What I’ve Learned: Karl Ove Knausgaard
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.