Sunday, 28 June 2015

Knausgaard on the pram in the hallway

So here is how Knausgaard names my particular Motherload:
'I had nothing but contempt for precise plans to pinpoint the most suitable time, both as far as our own lives were concerned and which ages went best together. After all this was not a business we were running. I wanted to let chance decide, let what happened happen, and then deal with the consequences as they emerged. Wasn't that what life was about? So when I walked down the streets with Vanja, when I fed and changed her, with these wild longings for a different life hammering away in my chest, this was the consequence of a decision and I had to live with it. There was no way out, other than the old well-travelled route: endurance. The fact that I cast a pall over the lives of those around me in doing do, well, that was just another consequence which had to be endured. If we had another child, and we would, regardless of whether Linda was pregnant now or not, and then another which was equally inevitable, surely this would transcend duty, transcend my longings and end up as something wild and free in its own right? If not, what would I do then?
Be there, do what I had to do. In my life this was the only thing I had to hold on to, my sole fixed point, and it was carved in stone.
Or was it?
A few weeks ago Jeppe had phoned me, he was in town […]. I told him what my life was like now. He looked at me and said with that natural authority which was typical of him, "But you must write, Karl Ove!"
And when push came to shove, when a knife was at my throat, this was what mattered most.
But why?
Children were life, and who would turn their back on life?
And writing, what else was it but death? Letters, what else were they but bones in a cemetery?' 

Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: 2: A Man in Love
trans. by Don Bartlett (Vintage, 2013), p. 334.


There it is, the thing I struggle with:
'Children were life, and who would turn their back on life?
And writing, what else was it but death? Letters, what else were they but bones in a cemetery?' 
I set this out at length, because I'm willing to bet money that, had I written this under my own name, I would have set off a chain of vitriol directed at my person as a woman and mother – who does she think she is, putting writing before her beloved children? No, her job is to darn their tights, run their cake sales, concoct delicious and nutritious suppers with the right balance of Omega 3s and A, B, C, D and E vitamins, go to every single one of their concerts and assemblies, and ensure that she has done their homework properly! She must also have a marvellous career and figure, a pristine and airbrushed home, a loving man and yahdiyahdiyahda. Then, and only then, is she in her proper place, in order to be criticised for not fulfilling those functions perfectly.

Which should come first, the mother, the child or the writing? There are no right answers, only, often, self-righteous judgements, which cause pain and fall short, and cauterise lives, and send people into hiding.

Perhaps that's just my paranoia. And probably Knausgaard has had equal amounts of vitriol directed his way. But what do you expect? He's a selfish bloke. Women aren't, mustn't be like that.

All he's trying to express, and all I am ever trying to express, is that this paradox between living and writing is irreducible. It is irreducible, but it is expressible. Whatever your gender.

And that is why Knausgaard puts a question mark at the end of the last two sentences. It's not that he doesn't love his child. It's that he is in love with the 'what else' that writing is, if it's not death.

Writing marks endings, every time; and every time, writing is also the weary and hilarious realisation that nothing has ended at all, that life goes on despite all attempts to record it and pin it down.

Mindful as I like and try to be, it is the irreducibility of things that finally fulfils me.

Not the letting go, but the hanging on, the trying and trying to understand.

The comforting knowledge, in the end, that it is all beyond me. 

No comments: