TThe essay collection is having a moment. Weariness with the inventions of the puppet theater of the 20th century novel, to which Karl Ove Knausgaard My struggle The series was itself an answer: It has sparked new interest in a hitherto marginal genre. Many are trying, few are doing it right. Knausgaard’s new collection, which covers literature, contemporary art, photography, nature writing, and loose cosmic reflections, does not portray him as a first-rate practitioner of the form.
In the land of the cyclops Suspicion increases that Knausgaard fulfilled his auteur project with the completion of his six-part self-fiction epic in 2011. Everything since has had the feel of an appendix or miscellany, including his 400-page collaborative book of soccer emails, Home and away. The Seasons Quartet, in which the gloomy Knausgaard considered a different concept or object every day (Pain, Buttons, Labia), left the impression that his worldwide recognition, as we say in Ireland, had given him insights. Spoiled as a wide-eyed sanctified of the common, he sometimes resembled the ridiculous writer of Martin Amis’s novel. Information, who, beneficiary of a sudden success, dedicates himself to performative looking at apples and stones, to better project the childlike wonder of a literary sage.
An extensive review here of Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission It begins with a laborious explanation of why Knausgaard had never read the author before, and continues to work under the assumption that we are just as interested in the low-skilled reviewer as we are in his topic. Is better in Madam Bovary, and on a much more secure basis in a long essay on “dirty modernism” by his compatriot Knut Hamsun. An article on the Kierkegaard reading in Beirut also begins with the admission that Knausgaard is a newcomer to the Danish philosopher (presumab, an editor-in-charge like the symmetrical possibilities of the headlines: Knausgaard and Kierkegaard). It has little to say about Kierkegaard’s thoughts that cannot be easi, found elsewhere, and none of that is as live, as an excruciating anecdote about his reading a passage from My struggle in which he slashes his face to impress a woman before a war-shaken Middle Eastern festival audience.
It’s a reminder that My struggleThe best episodes worked at the level of scandal and lewdness: a slab of several thousand pages of Nordic reality TV in gossipy and exaggerated prose. Knausgaard many engaging in art and photography (topics include Cindy Sherman, Anselm Kiefer, Francesca Woodman), but as a novelist-turned-philosopher-critic, he often reads like an Aristotelian particulars trying to be a universalizing Plato. Whenever he looks up from the concrete, sensual and personal, he is immersed in a watery abstraction. His essays are extensive in the sense that they tend to cover too much ground. One, Idiots of the Cosmos, jump between identity politics, War and peace, Pascal’s horror to infinity, the Northern Lights and much more, but none of that real, holds up. Without a remembered or imagined world (from childhood, adolescence, adulthood) to ground your perceptions, your thoughts run wild, unattached and inconsequential. At worst, Knausgaard the essayist is a mono logical boredom.
An exception is the bellicose title. It reads like an allegory of canceled culture, until you realize he’s talking about Sweden. Knausgaard’s foster home appears to be at the forefront of a punitive philistinism pulling the curtains. With cautious indignation, he details how the national press has slandered him as a pedophile, misogynist and Nazi, and compared him to Anders Breivik. “So what was my crime? I wrote a novel. “He rehearses common sense positions that now need to be defended even beyond prudish Scandinavia: art must convey the real and messy and not just the ideal; the fictitious description does not imp, the act of condoning, etc. Clear, , this real, annoys: in Home and away it also tore apart the intolerance and self-righteousness of the Swedish liberals (it was the feminist youth leagues that were attacking him in that case).
The staunch Knausgaard will appreciate the reminiscences of childhood travels and the misadventures of youth, even if some of them are recycled. Retells a prophetic dream that was instrumental in There must be a little rain the dark and fascinating fifth volume of My struggle, as well as the devastating event that the dream augured: a malicious false accusation of rape. But here we discern the central weakness of In the land of the cyclops: the first time, Knausgaard locked us inside the cockpit in the first person breathless of his self-fiction; here the dream and the horror it prophesied are bookends of long, uncontrolled, and large, bloodless meditations on literature, schizophrenia, Dante, TychBrahehe and the Icelandic sagas. “I hate myself,” announces Knausgaard spontaneous, in a diary piece entitled At the bottom of the universe. I never hated him, but I found myself hoping he would take a hint and let me walk him out thdoor, soso I could collapse on my couch, wrecked.
• Rob Doyle’s latest book is Limit (Bloomsbury)
• In the land of the cyclops by Karl Ove Knausgaard (translated by Martin Aitken) is published by Harvill Se£20 (£ 20). To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges many app,
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism