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Karl Ove Knausgård on Literary Freedom (Ep. 66)

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Mercatus Center
May 8, 2019 · 39 min read

I’ve never written as much as I have after I got the children, after I started to write at home, after I kind of established writing in the middle of life. It was crawling with life everywhere. And what happened was that writing became less important. It became less precious. It became more ordinary. It became less religious or less sacred.

It became something ordinary, and that was incredibly important for me because that was eventually where I wanted to go — into the ordinary and mundane, even, and try to connect to what was going on in life. Life isn’t sacred. Life isn’t uplifted. It is ordinary and boring and all the things, we know.

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Publishing books is a different thing, of course. I try to disconnect from that. Don’t think about it — the publication of it. What I want to do is to be in the space where I’m writing. It’s also a way for me to understand what’s going on, to see things that I normally don’t see because I’m very much enclosed in myself and in my own space, and I don’t really notice things, and I’m kind of closed off to the world. So writing is a way of opening up, also.

There’s a lot of things, but I’ve been writing for so long now that it feels like a place I can go to. Go into that place and sit down, and I will be at peace as long as I am there. Even though I write about terrible and heartbreaking things, it still is a place of peace.

You have incredibly good writers everywhere, in every country, and when I’m outside of a novel, I just look at them, and I think it feels so hopeless. How are they doing this? How are they managing to do this? And if you think like that, you can’t really write. It has to come, has to be personal, has to come from inside, has to be within something without looking out.

What you’re talking about is outside of books. Then you can start and be jealous and, “Oh, no.” Or, “Why did he get that grant and I not?” And “Why did I get so bad reviews?” And stuff. That’s worthless. It’s completely worthless, and I try to stay away from it as much as I can.

What I’m struggling for in my writing is what I call literary freedom, and it’s a space where I can be free in every sense, where I can say whatever, go wherever I want to. And for me, literature is almost the only place you could think that that is a possibility.

My fear is that that space has come closing down on you. You’re closing it down yourself and becoming more afraid for what you’re saying. “Can I say this? Can I do this?” And this power is also strong, you know? It’s so hard to go somewhere you know this is wrong, or this is . . .

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Conversations with Tyler

A podcast in which esteemed economist Tyler Cowen engages…

Mercatus Center

Written by

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University is the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas.

Conversations with Tyler

A podcast in which esteemed economist Tyler Cowen engages with today's most underrated thinkers in wide-ranging explorations of their work, the world, and everything in between.

Mercatus Center

Written by

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University is the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas.

Conversations with Tyler

A podcast in which esteemed economist Tyler Cowen engages with today's most underrated thinkers in wide-ranging explorations of their work, the world, and everything in between.

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