My Struggle: Book 4 (2015)

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1,986 pages / 6.5 shelf-inches into the series now. Opened 4 the day before catching a train to Ox to start a first full-time job in a new town by myself; found Karl Ove Knausgaard catching a train to the north to start a first full-time job in a new town by himself. 4 lauded in the praise section as his most well-arced, which is true despite the same typically engrossing internal eddies and fizzling of vignettes and echoing events. However this sense of structure is surely derived also from the embedded reminiscence back to KOK’s final year at school, which occupies 4‘s middle third at least. Reading this on holiday in Mont was less circumstantially satisfying but still I found myself reading my own moments and memories in his level but mystified way.

If the defining image of 3 was “the interplay of two worlds, often one of light versus one of shadow” then here the two worlds are of inside and outside, and the fear comes not from experience but exposure and openness. The town of Håfjord is introduced immediately as having a silence which “was not oppressive … but open” (15), an atmosphere which seeps into its affably engaging but also disarmingly candid inhabitants. In an autobiographical series which epitomises “openness” (and in the volume which certainly most embodies its much-laud quality of lacerating self-exposure), KOK struggles to reconcile his sociable extroversions, guarded fledging literary efforts, and (painfully) personal experiences of humiliation with this cultural transparency.

Of particular importance in 4 are drunkenness and girls, KOK’s twin preoccupations in this period. Anticipating later graduation excesses and even-later indulgences in H, he recounts early experiments with hard drinking, “I had disappeared, I was empty, I was in the void of my soul … it felt as if I had been let loose in the town, I could have done anything…” (118). This exposure enacts a trip to the “ghost world” (120) in an explicit echo of the penumbral duality of 3. His carelessness is replaced by shame and terror in H:

The worst was probably the notion that others saw me, that I put on a show for them, and that the side of me I displayed then was reflected in the way they looked at me every day. (370)

Alcohol is a violent negotiation between individual freedom/confidence and sexual b/pathos. Women mock him by being “accessible to the eye but in no other way.” (123) He’s constantly tasting ashes in his dreams and imagination, especially as his desperation increases, leading towards the (13-y/o?) pupil Andrea who seems to haunt the school which he prowls out-of-hours:

I hardly knew I had these thoughts, they lived in a kind of no-man’s-land … Everything that came from the outside was dangerous. (438)

The nexus of joyful self-expression and sexualised frustration is KOK’s first literary efforts, which are exposed both to us and to critical friends and family. Apotheosis 463-4 when housemates prank him by adding a graphically parodic passage to a WIP:

It wasn’t just a text he had tampered wth, that wouldn’t have offended me in the slightest, it was something else, much more than that, there was a soul in it, my soul. And when he tampered with that, I could feel it. It  looked different from the outside than  from the inside, and it was perhaps that which lay at the heart of my despair. What I wrote was worthless. So that meant I was worthless too.

Especially poignant given metatextual references to other published works, and memories from 3 (29) (see also 364-5 for memory of tv surgery, Mannian human excavation). Criticism and writing-the-self; another more-direct angle on the Struggle.

Stress on detail again here, flattened coexistence of abstraction and particularity definitely anticipating ‘seasons’ series. Just as young KOK in 3 learned lessons of empathy here he is taught the significance of the differing weights assigned by people to events and elements of life; see particularly appeal of dad of fat kid 460.

What is different is that this is less empirical than 3, more introspective and passionate. Experience is more obviously already memory in a way that confirms praise of experience of being this age. Memories made of this:

Half an hour later we were walking up the hill from the flat. I was drunk in that pure joyful way you can be from white wine, when your thoughts collide with one another like bubbles and what emerges when they burst is pleasure.

We had been at my place, I thought, and this filled me with pleasure.

We were colleagues and on our way to becoming friends, I reflected.

And I had written a damn good short story.

Pleasure, pleasure, pleasure.

And then there was this light, dim down among humans and things human, attended by a kind of finely honed darkness which became diffused in the light though did not possess or control it, only muted or softened it, high up in the sky it was gleamingly clear and clean.

Pleasure.

And there was this silence. The murmur of the sea, our foot-steps on the gravel, the occasional noise coming from somewhere, a door being opened or a shout, all embraced by the silence, which seemed to rise from the ground, rise from objects and surround us in a way which I didn’t formulate as primordial, though I sensed it was, for I thought of the silence in Sørbøvåg on summer mornings when I was a child there, the silence above the fjord beneath the immense Lihesten Mountain, half hidden by the mist. The silence of the world. It was here, too, as I walked uphill, drunk with my new friends, and although neither it nor the light we walked in was the main event of the evening it played its part.

Pleasure.

Eighteen years old and on my way to a party. (105-6)

Happy to read that line as a self-evaluation not just in the past but also, satisfied, from the present – think he’s caught an adolescent evolution of attention here. This bit goes on to -112 as an evocation of lonely sociability at a party, blending-in but not quite, slipping over the fault-lines of acceptance and isolation. Not surprised that this is the volume of MS in which KOK discovers hash (327).

More stuff on anticipation of self-writing through experience of memory:

One evening we went to the primary school I had once attended, not so far from the their house. I had been twelve when I left, now I was seventeen. The five years felt like an eternity there was almost nothing then connected me with the person I had been, and I remembered next to nothing of what I had done then.

But when I saw the school before us, hovering in the its and darkness, my memories exploded inside me. I let go of Cecilie’s hand, approached the building, and pressed my hand against the black timbers. The school really existed, it wasn’t merely a place in my imagination. My eyes were moist with emotion, it was as though the whole bounteous world that had been my childhood had returned for an instant. (282)

Chimes with discussion elsewhere about need to let personal memories take shape through (ie. pushing through) literary recollection.

What’s left to say is that KOK is a total dickhead in 4. After the estival departure from the end of 3 he has pupated into an ugly creature of teenagerhood; he thoroughly exorcises memories of exploitation, sexual humiliation, pettiness, egregious adolescent self-importance. In a way the grotesque ending is fascinating: its a culmination of My Struggle as perceived by a 19-y/o KOK, and therefore also a cathartically self-accusatory completion of the section of the grander task of MS that 4 represents: revisiting the unrevisitable (he repeatedly assures us from both the past and the present that he will never physically return to H).

On reflection 4 is a fascinating companion to 3 in terms of its stylistic shift as well as the chronologically continuous but qualitatively disjunctive development of KOK’s character; this despite being singular in the series for its grotesqueness and unflinching commitment to necessary structural redundancy and repetition.

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