Karl Ove Knausgård

Karl Ove Knausgård

Literature Should be Ruthless

Karl Ove Knausgård has enchanted the literary world with ‘My Struggle’, a novel of more than 3000 pages about his own life. Watch the star author discuss literature, writing and how his autobiographical style is closely connected to fiction.

“When you write you’re looking for something that’s hard to define … An outlet for saying something meaningful. A form that enables you to say something significant in all kinds of ways.” Karl Ove Knausgård, arguably one of the most important writers in Scandinavian literature right now, explains: “I didn’t find that form until I latched on to what has been called autofiction.” Clearly he struck a note. His magnum opus, the autofictional ‘My Struggle’, has been likened to Marcel Proust’s masterpiece ‘In Search of Lost Time’ and in Norway, a country of 5 million inhabitants, the books have sold over 450,000 copies.

However, Knausgård’s interest in the self is not theoretical. Rather, the form is a tool to describe aspects of the self – his own self included – of which he was unaware. He found this form only after having published two novels (‘Out of the World’, 1998 and ‘A Time for Everything’, 2004) and “It ignited a fire in me. It was almost like it was forbidden or dangerous.” Strangely, whilst being held as the main proponent of contemporary autobiographical writing, Knausgård himself says: “I think less of autofiction than anyone else.”
The self is a hugely generous source of writing for Knausgård precisely because it sits at the intersection of culture and interaction. Borderless, permeable, produced through interaction, “the self is saturated with all kinds of literary and cultural impulses, friends and family. There are no boundaries, just a voice and that voice can be close to your own identity or not. The literary voice isn’t. It enables you to offer fragments of your identity.”

Knausgård’s whirlwind epos ‘My Struggle’, as well as his other work, is saturated with detailed descriptions of objects and experiences unfold “a non-existent reality. You evoke it by writing or thinking about it. But it’s also truth, because you write about things that exist,” the author elucidates. This is the bleeding point between reality and art for Knausgård, where “every little dot opens up a world. A world that relates to other things and phenomena.”

In today’s relational and networked world, we are constantly bombarded by narratives and images: “It’s as if we have the whole world inside us … but the tactile sense of intimacy has gone,” observes Knausgård, who believes it is this extremity that make us long for things that can hold our attention. Literature can do just this; it pulls us in, goes deep into the self and is impossible to shut out. There is an intimacy to literature that isn’t found anywhere else. Literature, says Knausgård, “disintegrates and breaks down and isn’t as effective as visual impressions that enthral you. You always put yourself into literature.”

Karl Ove Knausgård (b. 1968) is a Norwegian author, internationally recognized for 'My Struggle', six novels spanning over 3,000 pages in which the author describes his own life, not least portraying his father who died of alcohol abuse, mixed with essayistic prose. He has received several literary prizes for ‘My Struggle’. His latest books are a four volume series following the seasons.

Karl Ove Knausgård was interviewed by Kasper Bech Dyg at the Louisiana Literature festival in Humlebæk, Denmark in August 2016.

Camera: Anders Lindved
Edited by: Kasper Bech Dyg

Produced by: Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2016

Supported by Nordea-fonden

  • Mika Rottenberg

    Girl Power From Another Century

    Meet the truly original video artist Mika Rottenberg! Here she shares the fascinating story behind her take on Orwell's 'Animal Farm' – a work in which a group of women with extremely long hair turn things around – and take fate into their own hands.

  • Vigdis Hjorth

    I am not a Pretty Postcard

    “Writing is the relationship between head, gut and hand.” Vigdis Hjorth is considered one of the strongest voices in contemporary Norwegian literature. She here shares why it is essential for her well-being to be able to express herself in writing.

  • Yona Friedman

    Architecture of Trial and Error

    “Don't forget that very important cities today started by immigration.” Meet the 94-year-old architect behind 'L’Architecture Mobile', Yona Friedman. He here shares the story of how his years as a refugee sparked his desire to make architecture adaptable.

  • Nástio Mosquito

    'Mama Africa' is a Construct

    In this short interview Angolan artist Nástio Mosquito discusses his provocative video work, in which he through three blazing speeches addresses the legacy of the western logic of ownership and debt, not least regarding a construct like ‘Africa’.

  • Nástio Mosquito

    What are You Willing to Die for?

    Angolan artist Nástio Mosquito has been dubbed “the future star of the art world.” He here talks about his invigorating multidisciplinary practice, which investigates universally human characteristics in a teasing, polemic and humorous way.

  • Marina Abramović

    Electricity Passing Through

    For more than 50 years trailblazing performance artist Marina Abramović has used her own body and energy as her main artistic material. In this powerful interview, the artist looks back on her radical practice: “It was like the first woman walking on the moon.”

  • The Story of Marina Abramović & Ulay

    Legendary couple in performance art – Marina Abramović and Ulay – lived together for 12 years and made pioneering work as a duo. In this extraordinary double interview the artists look back on their relationship – from their first meeting in 1975 until now.

  • 11 Artists

    on Photography

    “We are so oversaturated with images, so it’s about one question: Can I hold you - can I get you to look at an image for longer than a second?” Watch Catherine Opie, Wim Wenders, Jeff Wall and 8 other artists on the power and potential of photography.

  • Julie Nord

    The Power of Drawing

    “It’s the closest you get to silence – or skin. There’s so little between me as an artist and my material.” Artist Julie Nord here shares her attraction to the "no bullshit" of drawing. Visit her studio and take a peek at how she makes her surreal, fairy tale-like drawings.

  • Nina Saunders

    A Cultural Warrior

    Meet artist Nina Saunders who plays with the familiar by twisting it in surprising ways. She here discusses her humorous yet disturbing work – made from discarded upholstered furniture and stuffed animals – which comments on our world.

  • Erica Jong

    Sexuality and Creativity

    “The urge to create and the urge to copulate are very close.” Watch the iconic feminist writer Erica Jong speak candidly of being fuelled creatively by desire, her experiences as a female writer and what she has come to realize about men.

  • Karl Ove Knausgård

    On 'Madame Bovary'

    “This controlled perfection, that I usually don’t like, elevates it.” Karl Ove Knausgård – author of ‘My Struggle’ – here shares his love of the classic novel ‘Madame Bovary’ by Gustave Flaubert, which he has read three times at different stages of his life.