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  • Introduction
  • Claus Elholm Andersen and Dean Krouk

Soon after the publication of Book 1 of Karl Ove Knausgård's Min kamp (My Struggle) in Norway in 2009, a consensus emerged among a number of Scandinavian scholars on how to understand and interpret the novel. According to these scholars, whose approach to Knausgård soon came to dominate the scholarship, Min kamp was not just another example of autofiction. Rather, it was the culmination, and very pinnacle, of an autofictive trend, which had at that point already dominated Scandinavian literature for almost a decade. Knausgård had even, as one scholar expressed it, "ført romanen som form inn i dens siste fase" [taken the novel as a form into its very last phase], and Min kamp could be seen as evidence of how "romanens tid må sies å være forbi" (Lorentzen 2010) [the age of the novel seems to be over]. Consequently, a large part of the scholarship chose to focus on the autobiographical aspect as scholars analyzed and dissected the relationship between fiction and reality in Knausgård's novel.

In their attempt to describe this relationship as precisely as possible, a number of literary scholars argued that the term "autofiction" was vague and insufficient. Instead, they coined new terms and concepts, or developed existing terms, so that at one point it seemed like a race to invent or discover the term best-suited to describe Min kamp. As a result, the Scandinavian scholarship on Min kamp has left us with a number of labels that ultimately seek to describe the same thing: terms [End Page 269] such as performative biographism, fictionless fiction, and autonarration, to name but a few.1

Meanwhile, in the decade since the appearance of Book 1 in Norway, Knausgård became an international literary sensation, a writer enjoyed compulsively by a wide readership almost everywhere the novels have appeared in translation, and admired by other writers from Ben Lerner to Zadie Smith. As new nomenclature for understanding the Min kamp books proliferated, and valuable genre-theoretical treatments of Knausgård appeared, especially among Danish academic literary critics, it began to seem like the concerns of many interested readers of Knausgård's novel and those of the academic research were overlapping less and less. Based on our experience teaching the works of Knausgård to university students, as well as our observations about the public response and our conversations with friends and family who caught Knausgård fever, we knew that proposing new genre categories or revising nomenclature was not the heart of most readers' engagement with this author. It is to be expected that the interests of academic readers diverge from those of the larger public—although, of course, these are overlapping and cross-pollinating groups. Yet we hoped that by asking literary scholars to go "beyond autofiction," we might see some academic approaches to Min kamp that intersected a bit more with the international "Knausgård phenomenon" of the 2010s.

This resulting special issue contains an exciting set of articles that illuminate the aesthetic, ethical, and sociopolitical dimensions of Min kamp. Included here are discussions of childhood and memory, examinations of gender and masculinity, revealing comparisons to other writers, and even love, a topic often implicitly forbidden from academic literary studies. Each of the first three articles reads Knausgård alongside another writer: J. M. Coetzee, Elena Ferrante, and Marcel Proust, in that order. In the second half of the issue, each article explores a significant philosophical theme that runs through the work: epiphany, love, and terrorism, again in that order. We hope that readers of the [End Page 270] issue will notice the many connections between the articles and, at times, the disagreements among the authors, both in their starting assumptions and their conclusions.

The first article, by Peter Sjølyst-Jackson, offers a comparative analysis of Knausgård and J. M. Coetzee. Through close readings, Sjølyst-Jackson shows how each author's different form of autobiographical address makes possible different kinds of ethical reflection about problems of self-exposure, guilt, and shame. In Knausgård's case, we see what Sjølyst-Jackson calls "an emergent ethics of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2163-8195
Print ISSN
0036-5637
Pages
pp. 269-273
Launched on MUSE
2020-07-31
Open Access
No
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