All hopes by Knausgård

What is the meaning of human life? Nobody. A continuous run or a static expectation that, in the stagnant air of our common and painful lives, the glimmer of a sense can be glimpsed. But the only revelation granted is its opposite: the sudden and desperate glow of nonsense. Perhaps this is the path of the nine different characters who – each telling it in the first person – inhabit the latest book by Karl Ove Knausgård, The morning star (Feltrinelli, 2022). And it might perhaps seem like a paradoxical detour, if one considers that the Norwegian author’s production has so far seen the life of the author himself as the absolute protagonist.

The work that made him famous, in fact, Min Camp (My fight), consists of six volumes that make up what is probably the longest novel in the world, in which the author offers the most intimate details of his life to the mercy of readers, sacrificing not only his privacy, but also that of his family, to nourish the artistic act: an endless auto-da-fé as narcissistic as it is ruthless. An (too?) ambitious, or dissonant work that bears the explicit signs of monumentality; the attempt – recurring, desperate – to seek in writing the meaning of an existence that in itself does not seem to have one: whatever the cost, even at the price of four thousand very personal pages.

On the other hand, Knausgård didn’t stop there. As he awaited the birth of his fourth child and was in the process of divorcing his wife, he added to the six volumes of Min Camp also the four volumes of the cycle Årstid encyklopedien (Seasonal Encyclopedia), also published by Feltrinelli, where the autobiographical show continues. Knausgård’s literary sign has so far always been triggered like this: in the sign of “telling the truth, only the truth, nothing but the truth”. As if one’s life, in a world that expropriates and mystifies everything, had remained the only truth that truly belongs to us, the only knowable place in the world. In the era dominated by the overflow of data and the domain of the smartphone, in the undisputed realm of self-representation, Knausgård’s operation has so far been registered in the sign of a question: can a completely sincere literature really exist today? Or is art just a more sophisticated filter of what we want to see – and show – about ourselves? As Nietzsche wrote: “We have the art not to perish because of the truth.”

no

Today, that author of frenzied, almost obsessive autobiographism changes course, and with The morning star writes a book not only of narrative fiction, but where the unreal, the irrational, we could say the fantastic, takes over. Nine lives explode under the unprecedented pressure of seemingly absurd and simultaneous events, linked to the sudden appearance of a new star in the sky. The event unleashes the most diverse phenomena, but all united by an individual desperation that seems to leave no way out. Knausgård had already dealt with desperation when, as a young art critic, he had dedicated intense pages (and unfortunately not yet translated into Italian) to the paintings of Edvard Munch, the most important artist of the Scandinavian avant-garde. To Munch, known to the mainstream for a single painting, Scream, a personal exhibition has just been dedicated to the Musée d’Orsay. Visiting her, I was able to ascertain that that desperation, far from being a symbolic object, permeates her entire production, runs through every brushstroke, even in the most seemingly innocuous paintings.

The same desperation runs through, like a dark electric current, even the nine storylines of The morning star. A restless and deep despair, which manifests itself equally in the accidental death of a kitten, in the appearance of a monstrous being in the woods, in the gruesome murder of a metal band, in theangina pectoris of a woman trapped within her own marriage:

“Nothing else was supposed to happen. I could spend the night in a hotel, go to the office as usual, come home in the afternoon, have dinner, be with my children. Read to them, put them to bed, maybe work for an hour…

The problem wasn’t life itself, but the way we looked at it. Provided, of course, that it was not an existence marked by hunger, need or violence.

Gaute was a good father and husband, caring and selfless. I couldn’t ask for more. And the life we ​​had together was good, if only I focused on the positives.

What was I doing?”

In the background of these nine stories pulsates the specter of an elusive unhappiness that culminates in the frantic desire for a faith, which however never comes true: the characters want to believe in something, they try to do it, and they continually fail, like drowned people trying the air. Hence the subtle sense of a condemnation that runs through them all: the curse of an inscrutable sadness.

The morning star portrays a society in which women suffer conjugal life and blame themselves for it, while men try to escape it, mostly by drinking. Knausgård’s men drink, they drink a lot: even when their own son is about to commit suicide in the cellar or when his wife is in the throes of a psychotic state. The sense of abandonment and defeat that unites these inadequate and inept males is very reminiscent Drunks the Oscar-winning film by Thomas Vinterberg, while the continuous recurrence of surreal events and the total suspension of the answers recall some television phenomena of recent years such as The leftovers by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta o The miracle by Niccolò Ammanniti, as well as some works by Lars von Trier such as Melancholia. However, the attempt seems to be that of a European re-proposition of Stephen King’s black epic: the supernatural as a hole in the fabric of days, a breakthrough from which something dark enters, but also exits – horror as the unleashing of those forces that ordinary life had tamed and which the absurd is now making come back to the surface, with all the more force when it was trying to keep them submerged. They are the black and unhappy forces of the negative.

All of this makes The morning star a powerful parable about mortality. As Egil, one of the novel’s characters, writes in the short “essay on the end” which, in the wake of Tolstoy by War and peace, Knausgård concludes the book: “Strangely, I’ve never been afraid of dying. Not because I’m particularly brave, but because I understand that he will happen to me too. With the head: yes. From a rational point of view I understand that one day it will be my last day on earth. Still, I don’t believe it. Not really. (…) But since many people observe the world irrationally and, for example, believe in God, a power that cannot be seen, measured and weighed, they believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, which is impossible by known standards, all this irrational component has been relegated to its own sphere where it is faith, not knowledge that dictates the truth, which, as everyone knows, is not really ‘true’: it is religion”.

All hopes by Knausgård