Knausgård: “Hunger” by Hamsun

The following morning it was raining, and I stayed in the flat all day while Yngve was at work. Perhaps it was meeting his friends that had done it, perhaps it was just term fast approaching, at any rate I suddenly panicked: I was no good and soon I would be sitting alongside the other students, who were probably much more experienced and gifted than me, writing texts, reading them out and being judged.

I took an umbrella from the hat shelf, opened it and trotted down the hill in the rain. There was a bookshop in Danmarksplass, as far as I remembered. Yes, there it was. I opened the door and went in, it was completely empty and sold predominantly office equipment, it seemed, but they had some shelves of books, which I ran my eye along with the dripping umbrella in my hand. I had very little money, so I decided to buy a paperback. Hunger by Hamsun. It cost 39.50, which left me with twelve kroner – I spent it on a nice loaf at the baker’s in the little market square just behind. I plodded back uphill in the pouring rain which, along with the dark heavy clouds, cast a thick shroud over the landscape and changed its whole appearance. The water ran down windows and over car bonnets, trickled out of gutters and down the hills, where it made plough-shaped wavelets. The water gushed past me as I trudged upwards, rain beating down on my umbrella and the bag containing the loaf and the book slapping against my thigh with every step I took.

I let myself into the flat. The inside was dimly lit, in the corners furthest from the windows it was dark, but all the furniture and objects in it quietly made their presence felt. It was impossible to be there without sensing Yngve, his personality seemed to permeate the rooms, and while I was slicing the fresh bread on the worktop and taking out margarine and brown cheese, I wondered what atmosphere my place would exude and whether there was anyone in existence who would care. Yngve had organised a bedsit for me, he knew a girl who was going to Latin America for a year, she lived up on the Sandviken side of Bergen, in Absalon Beyers gate, and I could have it until next summer. I was lucky, most new students lived in one of the halls of residence at first, either Fantoft, where dad had rented a room during his studies when I was small, or Alrek, where Yngve had stayed for his first six months. Living in a student hall had low status, I knew that, the cool option was to live in the centre, preferably near Torgalmenningen, but Sandviken was good too.

I ate, cleared away the food and settled down to read in the sitting room with a cigarette and a cup of coffee. Usually I read quickly, raced through the pages without taking much notice of how it was written, what devices or style of language the writer used, all I was interested in was the plot, which sucked me in. This time I tried to read slowly, take it sentence by sentence, notice what went on in them, and if a passage seemed significant to me, to underline it with the pen I held at the ready.

I discovered something on the very first page. There was a tense shift. First of all Hamsun wrote in the past, then he suddenly switched to the present, and then back again. I underlined it, put the book down and fetched a sheet of paper from the desk in my bedroom. Back on the sofa, I wrote:

Hamsun, Hunger. Notes, 14/8/1988

Starts in general terms, about the town. Perspective from a distance. Then main protagonist wakes up. Switches from past to present. Why? To create more intensity, presumably.

Outside, the rain was tipping down. The roar of the traffic in Fjøsangerveien sounded like an ocean. I carried on reading. It was striking how simple the storyline was. He wakes up in his room, walks noiselessly downstairs as he hasn’t paid his rent for a while and then into the town. Nothing particular happens there, he just walks around and is hungry and thinks about it. I could write about exactly the same topic. Someone waking up in their bedsit and going outside. But he had to have something about him, something special, like being hungry for example. That was what it was all about. But what could it be?

Writing wasn’t black magic. You just had to come up with an idea, as Hamsun had done.

Some of my fears and anxieties subsided after I had formulated that thought.

Karl Ove Knausgård, Some Rain Must Fall: My Struggle Book 5, translated by Don Bartlett, 2016.

Mother and Father

For if there was someone there, at the bottom of the well that is my childhood, it was her, my mother, Mom. She was the one who made all our meals and gathered us around her in the kitchen every evening. She was the one who went shopping, knitted or sewed our clothes; she was the one who repaired them when they fell apart. She was the one who supplied the bandage when we had fallen and grazed our knees; she was the one who drove me to the hospital when I broke my collarbone and to the doctor’s when I, somewhat less heroically, had scabies. She was the one who was out of her mind with worry when a young girl died from meningitis and at the same time I got a cold and a bit of a stiff neck. I was bundled straight into the car, off to Kokke-plassen, her foot flat on the accelerator, concern flashing from her eyes. She was the one who read to us, she was the one who washed our hair when we were in the bath, and she was the one who laid out our pajamas afterward. She was the one who drove us to soccer practice in the evening, the one who went to parents’ meetings and sat with other parents at our end-of-term parties and took pictures of us. She was the one who stuck the photos in our albums afterward. She was the one who baked cakes for our birthdays and cakes for Christmas and buns for Shrovetide.

All the things mothers do for their sons, she did for us. If I was ill and in bed with a temperature she was the one who came in with a cold compress and placed it on my forehead, she was the one who put the thermometer up my backside to take my temperature, she was the one who came in with water, juice, grapes, cookies, and she was the one who got up in the night and came in wearing her nightgown to see how I was.

She was always there, I know she was, but I just can’t remember it.

I have no memories of her reading to me and I can’t remember her putting a single bandage on my knees or being present at a single end-of-term event.

How can that be?

She saved me because if she hadn’t been there I would have grown up alone with Dad, and sooner or later I would have taken my life, one way or another. But she was there, Dad’s darkness had a counterbalance, I am alive and the fact that I do not live my life to the full has nothing to do with the balance of my childhood. I am alive, I have my own children, and with them I have tried to achieve only one aim: that they shouldn’t be afraid of their father.

They aren’t. I know that.

When I enter a room, they don’t cringe, they don’t look down at the floor, they don’t dart off as soon as they glimpse an opportunity, no, if they look at me, it is not a look of indifference, and if there is anyone I am happy to be ignored by it’s them. If there is anyone I am happy to be taken for granted by, it’s them. And should they have completely forgotten I was there when they turn forty themselves, I will thank them and take a bow and accept the bouquets.

(…)

Inside my room there was only one thing I longed for, and that was to grow up. To have total control over my own life. I hated Dad, but I was in his hands, I couldn’t escape his power. It was impossible to exact my revenge on him. Except in the much-acclaimed mind and imagination, there I was able to crush him. I could grow there, outgrow him, place my hands on his cheeks, and squeeze until his lips formed the stupid pout he made to imitate me, because of my protruding teeth. There, I could punch him in the nose so hard that it broke and blood streamed from it. Or, even better, so that the bone was forced back into his brain and he died. I could hurl him against the wall or throw him down the stairs. I could grab him by the neck and smash his face against the table. That was how I could think, but the instant I was in the same room as he was, everything crumbled, he was my father, a grown man, so much bigger than me that everything had to bend to his will. He bent my will as if it were nothing.

Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Book Three, transl. Don Bartlett, 2014.

Smak – czegokolwiek – nigdy za bardzo mnie nie obchodził

Sięgnąłem po napoczęta dwulitrową butelkę coli light, stojącą na podłodze obok krzesła, i nalałem trochę do jednej ze szklanek zostawionych na stole. Korek był niedokręcony, więc cola zwietrzała, dlatego wyraźnie dało się wyczuć smak gorzkawego środka słodzącego, który zwykle rozmywa się w napoju wraz z odpowiednią ilością gazu. Ale w niczym mi to nie przeszkadzało. Smak – czegokolwiek – nigdy za bardzo mnie nie obchodził.

Odstawiłem szklankę na stolik i zgasiłem papierosa. Z moich uczuć do osób, z którymi tak niedawno spędziłem kilka godzin, nie pozostało nic. Mogliby spłonąć całą gromadą, a ja nic bym nie poczuł. Taka zasada obowiązywała w moim życiu. Przebywając z innymi, byłem z nimi związany, czułem z nimi niesłychaną bliskość, ogromnie się przejmowałem, do tego stopnia, że ich dobre samopoczucie zawsze było ważniejsze od mojego. Podporządkowywałem się, niemal do granicy samounicestwienia. Ich myśli i opinie, zgodnie z jakąś niesterowalną przeze mnie wewnętrzną mechaniką, stawiałem ponad własnymi myślami i uczuciami. Ale w chwili gdy zostawałem sam, inni przestawali cokolwiek dla mnie znaczyć. Nie chodziło wcale o brak sympatii czy o wstręt, przeciwnie, większość owych ludzi lubiłem, a u tych, za którymi nie przepadałem zawsze umiałem znaleźć coś cennego, jakąś cechę, którą mogłem pochwalić, a przynajmniej uznać za interesującą na tyle, by w danej chwili zajęła moje myśli. Ale to, że ich lubiłem, nie oznaczało wcale, że się nimi przejmowałem. To sytuacja towarzyska mnie wiązała, nie uczestniczący w niej ludzie. Między tymi dwiema perspektywami nie było nic. Było jedynie to małe coś, co mnie niszczyło, i to coś wielkie, co stwarzało dystans. A między jednym i drugim trwała codzienność.

Może dlatego tak trudno mi się w niej żyło? Codzienność z jej obowiązkami i rutynowymi czynnościami wytrzymywałem, lecz nie czerpałem z niej radości, nie przydawała ona sensu mojemu życiu ani mnie nie uszczęśliwiała. Nie chodziło o brak ochoty do umycia podłogi czy zmienienia dziecku pieluchy, tylko o coś bardziej zasadniczego, o to, że nie przeżywałem wartości codziennego życia, lecz chciałem się od niego oderwać; tak było zawsze. Życie, które wiodłem, nie było więc moim życiem. Starałem się uczynić je swoim, toczyłem o to walkę, bo przecież chciałem tego, ale mi się nie udawało, tęsknota za czymś innym dziurawiła na wylot wszystko, co robiłem.

Karl Ove Knausgård, Moja walka. Księga 2, tłum. Iwona Zimnicka, Kraków 2015.