What should I ask Karl Ove Knausgaard?

I will be doing a Conversation with him, no associated public event.  So what should I ask him?

Here are previous MR entries on Knausgaard.  Here is Knausgaard’s forthcoming book So Much Longing in So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch.


Looking forward to the book. Question: how hard was it to write about someone other than yourself? How was it different?

1. Rene Girard (he wrote an essay on mimesis in college according to book 5 iirc)
2. Gerhard Richter

If he considers himself to be the Nordic David Foster Wallace.

About his eating and listening habits.

I just always find these sorts of things fascinating when it comes to authors. What do they eat and what are their routines. They usually disappoint from a foodie perspective. This is why I ask. Most great writers are not foodies. Only the washed up ones are.

Does he like hip hop? I'm always surprised about how many older white established men actually listen to it.

why don't you just read his books? they are basically 30% answers to just these questions

- What are his writing rituals (how often, when etc.)?
- His opinion as to why strangers (incl myself) might be captivated by the banal details of his relatively ordinary life

Does he believe in God?
What does he make of Polish, Chinese, Brazilian, Indian and Russian nationalism?
Has liberalism exhausted itself? If so, what then?

I'm with Srinivasacharya in regards to the question about God...would love to hear his further thoughts on his early formation in the Christian tradition; how did it form him as thinker and writer? How did that impact the way taught or didn't teach religious tenets to his children?

Ask him if a chronicle of a life as lived, rather than a chronicle of fantasies and daydreams, really describes humanity. I spend as much time thinking about novels, movies, games, and my own imaginary adventures as I do about anything "real." He not only avoided this but left out some of the more exciting parts of his life, such as a trip to Africa. Why?

Thoughts/influence on him of Russian literature in general, Tolstoy in particular.
Thoughts about Elena Ferrante.
Value of Literary Criticism. In particular, any classic individuals/schools of literary criticism that he finds valuable (new critics, northrop frye. auerbach, etc.)
Translation. Is he involved in English translation of his works. How important is the translation to him? What do we miss by not reading in the Norwegian original (of course, I know you'll learn Norwegian for the interview ...)?

Thoughts about Elena Ferrante. +1

- when did you decide to dedicate his life to looking like a pirate?
- is maintaining that hair and beard combo a lot of work?
- how many hours a day does he spend brushing the hair away from his face? Could that time be spent on more productive ventures?

I would ask him, not having read his work nor knowing much about him, whether he compares himself favorably to Proust. Recall Proust 'lived his life according to his novels' even getting himself in reckless financial speculation and giving money away to his lovers and admirers, to the point of bankruptcy, albeit at the very end his bets paid off spectacularly and he died rich (but he died early due to his fondness for quack medicines).

Bonus trivia: I could probably get an Interview with Tyler Cowen if I tried, does that make me as famous as Karl Ove Knausgaard? Of course it does.

Ray, I've read transcripts of interviews of him, and he is truly amazing. Cowen: "I do “get” why the reviews have been so mixed, but I think someone has to have the stones to stand up and call this a masterpiece and that someone is me." I too had difficulty getting over the title and the presumption of importance it implies, and the revelations about family and friends and the indifference that implies (his wife had a nervous breakdown), but the interviews shed light on why he chose the title and the revelations. Cowen is such a good interviewer I look forward to reading a transcript. Cowen probably has met the man, but I will reveal that the man is as transparent in interviews as he is in his books. My observation is that My Struggle (the early volumes) both predated the rise of Facebook and was a foretelling of it.

In about three minute (30 minutes for most of you) I read his life on Wikipedia, and below are excerpts. I think his fame is due to two things: (1) lots of his fellow countrymen read his books (one in nine), so that makes the book a "best seller" and other people in other countries wish to buy and read his books to see what the fuss is all about, which leads to a "feed forward" effect and increases further sales, and (2) his wife is crazy, even before he became famous, which gives the writer "edge" in what appears to be a 'kiss-and-tell' autobiography.

I admire the guy's hair. He has no bald spots like me. He's probably admired by the ladies, I wonder if in his book he's talked about lust? That would also drive his wife mad. Still, just like everybody else, I'd not trade my life for his.

(Wikipedia): "It has sold nearly 500,000 copies in Norway, or one copy for every nine Norwegian adults, and is published in 22 languages"

In writing the first book, Knausgård reflected that he did not consider the consequences of writing so candidly about his close relations until he paused on the passage about his grandmother. He circulated the first book to about ten of the largest figures in the book before its release and offered to change their names. His brother and mother did not object, but Knausgård's father's family attempted legal intervention and wanted to block publication, calling the novel, "a book full of insinuations, untruths, false personal characteristics and disclosures".[1] Knausgård was scared, but fixed some errors, changed some names, removed a single person, and published the book without acquiescing to all requests. He later acknowledged that he had a choice and chose to publish "no matter what", and referred to this admission of guilt as "cowardly".[1] Knausgård's wife relapsed into depression upon reading his first book.[3] He added that he would not be able to publish the book again now, but was previously able due to his desperation.[1]

It is not clear to me that one in nine is really true. My understanding is that between the 6 volumes, the total sale is ~500K, in a country of 5 Million people. This could also be explained by 83K people reading all 6 volumes.

This newspaper article from 3 years ago says total sales between the 6 volumes was 468K:


"Her hjemme i Norge er det samlede opplaget for de seks «Min kamp»-bøkene oppe i 468.000 i Norge. Knausgård har mottatt mange litterære priser, blant annet Brageprisen og Gyldendalprisen, og bøkene hans er oversatt til 20 språk."

@Viking - so based on your post it seems the one-in-nine claim is really true.

- does he see much of Munch in himself? Other than perhaps his father, the Struggle series didnt seem to reveal a Hans Jaeger type in his life, was there one?
- Has The Scream so eclipsed the rest of Munch's work that it has had a negative impact on Munch's overall reputation and standing?
- Would he be a different person if the country he grew up in was not a kingdom?
- Thoughts on early Norwegian literature, Bragi Boddason and Eyvindr Skáldaspillir? Any affection for the Norwegian literary tradition?
- Ibsen, Bjørnson, Kielland, and Lie, Norway`s great 4, all embody a variety of Norwegian nationalism. As all right-thinking people know, nationalism is an unspeakably vile evil. Should all these writers` works be burned in the public square?

Hamsun vs Ibsen: what was that about?

Any connection between nationalism and his success? It seems he was successful at identifying and tickling something about the identity of his readers. Was this intended or a happy accident?

What is it that might make you (KOK) and your readers think or believe that the novel is not in fact as dead a genre as David Foster Wallace is an author?

Who are the leading Norwegian translators of Homer (Iliad and Odyssey)?

Any evidence across Scandinavia of an "academic captivity of literature" as presently afflicts both the US and the UK?

How much value and how much trust do we do well to concede to The Academy in its tireless efforts to direct non-academic reading tastes and opportunities?

How (well) do Norwegians regard Lapps? Finns? Danes? Swedes?

Should the Nobel Prize for Literature be abolished, permanently?

Some might have problems telling Finns and Lapps apart, in the absence of tame rain-deer and knife fighting.

Whatever you ask him, be prepared for a long, long, very long answer.

(a very small, small joke)

Ask him some soccer questions. Who’s the greatest player in history? Who’s his favorite player and why? Why is there so little great writing on sport, or does he disagree?

Is he in favor of fighting in hockey?

I believe that My Struggle was the cause of his divorce. Does he regret writing it in any way? What responsibilities does the author have towards his subjects? Does anything go?

From a reader: "Knausgaard is a literary writer, with knowledge of Norwegian, Swedish, and English.

When Americans think of Scandinavian literary fiction, they think primarily of either older works, like Ibsen, or of Scandinavian noir mysteries.

What else should we know about Scandinavian fiction?"

Norwegians have traditionally been "suckers" for the romantic myths of the conquest of the west, for example many forgotten American serials are still remembered by Norwegians, and were more popular in Norway than in united states, for example "How The West Was Won" from the 70s.


Also, this romanticism resulted in a book series with sales of 11 million books through 3 decades:


Ask him about the influence of Louis-Ferdinand Céline on his work.

Overrated/underrated (take your pick):
- Elena Ferrante
- Rachel Cusk
- David Foster Wallace (h/t @ Danny Boy)
- Contemporary fiction
- Literary criticism
- Martin Amis
- Magic realism
- The EU
- Political correctness

"Every novel is an artist's attempt to smuggle something of what they consider reality into art." Agree or disagree?

Ask him about Janteloven, how it affected his life, his writing, and how Norwegians perceived his writing:


How does he step away (zoom out) from his mind?

How does he perceive others who do not live as deeply as him?

How many hours in one day does he think about himself versus others? (or any other relevant measure of time)

What music does he listen to while he is working?

Writing about a visual artist and presumably his art, what are Knausgaard's thoughts about the challenge of ekphrasis?

Have any of the feminist critiques levied against My Struggle changed your views at all? Which of these critiques do you find most compelling?

Shame and guilt are massive themes in this project. What regrets do you have about the undertaking the writing of this book?

Do you see a therapist?

I've read through the entirety of My Struggle and read a number of other interviews with Knausgaard. A recurring theme is his disenchantment with modern culture, the stifling narrow-mindedness and inauthenticity of all things bourgeois and liberal. But it seems like the only ideological alternatives he considers are basically reactionary; there is surprisingly little experience or even awareness about counterculture as an alternative to the mainstream. Yes, one way to reject the status quo is to move to a cabin in the woods and read Holderlin all by yourself and/or join a white nationalist group, but there is also "turn on, tune in, drop out" (or its contemporary incarnations).

So I guess my question is... have you ever done acid?

I've only read the first three books, but I have high hopes for this CWT. Noting that I can't figure out what would be too personal to ask... I wonder what he'd have to say about anxiety/ depression, addiction, and mental health awareness. He seems very bright, so does the audience for the diverse range of topics he writes about now (art, soccer, ideology, immigration, traveling to America) reflect his intelligence or is it more like he achieved a celebrity that assures this audience? In other words, is intelligence without recognition overrated by the individual and underrated by the culture? What is his view of blogging, particularly confessional blogging? Overrated/ underrated should be easy: Ursula K. LeGuin, Proust, Dostoevsky, being compared to Ferrante by American readers, leather jackets, the idea of angels, Wings, Sweden, Norway, his trip to American cities... The culture changes, obviously, and in those moments that it changes in such ways that shock or chafe us, how should we determine whether to adapt, to express resentment, or to try to push back against it? Now that he seems quite successful, successful enough to be able to afford to isolate himself while also maintaining a sort of celebrity, does he feel closer to or further from others?

Please ask him about the Seasons quartet. Now that it's complete, does he consider it a success? Did he consciously abandon the formal approach he set out at the beginning? Was that intentional--i.e., abandoning the strict form was always his intent? Or was part of the creative project of the work his own creative dissipation and mental distraction? Always the question with him, it seems.

I think he goes into this in his "Why I Write" book, it was a conscious change of form.

Lots of good questions here. If you ask about soccer, ask him about Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish superstar. Is Zlatan over/underrated? What did KOK think of Zlatan's prize-winning (and ghost-written) memoir?

- My Struggle's accounts of daily life as lived actually leave out most things related to the body: washing, grooming, habits like nose picking, defecating, sex. Compare to Ulysses for example. Was this deliberate?
- does he read books by women?
- from his current perspective / stage in life does he wish he had chosen to be something else than a writer, in other words does he still have the same faith in literature as when he was young?
- does he still think all Swedes are crazy?
- you can't ask this, but I'm curious how he and his wife supported themselves with 2-3 young kids when she was a full time student and he only had royalties from a couple of low/mid selling books, keeping an apartment in the centre of a wealthy European city and living a fairly good lifestyle. How much Nordic welfare was involved I wonder.

As a parent who had kids around the same age as his when I started reading Volume 1, I found his discussions on parenthood to be very relatable. Would he nice to hear his thoughts looking back on the last 10 plus years of being a father...what aspects were most rewarding and difficult...etc. thanks

Same here.

He's remarked he admires Thomas Bernhard. Has he read Bernhard's autobiography, and if so, what parts of it (or Bernhard's moody bipolar style) does he like most?

Why didn't you finally named "Argentina" to "My Struggle"? Did the ending with Hitler's story have anything to do with that?

Do you cry often, and if so, what makes you cry?

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