Wednesday, February 25, 2015

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.


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

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

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

  4. 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.