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

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Friday, April 29, 2016

Writing Program, Norway style, and how it nearly ruined Karl Ove Knausgaard

Part 1 of volume 5 of Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle ends with KOK in tears - in front of his brother, Yngve - he has just gone on a mean drunk, woke up in complete oblivion, hauled off by the police, sobered up in a holding cell, was told he had been found on the floor in a hallway in a nursing home - apparently someone had done some vandalism as well, probably him but they aren't charging him - and he goes to his brother and remembers that in the middle of his binge he had hurled a glass at his brother's face, Yngve now bandaged up but fortunately not blinded. Quite a powerful end to this section - the teenager (19) who entered the Writing Academy in Bergen with hopes of becoming a great or at least a good novelist has now ended in despair about his work and about his life and with a very serious alcohol problem - he can't not drink in social situations and he drinks until blackout and he's a mean and dangerous drunk. How he has changed! Can we blame the writing program for this? In part - he was obviously too young and immature and too raw a talent to withstand the pressure of constant criticism and the obsession of his teachers with experimental and avant garde lit was not a felicitous math for KOK and his talents. Unlike most American programs they had all students write in all genres, not sure why, and the age range varied widely - they seemingly have or had no direct equivalent to college years, the time in which most young writers really figure things out and write lots of dark poetry about their "feelings" because what else to 20-year-olds really have access to or know? KOK would have benefited from that - and then enter a program in mid-20s with a more clear idea of his talents and goals. Though we know that the joke's on everyone else as now he is perhaps the most famous Norwegian novelist of all time, he was clearly not ready for the program nor did it help him (I think). He shouldn't even have been trying a novel at age 19 - he didn't have the experience or the wisdom or the gravitas to take that on; he needed to develop is talent with shorter pieces, short stories - just like the American writers whom he says he admired the most at that time - BE Ellis, McInerney, JA Phillips are 3 he mentions - and it's notable that each of them wrote about the vacuity of life of among 20-something Americans. That's possibly something KOK could have tried - but it's probably better that he waited until he was mature enough to mine the depths of his life, not polish the surface (it's interesting that none of American writers he mentions - children of Carver and grandchildren of Hemingway, progressed much, in my view, beyond their early work - they layed out the string too early maybe?). We get glimpses and references of the first novel KOK will write, something about angels descending to earth and speaking and observing - and we sense, yes, this is the kind of clever piece that has nothing to do with reality that is often the ticket for a first-time novelist - but we don't see any of this work except in shadow as part of My Struggle, and that's just as well. KOK leaves the academy at the end of the one-year program much worse off than when he started, his confidence shattered, and I think we'll probably see in the 2nd part of this volume how he built his stature and managed to compete and sell novel #1 - a style and form that he has moved far beyond over the course of his career, as all readers of MS understand.

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