Tag Archives: Karl Ove Knausgaard

The inner and the outer landscape

Knausgaard writes beautifully about landscapes, and he describes his inner life the way he describes a landscape, simply noting, with tender exactness, what is there. Using the same flat tone, he will describe the green mountainside, the tea in a cup, the feeling of fear. The inner and outer landscapes are united. He’s invented a new kind of narration: he chronicles the minute details of his own existence, but not from the perspective of himself.


Joshua Rothman, Knausgaard’s Selflessness, April 20 2016 The New Yorker (from here) 

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‘A landscape opened up . . . ‘

A writer observes brain surgery

‘Next to us was a monitor showing an enlarged image of the brain. In the middle, a pit had been scooped out. In the center of the pit was a white substance, shaped like a cube. The white cube, which appeared to be made of firmer stuff, was rubbery and looked like octopus flesh. I realized that it must be the tumor.

One doctor looked up from a microscope that was suspended over the brain and turned to me. Only his eyes were visible above the mask. They were narrow and foxlike.

“Do you want to have a look?” he asked.

I nodded.

The doctor stepped aside, and I bent down over the microscope.

Oh, God.

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 had never seen anything quite as beautiful, and when I straightened up and moved aside to make room for the doctor, for a moment my eyes were glazed with tears.’

Karl Ove Knausgaard The Terrible Beauty of Brain Surgery , The New York Times, Dec 30/2015 (from here) 


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Worry about one’s children

A writer wakes alone in his hotel room, having left his wife and children at home.

‘When the alarm on my cellphone woke me the next morning, I had a faint memory of having panicked during the night, that I had gotten up abruptly from the bed, unable to remember where the children were. Where are the children, where are the children, I had thought, looking for them in the bathroom, out on the balcony, down on the floor by the bed. But no children. Where were the children? I finally realized that I had been walking in my sleep, but I still couldn’t understand where I was or where the children were. Had I lost them? Then I remembered everything, and it was as if I had suddenly become one with myself and with the room I was in. Everything made sense and, relieved, I had lain down to sleep again.’

Karl Ove Knausgaard The Terrible Beauty of Brain Surgery , The New York Times, Dec 30/2015 (from here) 


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Writing is a way of getting rid of shame. When you write the whole idea is to be free. And what are you free from? From people looking at you. I think shame is an essential mechanism in social life. It regulates everything and makes people behave in a decent and appropriate way to each other. But I have kind of too much, an overdose. I’m so restricted I can’t do anything.

Karl Ove Knausgaard, The Guardian 

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Memory is pragmatic, it is sly and artful, but not in any hostile or malicious way; on the contrary, it does everything it can to keep its host satisfied. Something pushes a memory into the great void of oblivion, something distorts it beyond recognition, something misunderstands it totally, something, and this something is as good as nothing, recalls it with sharpness, clarity and accuracy. That which is remembered accurately is never given to you to determine.

Karl Ove Knausgaard (Trans. Don Barlett) Boyhood Island Book 3



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A View of Mothers (2)

There are two pictures of the kitten. In one he’s standing in front of the television with a raised paw, trying to catch a swimmer. In the other, he’s lying on the sofa beside Yngve and me. He has a blue bow tie around his neck.

Who put the bow tie on?

It must have been mum. That was the sort of thing she would do, I know that, but during the months I have been writing this, in the spate of memories about events and people who have been roused to life, she is almost completely absent, it is as if she hadn’t been there, indeed as if she were one of the false memories you have, one you have been told, not one you have experienced.

How can that be?

For if there was someone there, at the bottom of the well that is my childhood, it was her, my mother, mum. She was the one who made all our meals and gathered us around her in the kitchen every evening. She was the one who went shopping, knitted or sewed our clothes; she was the one who repaired them when they fell apart. She was the one who supplied the plaster when we had fallen and grazed our knees; she was the one who drove me to hospital when I broke my collarbone, and to the doctor’s when I, somewhat less heroically, had scabies. She was the one who was out of her mind with worry when a young girl died from meningitis and at the same time I got a cold and a bit of a stiff neck. I was bundled straight into the car, off to Kokkeplassen, her foot flat on the accelerator, concern flashing from her eyes. She was the one who read to us, she was the one who washed our hair when we were in the bath and she was the one who laid our our pyjamas afterwards. She was the one who drove us to football training in the evening, the one who went to parents’ meetings and sat with other parents at our end-of-term parties and took pictures of us. She was the one who stuck the photos in our albums afterwards. She was the one who baked cakes for our birthdays and cakes for Christmas and buns for Shrovetide.

All the things mothers do for their sons, she did for us. If I was ill and in bed with a temperature she was the one who came in with a cold compress and placed it on my forehead, she was the one who put the thermometer up my backside to take my temperature, she was the one who came in with water, juice, grapes, biscuits, and she was the one who got up in the night and came in, wearing her nightdress to see how I was.

She was always there, I know she was, but I just can’t remember it.

I have no memories of her reading to me and I can’t remember her putting a single plaster on my knees or being present at a single end-of-term event.

How can that be?

She saved me because if she hadn’t been there I would have grown up alone with dad, and sooner or later I would have taken my life, one way or another. But she was there, dad’s darkness had a counterbalance, I am alive and the fact that I do not live my life to the full has nothing to do with the balance of my childhood. I am alive, I have my own children and with them I have tried to achieve only one aim: that they shouldn’t be afraid of their father.

They aren’t. I know that.

When I enter a room, they don’t cringe, they don’t look down at the floor, they don’t dart off as soon as they glimpse an opportunity, no, if they look at me, it is not a look of indifference, and if there is anyone I am happy to be ignored by it is them. And should they have completely forgotten I was there when they turn forty themselves, I will thank them and take a bow and accept the bouquets.                        Karl Ove Knausgaard, Boyhood Island

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Writing about writing. Writing about not writing. Who cares which when the bandwagon is rolling? My father’s death, the birth of my children, not writing my book and my general uselessness were all in the bag. So what next? Who can say whether memories are real or an act of imagination? No one, fortunately, so I was entirely free to reinvent some of my miserable childhood. Karl Ove Knausgaard, Boyhood Island,

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waiting for the kettle to boil

I put on some water for another cup of coffee and while I was waiting for it to boil, I skimmed through what I had written so far. The dust hovering in the broad, angled shafts of light anxiously followed every tiny current in the air. The neighbour in the adjacent flat had begun to play the piano. The kettle hissed. What I had written was not good. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good, either. I went to the cupboard, unscrewed the lid of the coffee tin, put two spoonfuls of coffee in the cup and poured the water, which rose up the sides, black and steaming.
The telephone rang.
I put the cup down on the desk and let the phone ring twice before I answered.
“Hello?” I said.       Karl Ove Knausgaard, A Death in the Family

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