Long Neck, 11 June
Dear Karl Ove, Fredrik’s and your letters arrived right after lunch. I just got back from the Claire du Lune, where I had lunch with Rasan. The coming World Cup in Brazil was on my mind since Franz had just called me on my mobile to see if I was interested in taking the train into the city to watch the Brazil-Croatia match at the Football Factory. We’ll see.
I’m glad your letters arrived when they did. I’ve wanted to get started on this project ever since I met you in Brooklyn last week. I’m still trying to process everything you said during your conversation with Nicole Krauss at Community Bookstore. I was especially moved by what you had to say about boredom. In fact the next day, I went to Soda on Vanderbilt (across the street from my other favorite bookstore, Unnameable) and had a go at struggling with boredom myself. It took some time, but eventually I was able to make myself feel truly soul sick. But maybe I was just lonely and in need of company. There’s nothing sadder than a man sitting in a beautiful garden on an overcast day in Brooklyn drinking beer by himself. Of course, I wasn’t by myself. I’d brought your book along, so in a way, you were at Soda with me. And since you were there by proxy I bought you a beer and we talked about what Barthes said about Flaubert, Mallarmé, and Kafka and about their struggles with boredom and seeking relief. What you said really helped me. “Art is the antidote to boredom.” Or maybe you were quoting Barthes. In any case, when we encounter beauty, we encounter the divine. I know that’s not quite how you put it, but I think that’s an accurate way of describing the experience of Art.
Of course, there’s a difference between encountering Art and trying to make Art oneself. As a writer, one struggles to approximate beauty with words. But for the writer, the act of writing isn’t about the artwork produced, but about the process itself. We writers write to survive. We are like sharks. Not only do we devour those around us, but we can’t stop swimming or we will die. A writer must write and he can never stop. To stop writing is to risk slipping into the abyss.
That reminds me of a line from a poem by Mallarmé. “Can by only the Abyss raging whitened stalled beneath the desperately sloping incline of its own wing…”
At lunch with Rasan, your name kept coming up. Knausgaard this… Knausgaard that… I’m sure Rasan is getting sick of me talking about My Struggle book three. These annual book releases have become the highlight of my year. It’s funny to think that just two years ago when the first My Struggle volume came out in the US, there were only about twelve us in that little room at the Writer’s House in the Village. Now it’s standing room only where ever you go.
I do appreciate the time you took to chat with me after the thing at Community Bookstore. I know you were going to dinner with Zadie Smith and her husband (it was great meeting them too, if only briefly). I still can’t believe that you were really planning on writing a book about the World Cup in Brazil. What a coincidence that we are both working on a book with the word Home in the title. Maybe by the end of this exchange of letters I will have decided on a better title. At the moment, I’m leaning toward Home Sick since that is what I’m planning on doing — staying home “sick” — in order to watch as many of the 64 matches live as I can.
Are you familiar with George Vecsey’s writing? I just heard a great interview with him on one of the soccer podcasts I listen to. He’s written a book called Eight World Cups. Can you imagine having gone to that many World Cups? Like you, I’ve never actually gone to a World Cup. I always watch the World Cup on TV. But I still remember fondly the weeks I spent in Montréal during the 2010 World Cup watching the matches with people from all over the world on a large projector screen in Benelux, an excellent brewpub near the hotel where Alice, Patrick, and I were staying.
While listening to the interview with George Vecsey I wondered what the target audience might be for my World Cup diary. Smart people? Leftists? Anarchists who work to make the world a more people-friendly place? Or should the diary be more literary than political? Or is that a false distinction? What does the word “literary” mean in the context of writing about football? Maybe you could give me some advice. I’d love to know your thoughts on these subjects.
I loved what Fredrik said about his desire to learn Spanish. I too have experienced a strong desire to learn Spanish lately. Not only would learning Spanish allow me to explore the amazing literature written in that language by writers such as Enrique Vila-Matas, César Aira, and Sergio Chejfec, it would help me feel more connected to Latin America. I’m acutely aware of my Euro-centrism and feel like I should start looking South sometimes rather than always looking East “across the pond.”
What you wrote about your experience of life and of watching TV resonated with me. As much as I have resisted the intrusion of television into my life, I am reluctantly beginning to admit that I’m a child of the TV generation. The world came to me via a cathode ray tube and that’s a fact. Another fact is that this World Cup will also come to me framed by the border of the giant liquid crystal display hanging on the wall in my den. And that’s okay. I think you and I have similar temperaments. Sensitive souls like us need protection from the raw power and emotion of real life. If we are tossed into the melee of the crowd we lose our bearings. The TV lets us turn life’s volume down to a level which is manageable.
I wanted to write about Argentina, but that will have to wait till tomorrow I’m afraid. Speaking of real life, I hear it calling.