What I’ve Learned: Karl Ove Knaus­gaard

Writer, 48

Esquire (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS - in­ter­view by tim Lewis pho­to­graph by alas­tair philip wiper

Nor­we­gian mis­er­ab­list and sage for our times on con­fes­sional lit, FB, Dad and more

Com­par­ing me to Mar­cel Proust is com­par­ing sixth divi­sion to Premier League. That’s just silly. Re­mem­brance of Things Past is the novel, I think.

I can re­mem­ber the worst ad­vice I’ve been given: that was my fa­ther when he was aware that I was start­ing to write. He said, “What you should do is to drink, be­cause then you lose your in­hi­bi­tions and you be­come more cre­ative.” And that’s not how it works. It’s the op­po­site. Never drink and write. The whole point is that you have to get in that state by your­self, with­out any sub­stances.

A Nor­we­gian writer once said, “Ev­ery writer should be mar­ried, but no one should be mar­ried to a writer.” That sums it up. I’ve been mar­ried twice and di­vorced twice. Some­times writ­ing can feel like a be­trayal: it’s like you’re putting your soul into the pa­per in­stead of into the re­la­tion­ship. It’s pos­si­ble to do both, of course, but I have this dis­tance in me, too, which many writ­ers I know also have. It’s al­most like an autis­tic thing.

I have to de­fend my­self against suc­cess. So liv­ing in the coun­try­side in Swe­den is part of that be­cause here my books don’t ex­ist. Here, I’m not a writer, I’m the Nor­we­gian.

Could I con­vince some­one that watch­ing foot­ball is not a waste of time? That’s hard, be­cause it is. But, for me, I’m a serious per­son, I don’t laugh a lot, I don’t play at all. Foot­ball is one place in my life where I can be com­pletely ob­sessed by the game and the rules and lose track of my­self. It means noth­ing and that’s very im­por­tant. There’s no mean­ing you can ex­tract from it, it’s just fun.

Peo­ple think I’m very nar­cis­sis­tic— and maybe I am—but not when it comes to how I look. I don’t like to see my­self in the mir­ror. I never see photos of my­self if I can avoid it. I don’t like my ap­pear­ance nowa­days. I’m too fat, and I don’t want to be re­minded about that.

I’m not a tech­ni­cal per­son. I was 40 when I learned to drive… it’s crazy how long it took. My first test, I went through a red light. And that’s the thing about learn­ing: when you’re 18 you just learn, adapt, and then you need 10 hours. But when I was 40, I had my own opinions. I was ex­pected to do things a cer­tain way all the time and I couldn’t. But you can’t do that when you’re driv­ing. There is only one way.

Writ­ing is much about be­ing in­se­cure, about trans­gress­ing things, about tak­ing risks. So, for me, ev­ery­thing else is habits and safety. When I’m writ­ing, I play the same record—maybe two—through­out the book. The last one was the last Lam­b­chop al­bum, which I played for three months, the time it took me to write a book in the spring. It is ex­tremely calm­ing to me. It’s like I’m com­ing home when I put on that record.

Work­ing in a psy­chi­atric in­sti­tu­tion was the best and worst job I’ve ever done. I hated com­ing to work, I didn’t want to do it, but now I re­alise it was a very good ex­pe­ri­ence. And it felt like I did some­thing of value.

Peo­ple say con­fes­sional books are like Face­book, but they’re not. It’s the op­po­site. Face­book is all about pre­sen­ta­tion of self, pre­sen­ta­tion of some­thing. But writ­ing is try­ing to cap­ture what re­ally is true some­how. Of course, it’s not pos­si­ble to do 100 per­cent, be­cause there’s al­ways a no­tion of some­one read­ing, some­one look­ing, that this is for some­one. So there is a lot of pre­sen­ta­tion in the book, but it’s more like that is the en­emy. You try to break through that, and write more hon­estly some­how.

Cig­a­rettes give me no plea­sure. It’s an ad­dic­tion and a habit. I smoke be- tween 20 and 40 a day and I en­joy three or four. The first one in the morn­ing. I gave up one year and it was easy. I read the fa­mous book by Allen Carr and it worked per­fectly. I know I just have to pick up the book and read it, and I have the book ready and pre­pared. But I don’t pick it up, be­cause I re­ally don’t want to. Ha ha, that’s the thing.

I have only re­gret­ted one sen­tence that I’ve writ­ten. I had a girl­friend for four years and in the first book of My Strug­gle, I wrote that I never re­ally loved her. It wasn’t true and I just didn’t think it would hurt her. I could have eas­ily not writ­ten that sen­tence and it would be ex­actly the same book.

I have dreams that my fa­ther, who died many years ago, is read­ing my books. In the be­gin­ning, when I was writ­ing it and maybe one or two years af­ter, it was night­mares. He was com­ing to get to me! But nowa­days, the dream is very dif­fer­ent. I don’t know the word in English, but there wasn’t anger. It means I am at peace now, much more than I was. I no longer feel I was do­ing some­thing im­moral.

When you have chil­dren your­self, you can’t be a son any more. You have to be a fa­ther. And I could fi­nally see my fa­ther as some­one like me, with his own prob­lems. You are at the same level more or less. If you’re [the] son, you only see him as God-like, you have no idea what he’s think­ing, or even that he is think­ing or feel­ing any­thing. But he’s just a per­son.

There’s noth­ing about com­put­ers or smart­phones or so­cial me­dia that in­ter­ests me. But one sum­mer, I needed to write and I had all the chil­dren, so I bought three ipads and gave them out to them so I could work. That was the turn­ing point.

I’ve worn black since I was 12 or 13. A friend sar­cas­ti­cally called me and my brother “H&M rock­ers”. When I was 17, I thought maybe I should buy a pair of blue jeans, and I did. And I went into school and I felt like I’d sold my soul. I looked ter­ri­ble. Ter­ri­ble.

Maybe in 20 years, peo­ple will still read my books. But in 100 years, no. No way. Not the ones I have writ­ten so far, any­way. But the one I’m go­ing to write… I have that hope.

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