My Struggle: Book 2

Knausgaard’s words wash over me, coming in sets of waves, the day to day life of raising three children co-mingled with reminiscing about the past. The ever-present struggle to write, to find enough alone time to write and immerse himself in his work without being a bad father/husband. It’s inspiring to see him elevate the common bits of life (taking out the trash, washing dishes) and then plunge into a delicate piece musing on the nature of human relationships. He exposes his whole being– consumed artist, dutiful father, pal who goes drinking, respectful son. NYT book review has a great quote– “Why would you read a six-volume, 3,600 page Norwegian novel about a man writing a six-volume, 3,600 page Norwegian novel?” It’s intense and addictive; I’ve already got Book 3 waiting on the table.

Everyday life, with its duties and routines, was something I endured, not a thing I enjoyed, nor something that was meaningful or that made me happy. This had nothing to do with a lack of desire to wash floors or change diapers but rather with something more fundamental: the life around me was not meaningful. I always longed to be away from it. So the life I led was not my own. I tried to make it mine, this was my struggle, because of course I wanted it, but I failed, the longing for something else always undermined my efforts. What was the problem? Was it the shrill, sickly tone I heard everywhere that I couldn’t stand, the one that arose from all the pseudopeople and pseudoplaces, pseudoevents, and pseudoconflicts our lives passed through, that which we saw but did not participated in, and the distance that modern life in this way had opened up to our own, actually inalienable here and now?

What would it have been like to live in a world where everything was made from the power of your hands, the wind, or the water? What would it have been like to live in a world where the American Indians still lived their lives in peace? Where that life was an actual possibility? Where Africa was unconquered? Where darkness came with sunset and light with the sunrise? Where there were too few humans and their tools were too rudimentary to have any effect on animal stocks, let alone wipe them out? Where you could not travel from one place to another without exerting yourself, and a comfortable life was something only the rich could afford, where the sea was full of whales, the forests full of bears and wolves, and there were still countries that were so alien no adventure story could do them justice, such as China, to which a voyage not only took several months and was the prerogative of only a tiny minority of sailors and traders, but was also fraught with danger. Admittedly, that world was rough and wretched, filthy and ravaged with sickness, drunken and ignorant, full of pain, low life expectancy and rampant superstition, but it produced the greatest writer, Shakespeare, the greatest painter, Rembrandt, the greatest scientist, Newton, all still unsurpassed in their fields, and how can it be that this period achieved this wealth? Was it because death was closer and life was starker as a result?

“The nihilistic world is in essence a world that is being increasingly reduced, which naturally of necessity coincides with the movement toward a zero point,” Jünger wrote. A case in point of such a reduction is God being perceived as “good” or the inclination to find a common denominator for all the complicated tendencies of the world, or the propensity for specialization, which is another form of reduction, or the determination to convert everything into figures, beauty as well as forests as well as art as well as bodies. For what is money if not an entity that commodofies the most dissimilar things?

What I want to do is travel, see, read, and write. To be free. Completely free. And I had a chance to be free on the island… I headed out there, where there wasn’t a soul. I didn’t understand myself, I had no idea who I was, so what I resorted to, all these ideas about being a good person, was simply all I had. I didn’t watch TV, I didn’t read newspapers, and all I ate was crispbread and soup… I started doing push-ups and sit-ups. Can you imagine? How desperate do you have to be to start doing push-ups to solve your problems?… 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?