rather than innovative or productively analyzable.

A lot of Jameson's argument here seems to be that the novel is a symptom of what he sees as the current situation of "daily life" and those who live it. He notes that fiction -- really, lit-fic -- seems to have run out of experiments, and really stopped performing the function of identifying or achieving heterogeneity that, for Jameson, animates literature as an art. (Really, this review can be read primarily as an essay on the death of lit-fic.) The one bit he says, again and again, is interesting is the reader or person in Kausgard's life who withholds or defers any reaction: the most interesting thing around this novel would be the people who should react to it, but are apparently not at all interested in reacting to it.

Jameson also seems to argues that it is only in itemizing the raw material of experience is there any real possibility for experiment remaining in lit-fic. I don't think, in the end, that he thinks this novel is successful in finding that possibility, and I get the sense he doesn't think much of it as a possibility. (Again, I think this review is about the death of lit-fic.)
posted by kewb at 7:22 AM on November 23, 2018 [10 favorites]


In Germany they're titled after the content and the whole series is sub-titled 'The Autobiographical Project'

I have a bunch of them that I've received as gifts and I have yet to start any of them. Frankly, I'm jealous of his hair and that's proving enough of a block to keep me from opening any of the books.
posted by From Bklyn at 7:24 AM on November 23, 2018 [8 favorites]


OK, one Jameson story.

I spent a lot of grad school doing Marxist and related theory. As a young prof I got a paper on Jameson, Adorno, and utopia accepted to a conference, then was excited to learn the man himself (Jameson, that is, not Adorno) would be there to respond.

However, the week of the conference I came down with a serious flu. Never mind, I told myself, I'll power through. The morning of the event I printed my paper and left several spaces for reactions to other presenters. I took the printout, and many medications, and sat down in the main conference room to get ready for the sessions before mine.

Who would show up but Fred Jameson. He introduced himself very genially, expressed polite interest in the paper, then took it from my hands and walked away, so he could read it before my talk. I was too star-struck and flu-addled to protest until he had left the area.

So I settled back down with my tea and drugs, terrified that Jameson would despise my paper, especially with the gaps in it, and I'd have no way to adjust it before the talk (this was in the late 1990s, and I didn't have a decent laptop to edit with then). I frantically jotted down notes from other presenters and furiously thought about reconstructing my entire paper from those presenters and the flu-fogged memory of my own.

5 minutes before I was scheduled to go on stage, my eyes blearing shut, Jameson strolls back and hands me the paper. "Excellent work!" he proclaims. "Carry on with it."

I was not and am not a religious person, but I imagine that this is what it felt like to have a supernatural being endorse one's cause. Or maybe it was the combination of illness and drugs. Either way, my heart soared as I stomped up to the podium.

I don't remember much of my presentation, to be honest... except shaking my first in the air at several points to emphasize an idea. I think. During Q+A the leading academic in the session asked me a dumb question, and I, utterly forgetting that I was a kid prof, threw decorum to the winds and mocked said silly question, using its flaws to offer another argument. (Afterwards he was so impressed that he bought me lunch)

The rest of the conference vanished in haze. But I still remember the Jameson encounter.
posted by doctornemo at 7:30 AM on November 23, 2018 [35 favorites]


He notes that fiction -- really, lit-fic -- seems to have run out of experiments ...

Self-conscious experimentation has a long history of failure in novels. But individual authors who are simply trying to write a good book that will make them famous, get them loved, or earn them some money, will generate enough accidental experiments to keep the genre of literary fiction vital and heterogeneous for a long time.
posted by Modest House at 7:33 AM on November 23, 2018 [9 favorites]


Self-conscious experimentation has a long history of failure in novels. But individual authors who are simply trying to write a good book that will make them famous, get them loved, or earn them some money, will generate enough accidental experiments to keep the genre of literary fiction vital and heterogeneous for a long time.

It's true that self-conscious experimentation has a long history of failure, before that it had a short but amazing prehistory. I mean, this is what High Modernism is, isn't it? And High Modernism produced some astonishing, amazing works that actually did stuff and do stuff.

But, yeah, it doesn't now, and hasn't for quite some time. That's what "the death of lit-fic" would be, the death of that self-conscious experimentation, and more generally, of the inherently self-conscious desire to write a Great Book and instead just wanting to write a book someone will think is pretty great. For a while, the very self-conscious enterprise of writing Fiction or Literature actually was effective and animating, but like every unclosed perspective, it finally becomes a thing (or "a Thing") after a while.

So Knausgard is reduced to a mind of parody of literary maximalism, maybe an unknowing parody, that reveals in an utterly inescapable fashion how incredibly mundane and completely un-experimental deliberate literary experimentation and lit-fic as a genre really are. (Even the critics can no longer pretend otherwise in the face of it!)

I can't think of a recent deliberate attempt at Great Writing that lived up to even a fraction of its ambition, and I am at the end of my thirties, whence "recent" is an embarrassingly long span of time. I get the sense that you can't, either. (Jameson himself has been writing on science fiction, Raymond Chandler, and so forth the last few years as often as not.)
posted by kewb at 7:51 AM on November 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


Sorry, a correction to a stray sentence:

For a while, the very self-conscious perspective that it was a needful task to write Fiction or Literature actually was effective and animating, but like every unclosed perspective, it finally becomes an enterprise, and its product becomes a thing (or "a Thing") after a while.
posted by kewb at 7:52 AM on November 23, 2018


I can't say much about this book because I haven't read it. But I can say that Volume 1 of this series (dealing with the death of Knausgaard's father) is very good and highly recommended, seriously one of the best things I've ever read, and it stands on its own separate from the other volumes. I lost steam somewhere in the middle of Volume 2, where Knausgaard starts complaining that you can't have a good uninterrupted conversation with Swedish people because they drink too much water and have to go to the bathroom all the time! Maybe I'll get back to it someday but I moved on to Chateaubriand's "Memoirs from Beyond the Grave".
posted by crazy_yeti at 7:53 AM on November 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


The Germans should call it “My Ding-a-Ling”
posted by thelonius at 8:11 AM on November 23, 2018 [7 favorites]


You have to think of it in terms of what economists call opportunity costs.

And also sunk costs. Reading all the earlier volumes may lead you to convince yourself that you absolutely must complete this one too, ploughing through page after page that is brain-blisteringly terrible. Reader, learn from my mistakes.
posted by robself at 8:44 AM on November 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


I won't spend as much time defending Knausgaard as I used to. His genre of white male navel-gazing is decidedly out of fashion, and for good reason. All if the reviews I've read if this final book, including this one, have put me off finishing the series. But I will say that when Knausgaard is on, he is on.

I'm not necessarily surprised to learn that he doesn't have the toolset to engage with the biography of Hitler in a worthwhile way. All of his best work is based on his interiority, of which he is the expert. When he goes outside of himself, he probably still figures his thoughts on any subject are the best thoughts, when really they are just the first impressions of a relatively active mind.
posted by Think_Long at 8:47 AM on November 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


I somehow think of the Knausgaard books as a twitter account turned into a publishing spectacle.

I’m vaguely interested in them largely because I’m always interested in that sort of intensely reported on interiority. But in this specific case, I feel the opportunity cost argument hard. If I’m going to devote that much time to series of books, then I’m probably going to devote it the last few volumes of In Search Of Lost Time, I haven’t read yet.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:10 AM on November 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


haven't read a word of My Struggle (the Knaussgaard version) but I did get a belly laugh out of a friend's one line critique. "I kept waiting for a proper murder."
posted by philip-random at 9:13 AM on November 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


Presumably he thinks it's already been covered by earlier reviews and it's not the focus of this one.

I suppose, but I don’t think I could make any serious arguments about the content without talking about how they incorporated the title of the series.

I suppose it could be widely recognized that the title is a stunt by now.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:43 AM on November 23, 2018 [1 favorite]




A related AskMe today from Frowner: "What would you read instead of Knausgaard?"
posted by Wobbuffet at 12:50 PM on November 23, 2018


I would suggest that time spent reading almost anything (with the exception of science fiction, fantasy, and celebrity autobiographies -- almost) would be time better more enrichingly spent than reading Knausgaard.

This is a spectacular indictment of... something. If the works of Ursula K Le Guin, Iain M Banks, Octavia Butler (etc) or Spike Milligan's war memoirs aren't allowed to count as literature, then forgive me but I am not remotely interested in your My Literature Is The Only Serious Literature And Nothing Else Counts Anyway Club. Always amusing to see it in the wild though.

On the other hand, I have a contribution for the 'How Others See Us' section of Ansible, so there's that.
posted by motty at 3:49 PM on November 23, 2018 [24 favorites]


If you don't want to read THIS, allow me to recommend a dozen other exceptionally famous men you might want to read!
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 4:04 PM on November 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


I bought volume one, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet (I'm reading Ian M. Banks thanks to all of you on Metafilter: seriously, thank you!). It's interesting that Jameson mentions Roberto Bolano and Elena Ferrante as other international sensations. I *loved* both of them, and if I thought Knausgaard was that good, I'd drop everything and start reading, but I'm not convinced. This, however, was a very good book review.
posted by acrasis at 5:53 PM on November 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


This is a spectacular indictment of...

The whole thread I was like...is no one going to call this comment out?!
posted by Literaryhero at 7:50 PM on November 23, 2018 [14 favorites]


And this is then, finally, the fascination that Knausgaard, maybe unwittingly, ends up exercising on his readers. We do wonder why we take such satisfaction in the notation of all these daily things… It is what a different postwar theoretical philosophy called redemption; all these insignificant moments of an insignificant daily life are here redeemed, by the ordinary, undistinctive sentences which write them down. They have not been transformed, or lent some higher meaning; they remain what they were before, transient and of no particular interest...

Surely there is a dichotomy between the mundaneness of the things being described in these sections, and Knausgaard's intellect? Perhaps they are only interesting as we know they are being experienced by him, a charismatic writer? Would the same details written down by anyone be just as fascinating? Surely not to his readers. Are his books then like reality TV, but for intellectuals?
posted by rubber duck at 5:36 AM on November 24, 2018


So how does it compare to Booji Boy's My Struggle?
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 10:14 AM on November 24, 2018


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