Author: Taylor

A Season of Subtle Scandinavian Scrutiny: Knausgaard’s ‘Autumn’

Karl Ove Knausgaard

Karl Ove Knausgaard

Karl Ove Knausgaard has become an infamous contemporary writer by his beautiful prose and raw portrayal of human experience. His massive soon-to-be six volume, autobiographical series dubbed My Struggle has made an irrefutable mark by vividly cataloguing Knausgaard’s ordinary Swedish life and the challenges that come along with it. Essentially, My Struggle is the 3,600-page memoir to end all memoirs. While readers are still awaiting the release of My Struggle’s sixth volume, Knausgaard has begun a new project. Autumn begins another deeply personal adventure for the Norwegian writer as he begins to explain the world to one who has yet to enter it, Karl Ove’s unborn daughter.

I want to show you our world as it is now: the door, the floor, the water tap and the sink, the garden chair close to the wall beneath the kitchen window, the sun, the water, the trees. You will come to see it in your own way, you will experience things for yourself and live a life of your own, so of course it is primarily for my own sake that I am doing this: showing you the world little one, makes my life worth living.

autumnNow, at first glance, you may think that this is a heavy book and by “heavy,” I mean emotionally heavy. I won’t lie to you and say that isn’t in there, but amidst the rawness of Karl Ove’s descriptions there lies a certain beauty that is just as much frightening as it is entrancing. As Knausgaard begins to describe the world to his daughter, he engages in deep reflections on everything from cars to war, Flaubert to twilight, and bottles to beekeeping. What follows is a refreshing view of ordinary life as it is explained to one who has not yet experienced anything outside of a mother’s womb. In essays like “Lightning,” the author delves into the odd relationship between horror and beauty as he and his family watch a gigantic bolt of lightning hit the street outside their home. In “Flaubert,” the author reflects upon his favorite novel and the distinction between literary enjoyment and study. The heart of each meditation is the urge of the author to find what exactly it is that makes life worth living. As Knausgaard takes on each new topic, describing it as though it has never been seen, the reader is brought into the depths of the real and at times the philosophical. “Labia,” as an example, explores the complexity of male sexuality and the shame that often follows closely behind it. “Vomit” takes opportunity to explore the plethora of bodily fluids that we are all familiar with, but puts inquiry into the generally hatred that human beings have for that which is “usually yellowish” and still contains “chunks of pizza” and other remnants of the “undigested.”

At the heart of Knausgaard’s project is the desire to get back at the reality of life and to leave behind the routine prejudices that we allow to filter our view of the world. Through explaining the world to his daughter, the author as well as the reader is confronted with the raw beauty and the absurdity of life. Each time I finished a sitting with these essays, I somehow walked away feeling more real. Like my perception of the world had been sharpened and I had the tools necessary to appreciate the nuts and bolts that make up the world around us.

And the Stars Look Very Different Today: Jaroslav Kalfar’s ‘Spaceman of Bohemia’

I’m not much of a sci-fi guy. Enjoying certain popular films like Interstellar or works like The Martian has never been outside my personal realm of possibility, but am I going to go out and search for the most brilliant and obscure work of sci-fi literature? Probably not. That being said, it might have found me. spaceman of bohemiaJaroslav Kalfar’s Spaceman of Bohemia is a novel that fits just as comfortably on the shelf next to Kafka as it does in the realm of sci-fi and space adventure. This is a novel that perfectly captures the feelings of loneliness and anxiety that can only come through accepting ambition while subsequently affirming the need to ground personal identity outside oneself, whether it be in love or in history. However, in order to feel out how Kalfar’s work stands out among the rest, it helps to understand the world of the author.

Sitting at the edge of Eastern Europe, Prague is the capital city of the Czech Republic and is traditionally considered to be the center of Bohemia. The Prague of the protagonist, Jakub Prochazka begins in 1948 when the Communist Party took power and all other parties became officially deceased.

My name is Jakub Prochazka. This is a common name. My parents wanted a good life for me, a life of good comradeship with my country and my neighbors, a life of service to the world united in socialism.

Jakub’s father is an informant for the Communist regime with a secret affinity for Elvis Presley and a deep love for his family. At an early age, Jakub admires his father for his dedication to the ethos of his nation, but with the fall of the Iron Curtain the success of the Velvet Revolution in Prague, and the mysterious death of his parents, Jakub is launched into a void of personal identity that can only be captured in the grand metaphor of space travel. In an attempt to distinguish itself as an autonomous nation, the Czech Republic chooses Jakub to embark on a potentially dangerous space mission to investigate a mysterious, purple space cloud that no national superpower is willing to risk its citizens to understand. Jakub leaves his comfortable life with his wife Lenka and a prestigious position as a professor of astrophysics to claim fame and purpose for himself and his nation. As days, weeks, then months pass in his voyage, Jakub realizes the gravity (no pun intended) of the voyage itself, and the strain that it would put on his relationships back home. Then he meets a giant space spider.

hanus the spider

To those of you that are completely freaked out by this image, I will say that I was, too. However, I will also say that after finishing the novel I LOVE Hanus the spider. As Jakub struggles with space madness he (and the reader) attempt to deal with the meaning of Hanus’ presence. I don’t want to give away too much but I will say that Hanus is at once at the center of Jakub’s peril and his guide through it.

While this novel takes on weighty themes and attempts at complex insights, it also reads seamlessly. Jaroslav’s voice through Jakub’s first person narration is at once hilarious and impactful. This Czech astronaut’s story, if nothing else, proves that you don’t need to go to space to venture into the balance between madness and sanity that we all experience in everyday life.

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