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Fredric Jameson Reviews Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle


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In the London Review of Books, Fredric Jameson reviews the sixth and final book in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series, an unexpected literary sensation that has been translated into dozens of languages and topped bestseller lists around the world. The books are frequently noted for their plain, almost mundane style and content, along with the title they share with Hitler’s 1925 autobiography, Mein Kampf. In his review—which is by turns wry and revelatory—Jameson shows how Knausgaard’s books reflect our present historical period, in which commodification is all-pervasive and we face this fact with a combination of complacency and mild wonder. Here’s an excerpt:

I will call Knausgaard’s kind of writing ‘itemisation’. We have, in postmodernity, given up on the attempt to ‘estrange’ our daily life and see it in new, poetic or nightmarish, ways; we have given up the analysis of it in terms of the commodity form, in a situation in which everything by now is a commodity; we have abandoned the quest for new languages to describe the stream of the self-same or new psychologies to diagnose its distressingly unoriginal reactions and psychic events. All that is left is to itemise them, to list the items that come by.

So it is not only the objects Karl Ove buys and uses that are itemised here: it is the people, the emotions and feelings, the thoughts, that are itemised as well. This is why the innumerable sentences in these thousands of pages – varied as they may be – fail to pass the supreme test of any postmodern aesthetics, which is the achievement of heterogeneity (virtually the magic key word in our current situation). Variety being the spice of life, we have to conclude, regretfully, that these pages do not quite enliven the palate.

Image of Karl Ove Knausgaard via the New Yorker.