bookforum talks with karl ove knausgaard – / interviews

Good interview. My Struggle sounds so strange. Here’s Knausgaard talking about the magic that happened when he stopped filtering and perfecting his writing, and just started going for sheer volume:

When I was nineteen, I went to a yearlong course in creative writing. There, some simple rules dominated, and the most important one dealt with quality: if a sentence was bad, you removed it. If a scene was bad, you removed it. The critical reading of the texts always resulted in parts being deleted. So that was what I did. My writing became more and more minimalist. In the end, I couldn’t write at all. For seven or eight years, I hardly wrote. But then I had a revelation. What if I did the opposite? What if, when a sentence or a scene was bad, I expanded it, and poured in more and more? After I started to do that, I became free in my writing. Fuck quality, fuck perfection, fuck minimalism. My world isn’t minimalist; my world isn’t perfect, so why on earth should my writing be? I then did the same thing with every other rule. Show, don’t tell? What happens if you do tell, really try to tell EVERYTHING, and don’t give a damn about subtext? Something else happens, something you can’t control. No matter how explicitly you describe a person or a scene, there is always a shadow in the text, a kind of tone or sound, and that tone or sound is the important thing. When I freed myself from these restrictions and started to insist on quantity instead of quality, my texts started to get long. Not necessarily good, but long!

Reminds me of Borges on the baroque style: “The Baroque is that style which deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its possibilities and borders on its own caricature.” In a similar section of the interview I liked, he talks about the balance of family and ambition, and how he started being easier on himself, in a way:

Karen Blixen, the Danish writer, said something like “you can’t go hunting the Grail with a pram.” And she’s right. When I started to write this book, I was deeply frustrated and alienated. We had three kids in four years, and the dominant feeling for both my wife and me was that of living on the edge of chaos. There was a lot of quarreling going on, and at the same time, I was not able to write anything. So at one point I decided to let go of all ambition whatsoever and just write about that: The domestic world, the banality and tristesse of everyday life. I really hated the idea, because I didn’t want trivialities, I wanted the Grail, and when I started to do this, I was ashamed of my writing. The struggle was really to overcome the shame. But taking care of kids and writing do not exclude each other—I would start to write at 4am, then either my wife or I would take them to Kindergarten at 8, and then I would write until 3 pm and spend the rest of the day with them. It’s not Hemingway’s way—as I understand, he wrote from 6 till 12, then started to drink—but it is a way, if not to reach the Grail, then at least to finish some pages every day.

bookforum talks with karl ove knausgaard – / interviews

As an artist you can sit and tinker with stuff forever. You can add and take away but I think that’s kind of the importance of having someone over you saying, “We need this, this is a deadline.” Sometimes those oppositions or those who push and pull are needed because we’ll just sit and tinker forever.

The medium chill | Grist

Fact is, we just don’t want to work that hard! We already work harder than we feel like working. We enjoy having time to lay around in the living room with the kids, reading. We like to watch a little TV after the kids are in bed. We like going to the park and visits with friends and low-key vacations and generally relaxing. Going further down our respective career paths would likely mean more work, greater responsibilities, higher stress, and less time to lay around the living room with the kids.

There’s something important here. I’m not good at keeping to them all the time, but I think I have similar ideals.

The medium chill involves what economists call satisficing: abandoning the quest for the ideal in favor of the good-enough. It means stepping off the aspirational treadmill, foregoing some material opportunities and accepting some material constraints in exchange for more time to spend on relationships and experiences.

It turns out, though, that satisficing doesn’t come easy to us human beings. We have an extremely hard time saying, “okay, this is good enough.” Why?

The medium chill | Grist

Constraint in everyday life. A lesson learned as I spent a couple weeks dog- and house-sitting barely a mile from the office. In theory my time not-on-a-train in the mornings and afternoons could have converted to reading time like usual. In theory. If I had any discipline. And thus I remind myself that less important than the amount time I have–a shit-ton, if you know where to look (as in, let us say, around lunchtime; before, during and right after breakfast when I’m usually just kind of sighing and limping around the house; and pretty much every day from 6pm to midnight)–is the structure I give it.

Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter. This was pretty good. I enjoyed it. It’s about an affair between two people, pretty tame by today’s standards. But that was a different era. Here’s a Criterion essay. And I got a couple semi-related thoughts:

  1. One of the most enjoyable things about old/foreign movies is that I often don’t know the cast. It can feel more immediately immersive to see the characters as characters, rather than recognizing actors and trying to set aside that I know they’re portraying people. There’s no baggage, no expectations, no known quirks or ticks. It all feels very fresh.

  2. This movie’s soundtrack relies heavily on Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, a few sections in particular. I wonder what it would be like, instead of scoring a film, to film a score. That is, take some work of music and make a movie such that every bit of imagery fits or bolsters (or undermines, why not?) the music in some way. Like Fantasia, I guess, but live-action and only focusing on one piece of music. Is there anything else in that vein? At the least, it would be an interesting constraint on the filming.

Most intellectual failures, people who are smart but still don’t succeed, tend to be underspecialized.

That’s Andy McKenzie summarizing 11 main points from Colin Marshall’s interview with Robin Hanson. This point from their talk struck home for me. No, I don’t consider myself a Failure, but I know very well how endless curiosity doesn’t necessarily make you productive. Constraint is liberating, etc.