Reading now I

Earlier this year I finally finished the six tome work My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I cheated during the last book. There is a long essay on Hitler among other things, and I just couldn’t get through it. If I didn’t skip that section I don’t think I would ever have finished it. It made me depressed, and brought out my anxieties every time I sat down to read it. I figure I’ll just leave it for now, and read it later. Or not. More about that later.

I recently also finished The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot. What to say? It crushed me. I read Middlemarch when I was pregnant, as I needed something that wouldn’t make me plunge into another period of existential crisis. I swallowed that book whole, and declared my undying love to George Eliot. The Mill on the Floss has a smaller scope, and is more tightly bound structurally. I liked it at least as well as Middlemarch, especially when I got trough the beginning. Obviously the real drama/tragedy begins when Mr. Tulliver goes bankrupt. From then on I couldn’t put it down. Yes, there was some ugly crying involved when I finish. I couldn’t believe what I’d just read. I’m still heartbroken. Wondering if George Eliot is my new Henry James. I just bought “The Life of George Eliot” by Nancy Henry. Looking forward to reading it, have heard its good. Soon I will devour another one of her novels.

Since I’ve been slightly obsessed with Knausgaard the last few years, I have spent quite some time on youtube watching interviews with him. There is this one where he’s being interviewed by Zadie Smith. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t read one of her books. Shocking, right? Around the same time I read a Lenny-edition where Lena Dunham was interviewing her. White Teeth has been on my “list” more or less since it was published. I continued watching talks and interviews with Smith, and now I’ve become slightly obsessed with her . Her eloquence, her intelligence, the scope of her thoughts, the fact that she allows herself to write about popculture as well as literary theory and politics, are some of the reasons why I’m smitten. She is quite impressive. Now reading: Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays. Loving it. Reminded me of the Kafka-altar I used to have next to my bed when I was fifteen. Made me remember my earliest literature-crushes. Have yet to read one of her novels thought. Looking forward to it. Or wait. What I mean is that I’m so impressed with her persona after all the interviews I’ve watched with her, that I’m worried I’ll be disappointed with her novels. No comparison what so ever, but I have made a big effort to like Siri Hustvedt, but the only thing I’ve really liked is her essay “The Shaking Woman”. She is obviously highly intelligent, and a good writer, but I don’t get her novels. Now I’ve given up, but will definitely read more of her essays.

I wasn’t sure if I should admit it, but I’ve also just bought Infinite Jest. I’m terrified, because it’s such a seminal work, and it will be the first thing I read by Foster Wallace. There is no way one can avoid this book. I read somewhere that most readers give up within the first 200 pages. Will this happen to me? Frankly, I don’t think so. I have a lot of tenacity when it comes to this reading stuff. And if I made it through À la recherche du temps perdu, this shouldn’t really scare me that much.

At last, but not least, I have to mention another important reading milestone of 2017 (the others being The Mill on the Floss and My Struggle): The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. That book blew my mind from its very first paragraph, where the narrator 1) Gets fucked in the ass 2) by someone who has Molloy at the side of the bed and 3) and then, in the next paragraph goes on to quote Wittgenstein: “Before we met I had spent a lifetime devoted to Wittgenstein’s idea that the inexpressible is contained  – inexpressibly! – in the expressed. This idea gets less airtime than his more reverential  Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent, but it is, I think, the deeper idea. Its paradox is, quite literally, why I write, or how i feel able to keep writing.” At the beginning I was “What the fuck? What is this? This is fantastic”. And as you keep reading, and the “story” becomes clearer, it just grows even more on you. I need more of these experiences, and I owe this one to Z. Smith and K.O Knausgaard for talking about it in an interview. Now I write down any new title I read to find the next book to blow my mind. I suppose I like the academic streak of her writing. It’s intelligent, complicated, provoking, and quotes all the feminist theory you need in your life. I sobbed myself through the end. I will definitely need to read it again, and soon. I don’t have anything more to say about it, nothing intelligent anyway. It lead me to Barthes, who I will try to read again soon.

 

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The idea of being “frozen in an age”

I just read this in an old theatre review in the NY Times: “It could be argued that all of us are frozen internally at some age or another.” I had never thought of this before. It’s an interesting idea, and I started to wonder when I was frozen. Was it in my teens? Was it in my twenties? Often I feel that I, in certain respects, haven’t changed a bit since I was 16. That a change occurred when I was in high school, one that I have never been able to heal from. Sometimes I think it boils down to something this passage in Maggie Nelsons “The Argonauts” pinpoints in a very accurate way:

Shame spot: being someone who spoke freely and passionately in high school, then arriving in college and realizing I was in danger of becoming one of those people who makes everyone else roll their eyes: there she goes again. It took some time and trouble, but eventually I learned to stop talking, to be (impersonate, really) an observer. This impresonation led me to write an enormous amount in the margins of my notebooks – marginalia I would later mine to make poems.

Forcing myself to shut up, pouring language onto paper instead: this became a habit. But now I’ve returned to copious speaking as well, in the form of teaching.

I thought, wow, I know that feeling – of being the one people rolled their eyes at. I was a “speaker” in high school. I spoke with passion, and great interest, on all kinds of different subjects, and was never afraid of disagreeing with anyone. I still feel like this kind of behaviour should be allowed in any social setting, as we are all allowed to our opinion, but high school is about fitting in. Fitting in means finding your place in the social hierarchy, an  idea always used to piss me off. Why should anyone submit to anyone elses social reign, teenager or adult? Aren’t we all important enough to be heard?

As an adult I have often thought that I should have learned to shut up, and avoided to be put in a situation where your ideals are more important than being liked. Now I try to shut up as often as I can. But in a lot of ways I still think this is wrong, I just don’t see any other solution. I was never good in a crowd.  If I could have only been more like Maggie Nelson, my life might have been different now. We share a shame spot, but at almost forty, I still live with mine.