APRIL is the cruellest month, breeeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
(Said T.S. Eliot)
It’s a literary day. Last night Karl Ove Knausgaard in Santa Fe, today working on “100” (travel stories) for my class and even, maybe, reactivating the blogging life.
Before a word or more about the humdrum activities of April like moving; learning to sleep without fear of footprints on my head…or was that footfalls overhead; battling with smart phones from hell, losing one old friend, renewing contact with another…I must say something about Knausgaard. Karl Ove Knausgaard.
One of my top five favorite writers of a lifetime. Why Knausgaard? Why was the Lensic full last night? Why are the critics glowing, baffled, praiseful, annoyed with what a mesmerizing voice this guy is with a story and language so apparently ordinary.
Karl Ove does go on…and on. Six hefty volumes about what is in many ways an uneventful life, at least as measured on a grand scale of adventure and achievement (well, other than changing the whole realm of fiction/non-fiction/biographical writing–which might be called quite an achievement!). The critic James Wood said of Knausgaard’s writing, “Even when I was bored, I was interested.” It’s true, it’s like that with these books.
Even if I can’t emulate him, I desperately want to understand why he is this damn internationally-renowned amazingly inspiringly good. He doesn’t really play with language, as in googling every thesaurus available for just the right and oh-so clever word. His language is not fancy nor fanciful. His use of metaphors is more profound than clever. I think I have that right. For example (from An Open Mind: The terrible beauty of brain surgery, NYT Magazine, January 3, 2016)
As he views the open brain just before surgery.
A landscape opened up before me. I felt as if I were standing on the top of a mountain, gazing out over a plain, covered by long, meandering rivers. On the horizon, more mountains rose up, between them there were valleys and one of the valleys was covered by an enormous white glacier. Everything gleamed and glittered. It was as if I had been transported to another world, another part of the universe. One river was purple, the others were dark red, and the landscape they coursed through was full of strange, unfamiliar colors. But it was the glacier that held my gaze the longest. It lay like a plateau above the valley, sharply white, like mountain snow on a sunny day. Suddenly a wave of red rose up and washed across the white surface.
I think this was said last night in a much better way than I’m remembering. But something about how he, Knausgaard, gets the person on the page. It’s not the writer writing about something, he’s what’s written. Well, I have said that badly but this guy is a very hard writer to define.
I won’t even try to say more; there are at least a thousand reviews of his six-volume, My Struggle. Almost all admiring I believe. If occasionally exasperatedly so. I’m halfway through Volume 4. And sometimes feel I want to start over again from the beginning. But I won’t. There are many good books in the world and life is short. Most of them aren’t as good as Karl Ove Knausgaard’s though.
More about moving and ordinary shit (that the aforementioned writer could turn into multiple pages of compelling literature no doubt) later.
April’s my birth month and a good month it is if it ends with being just a few feet away from the dapper literary presence of Mr. Knausgaard. Beautiful skinny Viking, beautiful searching mind.