Karl Ove Knausgaard on Novels and Knowing

Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard visited campus this summer to discuss his latest novel, “Autumn.”

By Rosemarie Ho

On September 11, the Seminary Co-Op and the University’s creative writing program presented a reading with Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard at the Logan Performance Hall. Knausgaard’s novel, Out of the World, was the first debut novel to win the Norwegian Critics Prize in 2004, and his autobiographical My Struggle series has been hailed as a masterpiece by literary critics worldwide.

Professor Srikanth Reddy of the English department and creative writing program led the conversation with Knausgaard about his latest collection of books based on the seasons. Autumn, released in August, is the first in this quartet. A collection of pieces detailing quotidian objects and phenomena, the text began as an exercise for Knausgaard in which he roots an entire writing session in a word.

In the far-from-packed auditorium, Knausgaard began by reading the opening to Autumn, a letter addressed to his unborn daughter. Gently swaying, he performed the piece, conveying a particular tenderness and humility that highlighted the wonderment within.

When asked about his writing approach, Knausgaard emphasized the irony of describing objects with fresh eyes. “We don’t think about the way in which things are organized,” he said, crediting one of his favourite books, Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things, as part of the inspiration for his project. “But it is all man-made…. I wanted to expose the processes of our world.”

Autumn, Knausgaard added, is “very much directed towards the world, whereas My Struggle…is very much about [his] material life.”

Knausgaard handled questions with self-deprecating humor throughout, drawing attention to the problems that still confuse him—including why people do things the way they do.

“Something adds up when you lose yourself in writing,” he said. “I have nothing to say, and I don’t think much. But I write because writing opens up the world.”

Other topics raised in the conversation included the “profound” influence of Marcel Proust on his writing; prior to reading Remembrance of Things Past, Knausgaard’s writing was merely “little nonrepresentational things that looked like literature.”

In response to a question about his opinions on recent trends in autobiographical literature, Knausgaard also called for other ways of assessing literary worth. “I just wrote it because it is true,” he said. “The notion of quality…I don’t care for it—it is looking for perfection somehow.”

When asked about the structure of Autumn, Knausgaard admitted that he preferred an “emotional, intuitive way” of making connections between objects, noting that he wrote about things that had emotional significance to him. He read a section from the book about a suspended plastic bag in the depths of a lake in Norway and noted how drawn he was to the sight.

“You don’t understand it, but it is sublime.”

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s new book Autumn, translated by Ingvild Burkey and illustrated by Vanessa Baird, is sold at the Seminary Co-Op and other major bookstores.