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Posts Tagged ‘Karl Ove Knausgaard’

The Commuter’s Lament Goes On, and Other News

January 29, 2016 | by

From “A Commuter’s Lament.”

  • When the book and even the e-book have exhausted their charms, turn instead to the blook, an ersatz kind of book that offers many of the same bookish qualities without all that fatiguing text. Mindell Dubansky, the preservation librarian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has about six hundred blooks, “made from stone, wax, straw, wood, soap, plastic, glass and other materials … There is, for example, a 1950s intruder alarm called the Informer, which was activated by a sensor behind two rather noticeable holes cut in the spine … an album of early 19th-century Grand Tour souvenir medallions and a tastefully bound women’s vanity set labeled, a bit perplexingly, Vol. XVII.”
  • The past few years have seen booksellers and publishers embracing guerrilla marketing tactics—spreading the gospel of literature on subway cars, vending machines, and Chipotle bags, among others. But is the outcome a more literate culture or just more advertising? “Literature has what’s referred to in the marketing business as ‘high stopping power,’ meaning it’s able to effectively capture people’s attention … While projects like Coffee Sleeve Conversation, Ticket Books, and Poems While You Wait have idealistic intentions, they reflect literature’s power as a marketing tool, even when it comes to products you wouldn’t find in a bookstore … Marketers have learned that by pairing their products with art and literature, customers tend to see them in a better light, a tactic called priming.”
  • Relatedly: Of all the public poems New Yorkers have seen over the years, Norman B. Colp’s “Commuter’s Lament” remains the bleakest. Installed in the Times Square subway station, it asks, “Why bother? / Why the pain? / Just go home. / Do it again.” The poem has been up since 1991; it’s based on “the Burma-Shave roadside ad campaigns plastered across the country for some forty years. Starting in the 1920s, the brushless shaving cream brand started advertising with signs strung along American highways.”
  • Robert Greene was one of the first people to refer to Shakespeare, in writing, as a playwright. As Ed Simon tells us, though, the reference was far from flattering: “Greene’s chief target was ‘an upstart Crow,’ who ‘supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you’ … simply a ‘Johannes factotum,’ that is, a ‘Johnny Do-It-All’ … He has appropriated the ‘mighty-line’ of Marlowe’s unrhymed iambic pentameter with blustery confidence (though he is a mere technician). He has a ‘tiger’s heart, wrapped in a player’s hyde,’ unable to fully escape the stigma of first playing on the stage before he would write for it.”
  • You heard it here first—or, well, okay, second: the next volume of Knausgaard’s My Struggle may or may not feature a scene in which our hero drunkenly vomits in Björk’s toilet. I won’t offer further spoilers except to say that the phrase “spewed up a magnificent yellow and orange cascade” comes into play.

After My Struggle: An Interview with Karl Ove Knausgaard

December 15, 2015 | by

From the paperback edition of My Struggle, Book 2.

Readers in the U.S. await the fifth volume of My Struggle—but in Norway, Karl Ove Knausgaard has moved on. With the money from Struggle’s sales, he’s established his own publishing house, devoted to promoting new talent and translating books by writers like Ben Marcus and Donald Antrim into Norwegian. Since his announcement, in 2011, that he would stop writing, he’s gone to publish four books of essays, and this fall he launched a new series: his “four seasons” quartet, On Autumn, On Winter, On Spring, and (as you might have guessed) On Summer. Presented as a “lexicon for an unborn child” and dedicated to the youngest of his four children, the quartet comprises several hundred short texts about objects (boots, chewing gum, plastic bags) and concepts (love, sex, war).

I recently caught up with Knausgaard in Oslo, where we discussed his new books and how he’s moving past the success of My Struggle. 

You’ve described your new series as “personal encyclopedia of our close surroundings.”

It started as a completely private project. When we were expecting our daughter, I wanted to write something for her, a diary or letter, for her to read when she was older—about how things looked like around our home before she was born, what her family was like, our thoughts and habits. Around the same time I got an assignment from an American magazine to write a short text for each issue for a year. I ended up writing about ten things that made life worth living and ten things that made me want to shoot myself. The editor quit and the project was canceled before I turned it in, but in that brief form I’d found something that appealed to me. So I continued writing, about a new subject every day, and at some point the two projects merged. Read More »

A Century of Censorship, and Other News

November 18, 2015 | by

Audrey Munson, in a still from Inspiration.

  • Our new anthology, The Unprofessionals, is out now. What does it mean to be unprofessional, you ask? In many cases, it’s as easy as spitting in someone’s food or showing up to work in bondage gear. But if you’re a writer, escaping the rising tide of professionalism proves more difficult. Fortunately, our editor, Lorin Stein, has some advice: “The stories that excite me most tend to have three qualities. First there’s a voice, a narrator who urgently needs to speak. Even if they never say ‘I.’ Second, the narrator tries to persuade you that he or she is telling the truth. The third thing is, for lack of a better word, wisdom. A kind of moral authority, or at least the effort to settle a troubled conscience … There’s a kind of realism—not just in stories, but in poems and essays—that assumes we live in dishonesty, that we lie to others and ourselves as a matter of survival, but that part of us knows the truth when we see it. That’s what interests me: the truths we can’t tell except when we put on the mantle of this authority.” 
  • Karl Ove Knausgaard hears this voice, too: “The novel is an oddly intimate genre: at root, it is always a matter between two individuals, writer and reader, whose first encounter occurs when the writer writes—for in writing, the very act of it, there is always an appeal to a you, redeemed only by the insertion of a reader. This you may be inserted at any time, even hundreds of years after the event of writing, the way, for instance, we might read a novel written in seventeenth-century Spain, or eighteenth-century Russia, or early-twentieth-century Germany, and yet still induce the voice of the self to rise anew within us, remoteness dissolving. And that self may also reveal itself to us in the reading of novels from places geographically remote to us, such as China, Kenya, Colombia.”
  • A century ago today, on November 18, 1915, cinema saw its first nude woman, and people have been in a tizzy over sex and censorship on-screen ever since: “The bare breasts and buttocks of Audrey Munson, the actress in Inspiration, seemed to enter the public consciousness only obliquely. One contemporary critic wrote that the film was ‘both inspiring and intellectual,’ with Munson giving a performance of ‘innocence, modesty, and simplicity’; others noted that it was ‘daring’ and a ‘triumph of Film Art.’ One, the Daily Capital Journal, scoffed at the idea of anyone being offended by it. After all, it pointed out, this is a work of ‘extreme artistic and educational value,’ not a titillating striptease.”
  • Today in nests and nesting: in Zvenigorod, forty miles west of Moscow, there stands a cathedral with a wealth of rare printed matter hidden inside: letters, newspaper clippings, candy wrappers, banknotes, some as old as the early nineteenth century. For this horn of archival plenty, we can thank the birds: “flocks of swifts and jackdaws had built nests in the attic out of various bits of papers, dirt, branches, and trash that over the centuries came to form a considerably thick layer of preserved history … Other documents record the town’s civic, religious, and educational affairs; among the lot: bus tickets, delivery contracts, a county court slip, students’ notebooks and diplomas, parish registers, and even church confessional statements.”
  • The photographer Andrew Moore’s new book, Dirt Meridian, features ten years of his pictures of homestead sites, taken along the hundredth meridian line that runs through Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, where once pioneers were attracted by the Homestead Act. What’s there now? “Almost World Famous Dixie’s Café,” crumbling houses, Simon’s Schoolhouse Museum, and a lot of property that looks more or less the same.

With These Zombie Eyes, and Other News

November 3, 2015 | by

Poster for White Zombie, 1932.

  • In 1929, William Seabrook published The Magic Island, an account of his travels in Haiti, and so introduced American readers to zombies, which soon came to dominate the cinema: “The zombie, they say, is a soulless human corpse, still dead, but taken from the grave and endowed by sorcery with a mechanical semblance of life. People who have the power to do this go to a fresh grave, dig up the body before it has had time to rot, galvanize it into movement, and then make of it a servant or slave, occasionally for the commission of some crime, more often simply as a drudge around the habitation or the farm, setting it dull heavy tasks, and beating it like a dumb beast if it slackens.”
  • Knausgaard has at last hunkered down with Houellebecq’s Submission, which meant he had to read Huysmans’s Against the Grain, too—at his daughter’s gymnastics practice—which got him contemplating satire, ennui, political upheaval, and the nature of the sacred. He’s ready to tell you all about it. “When a person has grown up in a certain culture, within a certain societal system, it is largely unthinkable that that culture, that system, might be changed so radically, since everything in life—the beliefs instilled in us as children at home and at school, the vocations we are trained in and to which we later devote our labor, the programs we watch on TV and listen to on the radio, the words we read in newspapers, magazines and books, the images we see in films and advertising—occurs within the same framework, confirming and sustaining it, and this is so completely pervasive that to all intents and purposes it is the world, it is society, it is who we are. Minor modifications and adjustments take place … but total upheaval isn’t even a faint possibility, it is simply unimaginable, and therefore does not exist. And yet society’s total upheaval is what Submission depicts.” (Fingers crossed for a Houellebecq review of the next volume of My Struggle.)
  • Subtlety? Fuck it. Maybe we need art that’s also blunt-force trauma, art that announces its intentions with no equivocation: “Because bluntness is also a virtue. When artists don’t muffle themselves in service of subtlety (or in fear of being called unsubtle), they kindle fervor and fire. When we dispense with subtlety, we’re rewarded with work that resonates in every seat in the theater, not just in the orchestra section. And the more a work has something important to convey, the more it should not be subtle … When we stop fussing over what’s too heavy-handed, we can also start piling on the pleasure, and grabbing straight for the heartstrings. When we don’t worry about taking the long way around, we gain an emotional directness that is more in tune with the way people actually feel. People’s emotions, after all, are not always subtle. They are not hidden under a blanket inside their souls. People feel things, strongly, and creators that underplay that are making it harder for their audiences to connect purely and viscerally to their work.”
  • Filmmaking depends on a basic bit of magic: making real landscapes look like new places. The illusion can be shattered, however momentarily, by something as basic as recognition: when you see a location trying to pass as something (somewhere?) it isn’t, you see the whole apparatus of the movie industry coming out at you. “Seeing a locale you know intimately on screen gives you, much more than a flicker of recognition, a jarring effect that can sometimes prevent you from parsing the film’s internal landscape … Indeed, most of the ‘work’ imagining the geographical world of the film is done by the spectator, who must conjure up the unseen habitat from the slim shards of location the filmmaker divulges … In order to achieve this peculiar illusion, you need to privatize (or, failing that, eschew, by way of a studio set) the actual world—to tame reality into fiction, you must shut off streets (usually at a cost), place production assistants on street corners to keep curious bystanders out of the frame, you must painstakingly ensure continuity between takes and hope the messiness of the off-camera world does not become apparent on screen.”
  • Pity the still-life painters: next to portraits and sweeping landscapes, the depiction of inanimate objects can seem like a frivolous pastime. But in America, the still-life tradition has given us “the history of the ordinary rather than the extraordinary, the masses rather than the elite,” a new exhibition suggests: “At that moment in early American history when the young country began discovering not just the untamed wilderness to the West, but also the untamed elements of within democracy, still life spoke of more than just young men and flowers … ”

Pure Prose

June 9, 2015 | by

Translating Jon Fosse from Norwegian.

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From the cover of Aliss at the Fire.

Norwegian is a language that English-language writers and translators seem willing to pick up: James Joyce learned it to read Ibsen; Lydia Davis is learning it to read, and solely by reading, Dag Solstad; and I learned it to read Jon Fosse. It helps that grammar is simple, with few tenses and word endings; the vocabulary is small; the language is one of the deep cores of English, so reading it feels eerily familiar, like a song you half know. After being asked to read Fosse’s novel Melancholy in German, I decided to cotranslate it with a native Norwegian-speaker friend, and I have since translated, on my own, two more of Fosse’s novels—Aliss at the Fire and Morning and Evening—two stories, and a libretto.

Jon Fosse is less well-known in America than some other Norwegian novelists, but revered in Norway—winner of every prize, a leading Nobel contender. I think of the four elder statesmen of Norwegian letters as a bit like the Beatles: Per Petterson is the solid, always dependable Ringo; Dag Solstad is John, the experimentalist, the ideas man; Karl Ove Knausgaard is Paul, the cute one; and Fosse is George, the quiet one, mystical, spiritual, probably the best craftsman of them all. Harrison’s titles—Something (aka Something in the Way She Moves), Here Comes the Sun, While My Guitar Gently Weeps—could even be Fosse’s: Someone Is Going To Come, Closed Guitar, The Name, Night Sings Its Songs, Angel with Tears in Its Eyes. But it’s harder to show what makes his music work. Prose doesn’t have hooks, and Fosse’s incantations are as unexcerptable as Philip Glass symphonies or Béla Tarr tracking shots. Here is an opening, a fraction of the first sentence of Aliss at the Fire: Read More »

Knausgaard, Rock Star

May 19, 2015 | by

karldrums

Photo: Anders Grønneberg

I also bought a teach-yourself drums book, carved two sticks, placed some books around me in a circle on the floor, the one on the left was the hi-hat, the one next to it the snare drum, and the three books above the tomtoms. —My Struggle, Book 3

Reporting on a Karl Ove Knausgaard reading last summer, The Baffler wrote that “two young men kept comparing the event to a rock concert and complaining that they should have brought 40s … Knausgaard has become a rock star.” The writer himself has told of a German journalist “who compared me to a rock band. He said, the books don’t really have any focus, it’s just loose, it’s like just having some songs about drinking and they don’t have anything else … he saw pictures of me, he said, ‘You pose like a rock star.’ ”

But all this is soon to leave the realm of mere comparison. On Wednesday and Friday, as part of the Norwegian-American Literary Festival, Knausgaard will play the drums with his reunited college band, Lemen, thus sundering the flimsy membrane that separates him from full-on rock stardom. For this is what rock musicians have done throughout history: sundered membranes. Read More »