Knausgaard's 'Autumn' Considers Everything From Toilet Bowls To Twilight
Author Karl Ove Knausgaard — known for his six-volume autobiographical series, My Struggle —has embarked on a brand new multi-part project. Autumn, the first in a four-part quartet, is a collection of texts, each focused on a single subject.
In these short studies, Knausgaard considers a wide variety of tangible and intangible topics — apples, wasps, silence, jellyfish, fingers, forgiveness, dawn.
He weaves those texts in with letters to his youngest daughter, written before her birth. Observing the blood in his veins, the grass growing from the earth and the trees in the wind, he writes: "These astounding things, which you will soon encounter and see for yourself, are so easy to lose sight of, and there are almost as many ways of doing that as there are people. That is why I am writing this book for you. I want to show you the world, as it is, all around us, all the time. Only by doing so will I myself be able to glimpse it."
Knausgaard's daughter is now 3 1/2, and her capacity for wonder and curiosity are an inspiration. "She's questioning absolutely everything — I think that's one of the best ages," he says.
Autumnfeatures artwork by Vanessa Baird and is translated by Ingvild Burkey.
On breaking out of his own habits
I feel normally kind of numb, almost, in the world. I'm not very curious about things. I live my life through habits. I do the same things every day. But through writing and through reading it's like it's a whole new way I can open the world up and that's what I'm trying to do. ...
It's very much the process that's important for me, it's not the result. It's the being in that place where you're questioning the world, or where you see the world, or where you are creating something out of elements from the world ... that's the place I want to be.
On why it's easier to write about "insignificant" tangible things
It is easier to write about the concrete world — and especially things that are not much written about — because then there is just the joy in describing it. ... The challenge when it comes to more abstract parts of the world — like forgiveness — is that it's so easy to just repeat something, or stay close to the conventional way of looking at it. ... It's much, much harder ... to write about love than it is to write about a steel thermos.
It is great fun to write about the toilet bowl. I think I called it 'the swan of the bathroom.'
On writing about things that are normally off-limits — such as toilet bowls or lice
I wanted an equality so there would be no ... pre-judgement. And to pay as much attention to the toilet bowl as to my daughter's face. It is like: Everything exists, everything is there, and it is a way of challenging our gaze of the world — not in a very deep or philosophical way, but just a little bit. And then it is great fun to write about the toilet bowl. I think I called it "the swan of the bathroom."
On whether there's some childish fun in writing with dignity about topics most people dismiss
Definitely so. It's a very childish gaze of the world. ... Also, curiosity and what it is not to know something is very much a part of a child's reality. The problem for us is that we know so much, so we are not interested in the toilet bowl anymore. We know what it is, and we are done with it, and we use it.
On his editing process
Everything I wrote is in this book. I didn't throw out anything. I didn't edit anything out. If a painter [is creating] a watercolor, you can't redo anything; it is the first take. I tried to make the same approach in writing. It is what it is.
On his writing process
I have a very little house that I wrote all this text in — basically I am writing about things that surround me. I don't think I go more than 20 meters away from that little house. ... Rainer Maria Rilke, the German poet, described music as being lifted up and then put down somewhere else, and I think that's a very good description of what everybody [who] ... writes or makes music or whatever, is trying to do somehow. This book is very, very small scale. You are not moved many centimeters, but it still is a movement, I think.
Connor Donevan and Melissa Gray produced and edited the audio of this interview. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.