You’re always talkin’ ’bout what you’re doin’
What you’re readin’ and who you’re screwin’
— Loudon Wainwright III
I read the first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle after being unable to escape its ubiquity. (My wife is able to escape from such things: when the hype for the latest movie or TV show becomes inescapable and stiflingly close, she says, “I feel like I’ve seen it already.” So she marks it off her list. ) I liked Karl Ove’s 150-page saga of his pathetic adolescent New Year’s Eve beer party and other solipsistic stories frankly revealed as if we had some reason to want to know them. It was interesting, and it made me feel like I wanted to keep chewing this long-lasting cud. But a bildungsroman should be edifying in some way or else we’d be flooded with quotidian twaddle from every clown with a computer.
I’ve seen Knausgaard’s work compared to Proust several times. I had read Swann’s Way (the first volume of In Search of Lost Time–or Remembrance of Things Past) some years ago and I remembered it as much richer, finer and more multi-layered. So I decided to do a “Proust unit,” as we say in third grade: last quarter we did social studies units on Africa; I got Liberia! I just finished the 4th volume, Sodom and Gomorrah (oy!) and ordered the 5th and 6th. Is it edifying? Yes. Besides Marcel’s thoughts about love, friendship, art, homosexuality, and social class, there are the most amusing portrayals of snobbishness, condescension and snotty one-upsmanship. My Struggle (at least the first volume) has some superficial resemblance to Proust’s novel.
Both books indulge in a navel-gazing fetish appealing to diarists, bloggers, cryptojournalists, onanists, solipsists, hypochondriacs, self-conscious Prufrocks, and fans of Emily Dickenson. So here’s my contribution to the tide of quotidian twaddle from another clown with a computer.