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

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Karl Ove Knausgaard's brilliant decision to write in mosaic format

Volume 4 of Karl Ove Knausgard's My Struggle (unnamed - unlike first three volumes, at least in the Bartlett English tr.) focuses on or at least begins w/ his arrival at his first teaching job - he's 18, just graduated from h.s. (gymnas, in the translation from the Norwegian) and arriving in a very small and remote town on the northern coast of Norway for a year's assignment teaching in the public school, which runs through grade 9. He has no experience, no preparation or training - surprisingly, Norway at that time (late 80s?) was so desperate for teachers in the north that they took kids right out of high school as well as providing huge tax incentives for experienced teachers such as KOK's father (we should try this in the U.S.). Here we see the advantage, once again, of KOK's decision to present his struggle in mosaic form, rather than slogging through the events of his life straight chronological sequence. Our knowledge about him as he arrives at this assignment is enriched by all that we know about his "struggle" - with his father, for his identity as a writer, his sexual identity, his own fatherhood, his sometimes joyous sometimes troubled childhood. As he's arriving for this assignment - his first true independence (though it does appear that the gymnas experience in Norway is much like college for students in the US), he goes through a list of the books that meant the most to him at that time - almost all of them completely obscure to US readers, but the two all will recognize are On the Road and Catcher - which as he notes show what he identified with in literature, a young man struggling for independence, standing up (he believes) against the straights and the phonies, hoping someday to express his thoughts through art - a romantic vision, to alluring to so many young men (and women, in a somewhat different formulation). Of course what takes this to a higher level is that we know this was not a passing fancy of youth for KOK but has guided the whole course of his life. His struggle has been to be both accepted - not a weirdo or isolate, but loved and befriended - while also being different, unique, an artist. He makes it clear at the outset that he had no desire to teach or be a teacher - he is taking this job to find time to write and to get together some money - he wants to travel through Europe, doing odd jobs, writing, and returning eventually with a completed novel. There are so many young people who dream of "being a writer" - as does KOK - but being a writer is completely different from "writing" - not too many dream of that. What separates him, of course, is that he does write - even on his first day in his new town, on the eve of his teaching, he works on a short story (which we have read, in a mature form, as part of volume 3!). It does also strike me that he's far too young, immature, and volatile to be a teacher, and very likely to get in trouble with the community through his drinking and perhaps through inappropriate relationships with students. Not entirely his fault - the fault of the system, I think.

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