“Have you seen that picture by Anselm Kiefer? It’s of a forest. All you can see is trees and snow, with red stains in places, and then there are some names of German poets written in white. Hölderlin, Rilke, Fichte, Kleist. It’s the greatest work of art since the war, perhaps in the whole of the previous century. What does it depict? A forest. What’s it about? Well, Auschwitz of course. Where’s the connection? It’s not about ideas, it reaches right down into the depths of culture, and it can’t be expressed in ideas.”
“Have you had a chance to see Shoah?
“Forest, forest and more forest. And faces. Forest and gas and faces.”
“The picture’s called Varus. As far as I remember, he was a Roman army commander who lost a decisive battle in Germany. The line goes right back from the 70s to Tacitus. Schama traces it in Landscape and Memory. We could have added Odin, who hangs himself from a tree. Perhaps he does, I don’t remember. But it’s forest.”
“I can see where you’re going.”
“When I read Lucretius it’s all about the magnificence of the world. And that, the magnificence of the world, is of course a Baroque concept. It dies with the Baroque age. It’s about things. The physicality of things. Animals. Trees. Fish. If you’re sorry that action has disappeared, I’m sorry the world has disappeared. The physicality of it. We only have pictures of it. That’s what we relate to. But the apocalypse, what is it now? Trees disappearing in South America? Ice melting, the waters rising. If you write to recapture your gravity, I write to recapture the world. Yes, not the world I’m in. Definitely not the social world. The wonder-rooms of the Baroque age. The curiosity cabinets. And the world in Kiefer’s trees. That’s art. Nothing else.”
“You’ve got me there. Yes a picture?”
“When I was outdoors, walking, like now, what I saw gave me nothing. Snow was snow, trees were trees. It was only when I saw a picture of snow or of trees that they were endowed with meaning. Monet had an exceptional eye for light on snow, which Thaulow, perhaps technically the most gifted Norwegian painter ever, also had. It was a feast for the eyes, the closeness of the moment was so great that the value of what gave rise to it increased exponentially, an old tumbledown cabin by a river or a pier at a holiday resort suddenly became priceless, the paintings were charged with the feeling that they were here at the same time as us, in this intense here and now, and that we would soon be gone from them, but with regard to the snow, it was as if the other side of this cultivation of the moment became visible, the animation of this and its light so obviously ignored something, namely the lifelessness, the emptiness, the non-charged and the neutral, which were the first features to strike you when you entered a forest in winter, and in the picture, which was connected with perpetuity and death, the moment was unable to hold its ground.”
Karl Ove Knausgaard, born 1968. Min Kamp 2, 2009 / A Man in Love. My Struggle: 2
Publisher: Forlaget Oktober AS, 563pp, 2009. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Translation edition (June 3, 2014) 608pp. Archipelago Books (US) and Harvill Secker (UK).
Translator: Don Bartlett
Image: Anselm Kiefer, born 1945. Varus,1976
Image, Fritz Thaulow, 1847-1906 Winter on the Isle of Stord, 1889
Image: Claude Monet, 1840-1926 The Entrance to Giverny under the Snow, 1885
Karl Ove Knausgård is a Norwegian author, known for a series of six autobiographical novels, titled Min Kamp (My Struggle) published between 2009-2011. The series was titled in Britain as: A Death in the Family, A Man in Love, Boyhood Island, Dancing in the Dark, Some Rain Must Fall, and The Fruits of My Labour. These describe his domestic life and literary, artistic, and philosophical musings and has been compared to Marcel Proust: In Search of Lost Time. The confessional narrative format of his struggles, with the association of the title to Mein Kampf, involving open and psychological descriptions of relationships with family friends, caused some controversy with Norwegian readers who traditionally internalise their thoughts and emotions.
In the texts, the speaker is the autobiographical narrator, conversing with his friend Geir, based on the author Geir Angell Øygarden. They are discussing the meaning of land, wilderness and place; and the social and physical world and the idea of “vitality”. The first text discusses the painting Varus, 1976, by Anselm Kiefer; the second text concerns Claude Monet, and the Norwegian Impressionist painter Fritz Thaulow,
Art cannot be experienced collectively, nothing can, art is something you are alone with. You meet its gaze alone.” ― Karl Ove Knausgård, Min Kamp 2 / A Man in Love