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

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Alcohol and alcoholism in Knausgaard's My Struggle

Book 5 of Karl Ove Knausgaard's amazing My Struggle is of course about his struggle not to "become a writer" but to "write" - as most of the volume, at least through the first quarter, is about his experiences in the Writing Academy in Bergen, a select group of aspiring writers, among whom he appears to be the youngest - and it's difficult for him to deal w/ the sharp criticism his work receives from the two professors and from the other students: sometimes being pushed to tears, and wanting to lash out and do something self-destructive like write an entire poem consisting only of the word "cunt" repeated across a whole typesheet and reading the "poem" aloud - which fortunately a friend dissuades him from doing. In parallel w/ his learning to write is his learning how to have a normal and healthy love relationship with a woman. The volume begins w/ his having completely fallen in love with a woman his age (20), can't remember her name, Ing-something - they had met briefly (in one of the earlier volumes, the exact circumstances elude me) and over the summer kept up a correspondence (how quaint that seems today) and KOK has no idea whether she's as interested as he is or if on her part it's just friendship. He's like a little kid, nervous about calling her, wondering if he'll be able to make conversation, etc. - but things seem to be going well, she obviously is pleased that he calls and comes to see her in Bergen. He invites her to a party at his brother's house, and for fortitude and confidence begins drinking heavily before and then during the party - and that brings to light one of the darker strands of this series of novels: KOK's obvious problems with alcoholism, a malady that essentially killed his father (and grandmother). He drinks an incredible amount and then comes on to the lovely Ing as a drunken lout and risks ruining the entire relationship - although he makes some amends the next morning. As we think about KOK's "struggle" through his novels, throughout his life that is, to bith "fit in" and to be special and unique, an artist, we have to think of alcohol as a tool or crutch he uses to feel more relaxed, confident, and normal - and then think about how alcohol leads him to humiliation and failure, making him "stand out."

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