Dear Knausgaard

"[Dear Knausgaard] ends up being about not just what it means to read Knausgaard’s work, but what it means to read, to think, to allow oneself to be not just moved by a piece of art, but altered by it in 'the special kind of communion that’s sometimes possible through the medium of text.'”
The Boston Globe
dear knausgaard
Publisher: Fiction Advocate | Released: August 25, 2020 | Paperback 194 pp.
In a series of warm and often funny letters, Kim Adrian responds to the 6-volume autobiographical novel My Struggle, by Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard. The letters begin as a witty and entertaining response to a seminal work and transform over time into a fierce and powerful interrogation of the darker social and cultural forces informing Knausgaard’s project. Through its careful examination of the curious operations of intimacy demanded by all great literature, Dear Knausgaard ultimately provides a heartfelt celebration of the act of reading itself. A Small Press Distributor bestseller.
» read excerpt published on Public Books   +/-
April 29, 2019

Dear Knausgaard,

I just spent the last 30 minutes watching YouTube videos of kids reacting to strange foods (nato, escargot, stargazy pie). There’s a word for that in Sanskrit: prajnaparadha. “Crimes against wisdom.”

It’s Monday. Mondays are often hard for me to focus. I fall off the horse over the weekend and it takes all day for me to climb back on. This past weekend I sat at my desk just once and that was to print out something for my father, who was in town for the day. I made him a special dinner: pasta with shrimp cooked in cream. He kept me company while I was at the stove, offering bits of unsolicited advice (more salt in the water, less cream in the sauce). It made me nervous, and the dish didn’t come out as good as it usually does. On Sunday, Jonah had the flu and needed many little ministrations while Nina, who’s in college, had a minor crisis that had to be dealt with long distance. So I didn’t write all weekend, which is usually the case, but I did manage to read a book. The Fifth Child, by Doris Lessing. It was okay. I didn’t love it.

Have you by any chance read Javier Cercas’s book The Blind Spot: An Essay on the Novel? It came out in English translation last year. I had it on preorder weeks before its release on the basis of the title alone, and devoured it upon its arrival. It is a smart and graceful little book, the thesis of which argues that certain kinds of novels (those belonging to just one of the two strands that constitute, according to Milan Kundera, the bifurcated literary tradition we call “the novel”) can be characterized as having at their center, always, a “blind spot.” That’s to say, a question, something unknown, a kind of void through which the entire novel pours itself, illuminating every aspect of that question, that unknown thing, but without ever answering it. Blind-spot novels, in other words, operate less by way of plot than by paradox: the questions these kinds of novels pose remain unanswered precisely because they are unanswerable. Or, as Cercas puts it, “The answer is the very quest for an answer, the question itself, the book itself. The answer is a blind spot.”

I liked The Blind Spot very much—and yet I also hated it. Why? Because I’m a woman. Why? Because Cercas, although clearly an admirable thinker, is also a bit of a shit. Why? Because of the dozens of novels he investigates to support his elegant thesis, there is not a single novel by a woman. Why?

Why?

continue reading online at Public Books 
» read excerpt published on The Rumpus   +/-
June 2, 2019

Dear Knausgaard,

Again, it’s cold! June, and everything still feels brittle. Damp. At least my friend Julie is here. She arrived yesterday, and is working in the bedroom upstairs right now. I can occasionally hear her up there humming little snippets and walking around in her clogs. Maybe she’s pacing as she thinks. She’s a composer. She’s writing the music for an opera for which I’ve written the libretto. My job is to be a kind of sounding board and make any changes to the text she might need as she goes along. But most of the time I don’t have a lot to do.

Of course I brought up a bunch of books to read, but once I got here none of them seemed very appealing, so last night Julie lent me her copy of Christa Wolf’s The Quest for Christa T., which I started before going to bed. There’s an interesting line in the second chapter that made me think of you. Christa T. has recently died and the narrator, her friend, has wound up in possession of her childhood diary. On the cover of this diary, Christa T. wrote a long time ago, “I would like to write poems and I like stories too.” The narrator ponders this phrase:

Write poems, ‘dichten,’ condensare, make dense, tighten; language helps. What did she want to make tight, and against what did it have to be resistant?

I understand this impulse to tighten and make resistant. It’s a common inclination. Writers everywhere seek to do exactly this in order to convey the essence of things, and it’s a much–admired quality when done well. But you seek to do just the opposite. Instead of tightening, you loosen. Instead of reducing, you expand, open things up. “Open,” in fact, is a favorite word of yours—an almost sacred touchstone. But what exactly do you mean by “open,” I’ve often wondered? Something that isn’t closed, I suppose. That’s clear enough. But what does that mean? Something like a mouth, perhaps, or an eye? Or something full of pores, like our skin? In other words, something that lacks a definitive inside and a clear-cut outside, something permeable? Or do you mean something more straightforward, like a door swinging on its hinges?

continue reading online at The Rumpus 

reviews
"Adrian ruthlessly interrogates [Knausgaard's work] and the literary world at large, especially the misogyny that she finds in both places. In examining how Knausgaard uses the word 'feminine' throughout to connote weakness and a lack of substance, she reflects that 'language is, in itself, hardly a neutral medium.' Adrian’s dynamic work of both literary and self-analysis will appeal to those passionate readers who have vacillated between adoring certain authors and wanting to throw their books across the room." —Publisher's Weekly

"On display [in Dear Knausgaard] is a rigorous mind, a fiery intellect, a curious and engaged reader. Adrian brings lofty ideas — questions of attention and meaning, of the troubling permeability between inside and outside, of reality itself — down to the meat-and-feeling human level. The book ends up being about not just what it means to read Knausgaard’s work, but what it means to read, to think, to allow oneself to be not just moved by a piece of art, but altered by it in 'the special kind of communion that’s sometimes possible through the medium of text.'” —The Boston Globe

"Adrian [takes] on a daunting task: responding to the entirety of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. If you’re seeking a heady, thoughtful response to a heady, thoughtful multi-volume work — well, we have a recommendation for you." —Vol. 1 Brooklyn

"If she’s borrowing a form, Adrian returns it, so far as I can tell, utterly unrecognizable, either dissolved or reinvented in that fancy Benjaminian sense . . . In a series of unsent letters that the writer knew from the start she’d never send, more of a procedural than anything else, Adrian somehow manages to make this plodding come alive . . . I don’t know how she does it." —Essay Daily

“Kim Adrian’s Dear Knausgaard isn’t just for everyone who reveled in or fought with My Struggle, it’s for everyone who reads—period, everyone who struggles with the profoundly complicated act of engaging with another mind. It is both a love letter to Knausgaard and a feminist critique of his work, a celebration and deconstruction of the act of close reading, and a meta-commentary on the relationship between writer and reader. Smart, funny, intimate, and erudite, this marvelous book is a powerful argument for the potential of reading to change us, to alter the trajectory of our lives.” —Peter Grandbois, author of Nahoonkara

"Dear Knausgaard brings together two notions of what it means to be good, two kinds of writerly indulgence, two versions of the casualness and self-attentiveness of our era. In these imaginary letters, Kim Adrian faces down her hero and unwitting oppressor, a man whose novels have helped her see the world anew, but whose blind spots give pain and spark anger. Adrian’s crushing honesty, her unusual forbearance: these make the book a moving and intimate one. Her long attachment to My Struggle makes the critique an essential read." —William Pierce, author of Reality Hunger: on Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle


related press
"Her Struggle: PW Talks with Kim Adrian" (interview in Publisher's Weekly)
Clip from an Essay Daily salon, "Talking Back to Books" (in conversation with Ander Monson). Full transcript available here.

purchase
Amazon    Fiction Advocate    Indiebound    SPD Books
ISBN-10: 099943165X
ISBN-13: 978-0-9994316-5-8

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