Why do we read? In this essay, the Norwegian author explores meaning and purpose in the novel, from the work of Claire Keegan to Dostoevsky and DH Lawrence. The form’s power lies in its openness, he writes, its capacity to defy the absolutes of politics, philosophy or science: “It pulls any abstract conception about life… into the human sphere, where it no longer stands alone but collides with myriad impressions, thoughts, emotions and actions.”
Knausgaard considers how best to achieve this – through the emotional realism of Lawrence, or the more experiential modernism of Joyce and Woolf? For the latter two, “it was about getting near to the moment – and in the moment there is no story, only actions and thoughts”. It is also about eschewing big themes or strongly-held opinions, and instead “striving towards an actionless state of being”.
Persuasively argued, and rooted in close readings – particularly of Keegan’s Small Things Like These – this is an edited version of the 2022 New Statesman/Goldsmiths Prize Lecture, delivered at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on 22 October.
It was first published in the New Statesman magazine on 28 October; you can read the text version here.
Written by Karl Ove Knausgaard and read by Tom Gatti.
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