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Karl Ove Knausgaard discovers America

The man is a vivid, thoughtful and amusingly neurotic writer whom many can’t stand – Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of lengthy introspective non-fiction volumes, disguised as novels, about every moment of his life, was invited by the NYT to drive around America and write about it. The resulting essay is engaging and hilarious, as he spends a few distraught days in a snowstorm in Newfoundland and finally gets to the States. I copied a few of my favourite bits to give you the flavour; the link to the whole article is at the end. Take your time; read it and enjoy.

In the meantime, the brutal, almost unbearable cold here continues, but at least it’s sunny. So – could be worse. Today at the Y I watched a woman who must have MS make her extremely slow way down the stairs, and I resolved I would not complain about the cold or anything else. My legs work. What is there to complain about?

Here’s the delightful Karl Ove Knausgaard:

When we
drove out of Cleveland a few hours later, I was worried; I hadn’t seen anything
yet that I could write about. To be able to describe something, you have to
feel some kind of emotional attachment to it, however faint. The external has
to awaken something within; nothing means anything in itself, it is the
resonance it produces, in the soul and in the language, that gives meaning to
the thing described. Cleveland meant nothing to me. The air was freezing, the
windows of the skyscrapers twinkled, people hurried singly through the nearly
deserted streets; outside a car in a parking lot lay a pile of sliced white
bread, surrounded by a flock of birds. They took off when Peter opened the car
door to take a picture of them; their abrupt departure was like the opening of
a fan.

As we
drove through the snow-covered landscape
, surrounded by cars with smoke
fluttering out of their exhaust pipes, under the gray-white sky, past rows of
run-down buildings, interspersed with clumps of colorless trees standing in colorless
fields, the feeling I got was that something here was over, that something had
been emptied out and that nothing new had begun. But perhaps that was too harsh
a judgment to pass on a whole country after spending three hours in it?

I’d seen
poverty before, of course, even incomprehensible poverty, as in the slums
outside Maputo, in Mozambique. But I’d never seen anything like this (
downtown Detroit). If what I
had seen tonight — house after house after house abandoned, deserted, decaying
as if there had been disaster — if this was poverty, then it must be a new kind of poverty, maybe in the same way that the wealth that had amassed here in the
20th century had been a new kind of wealth. I had never really understood how a
nation that so celebrated the individual could obliterate all differences the
way this country did. In a system of mass production, the individual workers
are replaceable and the products are identical. The identical cars are followed
by identical gas stations, identical restaurants, identical motels and, as an
extension of these, by identical TV screens, which hang everywhere in this
country, broadcasting identical entertainment and identical dreams. Not even
the Soviet Union at the height of its power had succeeded in creating such a
unified, collective identity as the one Americans lived their lives within.
When times got rough, a person could abandon one town in favor of another, and
that new town would still represent the same thing.

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4 Responses to “Karl Ove Knausgaard discovers America”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hilarious! Please post the next part, can't wait to read about his travels through Minnestoa. Carole

  2. beth says:

    Will do. It's as if we're inside his head – whether we want to be or not.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Almost a stream of consciousness, loved it, although
    I've struck Detroit off my must visit places list! Carole

  4. beth says:

    Well, if you liked that article, Carole, there are at least four very long books by Karl Ove awaiting your reading pleasure. And … it's true, I do not see you jetting across the ocean to visit Detroit.

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