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  • The Aesthetics of Epiphany in Karl Ove Knausgård's Min kamp
  • Gísli Magnússon


Karl Ove Knausgård's Min kamp series (2009–2011; My Struggle [2013–2018]) has achieved more international public recognition and scholarly attention than any other work by a Nordic author in the twenty-first century. Due to the fact that he wrote about himself, used his own name and the names of existing persons, the first wave of interest (and scandal, at least in Norway) related to the way he depicted his father (and family, friends, known cultural figures) in Book 1 of Min kamp. In Norway, this led to elaborate discussions of the ethical aspects of autobiographical writing. Especially the uncle of Karl Ove, Bjørge Knausgård, called "Gunnar" in the novels, questioned the legitimacy and reliability of Min kamp and interpreted it as "Judas literature," in other words, as a betrayal against his own family. Knausgård's ex-wife Tonje also discussed the ethical aspects of this kind of autobiographical writing, in which the persons who are or were part of Karl Ove Knausgård's life did not necessarily wish to become characters in his novels. In light of this early biographical and ethical focus—and in light of Knausgård's own poetological reflections concerning inauthentic fiction (in the sense of "made up") versus authentic self-writing—scholars eagerly tried to come up with appropriate terms to describe Knausgård's "new" kind of autobiographical writing. They suggested a variety of terms in an attempt to do justice to the novelty of Knausgård's poetics: [End Page 348] autofiction, centaur, nonfictional fiction, hyperrealism, and so on. And there is no doubt that a part of the success of the novels has to do with the implicit contract between author and readers that he is letting them in on his darkest and most shameful secrets. Nevertheless, the biographical aspect does not alone do justice to both the poetological and philosophical dimensions of Min kamp.

Postmodern and Scientific Disenchantment: Mimetic Utopian Writing as Re-enchantment

It is an interesting fact that an author with such an affinity to romantic and modernist aesthetics has become the epitome of literary renewal not just in Norway, but in the Nordic countries more broadly. On a philosophical level, it can be argued that Min kamp is aimed against the poststructuralist worldview.1 In the essay "Dit ut der fortellingen ikke når," Knausgård writes: "I nesten alt jeg har skrevet, finnes det en lengsel etter grenser, lengsel etter det absolutte, noe ikke-relativt og bestandig. Tilsvarende finnes det en sterk motvilje mot det grenseløse, mot det likestilte, mot det relative" (Knausgård 2013c, 394) [In everything I have written, there is yearning for limits, a yearning for the absolute, something non-relative and lasting. Accordingly, there is a strong resentment of the limitless, of the equalized, of the relative]. Knausgård exemplifies this conflict between his own philosophical inclination and that of postmodernity in his view of the literary production of Geir Gulliksen, his editor and an author in his own [End Page 349] right.2 Gulliksen's works are "antimonolittisk, antiabsolutt og likestillende" [anti-monolithic, anti-absolute, and leveling], and this—says Knausgård—"går mot alt det jeg i min skrivning lengter etter. Forskjellen er fundamental, og burde egentlig gjort det umulig, eller i alle fall vanskelig og konfliktfylt å samarbeide" (Knausgård 2013c, 395) [goes against everything that I yearn for in my writings. The difference is fundamental and should actually have made it impossible or at least difficult and conflictual to collaborate]. Knausgård demonstrates his knowledge of poststructuralist theory by referring explicitly to one of the main thinkers of poststructuralism, Gilles Deleuze, and his ideal of the rhizome: "Idealet om det åpne, det Deleuze-aktige horisontale, er virksomt på flere nivåer, hvorav ett er det ideologiske, ett er det kommersielle, ett er det sosiale, hvor det har med roller og institusjoner å gjøre, og ett er det eksistensielle, som har med virkelighetsforestillinger å gjøre" (Knausgård 2013c, 395) [The ideal of the open, the Deleuzian...


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