For the first time ever the two giants in Scandinavian literature, Norwegian writers Tomas Espedal and Karl Ove Knausgård, meet on stage – about writing their autobiographical novels where you "have to proceed even though you feel the danger."
Karl Ove Knausgård starts out reading from ‘Om våren’ (On Spring), which is the third volume in his series of books written to his new-born daughter following the four seasons in a year. Just like ‘My Struggle’ the series mixes everyday observations with essayistic prose. The author "wanted to break free of the novel and the narrative," he explains. Knausgård calls the essayistic style his "weakness," because "the strength of a narrative is manifestations, all the things the reader adds."
Tomas Espedal reads from ‘Året’ (The Year), inspired by Petrarch's sonnet cycle of 366 poems, one for each day of the year, written for his beloved Laura. After spending two years researching, Espedal's publisher told him that he couldn’t write a book about the four seasons because Knausgård was doing a similar project. "Your book will be totally overlooked in Norwegian literature," the editor said. However, Espedal’s response when reading Knausgård's first book was: "Damn, he describes it like that? I can do it better!"
Tomas Espedal and Karl Ove Knausgård have been friends for many years and have followed each others’ paths through literature. Espedal remembers that Knausgård’s first novels "set the bar higher for the rest of us, so we had to makean effort." And the admiration is mutual: Knausgård compares his colleague to Proust in terms of his "pursuit of beauty." Knausgård finds that that you have to write certain books: "You don't choose that path; you have to go down it. There's no other way."
When the subject comes to using their own personal experiences and transforming it to literature, Espedal states: "It annoys the hell out of me, this damned, fucked-up debate about autofiction … It took the critics years to understand how to read your 'My Struggle' books. You wait years for them to read it right and when they finally understand that this is an old literary project that stem from old confessional literature. They say ‘Oh, we had enough of this – no more!’ But the project is far from complete, it holds endless possibilities."
Both writers find using the 'I' shameful in a Norwegian context. Knausgård says that while he wrote 'My Struggle' he felt: "Can I do this? Is it dangerous?" Espedal recognizes this feeling but says that you “have to proceed even though you feel the danger."
Karl Ove Knausgård (b. 1968) has received several literary prizes for 'My Struggle', six novels spanning over 3,000 pages where the author describes his own life, not least portraying his father who died of alcohol, mixed with essayistic prose.
Tomas Espedal (b. 1961) has written numerous novels, most recently "Against Art (The Notebooks)" 2009, "Against Nature" 2011. His works explore the relationship between the novel and other genres such as essays, letters, diaries, autobiographies and travelogue. Three times has his work been nominated for the Nordic Council Prize, Scandinavia's most prominent literature prize.
Tomas Espedal and Karl Ove Knausgård were interviewed on stage at the Louisiana Literature festival 21 August 2016, by Kim Skotte, journalist at the daily newspaper Politiken.
Cameras: Anders Lindved & Rasmus Quistgård
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2016
Supported by Nordea-fonden