The world’s new literary darling, Karl Ove Knausgaard, has published a new book of essays today, January 5th, 2021, In the Land of the Cyclops.
If you have not been living under a literary rock for the last five or so years, then you will know the stoic but vulnerable Norwegian writer all too well. Although he achieved national notoriety in Norway with his first two books – Out of the World was published in 1998, and his second one, A Time For Everything, in 2004 – he was thrown into the world as a newly baptised literary sensation — labelled as a modern-day Marcel Proust — with his hefty six-part autobiographical series, My Struggle, published between 2009 and 2011.
He was praised for the sheer volume and speed at which he wrote this monumental piece of literature, but more importantly, he was commended for raising the art of autobiographical writing to an artistic level that has not been seen since Marcel Proust’s’ In Search of Lost Time.
His critics argue that his books are painstakingly boring and slow, while his proponents say something not quite that different from what the former say. It is true, his writing is slow, and at times boring – but isn’t life like that? He is most celebrated for his beautiful, hypnotic but straightforward prose. He reels you into his cornucopia of minute detail. He delves into every picture frame of life, brought down to slow motion, he reveals everything bar none. He explores his own shame and the shame of others; an analysis of the books using the looking glass self-theory — the idea that we establish our sense of self through the eyes of others — by making himself a mirror, he exposes the shame of others.
From exploring his father’s alcoholism to his ex-wife’s mental condition, nothing is off-limits. After the publication of the first volume and then the second, he would consequently be sued by his uncle because of essentially exposing “family secrets”. The beauty of the books is that it mocks the idea of social etiquette; the concept of respecting these imaginary barriers, which separates people from their own feelings, in order to — ironically — protect their own sense of self.
The achievement of his My Struggle series is that Knausgaard has written the antithesis of a novel, one in which a writer would usually reconcile their life through the mask of their fiction, Knausgaard did the opposite. He now has to reconcile his book by living.
It is then with great anticipation — albeit having published a four-part series on descriptive writing of the different seasons since then — that we await his newest work, In The Land of the Cyclops; a book of essays that explores a plethora of different themes and subjects. It features some of the best aspects of My Struggle: the essayist, the memoirist, and the keen observer; all these sides of Knausgaard are represented in this new book.
In one of his essays, on the American photographer, Sally Mann, according to a New York Times article, he writes, “I long to be free, totally free in art, and this to me is to be without politics, without morals.”
Some of the other topics we can expect to find in this new book include northern lights, the cancel culture, writers Proust and Pascal, Cindy Sherman, the existentialist philosopher Kierkegaard, the genius of the world-renowned filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman, and much more. He even takes it upon himself, as no stranger to conflict and discomfort, to criticise liberalism’s identity and the part it plays in attempting to shape people’s perspectives on gender and national borders.
The beauty of Knausgaard is that as a writer, he is not determined to convince you of one thing or another, he truly embodies the role of an artist – in the way Anton Chekov would – to present problems from a realist perspective but to not provide any answers.
Watch a video of Karl Ove Knausgaard read an excerpt from his My Struggle series, recorded at The New York Public Library.