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

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Only Connect: A central theme in My Struggle

Only connect - that's another element at the heart of so many stories, novels, and lives - and definitely at the heart of Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle, particularly volume 4, which, more than any of the preceding volumes, is about his attempts to connect with women. In the crudest sense, he wants to hook up, and much of the angst in this volume is about his need to lose his virginity, which means overcoming his sexual fumblings and ineptitude and shame (he is persistently a victim of premature ejaculation, and is completely unable, or so it seems, to talk w/ any of the women with whom he tries to have sex about how they could help him w/ his problem or in fact what he can do to bring them sexual pleasure). As a result of his failings and his shame (he always hides from the women the fact that he has come - which leads them to think that he's not sexual, not drawn to them, or not their type - he takes the worst possible course, which is excessive drinking to blot out his shame and poor self-image -- which only makes his sexual incompetence worse, it would seem. But at a deeper level, only connect means finding a woman whom he can love - when he does so that will no doubt solve his problems of performance - but he is so set on his need for sexual conquest that, one time after another, he loses a chance at a meaningful and potential lasting relationship - most notably with the sister of his brother's fiancee. Throughout volume 4 he is drawn to the most unsuitable women - even to some of his very young students - women with whom no relationship could be possible, good, or legal - so in other words he has yet to be able to see women as potential romantic partners - possibly a result of the very cold and ultimately hostile relationship between his parents. A third level of only connect for KOK is connecting to the world (and to his inner self) through his art - and here we see at last some evidence of maturity and ambition: he takes his writing very seriously, sacrifices other aspects of his life in order to have time to write (few his age are willing or able to do that). Two odd things about his writing: the scene in which his brother, Yngve, says he can't imagine anyone would publish these stories, and his submission of the stories for an anthology - and he gets them back with a note that the publisher is abandoning the project because he received no worthwhile submissions (and KOK, consoling himself, or deluding himself, thinks that at least he wasn't rejected). There must be some sweet revenge that he feels in telling of these early dismissals.

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