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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

Monday, April 25, 2016

The influence of the writing program on Knausgaard's style

Anyone who's ever been in a writing seminar or perhaps even in a writing group will recognize all of the notes that Karl Ove Knausgaard strikes in his account of his first days in the writers' academy in Bergen - it's something like a graduate writing program, although some of the students, such as KOK, have not attended college (it seems that high school in Norway is somewhat like college in the U.S. - KOK went directly from high school into teaching in a high school, for example). His graduate seminar includes all of the recognizable types - the "stern girl," the radical and acerbic and dramatic-looking girl, the insecure, the pompous, the one who looks like a pushover and then astonishes w/ some great poetry, and so on - but he's not writing about all of these people in detail, it's obvious, he and he alone is the "subject" of his six-volume My Struggle (this is volume 5) and what he's really after is an accurate account of his formation as a writer. His struggle, as noted in previous posts, is both to be accepted and "ordinary" while, at the same time, to be recognized and appreciated as unique - in a way that's the struggle of every adolescent, but in particular it's the struggle of one trying to recount his emotions, feelings, and experiences in literary prose (or verse). We see in these early sections of volume 5 the influence of his two seminar teachers - they are pushing the students to "make it new," to avoid metaphor and other literary devices and to write avant garde or even experimental. The books they suggest the students read - many of which I'd never heard of (especially the Norwegian writers of course) - are a litany of postmodernism, magic realism, and two centuries of European experimental and radical fiction and poetry - Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Genet, Garcia Marquesz, Cortazar, and others. As it happens, most (not all - Iowa has been an exception, historically) writing programs do push students toward the extreme and unusual rather than the popular and conventional, and we see this influence on KOK, as he takes in stride the critique of the short story he presents (we don't get to read that story, maybe just as well) and writes his first good poem (this we do see, and it is quite good), but we're of course aware of the irony or paradox: the novel we're reading is vast and ambitious but in form rather conventional, a rejection of the willful obscurity and complexity that his teachers pushed him toward.

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