Last year I memorized some paragraphs that had for years meant a lot to me as a writer and also as a person. I thought I’d stick with this practice and find something to memorize this year. Glad I found it early in Vol 2 of Knausgaard’s My Struggle. I liked the first volume better, but this is worth your (surprisingly short, given the 600-page length) time.
Why read it? What’s it about? What’s with that title? Well, from p. 66 of the FSG paperback:
I returned the glass to the table and stubbed out my cigarette. There was nothing left of my feelings for those I had just spent several hours with. The whole crowd of them could have burned in hell for all I cared. This was a rule in my life. When I was with other people I was bound to them, the nearness I felt was immense, the empathy great. Indeed, so great that their well-being was always more important than my own. I subordinated myself, almost to the verge of self-effacement; some uncontrollable internal mechanism caused me to put their thoughts and opinions before mine. But the moment I was alone others meant nothing to me. It wasn’t that I disliked them, or nurtured feelings of loathing for them, on the contrary, I liked most of them, and the ones I didn’t actually like I could always see some worth in, some attribute I could identify with, or at least find interesting, something that could occupy my mind for the moment. But liking them was not the same as caring about them. It was the social situation that bound me, the people within it did not. Between these two perspectives there was no halfway point. There was just the small, self-effacing one and the large, distance-creating one. And in between them was where my daily life lay. Perhaps that was why I had such a hard time living it. Everyday life, with its duties and routines, was something I endured, not a thing I enjoyed, nor something that was meaningful or that made me happy. This had nothing to do with a lack of desire to wash floors or change diapers but rather with something more fundamental: the life around me was not meaningful. I always longed to be away from it. So the life I led was not my own. I tried to make it mine, this was my struggle, because of course I wanted it, but I failed, the longing for something else undermined all my efforts.
You don’t have to believe me, but that paragraph is exactly the same number of words as the Didion passage I memorized last year: 339.
When I talk about this book I feel like my 20something self talking about Infinite Jest. Also, I might stop marking comma splices on my students’ manuscripts. Why, when the literary sensation of the decade is happily full of them?