- Growing Up:Knausgård on Proust, Boyishness, and (Straight) Time
Queerness is essentially about a rejection of a here and now.—Muñoz, Cruising Utopia1
When Karl Ove Knausgård first mentions Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (1913–1927; In Search of Lost Time) in Min kamp (My Struggle), it is from a grown-up perspective, looking back. Knausgård's narrator, Knausgård, uses Proust's masterpiece as a kind of pivot between then and now, or between Knausgård's current understanding of an adolescent self—a prior mode of being in relation to time, love, and literature—and the everyday existence he now lives with his second wife and children. He mentions leaving his first wife, moving to Sweden, remarrying, and becoming a father.
Det eneste sporet som finnes av det forrige, er bøkene og platene jeg tok med. Alt annet lot jeg ligge. Og mens jeg den gangen brukte mye tid på å tenke på fortiden, nesten sykelig mye tid, slår det meg nå, og derfor ikke bare leste Marcel Prousts På sporet av den tapte tid, men nærmest drakk den, er fortiden nå knapt nærværende i tankene. Mye av grunnen til det er barna vi har fått, vil jeg tro, at livet med dem her og nå tar all plass.(Knausgård 2009, 33)
The sole traces to be found of that former life are the books and records that I took with me. Everything else I left behind. And while I spent a lot of time thinking about the past then, almost a morbid amount of [End Page 325] time, I now realize, which meant that I not only read Marcel Proust's novel À la recherche du temps perdu but basically imbibed it, the past is now hardly present in my thoughts. A big reason for this, I believe, is the children we've had, that life with them, in the here and now, takes up all the space.(Knausgård 2012, 29–30; translation altered)2
The past-focused temporal perspective is merely apparent: Knausgård remains in the present. He realizes now that he doesn't think much about what he did then, as he begins to think about and compare that then with the "here and now." While the past remains temporal, the present fills up "all the space," which Knausgård attributes to the procreative phase of his life. Reading À la recherche du temps perdu did not cause, but rather resulted from and complemented Knausgård's sickly and abnormal habits of mind during those adolescent years, when he did not yet have children. He engaged in a form of nostalgia, and "therefore" read Proust's multi-volume novel. À la recherche du temps perdu went down easily then, and it does not talk back now. Knausgård places what some believe to be the greatest novel ever written in a disavowed past, before venting frustrations about current tensions between family life and writing life.
This offhand reference to Proust could be unintentionally or ironically disavowing. Claus Elholm Andersen has argued that Knausgård has a more or less conscious case of Harold Bloom's anxiety of influence, where a new author tries to establish his identity by underemphasizing the degree to which he has been influenced by one of his literary forefathers (Andersen 2013, 164). Knausgård's first reference to À la recherche du temps perdu also evokes the (hetero)normative and sometimes homophobic association of growing up with having children. Nonetheless, and before Proust is named, Knausgård appears to offer an implicit homage to the sequences surrounding Proust's "famous scene of the goodnight kiss" in Du côté de chez Swann (Swann's Way) (Shattuck 2001, 76). Like Proust's Marcel, Knausgård frames the current moment of writing with memories from boyhood. Both narrators remember childhood rooms and routines, as well as exceptional, formative evenings on which those routines were broken.
This article takes a closer look at Knausgård's homage and disavowal before considering his reflections on pre- and peri-reproductive [End Page 326] experience, which present readers with a straight model...