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Karl Ove Knausgård: I’d rather shoot myself than go to therapy
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Karl Ove Knausgård: I’d rather shoot myself than go to therapy

For him, it is a “literary suicide”. For critics, this is the new the latest literary sensation. The Norwegian author of 3,600-page, six-part autobiographical novel, ‘My Struggle’, Karl Ove Knausgård talks about his writing, reputation, and addiction.

You mentioned earlier that the starting point of “My Struggle” was to face with yourself, and old feelings. How are you feeling now? Much better?

– Actually, I just wanted to write about my father and his death. I had to comfort with myself. That was the starting point.

It’s also about “the art of remembering”. Do you have a really good memory?

– Our memories keep changing, as we get older. Memories change toward the life. It’s also true that memories are flattering us. When writing, I went back all those places and scenes without any sequences. I’ve created a world by memories. I have to create a world consisting of everything. The writing process requires extra remembering. That came with writing. It was like opening a new door. I believe in memories outside of consciousness, and this is just a way to find them. Writing is a way to get access to them. I believe we remember everything. We remember every single thing about our past. Only by writing, you can have a full access of it. There is no such a thing called forgetting. It’s just a mind game.

Did you ever check with family members to see if you remember right?

– I never did any research or ask anyone. I never know if these memories are totally true or if they have changed. The books were supposed to about what I remember, not what actually happened.

Marcel Proust, in his ‘Remembrance of all Things Past’, wrote that a bite of a madeleine vividly recalled childhood memories of his aunt giving him the very same cake before going to mass on a Sunday. Do scents or flavours bring back memories to you?

– I’m more like a visual person. I do have a very good visual memory. What I do remember most is the face expressions that people made. I never forget my father’s face when he was mad at me. Physical exercises also help me to remember things. I haven’t played football for many years and as I start to play with a ball, I can immediately remember many details about my childhood. It’s so strange that how the way you move with the ball helps you to recall many memories. All of a sudden, you start to remember what it is like to be a child. When you start thinking about your childhood, memories start coming through the physical experience, the movement. Our childhood is shaped by physical experiences like climbing the trees, running at the streets etc.

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In other words: This is the story of how confessions of a Norwegian Everyman become a literary phenomenon. Photo Credit: David Sandson / Eyevine

Many critics named the “volume III: The Boyhood Island” as one of the best childhood writing since James Joyce. Does it more difficult when it comes to childhood?

– First of all, it is very shapeless. You try to crack the door of an era you almost don’t reflect anything. When you are a kid, you don’t understand a lot of things happening around you and that make everything about childhood so ironic. You have no reflections. It is hard to become convincing. Childhood is a very innocent thing. And, literature is the opposite of the innocent. That’s why, it is hard to write about childhood.

Do you ever go back the books you’ve read while you were a kid?

– Yes, a lot. I’ve read many mark twain and James Joyce books. I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula when I was 11. I really enjoyed. Loved it. A really really good one!

You’ve been likened with Proust a lot. Do you read Proust ? How did his ideas shaped your belief?

– I was 24 the first time I read a Proust book. Before Proust, I thought I had some thoughts about time and identity. I thought I’ve invented all those ideas. Then, I met Proust and I just felt so little. The way of I think about time, memory, and identity; figuring out about the constriction of a novel, and the usage of a metaphor are very much influenced by Proust. He opened up my world in many different directions. I remember every time I finished a Proust book; I was deciding to become more direct in life.

Do you ever go to therapy?

– No. I’d rather shoot myself than go to therapy.

The distance between the observer and the observed is always an issue your books. Was it hard you?

– When I’m writing my aim is to be free my mind. I don’t want to be restricted by the idea of what others think. Writing about yourself is already a shameful process. I don’t want to think about what everyone thinks, on top of that. All our lies that we said to ourselves come from the “What would they think” process. I just wanted to get rid of everything and try to feel absolutely pure freedom. I’m not pretending. I’m not hiding. This is who I am, and how it really is. I never thought of these books would be published. I never thought of these books would be read by anyone. People could see me through the book. This is not ‘public me’. This is really me. Real shit.

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Karl Ove Knausgaard, photographed outside his writing studio at home in Sweden. Photo Credit: Katherine Anne Rose / The Observer

How does the Scandinavian culture move you?

– It is hard to see and analyse your own culture, that’s for sure. It defines your thinking of the world. A huge controversy lies under this culture. Wealth never brings peace. That’s a huge lie. It’s a paradox that we have this wealth, good schools, well-maintained hospitals and still has one of the highest rates on suicide. It’s a simple yet complex issue. When you get everything in default, you feel more incapable.

Norwegians are known as grieving in very different ways. It’s almost crucial that you refrain from displaying your feelings in public – neither positive nor negative emotions are appropriate. As a kid, how hard was it to deal with?

– It’s almost a social pressure. I’ve cried a lot during my childhood, probably more than anyone – though. It was the worst thing you could do as a boy. You shouldn’t cry in front of other kids, of course. Well, I did. Why were you crying that much? – I don’t know. I was just crying about everything. I, still, cry a lot. It took a while to feel okay about it.

Did you ever feel you weren’t man enough when you were a kid?

– I was never masculine enough the way my father wanted to be. I felt humiliated all the time. I always though I wasn’t man enough. I did same stupid things, like kick some teenagers, just to prove that it was the opposite. The second book covers these issues a lot: What is to be a man? What is to be a father? It has changed a lot in just one generation, here in Scandinavia. I’m happy it is changing. When I was a kid, our fathers were out all the time. There was always a certain distance between fathers and sons. That distance has almost lost now.

Writing about yourself is already a shameful process. I don’t want to think about what everyone thinks, on top of that. All our lies that we said to ourselves come from the “What would they think” process. I just wanted to get rid of everything and try to feel absolutely pure freedom.

You wrote the entire volume, 3,600-page, at 2010 in such a short time. Do you have any rituals on writing? Any objects you can’t write without?

– I write early in the morning. For me, the best time to write is 4 am. I smoke all the time while I’m writing. Some says smoker writers are better than non-smokers in literature. Not sure, how smoking helps you with words, though. I have this Norwegian colleague; he takes a small dose of ketamine every time before he starts writing. He did for more many many years. It is almost an obligation for him.

Do you think does it help?

– I don’t know. I never try but it works for him, that’s for sure. I guess our habits help us to get creative. I have a lot of habits on that. Writing is an uncertain process, and full of insecurity. It is very unstable process. It moves everything around you. That’s why; I always have some stable objects around me. I do the same things, and look the same objects everyday, almost in a very suspicious way; same pattern, same music, and same food.

Does it kind of a “comfort zone” that you’ve created for yourself to feel more secure?

– Yeah, it is. The danger thing is writing become more secure. That’s dangerous thing for a writer. I have the same editor for years. He reads everything that I write, even small notes. He’s my safe zone.  – [Revised, and re-edited from an interview by Ali Tufan Koc]

 

Cover Photo Credit: Juergen Teller / WSJ Magazine


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