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
— Raymond Geuss, "The Idea of a Critical Theory," The Point
— Robert Walser, “The Metropolitan Street,” Berlin Stories
Roots of the Essay:
- Montaigne: Essays (selections)
- Misha Glouberman with Sheila Heti: The Chairs Are Where the People Go (selections)
Witnessing vs. Reflecting:
- Svetlana Alexievich: Voices From Chernobyl (selections)
- Aleksandar Hemon: “The Aquarium” (from The Book of My Lives)
Writing and Ethical Responsibility (part one):
- Henry Louis Gates: “The Passing of Anatole Broyard” (from Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man)
- This American Life #527: “Seeing the Forrest Through the Little Trees”
Writing and Ethical Responsibility (part two):
- George Orwell: “Politics and the English Language” (from The Orwell Reader)
- Joan Didion: “Insider Baseball” (from Political Fictions)
Finding a Writing Process:
- Zadie Smith: “Fail Better” (The Guardian)
- Didion: “On Keeping a Notebook” (from Slouching Towards Bethlehem)
Form and Language:
- Hilton Als: White Girls (selections)
- Susan Sontag: “Notes on ‘Camp’” (from Against Interpretation: And Other Essays)
- Wayne Koestenbaum: “My 1980s” (from My 1980s and Other Essays)
Making an Argument:
- Ta-Nehisi Coates: “The Case for Reparations” (The Atlantic)
— 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
— David Sessions, "The State of the Internet Is Awful, and Everybody Knows It," Patrol (via Tim Shenk)
— Henry James, The Turn of the Screw
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