Karl One Knausgård is a polarizing writer. While successful and known in Scandinavia after his first few releases, he received international acclaim upon the release and translations of his six-volume semi-autobiographical masterpiece, ‘My Struggle’. I can confirm that you will get weird stares reading this on the subway.
The series is a look at his life, especially the oft-ignored parts of the human psyche: the embarrassing, the dark, the macabre. Knausgård wanted to “write plainly” about his life, and ended up doing so, discussing his relationships with his friends and family members, and making more than a few enemies along the way.
I love the series. I haven’t quite finished it yet, and the sixth book has yet to be translated into English yet. I wrote about it briefly in my 2016 Year in Review.
It’s raw. It’s aggressive. It’s so very genuine. He’s not writing about himself to show how awesome he is. He’s writing about himself to show what a jerk he is, because we’re all jerks, in ways we don’t like to admit.
While I make my way through ‘My Struggle’, I saw Knausgård had a new book out, called ‘Autumn’. So, I biked down to the nearest bookstore and bought a copy.
In a departure for Knausgård, ‘Autumn’ is a series of essays, all titled with the subject, most around 2 pages. These are broken up into a few months, each section starting with a letter to his soon-to-be-born (at the time) daughter, his fourth child.
There is also a collection of artwork interspersed between the acts.
While the writing here is still about his life, with a focus on his family (especially the daughter and her siblings). He references the house and land the family lives on. Unlike the writing done in ‘My Struggle’, Karl Ove himself takes a backseat. This is just his pure, unfiltered thoughts; the world as he sees it, presented to his daughter, as he mentions in the opening letter.
It’s a strange collection. Each essay lasts so short to never bore with something that isn’t working, but when a piece really resonates, it isn’t given enough space to breath. As with any collection of essays, there are ones where such resonance affected me, making me pause before leaping into the next one as is so easy in this collection, breath and take in the world around me.
Some fall totally flat. There’s one about a toilet, which he ends with, “this swan of the bath chamber”. There’s an essay on vomit that is about what you expect.
Yet, there is some incredibly beautiful writing on display here. I am haunted by his essay on oil tankers. His essay on beekeeping is delightful. An essay on buttons is nearly worth the price of admission alone. When he hits, it’s a homer.
I’m sure what essays resonate with you varies person by person. Someone will be bored to tears by the essay I quite enjoyed on daguerrotypes. Someone out there is going to love his essay on piss.
It’s a hard collection to nail, and there’s sort of an out built-in. “Well, they can’t all be winners”, I imagine someone saying. Very true. And his misses are more whiffs than full strikes. There’s nothing worth avoiding in this collection, and a few pieces are so excellent that make it worth anyone’s while.
Who is this collection for? Is it for the reader who has yet to dive into any writing by Knausgård? Or the Knausgård-acolyte who’s already plowed through ‘My Struggle’ and wants more?
In a way, both, or neither. It really depends on what sort of a reader you are. This collection of essays (itself the first in a four part series; it is Knausgård, after all) probably sounds interesting or boring to you based on that description.
Reading ‘My Struggle’ is like sitting down with an old friend to hear them tell a story. It just starts and keeps going and before you know it you’re off on some wonderful tangent that you didn’t even feel the transition for and now you’re back into the narrative. ‘Autumn’ is like reading Knausgård’s wordpress.
It’s good writing. It just doesn’t have the same incredible structure that ties everything together nicely like ‘My Struggle’. It’s Knausgård: Condensed. Instead of having that flow, you’re dropped into these essays. It’s Knausgård for the coffeeshop line.
Although, this structure is great for my initial goal for this series, to analyze the work of writers I admire. While reading ‘Autumn’, I went to the park near my apartment, and sat and listening and saw and wrote, plainly, as best I could.
I took a slightly scenic route here, enjoying the last bit of golden hour light, which is the most brilliant light in the day. I stopped a few times to take photos of the yellow light splashed against the brickwork of a building, or reflecting off of the power lines. I can’t see this sort of light without thinking of Autumn, and decay, in the least depressive sense.
The park is split in two parts, about a 60-40 divide, with the smaller section being a small grove of trees, and the larger housing a field with two baseball diamonds. My girlfriend and I often walk down here, especially after going to brunch around the corner, and sit in the grass and watch the dogs play.
As I walked up, the Sun had already started to set quite a bit, with just a small pool of the remains of the day dispersed unevenly between the trees. There, a few groups of dogs are playing with their owners. Some people play directly with their dogs, running and jumping, throwing a ball, or otherwise entertaining them. Others stand around with other dog-owners, their dogs playing amongst themselves. The final group stand alone, not interacting with their dogs, or with other people, just standing, some on their phones, some merely distant. Their dogs explore and play of their own accord, as if they too are loners, unsure whom to associate with.
I’m watching one of these dogs now, a skinny husky. He trots around the trees, not walking, but still leisurely, sniffing the air and changing course. He walks close to me, close to those on the path, and doesn’t react at all; he’s content like this, wandering, seeing the world at his own pace.
It’s funny dogs play, by themselves or otherwise. I think that puts them in a very small group of animals that do so, of course alongside man, but I can’t recall exactly. It seems like adults view play as a childish venture at times, something unbecoming of the real world. But to play shows a consciousness, an intelligence and awareness of the world that is of itself valuable. For if you can’t allow yourself the enjoyment of the experience, how can you hope to survive it?
Behind me, some kids play. I hear the yells and calls from the playground. Earlier, three girls stood near the gate, as one cried at the other, convinced there had been a theft of her candy. No parent seemed aware of this, not listening to the argument, content to assign it to the world of childish games. They must have solved it, for all the girls are gone, and I too tuned it out eventually, forgetting about the whole affair.
It’s noticeably quieter now, as the Sun has dipped below the horizon and only the last light of day skims the sky above. Still, a few boys continue to make laps around the same small section of path, one of rollerblades, one on a pennyboard, and one on a bike. They take turns reinventing the game they play, which roughly entails one person being the monster in a game of pseudo-tag.
There’s little to no delay for the new rules to be adopted, or for modes of transit to be exchanged, as through the method of play the children are able to communicate such things wordlessly, as the play itself supersedes communications. One boy, wearing a green ‘Minecraft’ hoodie, asks another on the pennyboard to pretend he’s the monster now. And through something so basic, they’re ready to play again.
I feel somewhat guilty, sitting here typing away on my laptop, as in sitting here writing I’m doing that which I sought to get away from. The wind picks up for a moment through the trees above my head, swirling through the leaves, producing a gentle roar. Only now, looking back to the world around me, do I notice how much the night has progressed.
The last light has slipped away, and only the amber glow of street lamps reflects from the silver of my laptop body. “Guys, GUYS!,” a man calls behind me, apparently one of the fathers of the boys, asking them to tone it down, and they oblige without exchanging a word.
I think about going to a nearby restaurant for dinner, but remember the groceries I have in my apartment, and think I should be getting back to. As the light slips from natural to artificial, I’ll walk back to my apartment, turn on the lights, and begin to cook dinner.