A Man in Love
A Space of One’s Own
If Karl Ove Knausgaard's six volume work of near autobiography that masquerades as fiction has been compared to Proust's In Search of Lost Time, then whatever the invidious comparisons some might claim in relation to quality, one of the most distinctive differences we find in the second volume, A Man in Love, is the idea of someone immersed in life as opposed to Proust's narrator immersed in self. One feels in Proust's work that everything is caught in the mind's eye; that every detail comes from lost time found in the tranquillity of recollection. Norwegian writer Knausgaard's work is closer to time snatched rather than found: he is the modern man of stress and hassle, a father with two children and a partner who needs plenty of looking after too. If the early 20th century problem was how to find time after the enigmas of Bergsonian memory demanded that art acknowledged the complexity of the temporal and not simply layers of temporally assured space, the narrator here is happy simply to find the time. He needs to steal a few hours away from domestic duration to allow time for himself.
Knausgaard's book is not the beautiful literary object that Proust's novel happens to be, and James Wood for one has been ambivalently critical of Knausgaard's prose, saying of the first volume, A Death in the Family, "...if we must have hundreds of pages of autopsied minutiae, then let them be as well written as the last two enormous volumes in Adam Mars-Jones's unfinished project in novelistic micro-realism." Many of Knausgaard's sentences however are stale in a distinctive manner, as if they are trying to find meaningful form out of meaningless content. The idea of snatching a few hours and finding time for oneself are 21st century formulas we invoke because they are part of the style evident in Knausgaard's prose, part of their autobiographical anger. He writes not at all like a man possessed but a Promethean bound, the modern man caught in the rites and rituals of a new masculinity. This might seem more specifically Scandinavian but will speak to many men who, determined not at all to become their fathers, have perhaps become like their mothers instead. A man chained to the sink indicates a certain type of social progress, but it doesn't do much for one's ontological development.
Part of the book's tension resides in new man losing old possibilities of being, and thus if Knausgaard's book has drawn comparisons with Proust, we could equally invite further comparisons with Norway's most famous novelist - Knut Hamsun - and invert them. Hamsun's celebrated book was called Hunger, and a century later Knausgaard could have called this novel Satiation. There are no needs that can't easily be met except spiritual ones, which are very hard to find. During one conversation between Knausgaard and a friend, they discuss Hamsun, saying that in his fiction his characters come from nowhere. They aren't products of the family and the social environment; they are existential enigmas, willing to do without food and comfort rather than lose an essential quality of freedom. Knausgaard explores the flipside, with family and friends, partners and children, all constraining influences on the soul, however satisfying they might be for alleviating social insecurities.
Knausgaard may wish to be unbound, but there is little to indicate he has the existential wherewithal to survive. Early on in the novel his partner Linda has locked herself in the bathroom at a friend's place. There are many people there, and Karl Ove can't quite face the humiliation of knocking in a door that might not give way, and asks another man present to try. He is so sure of failure that he would prefer to take his humiliation in one gulp, and the other man takes responsibility and the glory. If Hamsun's characters come out nowhere, Knausgaard comes out of a clear social milieu that will allow a minor embarrassment to take on potentially disastrous emotional consequences. Knausgaard is a domestic Dostoevsky, facing the consequences of his weak personality, but also feeling that this doesn't make him the spiritual exception (as we find in the great Russian), but much closer to the masculine norm. Most men of his generation are so busy looking after children, getting the shopping in and placating their wives, that the bigger endeavours are rarely attempted, and the capacity for cowardly retreat infinite. As he notes, writing about the evening, "once I had been to a party in Stockholm in which a boxer had been present. He was sitting in the kitchen, his physical presence was tangible, and he filled me with a distinct but unpleasant sensation of inferiority. A sensation that I was inferior to him. Strangely enough, the evening was to prove me right" when Linda goes on to lock herself in the toilet. Talking in bed with Linda afterwards, Karl Ove admits that he was ashamed he hadn't kicked the door down. "She looked at me in astonishment. The thought had not even occurred to her. Why should I have done it? I wasn't the type, was I."
There is the danger that such men lack character: that the lives they lead are of a quiet desperation which has little to do with Thoreau, and much to do with living in a society that has nothing wrong with it and much to recommend it, but one that is subtly incapacitating. The logistics of Knausgaard's life, his daily commitments to others, make him wonder where he can find the time and the wherewithal to write, and this is not because he has nothing to write about, but that he cannot find the space for the creative act. While there is of course the grand tradition of writing as adventure, of a big life lived and the experiences given literary form epitomised by the work of London, Miller and Hemingway, this is no more than the active source of literary inspiration. What interests Knausgaard is the creative space for literary activity. One can generate events for storytelling, but that doesn't mean the literary space is being created where the writing actually gets done. How this space comes into being, how one protects it so that the work is produced, is surely a far more interesting question than living dangerously. It could even be argued that what makes Knausgaard's work fascinating is that he tries to find this space in circumstances that deny it, and draws on these very everyday experiences to produce literature out of it.
If there is the Hemingwayesque tradition of adventure, there is equally the modernist idea of the non-event, with Walser, Kafka, Handke and Kelman often choosing the smallest of subjects but usually doing so through an isolated consciousness. It is the individuality that gives meaning and scope to the art, but what happens if the writer cannot find this solitude and wants to write about dinner with his mother-in-law and her partner, the experience of going to a sing-along club with his daughter, or to a bar for a drink with a friend? If one accepts the perceptual individuality of the non-event then that is one thing, but what happens if the non-event is not viewed so singularly; that the person observing is very much part of that society? Do we need the narratively quotidian to counter the banality; in other words should narrative causality kick in to keep us interested in the day to day? However, when Karl Ove goes along with his daughter to a Rhythm Time Class for babies, Karl Ove shows an interest in the young lady leading the group, but nothing comes of it in the book's five hundred and fifty pages. The first moment he sees the woman he notes that "she really was attractive", a few lines afterwards adds, "her smile was so attractive", and later tells a friend: "I've just met an attractive woman." This is foreshadowing ripe for narrative event, but for Knausgaard it is merely an idle infatuation promptly passed over. There may be another four books in which the romance could develop, but it is so on hold in A Man in Love that we must take it for a red herring.
However, is a red herring not often a narrative device, a means by which to lead the reader down a particular path all the better to allow them to miss the more important one? As Nancy Curteman says, "Red herrings play two important roles in a mystery novel. They heighten suspense and add greater challenge to a mystery puzzle by misleading the reader and/or the sleuth. A red herring is a false clue that a mystery writer uses to send readers and sleuths off in directions that do not lead to the apprehension of the real villain." If Knausgaard wanted us to think this would be the woman with whom he would be ruining his family life, only to show him then involved with another woman altogether, the passage would have passed for a moment of manipulation. But the point behind the novel appears to be the avoidance of novelistic techniques high and low. If Wood can comment on the slackness of Knausgaard's writing, then this is part of a bigger project determined to question the assumptions of fiction. Interviewing Knausgaard in The Australian, Tegan Bennet Daylight says, "Knausgaard spoke about the style he adopted for the new novels, describing it as being "like a bath in a sea of banality and triviality". He related how he had attended creative writing classes in which his work was cut, line by line, while his tutors looked for the perfect sentence. These books are in one sense a reaction to that; he decided, "If it is bad, I will do more."" "And this," she adds, "is what he has done. It is bad, and there is more. There is no cliche too weary for him and no situation too trivial. Cooking, putting out the garbage, nappy-changing, train-catching, saying "Hello?" and being answered, "Hi. It's me", and then replying, "Hi" - none of these is beyond Knausgaard's scope. Of course there is still selection at work; these books don't unfold in real time, but it can feel as though they do."
Neither narratively focused nor elegantly written, what is behind the writing of the book? Knausgaard gives us some indication in the most intense passages in the novel, when he writes about misology: "Everything that can be said with words can be contradicted with words, so what's the point of dissertations, novels, literature? Or put another way: whatever we say is true we can also say is untrue. It is a zero point and the place from which the zero values begin to spread. However, it is not a dead point, not for literature either, for literature is not just words, literature is what words evoke in the reader. It is this transcendence that validates literature, not the formal transcendence initself." Literature is not the words on the page as beautifully woven craft, but closer to a space where words create the possibility of the subject, of the writer and the reader, and a subject beyond the writer and the reader. When Wood opens his article with a remark from Walter Benjamin about storytelling and death, he says the book "is so powerfully alive to death that it sometimes seems a kind of huge, ramshackle annex to Benjamin's brief thesis." Wood insists, quoting Benjamin, "that classic storytelling is structured around death. It is the fire at which listeners warm their hands." But these days, he suggests, "that hearth is cold and empty. Benjamin notes that death has disappeared from contemporary life, safely shuffled away to the hospital, the morgue, the undertaker. Instead of the news of death, there is just newsthe "information" that we get so easily in newspapers." "If the art of storytelling has become rare", Benjamin says, "the dissemination of information has had a decisive share in this state of affairs."
This is the immediate nature of the event that needn't have very much to do with death, since the news accumulates tragedy and atrocity, but from elsewhere. Literature can perhaps relocate that pain and return it to the hearth of one's own awareness, brought to us not in bold print but small print - in the form of literature. Knausgaard's project from this point of view isn't very different from some of the claims made by Maurice Blanchot in The Gaze of Orpheus and his essay 'Literature and the Right to Death. "Or again he has written because in the depths of language he heard the work of death as it prepared living beings from the truth of their name: He worked from this nothingness and he himself was a nothingness at work." This is the transcendence Knausgaard talks about; whatever happens to be the subject within the book one is writing, this is not quite what literature is concerned with. It is merely the means by which one creates the literary space.
This point coincides in very different ways with claims made in the 19th century by Flaubert and in the 20th by Alain Robbe-Grillet: the idea that literature is never about its subject, and that the opposition between form and content has always been a false dichotomy. Flaubert insisted he wanted to write a book about nothing, "The finest works of art are those in which there is the least matter. The closer expression comes to thought, the more the word clings to the idea and disappears, the more beautiful the work of art." (Letter to Louise Colet, Jan. 16, 1852) "What I would like to write is a book about nothing, a book without exterior attachments, which would be held together by the inner force of its style, as the earth without support is held in the aira book that would have almost no subject or at least in which the subject would be almost invisible." (Letter to Louise Colet, Jan. 16, 1852) Robbe-Grillet in For a New Novel says, "here is where the difficulty - one is tempted to say the impossibility - of creation resides: the work must seem necessary, but necessary for nothing; its architecture is without use; its strength untried." "Art for art's sake does not have a good press: it suggests a game, imposture, dilettantism. But the necessity a work of art acknowledges has nothing to do with utility. It is an internal necessity..."
But what is this internal necessity, and what should we make of writing a book about nothing? Is this nothing as nothingness, or nothing as a formal exercise? If Robbe-Grillet insists "that leaky old boat - the academic opposition of form and content - has not yet been entirely scuttled", maybe it needn't be if we adopt a third term that can help us to retain the other two without falling into their often facile opposition. This is the notion of intent. A work's intent doesn't assume that the form serves the story, nor expects the content to be merely the means with which to allow the form to exist. It is instead the propulsion behind the work that generates the creation of a literary space. When Knausgaard says in The Australian interview: "My intention throughout has been to write, to create literature, and to be able to look people in the eye after I'd done it, the people I'd written about. I did this with a pure heart", he doesn't talk about the people in the book as great characters to write about, and doesn't invoke the form as though it wasn't contained by content. He even uses the word intention to try and explain what motivated the work. A danger behind assuming that a novel is without signification is that one may believe it is devoid of consequence too. If a writer produces a novel in which the wife is regarded as a lazy tramp and bases it very closely on his wife's behaviour, and the wife takes an overdose shortly after the book's publication, the writer can say as much as he likes that the characters are fictional, merely symbols on a page, but they have proved to have consequences beyond it. If it is aesthetically naive for a reader to take the characters in a book as if they are living people, and talk about their actions as though they weren't fictionally created, it can be morally naive to assume they are nothing but signs and symbols too. A literary space in this sense, and the sense we feel A Man in Love invokes, is where we don't fall easily into the story (as we're expected to do in much commercial fiction), nor ignore the ethical implications of the material (where there is nothing beyond the words, nothing beyond the text).
This latter position has been credited in different ways to both Robbe-Grillet and Jacques Derrida, and some of the things they have said can indicate why. Robbe-Grillet in For a New Novel says of Robert Pinget's Mahu, "The characters of this novel belong neither to the realm of psychology nor that of sociology, nor even to symbolism, still less to history or ethics; they are pure creations which derive only from the spirit of creation". Talking of Derrida and deconstruction, Christopher Norris says, paraphrasing Derrida, "what these consist in, very briefly, is the dismantling of conceptual oppositions, the taking apart of hierarchical systems of thought which can then be reinscribed within a different order of textual signification." (Derrida) Yet Robbe-Grillet also says, "far from neglecting him, the author today proclaims his absolute need of the reader's cooperation, an active conscious, creative assistance. What he asks of him is no longer to receive ready-made a world completed, full, closed upon itself, but on the contrary to participate in a creation, to invent in his turn the work - and the world - and thus to learn to invent his own life." Derrida, meanwhile, believes, writing is about "a truth to be made. Saint Augustine speaks often of "making the truth" in a confession. In Circumfessions, I try, by citing him often, to think how this truth rebels against philosophical truth -a truth of adequation or revelation." ('A 'Madness' Must Watch Over Thinking') Neither Robbe-Grillet nor Derrida retreat from meaning, but they are suspicious of assumptions made in its name.
One of the advantages of non-fiction novels is that it forces upon the reader an intermediate position that leaves us wondering about the consequences of words on a page. This 'non-fictional' approach can incorporate the apparently autobiographically unequivocal like Handke's A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, Coetzee's Youth and Knausgaard's book, to the 'impersonal' report: In Cold Blood, The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test and The Executioner's Song, and can be played around with, evident in Coetzee's Summer Time, Carrere's A Russian Novel, Cercas's The Speed of Light. When in his generally uneventful book, Knausgaard starts to open his face up with a broken glass, the words we read offer a strong image of self-abuse, aligned to the confession of the very writer we are reading. Hurling a glass at the wall, Knausgaard takes the "biggest shard I could find and started cutting my face. I did it methodically, making the cuts as deep as I could, and covered my whole face. The chin, cheeks, forehead, nose, underneath the chin." The literary clich is that words bounce off the page; but here Knausgaard's boomerang back on the reader as ethical consequence. When an unequivocally fictional character harms themselves our reaction is one of empathy, but when we know it happens to be the person we are reading about, is the frisson slightly different? If it sometimes seems astonishing we can have intense feelings for characters made out of small print, then when it reverberates back to the narrator as author it generates a further response, perhaps closer to Derrida's Circumfessions - a mode that alludes to revelation but contained within a work that, because it is still a piece of literature, cannot quite be reduced to the revelatory.
Something similar happens in the moments where Knausgaard comments on other writers, on friends and on members of his family, and also members of his wife's. It is not that we are idly wondering in a voyeuristic manner about other people's lives; more that we have a dissonant sense of a world beyond the book. We might not rush off and go online, checking how true the details happen to be, but one has a slightly different feeling reading about Linda's collapse before getting together with Karl Ove than we might if the fictional was much more clearly present than it is here. "The autumn after we had been to Biskops-Arno, she had got together with Arve, and through him I had heard what happened to her in the winter and spring. She had gone through a manic-depressive phase, was eventually admitted to a psychiatric hospital, that was all I knew." If this is a character in the novel one sees it within the context of narrative craft, and can perhaps see the train-wreck of a relationship that will be likely to develop. Biskops-Arno is where they had met the previous year and where Karl Ove had torn away at his face; not long afterwards, his future partner is in a psychiatric hospital. From a fictional viewpoint the narrative logic appears to be taking hold, but instead we have to take into account that Knausgaard is writing about his own future relationship that will produce children that one day might well read the very book we have in our hands, detailing their parents' relationship. A work like A Man in Love throws us out of the work and into life, and back again.
This is pretty close to autobiographical metafiction, to use Robin Silbergleid's term: as if taking elements of the metafictional conceit, of denying the reader the opportunity to see the book simply as a text that we would be nave to 'believe' in (and thus calling into question its narrative authority as it demands to be seen as a textual process), but taking it in a different direction. Metafiction has also been called New Fictions. Practiced by Barth, Barthelme, Coover, Brautigan, Gass and others mentioned in Philip Stevick's 'Scheherezade runs out of Plots...' it includes the idea that this new fiction "presents its texture as devoid as possible of depth," and that it "permits itself a degree of latitude from the illusionist tradition greater than in any body of fiction since the beginning of the novel." In such metafictional works we regard the work as an object of aesthetic self-consciousness, but in the autobiographical metafiction we see practiced by Knausgaard, Cercas and Carrere, the self consciousness is more ontological than aesthetic, more concerned with the nature of one's being in the world than in the self-reflexive relationship with other texts. Carrere and Cercas often write prose that is colloquial and close to clich. If Knausgaard offers phrases like "a shadow hung over my happiness", "my heart was pounding", "to the depths of my soul." Cercas and Carrere offer similar commonplaces. Yet while the words are 'obvious' the content is epistemologically troublesome. In Carrere's A Russian Novel, a section of the book is taken up with a short story the central character writes for his girlfriend, a story that is published in Le Monde and that he intends her to read on a train journey she is to take. Carrere wrote a story for Le Monde identical to the one he publishes in the novel, but we might while reading the book wonder whether this is a fictional conceit or an autobiographical confession. Even if we know it happens to be more the latter than the former, the book still throws us with the directness of its approach. The book after all isn't a confessional interview we expect from a celebrity who has a new film or book to promote: the material is offered at the heart of the literary space.
This returns us to Blanchot and the idea that a book is about nothing, and yet that something comes out of this nothingness which is the basis of the book. In this sense Robbe-Grillet was right to insist that a novel has nothing to say, but not necessarily because it is an exercise in form; more, in certain instances, that it is, in Kafkan terms, closer to a prayer or an intimate conversation, Or, in Derrida's terms, a confession but of a certain type. It is as though the ego must be vanquished for the material to come into being, so that the nothing is not quite Robbe-Grillet's but closer instead to Blanchot's. It is less for example that "these elements never have any "content", any depth; they cannot make in any case the most modest contribution to the study of human character or of the passions, the least contribution to sociology, in spite the slightest philosophical meditation." (For a New Novel) It is more "the need to write is linked to the approach toward this point at which nothing can be done with words." (Blanchot) Knausgaard's book doesn't need to have a large subject, but it does need to create a large space, a literary space. But how is this created, and since literature can make claims for big stories (War and Peace and Crime and Punishment) and small (Ulysses taking place over less than twenty four hours in Dublin, and In Search of Lost Time the musings of one mind), we can entirely agree with Robbe-Grillet that it isn't the content that counts, but in our opinion it is the intent that the work reveals. This is not just the particularity of form that lead Robbe-Grillet to insist that Madame Bovary written in a different tense would have been worthless; it is more about the intent (and not the intention) behind the work. When Knausgaard insists in interviews that his purpose was entirely honourable, we might wonder whether this is merely convenient: he generates a cause clbre series of books out of exposing the lives of anyone who came into contact with him, and then insists that he did it for the higher purposes of literature. When he says this in the interview with The Australian, Daylight notes that Knausgaard might be hard on others but he is harder still on himself. But this alone would not justify the exposure of his wife, family and friends. What is more important is that he generates a space for literature through the work.
But what do we mean by this vague notion of a literary space? What would be examples of its absence? Anything from commercial fiction to the general newspaper article passes for the opposite of it. In both instances the pressure to exist on preconceived terms is greater than any opportunity for inquiry as intent. In other words the brief is almost invariably stronger than the intent available, even if very occasionally one finds a genre novel or a journalistic article curiously possessing this dimension. The intent answers not to a given market, but to a given question, and this doesn't rule out at all commissioned work which has to entertain commercial considerations (from Balzac to Dickens), but it does often hamper it. The lover of Dickens and Balzac is unlikely now to love them for the cliffhangers and plot twists that were part and parcel of writing to order, but the residue that gives us the Balzacian and the Dickensian. This is the texture of society or the vividness of characterization, not the superficial demands of the story. If Knausgaard had written the book out of revenge or commercial gain, even these might not have destroyed the book as a literary space. What would have done so was the notion that these were satisfactory aims evident in the book itself. But the literary space can have no ready aim; it can only have an omnivorous intent, and perhaps this is where we can once again invoke Benjamin and the idea of death. This is death not as narrative event, the punctuated murders of a thriller for example, but death as temporal passing, and the bridge that literature can be from one generation to another to overcome death's inevitability as literature acknowledges a void into which everything falls. The intentful writer insists on acknowledging this task, and writes not for an assumed readership but for its apparent absence. The writer writes obliviously, for oblivion, so that the concerns of offence, revenge, financial reward and familial hurt become irrelevant next to the encroaching need to enter the literary space.
Perhaps a more commercially oriented work would have no problem with the shame Karl Ove feels getting another man to knock down the bathroom door, leave in the passages over his self-harming, and other lines where he talks about his flabby stomach and other men's muscular physiques. This is all very honest and self-exposing, but the pure heart Knausgaard talks about exists elsewhere. It lies especially one feels in the lengthy section around page one hundred where he explores the existential crisis that doesn't so much produce but demands a work. It is here where the artwork exists, and this is an important distinction from that made, for example, by Hugo Munsterberg. In an essay on the meaning of art, he defines an artwork by its self-contained nature, and thus understandably explains why food does not constitute an art work because we have a sensual relationship with it that makes us far from disinterested. The same problem would exist for Munsterberg in interactive art: we should remain unable to alter the art work because it is complete unto itself. But he would also surely have a problem with the sort of autobiographical metafiction we've invoked. "If we read in a police report about burglaries, we may lock our house more securely; if we read about a flood, we may send our mite; if we read about an elopement, we may try to find out what happened later. But if we read about all these in a short story, we have esthetic enjoyment only if the author somehow makes it perfectly clear to us by the form of the description that this burglary and flood and elopement do not belong to our real surroundings and exist only in the world of imagination." ('The Means of the Various Arts')
Knausgard and others are saying however this is not where the boundaries of art lie, as their work exists in the liminal space between the report and the fictional creation. We can find out in the 'real world' certain details that might be absent from the fiction: physical descriptions for example of some of the writers Knausgaard talks about can be augmented by images from the internet. Does this mean because the people exist both in Knausgaard's work and beyond it that the work cannot pass for art? Because ""if we were really deceived and only for a moment took the stage quarrel and stage crime to be real, we would at once be removed from the height of esthetic joy to the level of common experience"? ('The Means of the Various Arts') Yet this is what autobiographical metafiction is asking us to do constantly. We are caught between the work of fiction and the world of fact, and much of the tension comes from this intermediate space where we react to an event as a creative moment, but at the same time might be aware that this is also a past factual experience.
The literary space perhaps tries to find the means by which to counter the perspective offered by Munsterberg without falling into the factual area of non-fiction that leaves us unequivocally with bald information. What Knausgaard, Cercas, Carrere and others ask is that the space opened up finds an ontological pertinence that leaves the fact or the fiction secondary to the question that is asked within that space. As Carrere says of his own early work, "It is both autobiographical and not at all realist, but I don't find that combination to be so strange. There's a book I really like called W, or the Memory of Childhood, by Georges Perec, which is made up of two completely different parts. On the one hand, he reconstitutes a novel he wrote as a child set on an island, Jules Verne-style, about a fascist society that is completely dominated by sports. On the other hand, he records his very fragmented memories of his life with his parents, from whom he was separated at the age of four when they were deported to the camps. And the way he uses these two storiesit's as if he is trying to harness something he isn't able to say." (Paris Review) The work becomes a territory where one cannot 'lose' oneself in the fiction, but one cannot find out about the work simply through factual sources either. As Carrere adds, "I have often used that method, combining things that don't obviously go together and making the bet that, by doing that, I am going to access something that is in the realm of the unsayable." (Paris Review) The unsayable is the literary space, and the writer finds whatever he or she can to occupy that space, to find the intent with which to say the unsayable. This is usually more circumfession than confession, because why bother with a work at all if one can offer it up confessionally. Such works aren't autobiographical, but ontobiographical: they draw upon a life, perhaps, but this is no longer the life as readily lived; more excavated from the possibilities of being.
Near the end of A Man in Love, Karl Ove is talking to his friend Geir and, after Hitler is mentioned, Karl Ove says: "But the worst of it is that I can understand that need to rid yourself of all the banality and small-mindedness rotting inside you, all the trivia that can make you angry or unhappy, that can create a desire for something pure and great into which you can dissolve and disappear. It's getting rid of all the shit, isn't it? One people. One blood. One earth. Now precisely this has been discredited once and for all. But what lies behind it. I don't have any problem understanding that." As Karl Ove wonders, with his capacity to cave in to social pressure, what he would have done in the forties, so we might wonder what an inverse primal force might look like in literary form. If Fascism is now discredited then it was nevertheless a movement that appealed to numerous writers in the thirties including key figures we have mentioned here. As Rob Woodard says: "In the last decades of his life Hamsun's politics, which had been consistently veering to the right for many years, crystallised into a bizarre vision of "pan-Teutonic unity", which ultimately led to his support of the Nazis and his downfall as a public figure". (Guardian), Howard Caygill in Radical Philosophy notes: "As is well known, Maurice Blanchot pursued a career during the 1930s as a well-paid journalist of the extreme Right, producing on a conservative estimate several hundred articles." This is not the place to discuss the intricacies of the arguments concerning the degree to which these writers at a certain moment in their lives were positioned on the far-right; more to wonder about the appeal of a mode of being that searches out this purity Knausgaard invokes.
It can perhaps be squared by a book that is nothing if not a work of ontobiography: Fernando's Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet and a passage from it "A sensitive and honest-minded man, if he's concerned about evil and injustice in the world, will naturally begin his campaign against them by eliminating them at their nearest source: his own person. This task will take his entire life." This could be seen as the ultimate act of political bad faith, or the necessary requirement of ontological good faith. Does one need to achieve the pure and great through works of art, or through acting in the world? Perhaps it is a question of sensibility, since according to Karl Ove many cannot find their way into exploring the literary space. "You could also read Holderlin's poetry with reference to Heidegger's understanding of it, or go one step further and write about the clash between Heidegger and Adorno over Holderlin. You could also write about the whole history of the work's reception, or of the works in translation. It was possible to do all this without Holderlin's poems ever opening themselves." Poetry does not open itself up to Karl Ove, but other material does, and his duty is to pursue the demands this material places upon him. According to Munsternberg he should probably have given up writing, but instead he finds a space opening up that lead to other works and most especially his own grand project. Thus the literary space isn't a genre, it doesn't have fixed boundaries,; maybe not even loose ones. When Karl Ove says talking of poetry that "it was simple. You opened a book, read, and if the poems opened themselves to you, you had the right, if not, you didn't", perhaps the problem resides when writers who have this space available to them (Heidegger, Blanchot, Hamsun) also involve themselves in its socio-historical equivalent.
Something of the same claim concerning a work opening itself could be made for A Man in Love. The books opens itself to you or it doesn't. The books have become an enormous success in Norway, and have presumably done so not because of the space of literature that they have opened, but for the anecdotal, casual information enclosed. It is what is left that will be of interest: the aspect that we will call the Knausgaardian, just as in Balzac and Dickens' case it isn't the story, but what makes the stories Balzacian and Dickensian that matters. Thus it is isn't the fact or fiction, the gossip or narrative, that will make a work last, but that literary space a writer can call their own.
© Tony McKibbin