Knausgaard’s subject matter may be closer to memoir than novel (so, at least, the ongoing Norwegian controversy over the series seems to tell us), but it is a novel nonetheless, because its most insistent subject is the experience of rapt immersion.

That has, after all, been the burden and joy of the novel since Cervantes. The quixotism of looking for Knausgaard through the Google Pegman is deeply novelistic, silly and childishly sincere by turns, and it is as good a way as any of feeling the leakiness of novelistic representation: sloppy, and porous to the banal messiness of the world, the novel’s task has always been to promote the kind of hypnotic state that wraps around the world rather than shutting it out. That state is much of what gave novels their poor reputation for centuries; it is what we tend to celebrate now, in our anxiety over a more distraction-rich media environment, in the process forgetting some of the very good reasons why hypnosis isn’t necessarily a good in itself. No small reason for Knausgaard’s ecstatic reception has been the sense that he supplies the drug of immersiveness for a culture that thinks it needs it so badly.


Nicholas Dames, "Knausgaard’s Novel Degree Zero," Public Books

"The apparent gap which many people think exists between the views of Rawls and, say, Ayn Rand is less important than the deep similarity in their basic views. A prison warden may put on a benevolent smile (Rawls) or a grim scowl (Ayn Rand), but that is a mere result of temperament, mood, calculation and the demands of the immediate situation: the fact remains that he is the warden of the prison, and, more importantly, that the prison is a prison."

Raymond Geuss, "The Idea of a Critical Theory," The Point

"As for elegance, one generally seeks and understands it best by choosing not to cultivate it; the greatest charm of elegance lies in a certain negligence, approximately like the noblesse of thought and feeling that is lost the moment it begins to struggle for expression, or like style in language, which fails when it tries to come to the fore."

Robert Walser, “The Metropolitan Street,” Berlin Stories

(Tentative) reading list for my fall writing class

Roots of the Essay:

Witnessing vs. Reflecting:

Writing and Ethical Responsibility (part one):

Writing and Ethical Responsibility (part two):

Finding a Writing Process:

Form and Language:

Making an Argument:

"Part of the pleasure of knowing Latin is that you don’t have to learn to say, ‘Where is the cathedral?’ or ‘I would like a return ticket, second class, please.’ You actually get to the literature. You don’t always have to be making yourself understood."

Mary Beard, profiled by Rebecca Mead (NYer)


Patrick hung up the phone. He had to have her, he definitely had to have her. She was not merely the latest object on which his greedy desire to be saved had fixed itself; no, she was the woman who was going to save him. The woman whose fine intelligence and deep sympathy and divine body, yes, whose divine body would successfully deflect his attention from the gloomy well shaft of his feelings and the contemplation of his past.

If he got her he would give up drugs forever, or at least have someone really attractive to take them with.


Edward St. Aubyn, Bad News

"The internet is bad for readers not just because the devices on which they access it divide their attention and intensify the effort required to read anything at all, but because it enables—even demands—the overproduction of worthless material that is difficult to distinguish online from quality work. Quality work is institutionally devalued, and what still does manage to get produced has to compete in flat, featureless spaces that deliberately eliminate the indicators physical mediums have traditionally used to distinguish and prioritize reading material. And even if the reader can be roused from their feed-induced trance enough to click, there is little point in actually reading anything, because so much of it exists simply to produce the act of clicking. A vast majority of the time, the actual writing is indistinguishable from what is on every other site, and if it’s any different, it’s only different in a cynical effort to bring a different angle to the problem of everybody else’s angle on the problem. (In my experience, when editors say quality is what distinguishes their site, it is not because that is actually the case; it is because at some level they realize nothing does.)"

David Sessions, "The State of the Internet Is Awful, and Everybody Knows It," Patrol (via Tim Shenk)

Chimamanda Style Files

"Of course I was under the spell, and the wonderful part is that, even at the time, I perfectly knew I was."

Henry James, The Turn of the Screw

20. Margaux

I live with Margaux Williamson. We’ve lived together for quite a few years now. We’re very happy together.

For a long time in my life, I didn’t have serious girlfriends that much. It was something that in the abstract I always thought I should do.

I had certain ideas about what kind of person my girlfriend might be. I met Margaux and I was pretty fascinated by her. She’s a remarkably unusual person. She doesn’t really think like anyone else. She doesn’t really act like anyone else.

I was with her for a while and I kept thinking, This is so not like the person I’d imagined. And at the same time I thought, once the relationship got at all serious, Well, I’m kind of stuck, because there’s no way in the world that I’m going to be able to find someone who’s sort of like Margaux but better, because there’s no one like Margaux.

I love Margaux tremendously, and I’m very happy to have her in my life. There’s no way I could have seen her coming. It’s not like there was this Margaux-shaped hole in my life. There’s no way on earth that I could have invented her. She’s just too unusual. She came as a real surprise.

I think the way I’d always thought this sort of thing worked was that you had some sort of imaginary person in your head and then you’d meet someone who was pretty close to that imaginary person, but it turns out that what worked out for me was meeting a person who didn’t correspond to anything in my head at all but was something new that came from the world.

 Misha Glouberman with Sheila Heti, The Chairs Are Where the People Go