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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, May 29, 2015

I drink therefore I am?: Alcoholislm in Knausgaard's My Struggle

Not to keep coming back to the same theme but the drinking in Karl Ove Knausgaard's volume 4 of My Struggle is really, really troubling - he's 16 years old (for much of this volume, a high-school student; in other parts he's 18 and just starting his first job as a teaching in a remote grammar school) and he drinks himself into oblivion on a regular basis - at his young age and in good health generally he manages to survive these serious drinking bouts, to revive himself and get on w/ his work and his life - but drinking to the blackout state, every weekend is not the recommended path to success for an ambitious, young writer. Fortunately, something in his life changed significantly and he was able not only to write but to write beautiful and original novels that have moved people (including me) from around the world. So what happened? He doesn't really tell us, so far, in volume 4, but he is building a contrast with his father, mean and cruel and dissatsified w/ his life, whom, as we know from volume 1, died almost alone and in extreme squalor. We begin to understand why KOK cried to such excess when preparing his father's funeral in vol. 1 - he could see that his father's path was the one not taken (by him) and was still a dangerous and alluring possibility. In no volume of this novel does he appear to abstain from drinking (or smoking for that matter) and you have to wonder whether to this day he might be living on the brink of addiction. His attitude toward alcoholism in volume 4 is deliberately (I think) cool and vague - he doesn't look back on the excesses of his youth and say, man, I shouldn't have done that or I'm amazed I survived that - but without his belaboring the point we see how close he was a various moments to humiliation, oblivion, even death. He does not need to preach - his facts speak for themselves. I hope that later in this volume or in subsequent he will take on this issue: how and why did he stop, is he still free from his compulsions, what role does alcoholism play in his life and in his fiction? One oddity: he seems never to have been seriously involved in the use of drugs, a bit odd given his association w/ the indie music scene even from his teenage years - most kids like him in the U.S. would, I think, be drawn for more to pot than to beer - but I guess something in his genes, culture, or personal make-up draws him to the obliteration of alcohol rather than to the heightened perception of marijuana. He drinks to dull his senses, to check out - particularly obvious his the scene of his father's re-marriage - harrowing.

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