Saturday, June 6, 2015

Parenting and Writing

I've been reading about the 4th volume of a series of books by a writer from Norway, Karl Knausgaard, called The Struggle.  His struggle is to find time, as a stay-at-home dad busy with three young children, to get writing done amid the endless chores that make up parenting.

His solution: after some frustration at having no time to write, along with a desire to get as close as possible to life in his writing, he decided to capture the daily flow of life as it happens, in all its details. The result, so far, is an autobiography of 3,600 pages.

He says in an interview that the children might take time from his writing, but they also open up time for him, allowing him a new sense of time as felt by kids.  Children live in a moment-to-moment kind of ordinary, uneventful time basic to family intimacy. Adults who write rarely tap into this.

And so, he has discovered the material, often tedious perhaps to recount and read, provided by describing cooking meals, cleaning up, reading stories, and all the rest. In the process he says he re-examines his own childhood memories, which are so limited in comparison with the immense amount of time he now spends with his children. And this leads to questions about memory:  how can I know that the particular events from childhood I remember now were decisive in making me who I am and not all the others of which I remember nothing?

How does a writer sort out the noteworthy from the ordinary in everyday life?  That is always a question for the writer of fiction, memoir and autobiography: what to include, what to exclude. And, of course, how to find time to think and write, apart from the busy-ness of duties. Knausgaard seems to have found a solution to such questions that works for him.

Although he may end up boring the reader, Knausgaard keeps himself faithful to the child's perspective, in which every little event is of great interest and the focus of attention. Yet, in what I have read of his books and the interview, I see no reference to his concern about the reader.  Is he not concerned about conveying something interesting to readers, something they will want to learn more about, or does he just assume that realistic/naturalistic fiction is, like certain documentary films that unfold in real time, interesting merely because of its ordinary details?

I brought up this topic of the role of the reader in my post of April 7: "Why Write?" At issue was the author of a diary turned into a journal that seemed to avoid the key issue of communication. Any topic can be made interesting by its style and selection of details, yet I worry about anything written to be published that doesn't concern itself about being interesting to someone other than the author. 

If Knausgaard raises issues of childhood time and memory, as he did in the interview I read, if he goes beyond the mundane details of cooking dinner, his 3,600-page opus may prove to be worth the reader's time.

My source for this post is the article by Elaine Blair in the current issue of the New York Review of Books. I found the review-article fascinating, but I doubt if I'll ever be motivated to read any of the four volumes of Mr. Knausgaard's experiment with real-time narrative.

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