Karl Ove Knausgaard

Isn’t it enough?

Yes, if joy had been the goal it would have been enough. But joy is not my goal, never has been, what good is joy to me? The family is not my goal either. If it had been, and I could have devoted all my energy to it, we would have had a fantastic time, of that I am sure. We could have lived somewhere in Norway, gone skiing and skating in winter, with packed lunches and a thermos flask in our backpacks, and boating in the summer, swimming, fishing, camping, holidays abroad with other families, we could have kept the house tidy, spent time making good food, being with our friends, we could have been blissfully happy. That may all sound like a caricature, but every day I see families who successfully organize their lives in this way. The children are clean, their clothes nice, the parents are happy and although once in a while they might raise their voices they never stand there like idiots bawling at them. They go on weekend tips, rent cottages in Normandy in the summer, and their fridges are never empty. They work in banks and hospitals, in IT companies or on the local council, in the theatre or at universities. Why should the fact that I am a writer mean our exclude me from that world? Why should the fact that I am a writer mean our strollers all look like junk we found on a junk heap? Why should the fact that I am a writer mean I turn up at the nursery with crazed eyes and a face stiffened into a mask of frustration? Why should the fact that I am a writer mean that our children do their utmost to get their own way, whatever the consequences? Where does all the mess in our lives come from? I know I can changes all this, I know we too can become that kind of family, but then I would have to want it and in which case life would have to revolve around nothing else. And that is not what I want. I do everything I have to do for the family; that is my duty. The only thing I have learned from life is to endure it, never to question it, and to burn up the longing generated by this in writing. Where this ideal has come from I have no idea, and as I now see it before me, in black and white, it almost seems perverse: why duty before happiness? The question of happiness is banal, but the question that follows is not, the question of meaning. When I look at a beautiful painting I have tears in my eyes, but not when I look at my children. That does not mean I do not love them, because I do, with all my heart, it simply means that the meaning they produce is not sufficient to fulfill a whole life. Not mine, at any rate. Soon I will be forty, and when I’m forty, it would be long before I’m fifty. And when I’m fifty, it would be long before I’m sixty. And when I’m sixty, it won’t be long before I’m seventy. And that will be that. My epitaph might read: Here lies a man who grinned and bore it. And in the end he perished for it. Or perhaps better:

Here lies a man who never complained
A happy life he never gained
His last words before he died
And went to cross the great divide
Were: Oh, Lord, there’s such a chill
Can someone send a happy pill?

My Struggle (Book 1)

Or perhaps better:

Here lies a man of letters
A noble man of Nordic birth
Alas, his hands were bound in fetters
Barring him from knowing mirth
Once he wrote with dash and wit
Now he’s buried in a pit
Come on, worms, take your fill,
Taste some flesh, if you will
Try an eye
Or a thigh
He’s croaked his last, have a thrill!

But if I have thirty years left you cannot take it for granted that I will be the same. So perhaps something like this?

From all of us to you, dear God
Now you have him beneath the sod,
Karl Ove Knausgaard is finally dead
Long is the time since he ate bread
With his friend he broke ranks
For his book and his wanks
Wielded pen and dick but never well
Lacked the style but tried to excel
He took a cake, then took one more
He took a spud, then ate it raw
He cooked a pig, it took a while
He ate it up and belched a Heil!
I’m no Nazi, but I like brown shirts
I write Gothic script until it hurts!
Book not accepted, the man blew his top
He guzzled and belched and couldn’t stop
His belly it grew, his belt got tight,
His eyes glared, his tongue alight
“I only wanted to write what was right!”

The fat it blocked his heart and vein
Till one day he screamed in pain:
Help me, help me, hear me wailing
Get me a donor, my heart is failing!
The doctor said no, I remember your book
You’ll die like a fish, like a fish on a hook.
Do you feel much pain, are you near the end?
The stab in the heart, this is death, my friend!

Or perhaps, if I am lucky, a bit less personal?

Here lies a man who smoked in bed
With his wife he wound up dead
Truth to say
It is not they
Just some ashes, it is said

Excerpted from MY STRUGGLE: Book One by Karl Ove Knausgaard, published in May 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2009 by Karl Ove Knausgaard; Copyright © 2012 by Don Bartlett. All rights reserved.

Background illustration by Marcela Gutiérrez