- "A love relationship is not a place for refuge, it is the place to be"1:The Theme of Love in Karl Ove Knausgård's Min kamp2
Four Aspects of Love
On the first pages of Om våren (2016; Spring ), a small book that has been called Book 7 of Min kamp (Økland 2016), Karl Ove Knausgård writes:
Kjærlighet er ikke et ord jeg bruker ofte, det er som om det er for stort i forhold til det livet jeg lever, i forhold til den verden jeg kjenner. Og så har jeg vokst opp i en kultur som har vært forsiktig med ord. Min mor har aldri sagt at hun elsker meg, og jeg har aldri sagt at jeg elsker henne. Det samme gjelder for min bror. Skulle jeg sagt til min mor eller min bror at jeg elsket dem, ville de ha blitt forferdet. Jeg ville ha lagt en byrde på dem, forrykket balansen mellom oss på en voldsom måte, omtrent som om jeg skulle ha ravet full rundt i en barnedåp.(Knausgård 2016b, 8)
Love is not a word I often use, it seems too big in relation to the life I live, the world I know. But then I grew up in a culture that was careful with words. My mother has never told me she loves me, and I have [End Page 369] never told her I love her. The same goes for my brother. If I were to say to my mother or my brother that I love them, they would be horrified. I would have laid a burden on them, violently upsetting the balance between us, almost as if I had staggered around in a drunken fit during a child's christening.(Knausgård 2018b, 2–3)
The six novels that constitute the autobiographical Min kamp series, published 2009–2011, prove that Knausgård, despite his background, is not "careful with words." And contrary to his mother's avoidance of the language of love, he closes Book 6 with a dedication to his wife Linda and their children, Vanja, Heidi, and John, telling them: "Jeg elsker dere" (Knausgård 2011, 1117) [I love you]. The need to articulate family love is undoubtedly related to the way Knausgård exposes his family in the novels, but one might also suspect another motivation. As described in Book 4, he experienced his own parents' divorce as a shattering of family loyalty. The quest for love is undoubtedly a central theme in Min kamp. And in Om våren, it becomes even clearer how Knausgård struggles not only to become a great writer but also to find and maintain attachment, belonging, and love. Although these two aims are in conflict in Min kamp, they are also connected. In writing, identity gets lost in linguistic conventions and intertextuality, and when Knausgård started to publish Min kamp, he clearly lost control of the shaping of his public image—something he writes about in Book 6. Similarly, love can lead to loss and renewal of the self. To fall in love is to fall out of a well-known world and into another, potentially new one. The willingness to come into the open, and thereby expose oneself to unforeseen consequences, is a clearly articulated value in Knausgård's poetics, with reference to the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin.
The connections between writing and love are a common literary theme. Usually, writers are thought to become writers because they don't get the man or the woman they are longing for. This pattern was established by Provençal troubadours in the twelfth century, who invented a lyric style praising what was later termed "courtly love."3 In the tradition of such fin amour, which was later developed into romantic love, literature was motivated by external obstacles that made it difficult for the lovers to realize their desires. In Min kamp, however, the impulse to write does not follow from external obstacles [End Page 370] but from the agony of realized, affirmed love. Knausgård demonstrates how family is both a hindrance to writing and...